Natural plant oils have distinct aromas, flavors, health benefits and safety risks. Peeling an orange, walking through a flower garden, or adding herbs to cooking are just a few of the ways people use and appreciate natural plant oils. These plant oils have been extracted for centuries in the form of concentrated essential oils to make perfumes, treat illnesses, or simply to improve temperament.

Today, there are also synthetic replicas of most natural plant oils, but these replicas do not have the same properties and health benefits as the genuine plant oils.

The International Federation of Aromatherapy indicates that essential oils should not be used internally. Because essential oils are in a concentrated state, not the state that they exist in the plant itself, swallowing or ingesting some essential oils can damage the delicate lining of the stomach, or cause damage to mucous membranes. The two most common uses of essential oil are diluted application to the skin and inhalation of essential oil vapors.

How to Use Essential Oils on Skin Safely

There are two methods of extracting plant oils from the plant; one is called infusion and the other is called distillation. Infusion requires that plants, or flowers, be crushed and soaked in another type of oil. This extracts the plant oils from the plant and into the other oil. Infused oils can be directly applied to the skin, as they are already in a diluted form.

Distillation is the process by which essential oils are made. Distillation requires specialized equipment called a distiller. Distillers can be costly. For this reason, distillation is not commonly done at home. Most concentrated essential oils are purchased. Essential oils should generally not be applied directly to the skin. This is called, “neat application.” In some rare instances oils such as lavender oil can be applied directly to wounds. However, neat application is not without risk and should be avoided by anyone new to the use of essential oils.

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Carrier oils are the oils used to dilute essential oils to a state that they can be applied safely to the skin. Common carrier oils include almond, apricot kernel, coconut, jojoba, grape seed, sesame, sunflower, and olive oil. The skin absorbs everything so it is important to choose pure oils for application; however, it isn’t necessary to purchase costly carrier oils. Common olive oil works well and is frequently used by commercial manufacturers of herbal oils.

A patch test can be useful for determining the safety of new essential oils for people with sensitive skin or allergic reactions. Place a small amount of diluted essential oil on the wrist and cover it with a bandage. After an hour, check to ensure there is no redness, or irritation. This will eliminate overuse of oils that cause sensitivity.

Phototoxic Essential Oils and Sunlight

Some oils should not be placed on the skin at all before going in the sun. Sunlight combined with some essential oils can cause phototoxicity. Phototoxicity is an adverse reaction to sunlight. The combination of some essential oils and sunlight can bring about burned skin, rash, or changes in pigmentation. The following essential oils are well-known to be phototoxic and should not be used directly on the skin:

  • angelica root
  • bergamot
  • cumin
  • ginger
  • lemon
  • lime
  • lovage
  • mandarin
  • orange
  • verbena

Reap the health benefits and luxurious aromas of pure essential oils without fear of misusing them by adhering to the safety guidelines above. Pure essential oils are very concentrated and should always be used with proper care.

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