Essential Oil Safety

Ask the Expert

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, June/July 2006.

Q: How important is it to dilute essential oils when using them in your practice?

A: The importance of essential oil dilution is directly linked to essential oil safety. Essential oils are highly concentrated, chemically complex mixtures that contain hundreds of different constituents. They are at once aromatically pleasing, therapeutic, and potentially dangerous if not properly used.

Because many oils produce some degree of toxicity, even at low doses, dilution is imperative. When used in their concentrated form, some essential oils may cause sensitization, which can trigger a potentially dangerous immune response with reactions that vary from small rashes to acute respiratory distress or worse in more susceptible individuals. While most essential oils have been found to be safe in reasonable doses, it’s still important to employ safety guidelines to protect yourself from professional liability and to protect the health and well-being of your clients. Furthermore, it’s well established that essential oils are often more effective after dilution.

It is generally recommended that therapists:

1) Always dilute essential oils prior to applying to skin and do not exceed 2.5 percent of essential oils for a massage blend (15 drops in 1 fl. oz. of carrier oil). A lower dose around 0.5 percent or 1 percent (3–6 drops of essential oil to 1 fl. oz. of carrier) would apply to treatments of the face, neck, or scalp;

2) Know the contraindications of an oil before employing it in your practice;

3) Use in small quantities and avoid prolonged use of individual oils;

4) Keep essential oils out of eyes, and avoid contact with mucus membranes; and

5) Apply a skin patch test prior to treatment to avoid allergic reactions.

Keep in mind there are different guidelines for each oil and for persons who are pregnant or have various health conditions. Client protection is the most important issue, so always dilute—and know your oils before you use them.