Essential Oil Safety for Inhalation & Topical Applications

by Nicole Anderson

When the word ‘Essential Oils’ comes to mind, people usually think of the alternative natural healing and relief therapies. As a Certified Aromatherapist, I have witnessed the incredible healing properties of essential oils.  Unfortunately, when essential oils are not used as directed they can also do harm. When working with clients I only recommend 2 methods of essential oil absorption; inhalation and topical. Inhalation and skin applications both have their benefits and can sometimes work together simultaneously.  It meant a great deal to me to learn how to safely treat clients with essential oils and I love sharing this knowledge.

To receive the benefits of essential oils, we can use inhalation via a nasal inhaler, diffuser, or on a cotton ball pinned to our shirt or pillow.  When we inhale and smell the aroma of an essential oil you are using your olfactory system to process those tiny molecules and start to feel a certain way because of the aroma. The aroma triggers a response in your brain to make you feel relaxed, comforted, focused or even excited.  Alternatively, when you inhale these aromas your respiratory system and nasal passages can receive benefits as well.  Loosening up congestion, reducing inflammation or bringing a cooling sensation to your upper body. Keeping in mind the power that one single drop of essential oil can be just enough to give you all the benefits; a little bit goes a long way.  I would consider inhalation to be the safest route of absorption for essential oil use.  Always be cautious to avoid adding too much as that can lead to headaches or nausea.  Individuals with sensitive skin, the elderly, and children can really benefit from the simple absorption route of inhalation.

Blending of Essential Oils

When used cautiously, skin absorption is a wonderful route to reap the benefits of essential oils. Essential oils are fat soluble and contain very tiny molecules that allow them to absorb into the skin layers and take effect quite easily. I recommend proper blending with a carrier oil to avoid any chance of irritation.

1 ounce carrier oil + 5-6 drops essential oil = 1% Dilution (Children, Pregnant, Elderly etc..)

1 ounce carrier oil + 10-12 drops essential oil = 2% Dilution (Massage blends, everyday use)

1 ounce carrier oil + 15-18 drops essential oil = 3% Dilution (Specific injury, inflamed muscle or respiratory issues)

Image by Daniel R. Blume

When blending for topical use it is wise to be aware of possible interaction with the skin. Skin irritation, sensitization, and phototoxicity can all occur when you apply essential oils to the skin.   The most sensitive areas are the easiest for essential oils to penetrate the body. The areas of thin skin, where hair grows, our limbs, and our middle body tend to be the most sensitive. Essential oils will not penetrate our palms and bottoms of our feet as quickly and easily as we have thicker tougher skin growing in those areas.

Most mucous membranes should be avoided as irritation can easily occur. The most common negative irritations can manifest as red, itchy, or blistered skin.  Sensitization is more of an allergic reaction that can result in an inflamed rash, bumpy itchy skin, or a headache. I like to test a very small spot on the forearm and wait 10-15 minutes to make sure that it is a safe oil for the client. Phototoxicity is a reaction that can occur when you use phototoxic essential oils and then expose your skin to the sun or UV rays.  Your skin can become very sensitive to the sun and your skin can burn much easier when using these oils.

You can also alter your skin pigmentation, experience swelling and redness with these oils and sun exposure.  The most common phototoxic essential oils are Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, and Bergamot.  The method of extracting the essential oil will determine if it is phototoxic. Always contact your supplier to ask if your oil is phototoxic so you can be properly educated on its use.

Essential oils have incredible healing properties and offer us the chance to connect ourselves with nature to heal your body, mind, and soul.  Being mindful of essential oil safety is an excellent way to deliver the greatest benefits of essential oils with the best possible outcome.

Nicole Anderson is a Certified Aromatherapist, Reiki II Practioner, and Herbal Enthusiast. It is her mission is to bring nature back into people’s personal care products.  She loves being surrounded by nature and creating products from plants that nurture the whole being.

Nicole’s passion of Reiki stems from her own spiritual healing, leading her to share the gift of Reiki energy with others.  She is currently studying more forms of healing using sound therapy and crystals.

You can know more about Nicole on her website: and catch up with her on Facebook:, and also on Instagram @urbanorganics_veganbeauty