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This chapter presents some of the basic ideas underlying the safe and effective use of essential oils.

4.1 General Applications for Aromatherapy

The most common ways essential oils are used in aromatherapy are inhalation and skin application. (We don't recommend ingestion except as directed by a licensed health care practitioner.) There are a number of ways to use essential oils effectively and safely through these methods.

Inhalation methods of essential oils can be as simple as placing a few drops of oil on a tissue to using an electric room diffuser.

Skin Application usually requires dilution of the essential oil in a carrier oil or water. Several factors affect the rate at which essential oils are absorbed through the skin – exposure to air, heat, hydration of the tissues and the medium in which they are diluted.

4.2 Importance of Purity

Because essential oils are so readily absorbed into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body, it's important to use only pure oils for aromatherapy. Also, the aromatherapy benefits of essential oils are the result of complex interactions of natural constituents—those benefits are greatly lessened or even countermanded if oils are adulterated.

4.3 Safe Use of Essential Oils

Safety Tips

• Do not use essential oils undiluted on skin. With only a few exceptions, oils need to be appropriately diluted before applying to skin. Undiluted oils can cause irritation, burning, redness or photosensitivity. More is not better when it comes to potent essential oils. Properly diluted oil is most effective.

• Patch test for sensitivities. Some people have reactions to certain oils and cannot use them. To test an essential oil you have not used before, do a patch test by adding 1 drop of oil to 1/2 tsp. vegetable oil and apply to the inside of the arm. Leave on for 24 hours, and if any redness or itching develops, don't use the oil.

• Keep oils away from children and pets.

• Keep oils away from eyes.

• Do not use essential oils internally. Aura Cacia does not recommend cooking with essential oils or taking essential oils internally for a therapeutic effect except as directed by a licensed health care professional. Essential oils are highly concentrated and toxicity varies with the oil. Also, some oils may interact with other medications or are contradicted with certain health conditions.

• Use caution if pregnant. Avoid using oils altogether when pregnant or only use small amounts of the safest oils. Check the cautions on Aura Cacia labels or a good reference book when determining what oils to use. Note: While there seem to be few, if any, cases of toxic effects to the fetus from aromatherapy, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Essential oils in the mother’s body may pass through to the baby.

• Use photosensitizing oils cautiously. Oils such as angelica and the citrus oils can cause burning when applied to skin and then exposed to the sun or sun lamps. Avoid using these oils on the skin for at least 4 hours before going out into the sun. (Note: bergamot is one of the most photosensitizing oils, however natural Bergamot BF (bergaptene-free) is an alternative that is safe to use in the sun.

• Read and follow warning or cautions on labels. Responsible manufacturers have caution statements on their labels for safe use of essential oils.

• Use the dilution appropriate for the person and the situation. Children, the elderly, or those with serious health problems should dilute oils more than healthy adults. Also the rate of absorption of essential oils is increased on damaged skin. Heat may also speed the absorption of essential oils, as in a hot bath, so this factor should also be taken into account.

• Don’t overuse. Inhaling or applying too much of oil at a time can cause headaches, irritation or discomfort. If overexposed, get some fresh air or use a vegetable oil to clean excess essential oil off the skin. It is also best to vary the oils used over time, to avoid build-up of any particular constituents.

Recommended dilutions of essential oil

A note on toxicity: Most of the data on essential oil toxicity is based on ingestion. Even so, essential oils with the highest level of toxicity are not recommended for use in aromatherapy. Oils such as pennyroyal, calamus, thuja, mugwort, rue and tansy are not safe for any aromatherapy use. Acute toxicity resulting from a single dose is only known to have occurred with ingestion of essential oil. Chronic toxicity resulting from repeated use of an oil is also most likely related to ingestion. Externally, the most likely reaction comes from burning of the skin due to improperly diluted oils or from an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. However, it may be possible to develop chronic toxicity from overuse of oils on the skin depending on the toxicity of the oil and the duration and frequency of use. It is wise to avoid long term or continual use of any essential oil.

Appropriate amounts of essential oils to use are based on a number of factors. Every oil has a unique chemical profile—even a very small amount of cinnamon oil may irritate the skin if incorporated into massage oil, while an essential oil such as lavender can be used at full strength for some applications. Also take into consideration the age and health of the person, the way the oil will be used (higher concentration can be used in a foot or hand bath for instance than in a whole body tub bath), length of exposure to the oil and individual sensitivities (see Safety Tips). As you use and develop an understanding of an essential oil and how it affects you, you can better determine the appropriate amounts of that oil to use. The chart below gives some general guidelines for amounts of oil to use that should be safe for most people.

Child/Elderly

Adult

Tub Bath

2 to 10 drops in tub

6 to 20 drops in tub

Hand or Foot Bath

1 to 3 drops/cup of water

5 to 10 drops/cup of water

Massage

5 to 8 drops/oz. carrier oil

10 to 15 drops/oz. carrier oil

Body Mist

12 drops/cup of water

Room Spray

30 to 50 drops/cup of water

Compress

3 drops/cup of water

6 to 10 drops/cup of water

Inhalant

1-3 drops on tissue or in a bowl of water

3-5 drops on tissue or in a bowl of water


Review Questions Section 4

1.What are the two most common ways essential oils are used in aromatherapy?  Give examples of some ways each of these is used.

2. What is a patch test and how is it used?

3. Can essential oils be applied undiluted to the skin?  Explain?

4. List five ways to avoid toxicity when using essential oils.

5. What considerations should be taken into account when deciding how much an essential oil should be diluted before use?

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