Using essential oils neat

When someone tells me that they’ve applied lemongrass/clove/cinnamon or any other essential oil or combination directly onto their precious skin, it’s not uncommon to see me cringe.

I can’t help it – some of those oils can be damaging, and our precious skin is important to keep healthy! It’s become a reflex, just like when I hear of someone hurting themselves in any other way. I don’t like hearing when someone falls, gets burned, has their heart broken or gets sick. Getting hurt is getting hurt, and some hurts can be avoided!

The “neat” (or undiluted) use of essential oils has been a common way to use these precious oils for quite some time, and it wasn’t uncommon for the long time experts to use them the same way. Just like anything in science or in life, however, opinions can change when there is reason enough. While many of the “Vintage Aromatherapists” – those who have literally written the books on aromatherapy and the use of essential oils – have recently seemed to have changed their minds on using essential oils undiluted, the craze has gotten out of control. Due to their natural nature, it is easy to believe that they are safe products to use in any way – but the reality is that they can cause more harm than good if they are not used properly.

Why Dilute Essential Oils?

Reason #1 – Avoid Skin Irritation and adverse reactions

Because of the concentrated nature of essential oils, there is a risk of oils – some more than others – causing irritation to the skin. There is even more risk of irritating the skin if it is sensitive, already irritated, open or sore, or if applied on infants. Signs of skin irritation include redness, burning, rashes, blisters and itching. Despite common belief, these are not signs of skin detoxification and the use of these oils should not be continued in order to prevent the irritation from getting worse.

Reason #2 – Avoid Skin Sensitization

Sensitization is different than irritation in that it is a developed allergy to an oil, although the two conditions appear similar. In the case of irritation, once the irritated skin is healed and the oil is applied to the same area the same reaction may not occur. With sensitization, however, the reaction will occur every time, no matter how long it has been since the oil has been discontinued. This is a life long allergy that has developed, which can also flare up with the use of other oils containing similar constituents.

There is even a risk of getting sensitized to gentle oils – even those that some consider safe to use undiluted. While many people use themselves as an example that an oil is safe to use this way, remember that everyone reacts differently, so while one person may not have shown a reaction of any kind does not mean that everyone will have the same experience. There is always a risk of a reaction occurring, and diluting will minimize this risk.

Reason #3 – Effectiveness and Avoiding Skin Dryness

Essential oils are volatile, meaning that they evaporate quickly. When oils are used undiluted on the skin, they are extremely concentrated in that area – but for a limited amount of time before it evaporates. Due to the quick evaporation, however, the evaporation rate also causes that area to lose water, making the skin dry.

According to Robert Tisserand, 5% of applied oils are absorbed through the skin. While an oil applied to the skin undiluted may sound like it will result in a higher absorption, it won’t. Diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil will help to bind it for a longer period of time, ensuring a longer time for it to be absorbed while minimizing the risks associated with using higher essential oil rates.

Reason #4 – We are Not Doctors

Using essential oils aromatically or for cosmeceutical purposes has many safe perks and benefits with minimal or no risk. When it comes to using them internally or topically at high or undiluted rates, the benefits become pharmaceutical in nature. There are people specifically trained in our health care and wellness, with the purpose of knowing the benefits, the drawbacks, the side effects, contraindications and general safe use of the therapy in question. This applies to modern medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, pharmaceutical dispensaries, aromatherapy and more specialties focused on our health. It is so important to receive proper direction from someone specifically trained in these areas in order to ensure optimal safety in our health care regime. Sales staff are not specifically trained in pharmaceutical aromatherapy – it is highly recommended to take this kind of advice from a properly trained professional.

Reason #5 – Environmental and Sustainability Concerns

Essential oils are concentrated, and for topical use, it is simply not needed to use full concentration. Due to the high volume of raw materials needed, some of these oils require massive amounts of plant material in order to make a small bottle of concentrated oil. There are some plants that are widely used that are facing endangered population numbers, such as sandalwood and frankincense. What will happen when there are no plants to harvest these oils from anymore? Before this happens, consider saving a few (or more) plants by using fewer drops at a time. Properly diluting your essential oils in a carrier oil will help reduce the need to use more at a time. This is a perfect example where less is more! This will not only help keep the plant populations more sustainable, but it will also cost you less from your bank account, as well. Don’t fall into the trap of using them for everything throughout your day – there are much more environmentally friendly and safer options available.

If these reasons don’t convince you, that’s ok – here are some links to other aromatherapy sites from highly reputable and well-known individuals in the industry, which goes even further down the rabbit hole of the above. Their sites contain invaluable information! Whenever you’re looking for advice in regards to aromatherapy and essential oil use, don’t be afraid to ask for other opinions!

Robert Tisserand
More from Robert Tisserand
Yet more from Robert Tisserand
Jade Shutes
Wendy Robbins
National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
Kayla Fioravanti
Sylla Shepherd-Hangar
Beverely Hawkins

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