Essential Oil Safety – Is it OK to use lavender essential oil undiluted on your skin?

When I trained 10 years ago, I was taught that it was generally accepted to be safe to use lavender and tea tree essential oils undiluted on the skin. A drop applied neat to a specific area such as a spot, cut, burn, insect bite or a graze was considered appropriate as an anti-septic, to ease pain & inflammation and help the area to heal more effectively and efficiently. It’s something that I’ve practised myself and also advised clients to do so, but after investigating essential oil safety more deeply recently, my view on this has now changed.

The safe use of essential oils is a hot topic in the world of professional aromatherapy right now because there is a huge amount of unsafe use promoted on the internet, mainly by MLM (multi-level marketing) companies, especially with regards to using oils internally and undiluted on the skin, with severe outcomes.

You should never use essential oils internally without professional support from someone experienced in using oils in this way – it is worth noting that it would be quite rare that it would be recommended, and should definitely not be used for boosting general health.

You should never use essential oils undiluted internally; drinking a few drops of essential oil in a glass of water would expose the delicate lining of your digestive system to a neat oil, (since essential oils do not mix with water) it could burn and cause serious damage.

Mayfield Lavender Farm

If you consider how much plant material is needed to make such a tiny bottle of oil, you get an idea of how concentrated it is; 250 pounds of lavender for just 1 pound of lavender oil, 1200 rose flowers for just 20 drops of rose oil.

I had never had a ‘reaction’ to an essential oil (apart from a few I’ve disliked the scent of), but a few months ago during a course making an alcohol perfume, my skin responded in this way (see image below) after dropping an essential oil mixed with alcohol on it, it passed after about 20 minutes and may have been due to the alcohol. I have handled essential oils pretty much every day for 10 years without problems but this goes to show that you can never be sure and should always be careful.

Reaction to a blend of essential oil & alcohol.

If you do happen to get an essential oil on your skin and have a ‘reaction (which could include burning, itching, a rash or hives) then you can apply olive oil or another base product to the area as this will help to dilute it. Even if you have used lavender neat on your skin without any initial reactions or irritation it could still cause ‘sensitisation’. which can occur after over use of a product.

What does sensitisation mean?

  • it’s an immune response to using an oil regularly over a period of time,
  • symptoms could include a rash, hives, blisters, sores, burning, cracked skin & shortness of breath,
  • it could mean that you can never use that oil again.

If, like me, you use lavender for a myriad of reasons, it would be a real shame to one day find you can’t use it all, so it’s wise to take precautions.

Using essential oils is not a case of the more you use the better the effect, so you do not miss out by diluting the oil, in fact it is usually more beneficial to be used in a carrier product.

Advantages of diluting essential oils:

  • base oils are nourishing to the skin,
  • you use a lot less oil which reduces the demand which means less impact on the environment,
  • you use less and therefore spend less.

I now have a bottle of ready to use lavender essential oil blended in olive oil in the house for all those moments when I need it. If you want to make a ready to use blend you can either add 5 drops to 10ml of base oil (or 2 drops in 10ml for children & sensitive skin), or if you have a different sized container, click here to refer to the blending chart to check how many drops to use.

Click for How to Use Essential Oils in the Bath

Do not dilute essential oil when using in a diffuser or burner, in an inhaler stick, if you sprinkle lavender on your pillow at night, or use it in your ironing water. None of these are going directly on your skin and using a base oil would stain sheets or damage diffusers.

Since lavender is one of the safest essential oils to use, all other essential oils should also be diluted before use on the skin, including in the bath.

How to Carry Out a Patch Test with Essential Oils for Sensitive Skin

Essential oils are highly concentrated and can sometimes cause irritation and are generally diluted before using them on your skin.

Even when diluted essential oils can cause reactions to more sensitive skin types and so carrying out a patch test before using the oil in certain circumstances is recommended.

When to carry out a patch test?

It is worth carrying out a patch test before using essential oils on your skin in the following situations:

  • if you have very sensitive skin,
  • if you are generally prone to allergies,
  • if you have very young or aged skin,
  • if your skin is diseased or injured.

How to carry out a patch test:

  • Mix a very small amount of the blend you intend to use. (See blog post on blending for safe blend strengths).
  • Using the inside of the forearm, apply a couple drops of your blend to the pad of a band aid and keep the bandage on the skin. After 48 hours remove the bandage and check for irritation.
  • If the skin under or around the bandage becomes red, swollen, itchy, or develops blisters, that is a reaction and you should avoid skin exposure to the blend you tested. 
  • You can remove the bandage as soon as you become aware of a reaction, you do not need to leave it on for the full 48 hours.

Note: It is generally accepted that lavender and tea tree essential oils can be used neat on the skin, and they are very useful to apply to minor first aid situations, like small burns, cuts, spots, bites, but again it is worth carrying out a patch test if you have any of the above mentioned conditions.

Diluting essential oils in a base oil (eg. Olive oil, Almond oil) is ideal as they themselves have many nourishing properties that your skin can also benefit from.  Generally they are full of vitamins and fatty acids that help keep skin healthy and vital.  They also help the essential oils absorb into your skin more easily.

You do not need to dilute essential oils when using them in a burner, diffusor or for inhalation, in fact using a base oil in a diffusor may damage it.

How to Blend Essential Oils – How Many Drops Should I Use?

Essential Oil Blend Strength Chart – how many drops of essential oil to use when blending.

Use this chart to help you decide how many drops of essential oil to add to a base.

  • Up to a 1% blend strength – for use on the face, delicate and sensitive skin.
  • Up to 2.5% blend strength – for general use on the body
  • Up to 5% blend strength – for perfume making or when you are treating a specific area eg. a balm for chest infection or arthritic knee.

Screenshot 2017-07-28 13.08.18

Inspiration: A simple and creative way to bring essential oils into your everyday life is to add them to daily house hold products.  Something like a shower gel, or face cream would be ideal or even fabric conditioner. Choose something fragrance free or with a natural or mild perfume, otherwise the essential oils you choose may not be noticeable above the fragrance already present or if essential oils are already in the ingredients, adding more could increase the ratio to more than is safe.

Once you have your chosen base, add some of your favourite essential oils to the product and mix them in (see below for inspiration or click here to choose from the range of essential oils). It’s important to know how much essential oil to use because they can irritate the skin if not diluted appropriately.

I have put together 2 charts to help you with this (and a more comprehensive one at the beginning of the article for when you feel more confident), the first is for general use (which gives a 2% blend strength), and the second for any products being used on sensitive skin, or more delicate skin such as very young or aged skin (which gives a 1% blend strength).

2% General blend strength
Amount of base product No. of drops of essential oil to add
10ml 4
30ml 12
50ml 20
100ml 40
1% Delicate blend strength
Amount of base product No. of drops of essential oil to add
10ml 2
30ml 6
50ml 10
100ml 20

How to mix essential oils into your chosen products:

Sometimes it’s easy enough to remove the cap, add the appropriate number of drops to the bottle and give it a shake to disperse the oils evenly.  I often use a chopstick to stir in essential oils to a pot of cream.  If you have something very thick in a container that you can’t stir through, you may need to pour the product into a mixing jug first to blend the essential oils thoroughly, and then pour back into the original container -a funnel is particularly useful here.  You may also notice that the product becomes a little thinner when the essential oils have been added -this is normal.

Every day body care products and household products you can add essential oils to:

These are some every day products you can easily enhance with a few drops of essential oil, and some suggestions that would work well with their intended use -make sure the original product is fragrance free (organic, natural and children’s products are often more gently scented):

  • Shampoo ~ Rosemary and orange (for dark or thin hair), or chamomile and lemon (for fair hair)
  • Conditioner ~ Rosemary and orange (for dark or thin hair), or chamomile and lemon (for fair hair), benzoin and orange (for all hair types)
  • Shower Gel ~ Lemon and lavender (detoxifying & cleansing), eucalyptus and peppermint (clearing and invigorating).
  • Bubble Bath ~ Lavender and mandarin (cleansing & calming), roman chamomile and neroli (soothing and very calming).
  • Hand soap ~Lavender (cleansing) or rose (nurturing).
  • Face cream ~ Rose and frankincense (for dry, mature skin) or chamomile and neroli (soothing and gentle for sensitive skin).
  • Body cream ~ Benzoin and mandarin (protective and nourishing), geranium and rose (balancing and nurturing).
  • Washing Up Liquid ~ Lavender (cleansing) or basil and lime (fresh and zingy).
  • General Surface Cleaner ~ Lemon or citronella (detoxifying).
  • Bathroom Cleaner ~ Lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus and/or thyme (detoxifying and powerfully anti-microbial).
  • Laundry Liquid ~Lavender (cleansing) and lemon (detoxifying).
  • Fabric Conditioner ~ Lavender (cleansing) or geranium and orange (balancing).

Caution: Because many of these products are usually already fragranced, I would recommend you choose a fragrance free version, or something with a very gentle scent that you can enhance with additional essential oils.   A brand called Urtekram do a perfume free range that would be suitable.  Children and baby products are often fragrance free, and can be gentler with less aggressive ingredients, although this is not always the case.  Organic and sensitive skin ranges may also be fragrance free.

Tip: If I have any essential oils that are past their best then instead of throwing them away I use them in cleaning products around the house.

How To Use Lavender Essential Oil

lavender rowsI’ve been feeling a bit under the weather just recently, and decided to write this post after realising I had used lavender essential oil three times for supporting myself when feeling unwell in one morning.  When I’m run down, my glands generally start swelling up, I get achy and tired and sometimes a headache.  On this morning I applied some lavender oil to my tender glands on my neck, gargled with a drop of lavender oil, to ease my sore throat, and rubbed a little around the top of my neck that was aching a lot.  Later that day when carelessly getting up off the floor and scratching my knuckle with my own fingernail, I applied a drop to the cut as an anti-septic and to help the pain.  Since it was in an awkward place, I then applied a plaster, but put a drop of lavender oil on the padded section first.

I suspect that I’m renowned by my friends and family for saying “you should put some lavender on that” if I happen to see them with a cut, burn or spot, or if they mention an array of other ailments.  Sometimes they will roll their eyes, but sometimes they will try out my advice, and give me positive feedback, along with a little surprise.

Lavender stripesLavender really is the most useful of all essential oils, for one thing it is generally a very safe essential oil to use on your skin, although in the past it has been thought ok to use neat on your skin* I would use lavender essential oil blended in a base oil for all skin applications (5 drops in 10ml base or 2 drops for children & sensitive skin).

Some of the reasons that lavender is helpful in these situations is because it is antiseptic, pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and helps skin to heal. Here is a list of common minor complaints that lavender can be really handy and effective for.  Please note that for anything more than a minor condition, you should see your doctor or seek further professional advice.

Athletes Foot – you can either mix 1 drop of lavender into enough skin cream or lotion to massage into your foot. Do this every day until clear.  Alternatively, make up a batch to use in advance so if you have 100ml of cream/lotion add 250 drops of lavender (this is quite strong so only use it for the athlete’s foot).

Burns – Lavender is actually used to treat burns in hospitals so it is perfect for burns. After you have held the burn under cold water for 10 minutes you can apply lavender essential oil mixed in aloe vera gel as this will help to heal the skin and reduce scarring. Do not use lavender blended in a base oil initially as you want to avoid any fatty oils while there is still heat in the area.

Cuts, Grazes, Scratches -any little nicks to the skin – apply lavender oil to the affected area, as it has a cleansing action and acts as an antiseptic.  If it needs a plaster, you can put a drop of lavender blend on to the soft part that goes over the wound before applying. You could also spay lavender flower water to the area.

Ear Ache – roll a small piece of cotton wool up, apply 1 drop of lavender oil, and place just inside your ear, do not push it deep into the ear, and remember to remove it.

Fungal nail infections – apply 1 drop of lavender oil blend to the effected nail, ensure that it also covers the skin just below the nail, as this is where the new nail is growing from, and you want to be treating this part too.

Hayfever – Click here.

Head Ache – apply a drop of lavender oil blend to the temples and gently massage with your fingertips.  If you feel the ache somewhere specific like around the back of the neck or in the centre of your forehead then I would apply the oil and gently massage this area instead.

Insect Bites and Stings – apply 1 drop of lavender blend to the affected area.

Sleep problems – Click here.

Spots – apply a drop of lavender blend after cleansing morning and evening, do not pick or squeeze, you can use cotton wool pads or buds to apply.

Thrush/ Candida Genital – for females, put one drop of lavender essential oil blend on a panty pad and attach to underwear as you would during your cycle.  Change it regularly, applying a drop to each new pad.  I have had some great feedback when suggesting this and it is very simple and non-invasive.

Thrush/ Candida Oral  – use an egg cup full of water, add 1 drop of lavender blend to it, and gargle with it in your mouth for as long as possible (at least 2 minutes) but do not swallow.  Do this 2 to 4 times a day.

Veruccas – apply 1 drop of lavender oil blend to the effected area once or twice a day, using a cotton wool pad or bud.

Warts – apply 1 drop of lavender oil blend to the effected area once or twice a day, using a cotton wool pad or bud.

white lavenderYou can also gargle with lavender blend for the following conditions: Halitosis, Sore throats, Tonsillitis, Gum disease, Ulcers, when losing your voice, and for general oral hygiene (once or twice a day after brushing your teeth). For details on how to gargle with essential oils see my blog on ‘Gargling with Myrrh’.

Lavender essential oil really is an essential addition to your first aid kit!

Note: Tea tree is very similar in action to lavender, so you can use tea tree in place of lavender for any of the above remedies, however my preference is for lavender as the smell is less medicinal and less aggressive.  I would recommend lavender over tea tree in the case of minor burns.

Caution: There are many types of lavender oil on the market, so please make sure you use a good quality product, from a trusted supplier that is actually pure, undiluted lavender essential oil with the botanical or latin name ‘Lavandula angustifolia’.  Some other types of lavender oil may be either too harsh for using neat on the skin, or may just be a lavender scented product made from synthetic chemicals, which would not have the healing benefits and may irritate the area instead. Click here for lavender essential oil.

*Click here to read my blog on why you should NOT use Lavender Essential Oil neat on your skin.

A Basic Introduction on How to Use Essential Oils

I have learnt far more by experimenting and actually using essential oils myself rather than from books, but there is still a lot of important information to know that will help you understand and get more of a feel for how to use them.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are naturally produced by many plants and can be found in their seeds (coriander & fennel), fruits (mandarin & lime), flowers (rose & orange blossom/neroli), leaves (basil & geranium), woods (cedar wood & sandalwood) roots (ginger & angelica) and resin (frankincense & myrrh).  The essential oil is extracted from the plant material, usually by a process called ‘Steam Distillation’ which involves passing steam through the plant material to release and capture the essential oil molecules (more intricate details will appear in a future post).

There is another method, mainly used with citrus oils, called ‘expression’, where the oil is literally just pressed from the peel of the fruit. You can actually release the oil yourself if you dig your finger nail into the peel of an orange or lemon, as you pierce the cells you will be able to see and smell the essential oil.  Make sure you use an ‘un-waxed’ fruit, the waxed kind have been sealed.

Citrus fruit peel yields a lot of oil compared to other parts of plants, but you can probably still imagine that it would take the peel of many oranges to make a little 10ml bottle of Orange Essential Oil.  This should also highlight how concentrated the oil is.  Some plants yield a very tiny amount of oil in comparison, for example, roses.  It takes around 1200 rose flowers (that’s flowers not petals!) to make just 1ml of rose essential oil, which equals around 40 drops of extremely precious oil!  This should go a little way to addressing the high price of rose oil and other delicate floral oils, which generally hold a very small amount of essential oil.

What are the effects of essential oils?

Hopefully, you now have a good sense of the potency of essential oils and perhaps an idea of how powerful their effects can be.  You may be aware of how they are widely used to help us relax, and used as ingredients in bath oils or room sprays and that they are found in many beauty products to help improve our skin, but there are many other ways they can help support us both on a physical level and on the way we feel. The fact that they have such strong scents can have very tangible, immediate effects on our bodies and our moods.  All essential oils I have come across have anti-microbial properties which make them particularly suitable for using to help treat illness and disease, and can have various effects on all systems in the body from the endocrine to the digestive system.

How do you use essential oils safely?

Realising the potency of essential oils can also highlight why there are some safety precautions to observe and why it’s important to dilute them when using them on your skin.  In their neat form, they are way too strong for to use directly on the skin and  can cause tingling or burning sensations, and other reactions.  Diluting them in a vegetable oil is ideal as they themselves have many nourishing properties that your skin can also benefit from.  Generally they are full of vitamins and fatty acids that help keep skin healthy and vital.  They also help the essential oils absorb into your skin more easily.  Some other modes for diluting essential oils include honey, milk or aloe vera gel -water based products are not appropriate as the essential oils are hydrophobic (water-hating), and will not mix together.  You do not need to dilute essential oils when using them in a burner, diffusor or for inhalation (all methods to be covered in future posts). See my earlier blog post: Essential Oils in the Shower for details on using essential oils in a burner.

Always dilute essential oils before using them on your skin -including in the bath.

Various modes of application to the skin include:  massage, bath, compresses, skin care preparations such as creams or balms and neat application*.  They can also be used by inhalation (using diffusor, burner, steam inhalation or directly from a tissue) and they can also be used internally. The versatility and range of applications of the oils allows for your own personal input that means they can really support you in your life.  For example you can chose to give yourself a foot bath each night, (with a mix of peppermint essential oil and olive oil) when you get home from work because you have a job where you’re on your feet all day, and that’s what really supports you; or there may be a certain oil that helps calm your breath when feeling stressed or anxious, (e.g. frankincense, lavender or neroli essential oil) and you keep a little bottle in a your hand bag  to dot on a tissue and gently breath in for when you feel to use.  This is what i really love about the oils, that you can bring them into your daily, weekly or monthly routine to support you in so many different ways -all shared throughout this blog!

*Note: It is generally accepted that lavender and tea tree essential oils can be used neat on the skin. See my blog post on Lavender, Essential First Aid, for more details on using lavender or tea tree.