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When using essential oils, there are often questions regarding what is dilution and why should I dilute an essential oil or what is a dilution rate? Depending on the essential oil company you purchase your essential oils from there may be specific information regarding what percentage to dilute the essential oil or the maximum dilution rate recommended.
There are also some companies who tell you to dilute an essential oil, but they do not specify how much or how to do it, which can be frustrating and confusing if you are new to that essential oil.
What does this all mean and do you HAVE to dilute an essential oil before using? The short answer: it depends on why you are applying the essential oil topically and which essential oil you are planning to use. In most situations, YES, you should dilute the essential oil before using.
There may be some situations where you might want to apply the essential oil without dilution. For example, in the case of an immediate bee sting applying lavender essential oil, without dilution, to help calm and soothe the pain on the area that was stung. Then later, you can create a salve with diluted essential oils that would be reapplied until the skin heals. This salve would have a high dilution rate compared to using an essential oil on a daily basis in a lotion, which would be at a lower dilution rate.
The amount of essential oil dilution would be dependent on the purpose, the amount of skin area being treated, the frequency of application and the length of time that you plan to use that essential oil.
What is Essential Oil Dilution?
Dilution is when you add essential oil to a carrier, usually a vegetable based oil or product, before using topically. Olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil and grapeseed oil are a few examples of carrier oils. Lotions, aloe vera gel/jelly are examples of other products that can be used as a carrier for an essential oil. Most often, a carrier oil is used when diluting an essential oil before applying topically.
Dilution rate or dilution percentage is the amount of essential oil, usually calculated in drops, to a specific amount of carrier oil. The essential oil would be mixed with the carrier oil before applying to the skin. If there is a maximum dilution rate recommended for a specific essential oil, this is the highest dilution that should be used when applying topically to avoid any adverse reactions.
Generally the term dilution, regarding essential oils, is referring to when using an essential oil topically. This can be through direct application to the skin or when skin will be exposed to an essential oil, for example in a bath or when making a product such as a DIY perfume or lotion.
It is possible that you would see essential oil dilution when making a DIY product, such as a room spray, that is not directly sprayed onto the skin. This helps when calculating, measuring and writing out or making a DIY recipe. But again, generally we are speaking about the topical application of an essential oil when using the term dilution.
Why Should I Dilute an Essential Oil?
Often, when we say the word dilute or dilution we think of making something weaker or a loss in the full power of a substance. This is not necessarily true when it comes to using essential oil dilution with a carrier oil. This type of dilution actually helps in allowing the body to fully absorb the essential oil constituents before they evaporate into the air.
Essential oils are volatile compounds, meaning that they easily evaporate. Think about when you open a bottle of essential oil and when you lift it near your face you immediately are able to smell the fragrance. This is because of the essential oil evaporation into the air that you are breathing in through your nose. This is great when diffusing or using a different method of using essential oils aromatically, but not when you want to use them topically.
By combining an essential oil with a carrier oil before putting on the skin, the carrier oil that is not volatile, slows the rate of essential oil evaporation. Which allows your skin and body time to absorb the essential oil constituents.
Diluting an essential oil in carrier oil means you are not wasting essential oil due to evaporation so you can use less essential oil without losing any of the essential oil benefits. This saves you money. Yay!
Reason #3 – And The MOST Important
When you purchase an essential oil that is pure, 100% pure or therapeutic grade, whichever marketing term the company you purchase essential oils from uses, then you are using a very concentrated substance that has strong and amazing abilities to aid your body in many ways. We need to remember that these essential oils contain natural chemical constituents that penetrate our skin, enter our bloodstream and the cells in our body.
This is incredible, but also a little sobering. Sometimes people seem to take the use of essential oils lightly by saying that “they are natural”, as if they cannot cause harm. However, I think we all recognize that there are plenty of poisonous berries, plants and creatures that will indeed harm us, even though they are “natural”.
All this to say, that using essential oils neat, meaning applied directly on your skin without diluting, raises your potential risk to an adverse reaction.
Does this mean that if you use an essential oil directly on your skin that you will have an adverse reaction? It is always a possibility, but it might not happen. And, thankfully it does not happen often.
But if it does not cause an issue, it does increases your risk to something happening in the future. And the more you do it, the more your risk of an adverse reaction increases. It is possible that you may never experience an adverse reaction to an essential oil when used neat or in a high dilution rate, however this varies from person to person and there is no way of knowing if it will happen. So, why risk it? Especially if you can use the essential oil in a lower dilution and still receive the benefits you want.
Many times in the world of essential oils you will hear people say, “more is not more” and often “less is more”. In our society, we tend to always want and use more than what is needed, think of it as the “super size” mentality.
Also, it should be noted that there are some essential oils that can easily cause skin irritability and should be used carefully if applied topically. Some essential oil companies call these “hot oils” due to how they can feel on the skin. A few examples would be oregano, clove bud, garlic, cinnamon bark, peppermint (although it usually feels cool on the skin versus hot) essential oils.
This quote from the Tisserand Institue in an article titled a New Survey Reveals Dangers of Not Diluting Essential Oils, refers to the potential consequences of not diluting an essential oil prior to topical application, or not diluting the essential oil enough.
However, if you have had an allergic reaction you cannot take away the antibodies you now have. You have acquired an allergy to an essential oil constituent, for life. Topical allergies sometimes do fade, in a similar way that you may need a boost for an immunization after 10 or 20 years because your immune system no longer produces antibodies. But usually it’s that kind of time scale – decades. And it might never fade. Better than waiting to see if your skin becomes inflamed is to prevent it from happening at all, and the best way to do this is to understand appropriate dilution.
If you develop an allergy to an essential oil constituent you not only are allergic to the essential oil that you used when having an allergic reaction but to any essential oil that contains that constituent. I have heard a number of stories from avid essential oil users who have developed these types of allergies and who no longer can use any essential oils.
When using essential oils we should be balancing the benefits needed and manage the potential risk by using the lowest dilution rate that meets our needs. You can always add more or reapply more often if needed.
When using essential oils responsibly, it is important to dilute prior to applying topically in most situations. Dilution rates vary depending on what you are using the essential oil for and how it is being used. There are some situations that you might want to use an essential oil without diluting, however this should be a minority of the time.
If dealing with a specific long term issue that you are using essential oils neat to address, it would be beneficial to work with a certified aromatherapist or medical practitioner who is familiar with essential oils and how they interact within the body for appropriate supervision.
To learn more, check out my next post on How to Dilute Essential Oils, which explains the appropriate dilution rates that should be used for various purposes.
Disclaimer: For informational and educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a health concern, a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking any medication please consult your healthcare provider.