Essential Oil Topical Application: Dilute or Not?
Anyone who has topically applied a soothing blend or essential oils before and after a workout knows how quickly and intensely it works. But the cooling sensation can sometimes be a little strong for small children or people with sensitive skin. Diluting essential oils in a carrier oil before application is an excellent way to reduce sensitive skin reactions to certain essential oils, but will it reduce its effectiveness? The answer may surprise you. Recent research suggests diluting essential oils for topical applications not only does not reduce effectiveness, but may actually have certain advantages.
The skin is one of the largest organs in the body, by both surface area and weight. Although it regulates several aspects of physiology and manages sensory reception, it is primarily a protector. The skin acts as a barrier to protect internal organs from variations in temperature, pressure and mechanical impacts. It also acts as a defender against unwanted foreign agents such as viruses and bacteria, and it does so with amazing proficiency. For thousands of years it was thought that the skin was essentially impermeable, but modern research has revealed that it is not particularly effective at keeping out water and lipid soluble substances.(1)
How essential oils permeate the skin when applied topically is a fascinating process, and one of the most important concepts in understanding how essential oils influence our health. Essential oils are lipophilic, meaning they are attracted to and are soluble in fatty substances. Diluting essential oils in a carrier before application accentuates this property, providing a number of benefits.
BENEFITS OF DILUTION ♥
Dilution is one of the most important aspects of effective topical application; it is also one of the most misunderstood. When used properly, carrier oils have been shown to improve essential oil topical application through several different pathways. Evaporation is the primary issue in topical application, as body heat and the skin present a formidable barrier. One of the most important benefits of dilution is that it slows the flashing off of the volatile aromatic compounds, largely through one of the fundamental laws of fluid dynamics: decreasing the surface area of a substance exposed to air reduces the rate of evaporation. When diluted, essential oil chemical constituents have been shown to pass through the epidermis more efficiently than when applied neat . (2)
Furthermore, another study showed that dilution may expedite the process, as varying levels of specific constituents were detected in exhaled air in as quickly as 20 minutes when using a carrier while a neat application resulted in no detection for up to two hours. (3)
FRACTIONATED COCONUT OIL ♥
Understanding proper dilution is an important factor in safe and effective essential oil use. Foremost, any substance that has a near-neutral pH, such as fractionated coconut oil, is incapable of altering the chemical makeup of an essential oil. Proper dilution, with an appropriate carrier, will not change the effectiveness. One of the most common concerns is the use of essential oils on those with sensitivity considerations, especially children. Although sensitivities are rare when proper usage guidelines are followed with neat application, by decreasing the rate of evaporation and therefore further limiting exposure, dilution allows for an even greater margin of safety. Dilution requires you use less oil for the same effect. When trying a new oil or when applying warmer oils such as Oregano or Thyme, dilution can decrease the risk for a hypersensitive reaction, reduce waste, and provide an ideal environment to discover which essential oils work best for your situation.
Along with improving application efficiency, there are also secondary benefits to using fractionated coconut oil as a carrier. It has a light emollient effect and is excellent for your skin. Unlike other vegetable-based oils, it does not leave an unpleasant greasy residue or interfere with the valuable properties of the essential oil it is carrying. Fractionated coconut oil is also very stable, so you don’t have to be concerned that it will go rancid. Learning to use fractionated coconut oil appropriately as a carrier will improve the experience for your entire family.
Despite the growing body of evidence regarding the benefits of dilution, both methods of topical application have their place in the developing model of effective essential oil use. Many essential oils can be used safely and effectively neat, but proper dilution can be used appropriately at any time and may even offer some advantages.
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1. Jager W, Buchbauer G, Jirovetz L, Fritzer M. Journal of Cosmetic Science.1992;43(1):49-54.
2. Bronaugh RL, Wester C, Bucks D, Mailbach HI, Sarason R. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 1990;28(5):369-373.
3. Price S, Price L. Aromatherapy for health professionals. 2012. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier: Edinburgh. 130.