Topical Use of Essential Oils

Most therapeutic grade essential oils can be applied topically. Always follow label instructions of your essential oils and familiarize yourself with recommended dilution ratios.

One of the best places to apply an essential oil topically is to the bottom of the feet. There you have the largest pores and also your skin isn’t as sensitive. The essential oil will be absorbed quickly and enters your blood stream within 30 seconds. Within about 30 minutes, many essential oils will reach their destination cells in your body. People also apply essential oils along the spine and energy meridians, neck and temples, pressure and reflex points, and locally to sore muscles, achy joints, on the abdomen, or directly to the skin where it’s irritated. Please make sure to dilute essential oils when recommended and apply with care. Keep away from sensitive body parts, genitals, eyes, ears, nose and open wounds.

Hot Essential Oils

Some essential oils are considered “hot”. Those essential oils should never be applied neat to the skin. Especially for people with sensitive skin, young children, and babies always follow proper instructions on diluting with a carrier oil. Some good carrier oils include fractionated coconut oil, almond oil, aloe vera oil, and jojoba oil (see below for more carrier options). I often get the question, “What is fractionated coconut oil?“. It is as the name indicates a fraction of coconut oil. A good brief explanation is that it is coconut oil where the long chain Triglycerides have been removed making the coconut oil non-greasy, a thin liquid which can be quickly absorbed by the skin, has no odor, and most important it doesn’t alter the chemical composition of the essential oil you are using.

Here is a list of some essential oils that are considered “hot” and should always be diluted:


Tip: To be on the safe side, always perform a small skin test on the inside of your forearm before applying a new essential oil topically.

The Pathway of Topical Use

Sometimes I get the question, “Can I get the full benefit from using essential oils just topically? I don’t like to ingest them.

Here is my explanation of what happens in the body when we apply an essential oil to the skin:

When an essential oil is applied to the skin, there is dermal absorption through the layers of the skin, from there it goes into the muscle tissue and into the blood stream, reaches joints and the intestines. The blood circulates throughout the entire body, so they also reach the heart, brain, other body tissues and other organs including the liver and pancreas. EOs will be excreted through the skin, kidneys and lungs. They are not stored in our body and only affect the body systems and cells that the particular oil or blend supports to restore balance to. The closer you apply the oil on the skin to an organ, muscle or joint you want to affect, the better. For instance applying a digestive blend to the stomach area when you have an upset stomach. We can receive the full benefits of essential oils without ingesting them. The only areas where they can be more effective, or effective quicker when used internally, is when addressing issues inside the mouth, inside the esophagus, and inside the intestines, i.e. support eliminating parasites. Read more about internal use here.

Benefits of Topical Use

  • works fast
  • localized, systemic effects
  • benefits autonomic balance
  • supports the immune system
  • soothes the skin
  • soothing and comforting to emotions/moods
  • reduces feelings of stress
  • can enhance the benefits of a massage

Carrier Oils, Lotions, Butters

Here is a list of my favorite carrier oils, butters and lotions:

  • fractionated coconut oil (non-greasy, absorbs completely, no sticky residue, no odor)
  • coconut oil (best if diluted with other carrier oils, great support for the skin, coconut scent)
  • jojoba oil (balancing to hair and skin, nourishing and regenerative properties, rich in antioxidants)
  • almond oil (moisturizing for the skin, soft, non-greasy)
  • avocado oil (rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids, very soothing to the skin, blends well with almond oil)
  • carrot seed oil (balances moisture in the skin, regenerative properties, also great for hair)
  • flaxseed oil (high in fatty acids, rich in Vitamin B and E, regenerative properties, heavy scent, blend with other carrier oil)
  • cocoa butter (rich, creamy,high in polyphenols, vitamins and minerals, balances the skin, blend with other carrier oil)
  • unscented lotion

Do not use mineral oils or petroleum jelly and make sure to stay away from almond oil if you have a nut allergy or sensitivity.

Phototoxic Essential Oils

Some essential oils contain furocoumarins, a special class of constituent that can cause photosensitization of the skin. When applied topically, the following essential oils could beĀ  “phototoxic” or cause “sun sensitivity”:

Angelica Root, Bergamot, Cumin, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Tangerine, Wild Orange, Opoponox, Verbana

Avoidance of sunlight is recommended for up to 12 hours after topical use (this includes tanning beds).

Recommended Dilution Ratios for Topical Use

1% dilution = 1 drop of essential oil in 1 tsp. of carrier oil
2% dilution = 2 drops of essential oil in 1 tsp. of carrier oil
3% dilution = 3 drops of essential oil in 1 tsp. of carrier oil

0.5% dilution is generally recommended for 3-24 months old babies, 1% for 2-6 years old, 2% for 6-12 years old, 2% during pregnancy or with elderly people, 2% for older than 12 and adults with daily or long term use, 3%-5% (or even higher) for temporary use

Need help finding the right essential oils?