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.
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.
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.
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.