How to Use Essential Oils on Your Skin

By Angela Tague in Natural Products

When I settle into my desk to start my day, I reach for my roller bottle of cassia essential oil mixed with almond oil. As I smooth the cinnamon-scented liquid over my wrists and neck, my thoughts drift to cozy fall evenings and the familiar fragrance of winter baking projects. Ahh, relaxation. I'm so glad I learned how to use essential oils to boost my wellness. For me, the scents instantly shift my mood. But they can do so much more, too! Here's what you need to know about these naturally derived fragrances.

What Are Essential Oils?

An essential oil is a concentrated extract from a plant. The oil is removed from the plant by a process known as distillation, or mechanical pressing, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Essential oils have the same fragrance as the original plant's petals, leaves, stems, or roots. The chemical composition of an essential oil may vary from the original plant source due to the extraction process.

list of essential oils on the back of a bottle

Exploring Essential Oil Uses

As you browse clean beauty products, skincare essentials, and wellness products, you'll likely see labeling boasting the use of essential oils as natural fragrances. Common scents include lavender, lemongrass, citrus blends, rose, and mint.

Turn to the back of your favorite bottle of body wash or the label on a new bar of soap to see if essential oils are being used to give the product a plant-based scent. For example, the fresh eucalyptus version of the Tom's of Maine Natural Beauty Bar uses eucalyptus oil, extracts, other essential oils, and natural ingredients to create a pleasant smell.

Some essential oils are also safe to ingest orally and are used as flavorings. If you try the Tom's of Maine Sea Salt Mouthwash, for instance, you'll experience a refreshing, peppy flavor that comes from Brazilian cornmint (Mentha Arvensis) oil. An enjoyable flavor means you're more likely to stay on schedule with using the product, which is important for mouthwash use and dental health.

Essential oils—generally blended with a carrier oil—can also be applied topically for both aromatherapy benefits (I'm still enjoying that cassia oil from earlier!) and skin healing benefits. One of my favorite topical oils is the bold, astringent scent of tea tree oil. This extract from the melaleuca bush is said to have antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties, which aid in healing minor wounds and insect bites. According to the Mayo Clinic, tea tree oil has shown to be an effective ingredient in treating dandruff and relieving symptoms of athlete's foot. I find that tea tree oil also helps pimples fade faster.

cassia oil rollerball bottle

How to Use Essential Oils on the Skin

You can apply essential oils topically or use them in your homemade soap, lotion, or detergent-making adventures. Before you start, do some research on the specific oils you want to use. Not all oils are safe to use on your skin. Some are best only used in a diffuser for aromatherapy.

The American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS) explains that essential oils, when used correctly, can help us feel better in many ways, including getting quality sleep and easing headaches. But before applying them to the skin, it's best to know the following:

  • Some essential oils are photosensitive, which may burn your skin when exposed to sunlight. The ACHS lists bergamot peel, bitter orange peel, lemon peel, and lime peel as a few of the oils that contain sun-sensitive furocoumarin compounds. Avoid these if you're spending a day at a sunny beach or using a tanning bed.
  • All essential oils should be diluted before application to the skin. If you skip this step, your skin may become irritated. I like to use almond oil or jojoba oil for dilution. Simply fill a roller ball, bottle, or spray bottle with your carrier oil of choice, then add a few drops of the essential oil. As a general guideline, the ACHS shares that you should use six drops of a 1-percent essential oil extract per ounce of carrier oil.

I tend to apply diluted essential oils to all the areas where I used to spritz perfume: my neck, wrists, and décolletage. I also like to reapply throughout the day to match my needs. I might enjoy a vibrant citrus blend to help wake me up when I'm drowsy or use lavender at bedtime to help me relax.

When applying essential oils to the skin, focus on external areas of the body. Unless specifically labeled for oral ingestion, no oils should be used on the lips or inside the mouth.

Essential Oil Safety Tips

Although essential oils come from plants, they do carry a few health risks. The NIEHS reports that some oils, including lavender and tea tree, "may act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals" and cause health issues including male gynecomastia (unwanted breast tissue growth) in prepubescent boys. This was observed in test subjects who used the oils topically.

As with any new product that you plan to put on your skin, ingest, or add to the air that you breathe, read the package label. Are there guidelines for safe use? Are you following the recommended daily dosage? Is the product photosensitive? Does it require a carrier oil?

Essential oils can be a wonderful way to add mood-boosting fragrance or skin healing to your day. Are you ready to experiment with oils? If you have a bottle of essential oil but don't have a carrier oil on hand, consider sprinkling ten to fifteen drops into a small bowl of hot water and placing it on your shower shelf or caddy for a fragrant steam while you suds up.

You can also add a few drops directly to your bath water to relax your mind and body. Learn about some of the therapeutic benefits of essential oils for baths here!

Image Source: Angela Tague | Angela Tague | Angela Tague

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Essential oils extracted from plants offer wonderful fragrances and healing properties, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy their wellness-enhancing benefits.