How to use essential oils correctly: The use of essential oils nowadays is on the rise, but not everyone really knows how to use them to the best, based on their needs, in order to truly exploit their benefits. This article is born from the desire to give you some basic technical information before letting you be surprised by their potential.


Essential oils follow three main paths to enter the body:

  • internal intake or ingestion,
  • inhalation
  • absorption through the skin.

Ingestion is rarely used, while inhalation, being very effective, is considered by some authors (including Buchbauer 1988) the only truly worthy method of the name “aromatherapy”. However, topical application through the skin has also proved to be valid; the chosen solution depends on the problem to be remedied.

How Use essential oils: Inhalation and diffusion

Since the effectiveness of the olfactory use depends only on the perception of the smell, this application is considered the safest also with children or the elderly. At the dosages useful to smell the smell, in fact, even the most aggressive or toxic of essential oils is safe, if we think that to perfume a room can be enough 3-5 drops of essential oil in a container of water of the radiator, or in a candle vaporizer, or even 1 drop on a handkerchief.

The nasal one is certainly the fastest in the treatment of emotional problems such as stress and depression (as well as some types of headache). In fact, the nose is directly connected to the brain, which in turn triggers the effects of essential oils, in whatever way these substances reach it.

The nose itself is not the organ of smell, but merely changes the temperature and humidity of the inhaled air and retains any foreign bodies that may enter the airways. While it is the first cranial nerve (olfactory) that allows to perceive odors and connects to receptors; each occupying a small area at the level of the upper part of the nostrils (Van Toller 1993). When balsamic vapors are exhaled, some molecules contained in them fall into the airways ending up in the lungs, where the appropriate essential oils can have an immediate and beneficial impact on many respiratory conditions (cough, phlegm, small respiratory infections, sinusitis). Because the nasal endothelium is thin and close to the brain tissues, the essential oil molecules enter the local circulation and reach the brain quickly enough.

Inhalation can occur through the use of:

  • inhalation through a cloth or a handkerchief with 5 or 6 drops of o.e. (3 drops for children, the elderly and pregnant women) is indicated when you want to get immediate results: in fact, two or three deep breaths are sufficient to ensure a good contact of the odorous molecules with the cilia of the nasal mucosa. Currently, a more practical alternative method is being developed, the roll-on, which can be applied to the need near the nostrils or on the palms of the hands for direct inhalation, or with massage on the chest and back. External use only.
  • Nebulizer: device that transforms a liquid in aerosol from very small drops, but in any case from macroscopic dimensions.
  • Humidifier: appliance that vaporizes essential oil by heating it and then evaporating it. Unlike sprayers, this appliance works by subjecting the essential oil to heat and making it perform a phase transition from liquid to gaseous. This means that, since the essential oil is not a homogeneous liquid but a mixture of many molecules, there will be a differential evaporation, in the sense that the most volatile molecules will evaporate before the others. Both the vaporized essential oil and the residual liquid form will change slightly in composition over time. A positive point of this system is that it humidifies the air.
  • Suffumigi: also in this case an essential oil is vaporized by heating it, using a very simple method: a few drops of essential oil are placed in a basin of boiling water to make them evaporate while the subject deeply inhales the vapors.
  • Candlelight environmental perfumers: in this case there is no mention of a real administration, because the amount of essential oil that is released into the atmosphere is minimal, and is in all respects a simple environmental fragrance, and as such without specific risks . It should be remembered that it is never a good idea to leave uncontrolled open flames, especially in the presence of moderately inflammable substances such as essential oils.


  • there are no cases of essential oils that have exacerbated asthma, but it remains a possibility, and it is therefore necessary to use caution with asthmatic and generally atopic subjects;
  • It is preferable not to directly inhale essential oils vaporized in water (as for the suffumigi or ultrasonic nebulizers) for more than 15-20 minutes. Instead, the topic is different when essential oils are released into the environment. In this case the concentrations are much lower and it is possible to use the essential oils for a longer time, but also in this case it is preferable to stop the administration every 30-60 minutes, ventilating the spaces and avoiding contact for another 30-60 minutes. In fact, if it is true that the quantities of essential oil are too low to represent an acute problem, a continuous and prolonged use could lead to an accumulation of certain molecules, and to a possible chronic toxicity (for example using them neurotoxic essentials); or, more realistically, allergic reactions by inhalation in predisposed subjects.

How to use Essential oils: on the skin (topical use):

A very common method and used in various fields and in various ways, from massage to the whole body through a vegetable oil, to the most localized applications through gels, ointments, creams or compresses. The absorption by the dermal route is very reduced compared to the other modalities (4-10%), but often there is also an effect by inhalation derived from the volatilization of the applied oils. Since these applications are among the most common, and since the adverse reactions to essential oils are the most common, it is necessary to clarify the oils that can be irritating, sensitizing and photo-toxic if applied to the dermis.

Let’s talk now about dilutions. The first rule to reduce the risk of adverse skin events is very simple: never use pure essential oils on the skin! In fact, the data show that in general the essential oils are effective at dilutions of less than 10%, and using them at higher percentages does not bring benefits while increasing the risk. When considering the application of essential oils to the skin, we must pay attention not only to the type of essential oils, but also to the vehicle used. In fact, there are more suitable means for dry and inflamed skin and others more suitable for wet skin, others useful for certain specific areas of the body, etc.

Indicatively the dilutions for adults are:

  • for massages: in 25 ml of base oil, for a light dose (1%) 5 drops will be added, if medium (2%) 10 drops, if strong (4%) 20 drops;
  • in creams, ointments and base gels: in 30 ml, if you prefer a light dose (0.5%) add 3 drops, if medium dose (2%) 12 drops, if strong (6%) 36 drops;
  • in the bathroom: if light dose 3 drops, if medium dose 8 drops, if strong 13 drops.

Note: remember to dispose of essential oils very well. To get excellent dispersion, it is advisable to blended the essential oils in a little liquid soap or bubble bath and add the mixture immediately before entering the bathroom, shaking vigorously.

The skin absorption can occur through:

  • Packages: sometimes the compresses are necessary on bedsores, on bruises or areas affected by intense localized pain, as in the case of arthritis, stomach ache and fractures. The size of the pack, the dosage of the essential oil and the amount of water depend on the extent of the area to be treated: the infection with a finger requires only a square of the chosen material and an egg cup full of water to which 2 drops of essential oil should be added, while a swollen knee affected by rheumatism will require a piece of cloth large enough to cover the part and a basin of water of about 200 ml containing 5-6 drops of essential oil. The amount of essential oil should be halved for children and the elderly. The selected material is immersed in a mixture of water and essential oil, wrung out slightly and placed on the affected area. It should then be covered with sterile bandages or gauze; a piece of transparent film may be ideal as an outer layer to prevent the essence from evaporating. The pack should be left in place for about 2 hours or, if possible, for a whole night.
  • Spray: this method can also be used for local applications when direct contact with the part to be treated is inadvisable, for example in the case of severe burns, shingles or injuries.
  • Bathrooms and foot baths: Sometimes it is desirable to use essential oils in the bath water, because in this way we can combine the effect of inhalation with the topical effect, and because it is a method to use relaxing essential oils, combining the their effect with that of the hot bath. That said, of all the things that may come to mind, the most mistaken is to pour an essential oil directly into the bath water to enjoy a moment of serenity. The essential oils do not dissolve in the water, so do not disperse and the risk is that we sit directly on a drop of pure and warm oil. If you want to use essential oils in the bath water you can do it by first mixing it with some liquid soap, and then dispersing the mixture in the water.
  • Massage: Professional aromatherapists mostly administer essential oils with massage.

How to use of essential oils orally

The use of essential oils by mouth is a complex and potentially dangerous matter! Do not swallow essential oils unless you are followed by a doctor or other health care professional specifically trained on essential oils. The oral intake makes available in the body quantities of essential oils much higher than other modes, and could lead more easily and quickly to acute or chronic toxicity.

Do not take essential oils diluted in water, since this could lead to irritation of the mouth, esophagus and stomach, an irritation that in the case of the stomach could be felt only very late, when the erosive phenomena are already advanced. It is true that many essential oils are used in products by mouth, but quantities rarely exceed two drops per day, while therapeutic doses would certainly be greater. Let’s see what are the most useful galenic forms of use.

  • Dispersion in dense vectors, such as honey or honey syrups. Although honey is not a solvent for essential oils, its highly viscous characteristic makes it possible to disperse the essential oils effectively, as long as the mixture is mixed for a long time, and that it continues to mix over time, to prevent the oils tend to re-group with time. It is an ideal method when you want to touch the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. We can think of reaching a concentration of 1-2%. Attention to the essential dermocaustic oils; even if dispersed they are still very strong and can annoy the mucous membranes.
  • Solubilization in hydroalcoholic extracts with a high content of ethanol (greater than 60%), preferably of resins (propolis, myrrh, etc.) due to the matrix effect of the resin compounds. Another easy and effective method. The ethanol in the tincture is a solubilizer of the essential oils (in order to be effective it is however necessary that the content is high, at least 60% and preferably 80%), so it is reasonable to mix 1-2% of essential oil. If the dye is of a resin, the effectiveness is increased by the matrix effect of the resin itself.
  • Gastro resistant containers. This is the most effective and safe system. The oil is enclosed in a resistant gastro capsule so as not to come into contact with the gastric mucosa and the environment with acidic pH, thus allowing more efficient administration, greater bioavailability and greater safety. If the oil is also micro-encapsulated this allows a delayed release of the oil and a lower risk of irritation.


  • In children under 2 years of age, do not use essential oils by mouth, and in topical use avoid essential oils: Toxic, Irritating, Sensitizing, Phototoxic.
  • Pregnant women should avoid: toxic essential oils in general, essential oils containing apiol and sabinyl acetate (such as parsley, Juniperus savina, Salvia lavandulaefolia), essential oils with a high percentage of anethole (the Umbelliferae), camphor (rosemary ct camphor, camphor, etc.) and tujone (sage, wormwood, tuja), oral, vaginal and rectal use, external use of essential oils to methyl salicylate (birch, wintergreen), external use at concentrations higher than 2%.

Dr. Laura Comollo

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