How to Use Essential Oils

Without a doubt, the two most frequently asked questions we receive from folks interested in Ancient Ways Botanicals products are, “Why use essential oils?” and “How do I choose an essential oil?”

Since you have found your way to this page we’ll assume you have an interest in essential oils but not the foggiest idea about their benefits or uses. Click here to find out Why Use Essential Oils?

A more challenging question is “How do I choose and use essential oils?” otherwise known as the “I want to use essential oils, what do I do now?” question. Essential oils have been used for centuries as perfumes, medicines, flavorings and in many other ways. Today they are found in soaps, personal body care products, medicines, beverages, cleaning agents; anywhere a specific flavor or scent is needed or desired. But the use of essential oils goes beyond their capacity to add a nice flavor or scent. They have properties that can help heal the body and mind. The essential oil that you choose will depend on how you want to use it: do you want to help elevate your mood, do you need to treat a burn or itch, do you want to alleviate a headache or circulatory problem. do you want an arousing perfume for a night with your lover?

A good place to start is our Quick Guide to Essential Oils page. There are also numerous books about aromatherapy and essential oils. Consult our Reference Page for a start.

You may also browse our Aromatherapy Products page to select pre-blended essential oils. This may be the best starting point for those interested in essential oils but not having the time to research and blend their own compositions.

How do I use essential oils?

While we needn’t be afraid of essential oils, essential oils, herbs, and plants are not innocuous. For centuries they have been considered and used as medicines and there are precautions that users need to pay attention to especially if they have pre-existing health issues. Some essential oils an cause skin irritation, sensitization or contact dermatitis if used incorrectly. See our information about Safety and Precautions.

Essential oils enter the body primarily in three ways:

  • applied to the skin
  • inhaled, or
  • ingested.

Within each of these methods, there are different ways of applying the essential oil, for example, using compresses, sprays, baths, or massaging them into the skin.

Choosing an application method.

The application method chosen depends on the desired effect and the essential oil selected. For example:

  • Perfumes made from pure and natural essential oils can be created with a specific intent to entice, arouse, stimulate, or pique attention.
  • Wounds usually involve topical application by compress or cotton ball directly to the wound. Lavender, helichrysum or tea tree are examples of oils that can be used
  • Mood effects can be addressed by either topical application or inhalation via a nebulizer or diffuser. Rose, jasmine or Roman chamomile can be used in this way
  • Baths and massage are an excellent way to utilize both inhalation and topical absorption. Many different essential oils can be utilized in massage or baths

Some essential oils (cinnamon bark, balsam of Peru) are irritating to the skin especially when used full strength. Oils that are skin irritants would need to be strongly diluted or better yet, used as an inhalation.

See our information about precautions to be used with essential oils.

Note: If you are unsure about which application method to use, consult an experienced aromatherapist.

Applying essential oils to the skin.

There are a variety of techniques for applying essential oils to the skin. Perhaps the most common is via massage or  as a perfume. A simple perfume can be made by diluting rose or jasmine absolute and applying it to the skin or hair. It is important to note that most essential oils cannot be applied directly to the skin without first being diluted. Additionally, it is recommended that you perform a patch test to test for irritation or allergy before applying even diluted essential oils to your skin.

How do I dilute essential oils?

As a rule of thumb, essential oils should be diluted in a carrier oil (olive oil, jojoba, or sweet almond oil) at no greater concentration than 3-5%.

To make a 3-5% solution if you have one teaspoon (5ml) of carrier oil add 3 drops of pure essential oil. This would make an approximately 3% solution.

For massage or for application over large areas of the body, since more essential oil will be absorbed, a 1% solution (one drop of essential oil in one teaspoon of carrier oil) is generally a safe concentration. To make up 2 oz of massage oil: 2 oz = 120 ml. For a 1% solution, add 1.2 ml essential oil to 118.8 ml of carrier oil. (1ml is equal to ¼ tsp.) For infants, use an even more dilute solution of 0.25% (.5% for toddlers).

  • Compress: The essential oil is diluted in a liquid carrier (water or oil) and applied to a dressing or directly to the affected area. Optional heat or cold can be applied. For example, a few drops of ginger (Zinziber officinalis) essential oil can be added to comfortably hot water and mixed to disperse the oil; then a cloth can be soaked in the solution and placed on a stiff joint. Additional heat can be applied as desired.
  • Gargle: Drops of essential oil are added to water. You mix, then gargle the solution and spit it out. Do NOT swallow it. For example, one drop of tea tree oil in a glass of water can be gargled for sore throat discomfort.
  • Bath: We cannot think of a better way to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils than adding essential oils to your bath water. An aromatic bath may help with insomnia, colds, and anxiety. We recommend that you add 5 – 10 drops (depending on the strength of the oils) of oil or blend to your bath water just before you get in the tub. This method results in absorption through the skin, as well as inhalation of the volatilized essential oil. A few tablespoons of milk can be used to mix with the oils before adding them to the bath to help disperse the oils. (Be sure to agitate the water well to distribute the essential oils.)  Essential oils are not water soluble; thus they will float on top of the bath. Skin passing through the oil will be exposed to full strength essential oils. Bath salts can also be used to disperse essential oils. Mix one part baking soda, two parts Epsom salts (aids in the removing of toxins) or sea salt (contains minerals that may help strengthen the immune system). Remain in water no more then 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Foot bath: Essential oil foot baths are very effective in treating physical problems of your body. Use 5-15 drops oil or blend, depending on the amount of water. Warm or hot water feels best but for sprains or fevers use tepid or cool water. You may also wish to use Sea salt or Epsom salts for additional healing.
  • Massage: Drops of essential oil are added to a carrier oil and applied to skin areas with gentle rubbing. As noted earlier, massage blends should not exceed 1% concentration of essential oils (one drop in a teaspoon) for adults. For children, concentration should not exceed 0.25% for infants, 0.5% for toddlers age 6 months to 2 years, and 1% for children 2 years and older. The choice of essential oils for massage depends on the desired effect.

Inhaling Essential oils

The sense of smell is ancient and predates the sense of vision or hearing. When we smell an essential oil, molecules are taken up in the nose and interact with the mucus membrane at the top of our nasal cavity. This interaction stimulates the olfactory bulb. The stimulus passes directly to the limbic system deep in the brain and evokes an immediate response. The limbic system is a part of the brain associated with emotions, memory and behavior: joy, anxiety, fear, depression and memory are believed to originate from this region. It is interesting to note that the sense of smell is the only sense that is directly linked to the limbic system. As we inhale the oil either via a diffuser, nebulizer, or a few drops on a tissue, the molecules enter our nose, stimulating the limbic system, and a memory arises along with a feeling. We may be conscious or unconscious of the connection between scent and emotions, but there is a response. Often, we are unable to form words to express our experience because it is so primal and immediate. Aromaterhapists take advantage of this connection when using essential oils and blends to address emotional wounds. Essential oils also effect us in other ways: in the lungs, for instance, the aromatic molecules enter and are absorbed via the alveoli into the blood stream where they may act on different bodily systems to effect heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, the immune system, etc.

Diffuser:
 A diffuser is a device that disperses minute molecules of essential oils throughout a room, home, office, or car. Simply add a few drops of essential oil and within minutes you will be enjoying the fragrant aroma. Essential oils are used to freshen the air, create a mood, fight infection from colds, relieve asthma attacks and bronchial congestion, and are helpful in easing emotional upsets, or simply enhancing the well-being.


Kinds of diffusers:

Electric Diffuser – plug in. A small electrical coil warms a filter pad plate where the oil or blend can be applied. The heat slowly releases the fragrance, creating a gentle relaxing environment

Terra Cotta Diffuser – pendant diffuser that can be hung in your closet, car, bedroom, or bathroom. Place a few drops of the essential oil or blend on the diffuser to enjoy the scent.

Ceramic Diffuser – hand thrown.  Fill bowl 2/3 full with water, place 5 drops of essential oil or blend in the bowl and light the tea light. The candle, along with the essential oil, will create a special ambiance for your home, room, bathroom, or bedroom. We do not recommend using the more precious oils (rose, sandalwood, etc.) in a tea candle diffuser but rather recommend their use in an electric diffuser or nebulizer. Do not leave burning candle unattended. Replenish water as needed approx. every 45 min.

Nebulizer – a wonderful way to inhale and utilize the healing properties of the essential oil or blend. The nebulizer releases microscopic oil particles into the air without heating the oil. Research shows that cold air diffusing of certain oils reduces bacteria, fungus, molds and unpleasant odors. The oils help to relax the body, relieve tension and clear the mind. Certain oils improve the concentration, relieve headaches, and stimulates the secretion of endorphins. Follow directions for use

Inhalation (moist and dry):
Inhalation, in the form of a simple facial steam bath, may be used for colds, sinus problems, or coughs. Add 1-3 drops of essential oil in a large bowl of hot water. Cover your head with a towel, carefully bend over the bowl of water. Close your eyes and inhale the rising steam alternately through your month and nose for about 5 minutes. For acute congestion repeat 2-3 times per day.

Dry Inhalation: apply 6 – 10 drops of essential oil or blend to a handkerchief and hold under your nose; breathe deeply. This dry method is preferred for people who have asthma. This method is easy to use when traveling as it refreshes the tired traveler. Certain oils  help in settling an upset stomach and may help with motion sickness. Alternately, place 2-3 drops of essential oil or blend into the palm of your hand, rub your hands together, then cup your hands over your nose and inhale deeply.

How to use essential oils internally.

Essential oils can be taken internally in several ways but internal use is only recommended under the supervision of a aromatherapist or licensed healthcare provider.