There are a number of ways to use oils, and lots of misinformation out there. Here are some of my favorites with clarification (feel free to comment questions and I’ll answer when I can!):
- Aromatically (Diffuser or Palm Inhalation): This is, in my opinion, the best way to use oils. Some studies suggest that the oils are most potent this way, and this makes sense because the oils are part of a plant’s immune system that the plant has dispersed into the air. They’re designed (or have evolved) to be most active in the air and in the guts of the plant. When diffusing, 1-4 hours at a time is most appropriate from what we can tell in studies, and you really don’t need more than 1-5 drops of oil (though you’re welcome to use more if you’d like). It’s hard to overdose on diffused oils, but if you feel yourself getting dizzy or light headed, simply shut off the diffuser and open a window and you’ll feel better quickly. Palm inhalation is when you put the (diluted) oil on your palm and put the palm to your nose to inhale the molecules that are dispersed. On diffusers, you’re best working with one that uses sound, not heat, to disperse oils as heat destroys some of the molecules and health benefits. You can also find diffusers for the car, and ones with fans that blow air against cotton pads with the oil on to create a portable personal diffuser. These can be helpful in the woods, in the car, or when you’re traveling. Just be sure to avoid heating the oil to get the most benefit.
- In the Bath: Do not put essential oils straight in hot bath water. The molecules in essential oils are hydrophobic and lipophilic. This means that they naturally draw away from the water molecules and are attracted to the oils in your skin tissue. Getting in a tub with straight oil in it, therefore, is like charging yourself with static electricity and walking through a room of lint. The stuff comes right to you and sticks to you, binding with the molecules in your skin and giving you a high dose of oils. There’s a simple way to fix this. Add the oils to an emulsifier, like milk or Epsom salts, and add this to the bath water rather than simply adding the oils to the bath straight.
- Topically: Remember that you are using the most concentrated form of herbal medicine available when you use oils. Thus, it’s important to dilute oils, either in a carrier oil of your choice or in water if you’re making a compress. The only times there is an exception here is when you’re using a gentle floral oil that you’ve already patch tested a diluted sample of on your skin and know is safe for you personally and in certain blends in which the oils are already in a base oil (such as almond, coconut or sandalwood such as in Indian perfumes). You should also never use more than 1-2 drops of oil neat (that is, undiluted) and you should not do this every day so that you do not build up sensitization to the oil. Sensitization is when you become sensitive to a substance due to exposure and generally takes 5-7 years to build up. If you simply don’t put the oil on your skin every day, this shouldn’t become a problem.
- Internally: Do not ever take oils internally at a medically altering dose unless you’ve checked with and gotten a dosage from a medical or qualified health practitioner. Oils can strain organs, kill the healthy biome in the body, and cause other intense changes in the body. These are the most concentrated form of herbal medicine available and it’s important that you treat them with the respect that deserves. The primary reason is that the more concentrated a substance, such as an oil, is, the less biocompatible it is. That is, the more it’s concentrated, the less life can be sustained in its presence. Oils become more biocompatible as they are diluted and as they occur with other substances. Thus, the oils naturally occurring in herbs are biocompatible because they are low dose and they are balanced with the synergy of the rest of the plant. In some cases, using a single drop of oil in cooking or for beverage flavoring can be safe, but consider this example when we’re talking about dilution. There is a traditional Middle Eastern drink one of my teachers shared with me once. He took one drop of rose oil, shook it in a gallon of water, let it sit overnight, then took one drop of that water, put it in a second gallon of water, shook it, let it sit overnight, and it was the second gallon of water that we drank. The water still smelled like roses and was still refreshing. When you’re putting six or ten drops of oil in a bottle of water for flavoring, you’re basically asking for your organs to be strained. That doesn’t mean there aren’t appropriate times for this (such as in medical usage as prescribed by a licensed practitioner), but you should know the real risks involved.