How to Use Essential Oils

Essential oils are one of the hottest natural products out there right now. Most of us crunchy folk have a set in our home. And for good reason. They can be a wonderful natural tool in your arsenal, along with a high quality diet, and targeted supplementation.

But a lot of people jump into essential oils and then don’t know how to use them.

We’ve been using essential oils in our home for several years, but I know there is a big influx of beginner essential oil users out there who want to use oils safely but don’t know where to start. This post is for you!

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are aromatic, volatile liquids that are found within many shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes and seeds. Sometimes called the “life blood” of the plant. Most essential oils are extracted from the plant through the process of steam distillation.

Some say essential oils are the oldest form of a natural health aid, dating back to the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians may have included a type of essential oils in their religion and cosmetics as well as utilizing them for wellness purposes. Distillation pots have been found dating back about 3,500 BC!

Today, people continue to use essential oils in three main ways:

  1. Aromatically
  2. Topically
  3. Ingestion

1. How to use essential oils: Aromatic

This is the classic way to use essential oils–the art of Aromatherapy!

You’ve probably already noticed the connection between scent and emotions. Every time I smell lilacs, I think of my grandma. They were her favorite flower.

Fresh cut grass, ocean air, fresh baked cookies, and evergreen trees are some of the scents we associate with specific emotions. But it’s not just random memories or reminders. Aromatherapy can provide the same physical and emotional responses on cue.

There are a number of studies supporting essential oil use for physical and emotional benefits. When we smell something, we first process the input via the olfactory bulb, which is at the base of our brain and connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, the parts of our brain associated with emotion and memory.

“Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.” (source)

Aromatherapy is essentially inhaling essential oils. The easiest way to do so is by using a diffuser.

Using a diffuser is one of the easiest ways to practice aromatherapy.

How to use an essential oil diffuser

Mix 2-8 drops of essential oil with water (either tap or distilled per the diffuser’s instructions) into a diffuser. The diffuser breaks apart the oil into tiny molecules and disperses them through the air. (See this post for detailed instructions on how to use diffuser, and why you want to.)

An essential oil diffuser is such a great alternative to toxic air fresheners and candles, which often contain nasty chemicals and even carcinogens. As a crunchy lady, I used to love the smell of incense and burned it in college. Little did I know it was toxic.

“Researchers found that most types of incense emitted significant amounts of particles, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and oxides of nitrogen, resulting in the inflammatory response.”

Yuck! That’s why I like to use safe essential oils to freshen and cleanse our indoor air.

2. How to use essential oils: Topical

Using essential oils topically is another way many people get the benefits of EOs.

Because of their molecular structure, essential oils are rapidly absorbed by the skin. When applied topically, it takes about 20 minutes for an oil to affect every cell in the body. The oil is then metabolized within a few hours.

The feet are an excellent place to apply essential oils since they contain thick, less sensitive skin and are far away from mucous membranes, which can be irritated by strong oils like oregano. Also, if you believe in Reflexology, you can target various health issues by applying to certain points along the foot. 

The key to using essential oils is to dilute them properly. Most EOs are too strong to be used directly on the skin without being diluted. Aside from that, diluting essential oils help them spread over a larger surface area of the skin, which helps the oil penetrate your body better, and it’s more cost effective.

Properly diluting essential oils

While diluting ratios can vary depending on the health conditions and sensitivity of person, a general rule of thumb is:

  • Add 1-2 drops of essential oil per 1 teaspoon of carrier oil for adult
  • Add 1-2 drops of essential oil per 1 tablespoon of carrier oil for children over 2 years of age. (Always do your research before applying oils on kids as they are more sensitive than adults. Don’t use “hot” oils like cinnamon bark, oregano, wintergreen and even peppermint with children.)

What is a carrier oil?

A carrier oil is an oil that is used to dilute the essential oil to make it safe for topical use. Generally any cold-pressed vegetable/fruit oil will do like coconut, olive, sweet almond, avocado, jojoba and rose hip among many others. These are doubly great because the carrier oils usually contain therapeutic qualities like antioxidants or vitamins.

3. How to use essential oils: Ingestion

This is best done in conjunction with a health care professional with experience and EO education. Remember, essential oils are highly concentrated. For example, one drop of Peppermint oil is the equivalent to 26 cups of Peppermint tea! Some people, even Aromatherapists, believe ingesting EOs can be hard on the liver and digestive system. Others swear by internal use and have great results. You need to educate yourself and find what works for you. But, again, work with someone who is knowledgable about using oils internally before you experiment. Do not give EOs internally to children.

With all of that being said, I do like to use some essential oils for culinary purposes like Peppermint Bark or Orange fudge. It just takes a few drops to add the flavor or essence to the recipe so the total concentration of oil per food is very, very low. I also prefer to use in only raw/uncooked recipes since heat can change the molecular structure of the oil.

A little bit of essential oil (like 1 drop) goes a long way in flavoring food.

Which essential oils to use?

I refuse to engage in the “oil wars” regarding which is the best brand of essential oils (so please do NOT promote drama or controversy in the comments). Truth is, there are many reputable companies who sell essential oils. The key is to pick a high-quality brand that create powerful oils, which usually aren’t the ones you find at the health food stores. (Sad but true!)

I chose Young Living essential oils because I went to a physical therapist who used them and I fell in love. I couldn’t believe how great I felt after I left her office and the smells were unlike anything I had experienced before. (Pure, clean, herbaceous. Not a fragranced smell like I was used to.) I then purchased their Thieves oil blend for home use and was blown away.

I would encourage you to try a few different brands and find the one that is the most effective for the least amount of oil used. This will give you the best bang for your buck. Also, look for an authentic plant smell. Some oils may not smell “good” at first because our nose is used to manufactured scents. Compare different brands back-to-back and see which one works best. The proof is in the pudding!

Get my free guide on 88 ways to use essential oils!

Want to learn more about essential oils? Download my exclusive guide, 88 Ways to Use Essential Oils!

How about you?

How do you like to use essential oils? When was the last time you used them? Share with us in the comments below!




About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.


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  1. Topical application is a very effective method for applying essential oils. Because essential oils have low molecular weights and are lipid soluble, they easily penetrate the skin.

  2. I know everyone out there considers essential oils as “natural”, so I don’t blame you if I catch some flak with my opinion here. I view EO’s as “derived from a natural source”, but I don’t view the highly concentrated product in the bottle as “natural” simply because nature does provide it to us that way. Its ironic health minded people like to buy fruit juices that say “Not from concentrate” yet flock to essential oils which are mega high concentrates. While natural does not always mean safe, I admit I’m the kind of guy that prefers to do things natural. I am having trouble comprehending putting 40 drops of highly concentrated plant oils into a diffuser, launching them into the air in my house, inhaling high concentrations of hydrocarbons for two hours everyday and calling it “Natural.” Truth be told I can’t think of much that’s any less natural than that. My definition of natural is “occurring in nature without any human intervention”. So I will enjoy the fragrance of fresh flowers outdoors and in brief passing. In toxicology, the devil is in the dose and chronic exposure. So with that I will pass on the idea essential oils are “natural”. Perhaps its all perception.

  3. As a fellow YL user, I agree with you about the Essential Oil War. I refuse to get in all that drama so glad to find another blogger who thinks like me. 🙂 I love YL products like you do. I really enjoyed reading your post keep up the great work!

  4. I bought a milky white essential oil when I was in Egypt. I can’t remember what it was to be used for or how to use it. Any suggestions for what it might be????

  5. Awesome stuff. Can’t wait to try out some new ideas now 🙂

  6. Great idea thanks for sharing it!

  7. I have to say it’s refreshing to come across a fellow blogger that isn’t entering the “essential oil war”. It’s a yucky place. We chose to use doTERRA and have loved the results we’ve gotten and I’m glad that you’ve been able to have success with YL! Essential oils are incredible and I love knowing that more and more people are taking their health into their own hands! Cheers!

  8. What essential oils do you use the most? And what for?

  9. I use my oils daily and love them so much. I’m so thankful someone introduced them to me. My family and I use them topically and aromatically, but I have only used them internally a few times. Mostly only because I normally have a plastic water bottle when I think about it, and I know that is a big no, no. I need to purchase a good, portable glass bottle. A friend of mine has a lady she orders them from and she can even personalize them, so I’m excited to order one soon. I enjoy your blog posts:)

  10. “Researchers found that most types of incense emitted significant amounts of particles, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and oxides of nitrogen, resulting in the inflammatory response.”
    Really? Did they test high quality frankincense? Or the best natural/organic/etc. Nepalese handmade incense? I’ve never found any problems with the good stuff, but cheap incense (like chemical perfume) gives me headaches and makes me cough. It’s ALL down to quality. And hey, why don’t you use an oil burner Genevieve? They’re really easy! Or is it not safe with active little children? 😉 Love all your posts!

  11. I too have been using oils for years. Mostly in my diffuser and topically. I love to make lotion bars and experiment with different fragrances. I also add them to my bath. I just got rid of mold around my windows with tea tree oil too! At this very moment I’m diffusing lavender and peppermint on my altar table. 6 drops lavender and 3 drops of the mint. Everyone who visits always remarks how nice my apartment smells. I even added a couple drops of lemon to the babies diapers during the rinse cycle for a fresh scent. 6 months ago when my husband had back surgery, wintergreen oil really helped ease the pain. So many uses! Have you see the videos on youtube of how they harvest and distill them? Very interesting, I know I wish I could be in a field of roses in Turkey!

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