Introduction to Essential Oil Safety

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I have noticed a large amount of misinformation going around the internet, e-books, and word of mouth about using essential oils. As I have delved deeper into my Master Aromatherapy certification, I am learning more about the SAFE use of essential oils and I think that it is important to share some safety information with you too! If used properly and with care, these wonderful plant essences can be used in everything from naturally cleaning your home to helping clear up your acne, and more! The key here though is to know the safety of using these essential oils! I will be covering a range of safety topics in the coming weeks, including safety during pregnancy, with babies and children, and with animals and cats.

NEVER try to remove an essential oil first with water…

Let's pretend this is chem class and it's our first day. The first thing we learn is going to be What to do if we get something in our eyes (or on our skin). In a normal science class, the teacher will proceed to show you the eye-washing station and how to use it to flush your eyes out, should you somehow get a dangerous chemical passed the required science-geek safety goggles you will be wearing. This practice may work for water based chemicals, but when we deal with essential oils, it's extremely important to remember to rinse the problem area(s) FIRST with a carrier oil or  whole fat milk or cream; NOT WATER. If you rinse the area first with  a fat like a vegetable oil or milk, it helps to quickly carry away any of the excess essential oil. (If rinsing your eyes, milk is the best choice, as it will quickly stop any burning that you might be experiencing, you can then proceed to flush your eyes with water for 15 minutes) Please also note that you should NOT use essential oils in your eyes, ears, or nose. It's best if you didn't use them in any orifice.

Some essential oils are NOT meant for pregnant or nursing women

Although we covered Essential Oil Safety for Pregnant and Nursing Mamas, much more in depth in its own post, I still feel it should be mentioned here briefly, for safety purposes. There is some concern over the use of essential oils during pregnancy, but if used properly and with caution, essential oils can be very helpful to the impending mother, for health and for many of the discomforts that come with pregnancy. According to Salvatore Battaglia in “The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy“, the main concerns of essential oil use during pregnancy is that some essential oils :

  • may have a hormone-like activity, disturbing the normal, finely tuned balance of hormones
  • may cause injury or malformation in the development of the fetus
  • may cause abortion

This doesn't describe EVERY essential oil! There are some that are totally safe to use dermally (Do NOT ingest any essential oils while pregnant or nursing!) or for diffusion.  As with all things pharmaceutical or natural, care should always be taken during pregnancy when using essential oils. (really…this whole post is saying care should be taken with ALL uses of essential oils! Just sayin'!)

Introduction to Essential Oil Safety -

Essential oils with babies and children

Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and babies. Certain essential oils could be toxic if ingested. I will be writing more in depth on specific essential oils that are safe to use topically on babies and children, but no essential oils should be given orally to children. According to Robert Tisserand, Essential Oil Safety;

The majority of cases of essential oil poisoning involve accidents with young children, often between 1 and 3 years of age. Approximately 75% of cases in the USA are in children up to 6 years old.

 ALL essential oils should be diluted for use with babies and children. (really, they should be diluted for use for everyone!) It is also important to note that when adding essential oils to baths of children, they must first be diluted in a water soluble carrier, such as raw unfiltered honey or vegetable glycerin. Adding essential oils straight to bath water, without a carrier, runs you the risk of causing irritation to the skin. There are many applications for essential oils with babies and children, but they should be kept away from a child's face. Essential oils should not be used in or around the nose in children. I often suggest massaging the feet with young babies rather than the chest and back, for the safest application of essential oils. For more on Safe Essential Oil Use for Babies & Children, you can read my post! It's a great all-inclusive guide on what oils to use at what age!

What's the deal with ingesting essential oils?

There is a lot of controversy across the internet, as to whether or not to ingest essential oils. I am here to tell you NOT to ingest your essential oils. Much of this controversy over-ingestion, actually stems from French aromatherapy, sometimes referred to as “clinical” or “medical” aromatherapy. In France, you can schedule an appointment with a Doctor who is also a certified aromatherapist. Here, after going over your medical history, ailments, and current prescriptions, this Doctor may prescribe a regime of essential oils to ingest, just as they would prescribe other pharmaceuticals. There is a lot of science and evidence from this school of thought, BUT the key here is that, in this instance, you have a certified aromatherapist and Doctor who knows about what they are prescribing, how it will interact with you, and how to safely prescribe it. You would not (except maybe in a zombie apocalypse situation) go into a pharmacy and start randomly taking certain pharmaceutical drugs without first consulting your Doctor as to whether or not it's safe for YOU to take that medication; would you? 

It's important to understand that all essential oils, no matter the quality of the oil, are an extremely concentrated combination of multiple chemical constituents. Without the supervision of an aromatherapy certified medical practitioner, ingestion of essential oils could lead to poisoning. I do not care how pure your essential oil company claims to be, that does not change the fact that the chemical composition of a specific oil, might lead to a serious or deadly reaction.  According to both Robert Tisserand and Salvatore Battaglia, there are many recorded cases of poisoning from essential oils, and ALL of those cases were from oral ingestion of essential oils.  If you are not a certified aromatherapist, then it is safest to utilize your essential oils dermally or through diffusion into the air. You can read more about ingesting essential oils in my post The Case for Ingestion – Is Ingesting Essential Oils Safe?

Dilution is key to safety

No matter the method you choose to use essential oils, dilution is key. You should NEVER apply an essential oil to your skin, neat (alone, without a carrier oil to dilute it). Some essential oils can cause irritation to the skin if  not highly diluted. These “hot oils”, (oils that produce some sort of warming or burning sensation when applied to the skin) such as cinnamon, peppermint, marjoram, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, etc. should be highly diluted to prevent irritation on the skin.

There is also quite a bit of erroneous information across the internet about the use of much gentler essential oils such as lavender and tea tree, being used neat. By using just one drop of ANY essential oil neat, you could develop a permanent sensitization to that essential oil. According to Marge Clarke, in her book “Essential Oils and Aromatics

“One of my mentors reminds me ‘sensitization is forever.' And I know she is right. Years ago I read the books saying that lavender oil could be used neat (undiluted). I very unwisely used undiluted lavender on broke skin, and consequently set up a sensitivity reaction. Today, almost two decades later, if I come in contacts with lavender in any form, I will immediately start a new round of contact dermatitis that can take months to heal.”

A basic dilution chart that is taught in many aromatherapy schools is below. It is important to keep in mind that this is a GENERAL REFERENCE chart for blends, but some essential oils require more dilution than others, so educating yourself on each oil that you are using, is highly recommended, to prevent any unforeseen reactions.

Essential Oil General Reference for Blending - thehippyhomemaker.comLess is more

With essential oils, It has been said, that one drop of essential oil is roughly equivalent to 75 cups of tea of that herb. It makes sense, that with something that strong, you would need much less of it to get the job done. Pure essential oils are highly concentrated and only a very small amount is needed to achieve the desired end result.

Some essential oils can cause photosensitization when going out in the sun

Some essential oils should not be used before going out into sunlight or sunbathing because they can cause photosensitization to the skin. What's that, you ask? It means that if you use certain citrus essential oils on your skin, (with the exception of products that wash off in the shower, such as body wash and shampoo) before exposing your skin to the sun's rays  or UV lights used in tanning beds, you may get a red rash around the area of application. Some of these essential oils do not take very much to garner this reaction, while others you can safely use in small percentages without issues.

Essential oils known to be phototoxic

  • Bergamot essential oil (maximum use to prevent phototoxic reaction 0.4%)
  • Grapefruit essential oil (maximum use to prevent phototoxic reaction 4.0%)
  • Lemon (expressed) essential oil (maximum use to prevent phototoxic reaction 2.0%)
  • Lime (expressed) essential oil (maximum use to prevent phototoxic reaction 0.7%)
  • Bitter orange (expressed) essential oil (maximum use to prevent phototoxic reaction 1.25%)
  • Mandarin leaf oil (maximum use to prevent phototoxic reaction 0.17%)
  • clementine essential oil

Non-Phototoxic citrus essential oils

  • Bergamot essential oil (FCF aka bergapten-free, this can be found at Mountain Rose Herbs)
  • Lemon essential oil (steam distilled)
  • Lemon leaf oil
  • lime essential oil (steam distilled)
  • mandarin essential oil
  • Sweet orange essential oil
  • orange leaf oil
  • tangelo essential oil

Essential oils are flammable

Do not use essential oils near an open flame as they are  highly flammable.

Introduction to Essential Oil Safety -

Books that are worth a read for anyone interested in learning more about aromatherapy

There are a TON of books that you can buy on the topic of essential oils and aromatherapy. The problem is that not all of them are filled with great information on this topic! Some of the MOST informative books I have read so far and should be in everyone's library are:

  1. Essential Oil Safety – By Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young
  2. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy – By Salvatore Battaglia
  3. Essential Oils: A Handbook for Aromatherapy Practice – By Jennifer Peace Rhind
  4. The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy – By Kurt Schnaubelt Ph.D.

  5. Aromatherapy for Health Professionals – By Len Price and Shirley Price
  6. Aromatherapy Workbook – By Shirley Price

  7. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art – By Kathi Keville and Mindy Greene 

  8. Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals – By Kristen Leigh Bell

  9. The Animal Desk Reference – Melissa Shelton
  10. Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy – By Suzanne Catty

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All information on The Hippy Homemaker is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician.

  • Margaret

    A year and a half ago I had a sinus infection. I was very ignorant of how to use the oils but I figured using a couple of drops (I’m not sure if I used Tea Tree oil or Peppermint) in a steam inhaler could help and couldn’t hurt since it is natural. I don’t know if this method caused the asthma that put me in the hospital but I have never had asthma before. How unsafe was my effort?

    • the effort itself and the oils you chose are all safe, it could be that you have an allergy to one of the plants or a plant in the same subspecies!

  • Henley

    You should never be ingesting the oils. If you’re on medication, they definitely could be reacting together. If you BP and stomach issues are normal, then stop.

  • Henley

    doTERRA says you can actually ingest their oils. My mother did with tea tree oil and I had to tell her to refrain from doing it again because IT’S TOXIC. I can’t believe doTerra would recommend ingesting their oils.

  • Melissa

    Thank you soooo much for sharing your knowledge. I am 4 days new to essential oils. I ordered from Young Living, but they are so eager to sell me more, I don’t trust their information. It seems like selling is the priority rather than health. You seem very knowledgeable and researched. Thank you for saving me probably years of time in sharing what you know and allowing me to feel more confident in using my oils safely.

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  • apply coconut oil to the rashes, they should heal up within a few days or so! Next time that happens you can use coconut oil to remove any from the skin! Olive oil works too!

  • yes though you want to be safe with the ones you choose to use. Some oils are hot/cold oils and can cause irritation to such a sensitive area. There are essential oils that can be used though! I love to do peppermint lavender, sweet orange, rose and vanilla!

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  • Sarah Lambert

    I occasionally brush my teeth the tea tree oil but I haven’t been diluting it. I am guessing I shouldn’t be doing that? Maybe mix with coconut oil?

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  • I like to make my own blends (it’s cheaper that way) so I buy from both MRH and Plant Therapy! Those two are most definitely my favorites!

  • Bonnie Hisman

    I have a greyhound with severe thunder phobia. I know some folks who have rubbed lavender essential oil neat just on the inside of the ears (not internal) with wonderful results. What are your thoughts on this–is it safe?

    • Lavender is great for pups who are scared of storms, but i would dilute it first in a carrier oil;so that it’s not so strong and you don’t risk sensitization!

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  • Jen Flesvig

    Christina, my co-worker friend and I heard about an oil “class”, so we decided to attend. Come to find out, it was just a YLEO sales pitch. We were soooo let down. So, I’m reading an article that another YLEO FB friend of mine posted and in “Related Articles” just underneath hers was your blog. OMG, I told my co-worker friend to read all the amazing things you had to say about the whirlwind we know as “PICK YOUR OIL COMPANY”…LOL. I’ve been reading your ideas and information and clicking this link and that link you share and OMGOODNESS! I have never been so enlightened and enthralled by a topic as I have with this one. Thank you for your ample amounts of information and your candidness about the OIL GAMUT. I am checking into the Herbal Academy of New England and doing some reading into the Mountain Rose Herbs along with others that you mentioned. 🙂

    • I am so glad that the information I share is helpful to you! Thank you so much for reading my work and spreading the word! I love essential oils and find that they have so many uses, and I am on a mission to spread the word of the safe use of them so that everyone can experience the awesomeness! I am so glad you’re here to help me with that! 🙂 Keep on reading because I have a ton of great aromatherapy posts planned for the future! (I am currently moving so i will get back on those after the move, /sigh so much work!)

  • Danielle Johnson

    Hi Christina! Thank you SOOOOOOO much for sharing your insights. I love your simplified, clear explanations. I also happen to really love using most of the citrus oils that will react to sunlight. Do you have any recommendations for alternative uses for the terpineol characteristic I use these oils for in my laundry and cleaning mixes? I love using them (the lime, grapefruit, and sweet orange) in our family’s hand cleaner solution when we need a no-rinse hand wash. Do you have any alternative recommendations for us to replace the citrus components over the warmer, outdoor-in-the-sun days? This is kind of a bummer though. I enjoy the invigorating, light mood and aroma of that oil family, but this limitation will ultimately cause me to expand my oil palette.

    • not all citrus essential oils are phototoxic and some are more phototoxic than others. You can use bergamot if it’s bergaptine free (which mountain rose herbs’ is b-free), sweet orange and tangerine are not phototoxic and grapefruit has a pretty low rate. You can use a small amount of grapefruit without having a reaction, so I usually mix sweet orange, tangerine, and a little bit of grapefruit to get a sunshine safe blend! You can however use all of the oils in soaps, shampoos, and other washoff products, as well as your cleaning supplies and diffuser. I use all the citrus essential oils in my diffusers all the time!

      • Danielle Johnson

        Woohoo! Great to know! XD Thanks.

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  • I actually write about making your own child safe vapor rub for congestion (It’s called Cool Vibes Vapor Rub Jr.) here:

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  • I would personally suggest avoiding fennel essential oil while breastfeeding and around the baby, because it is known to be estrogenic. It’s suggested to be used around kids after the age of 6 yr because of this! To increase milk supply you can try drinking fennel tea though, that is much safer because it’s not so concentrated!

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  • Maria

    Hi Christina, thank you so much for this article!! I am so interested in essential oils, I keep hearing so many wonderful things about them from friends and family. I’m trying to read up as much as I can about it all before actually buying any. This information is so important, thank you again for sharing!

  • Beautiful Blog Christina!

    Can I play devil’s advocate?
    A while back our family was in a real dilemma – we’ve always chosen natural choices for a family, but now live in a remote part of Canada, where there is little to no alternative practitioners.
    I’ve always had a healthy fear of oils, being mentored a little by an old school, educated in Britain Aromatherapist. We had a bit of a health crises a year ago – and I went looking for answers. One day while administering oil of oregano orally to some family members, it all the sudden occurred to me Oh My Gosh – we ingest oregano oil, WHY???? That really sent me on a hunt.
    What I found out was that much of the Aromatherapy practices in North America comes from the British School of Aromatherapy. While the French School of Aromatherapy does not discourage some ingestion. Also “aromatherapy” of course is relatively new, under 100 years old. You can find Dr. Stewart talking about the history of how about it came that oils should not be ingested here
    My heart and passion is for family’s to reclaim our rights to heal our families. To be empowered to help each other and heal – not run to the doctor for everything. There are many more deaths linked to pharmaceuticals than there are EO’s and if YL and other similar companies were so dangerous – there would be documented accidents and deaths – which as far as I know there is not. I think, as you have communicated, we should be respectful and wise about these highly highly concentrated oils.
    Many families like ours take our safety and protocols from information like the Essential Oil Integrative Medical Guide, Higgley’s and Life Science Essential Oil Reference Books and even the book Gently Babies. I now believe that companies like YL are not doing aromatherapy…they have gone much further in their research than the past 100 years, into a anthropological view, study and practice of EOs. It may sound redundant that companies like these emphasize the purity, however if these highly concentrated oils are being distilled along with pesticides, herbicides or even hazardous chemicals cleaners – the oil produced will be a highly concentrated EO mixture of these hazardous substances as well – an important reason never to ingest those, let alone put on my body, where it would enter my blood stream.
    I hope you will allow my comment to be published. I do believe that I was of your school of thought for more than a decade. But after much searching and researching, I have come to other conclusions. There is no doubt about it, there should be strict protocol when using EO’s but I do think there are answers that companies like YL has that the average school of aromatherapy does not have….but I’m speaking just from my own journey.

    • Christina

      Hi there patty! Thank you so much for you comment and your story! I am actually of the same mind as you when it comes to ingestion. I am not against ingestion, I just don’t promote it to beginner’s who have no inkling of what they are doing and are inproperly ingesting their essential oils as their mlm rep told them to do. While ingestion is safe when done properly by an aromatherapy professional, the main source of poisoning in essential oils is from improper ingestion (especially in children!). These highly concentrated oils are made up of specific chemical constituents that are harsh on the stomach, liver, and pancreas when ingested improperly or in excess. mlm representatives are not certified aromatherapist and give some pretty unsafe advice as far as ingestion goes! Over in France where ingestion is used, it is done by medical professionals that are also certified in aromatherapy. As you have clearly done your research I think you are totally fine to use ingestion, but as always use caution as to dosage, medicinal conflicts ect.! it should be used when inhalation and topical application aren’t strong enough or fast acting enough to kick something crazy to the curb. I personally haven’t even had the need for ingestion in my home, where topical and inhalation aren’t used, herbs usually are! PS, those are some great books!!!!

      • Thanks so much Christine, for your reply! I agree with you, that many people have an unhealthy dependance on their untrained rep. And this is prevalent even outside mlm’s. My fourth pregnancy, I was being mentored by a hobby-herbalist in my herbal pregnancy. I was taking all sorts of herbal concoctions, following all of her advice to the letter…preparing my uterus and body for the best childbirth yet. Would you believe out of 5 full term births – that was my worst labor and childbirth yet?
        Our Chiropractor actually, was our miracle in that birth story. My lesson I learned – herbs were powerful – and not to take advice from just anyone…I have a suspicion that these herbs really did strengthen my uterus, to the point of breaking my water early. Water’s intact for a labor is always a remarkably better experience…I digress.
        Thanks Christine!

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  • Patsy luckie

    Do you have a diffuser dilution chart?

  • I wanted to inquire about ingesting essential oils.. When you are picking oils from the market how do you know if they are pure enough to be ingested?

    • Christina

      Unless you are working with a certified aromatherapist who is trained in ingestion, or you yourself are, I do not suggest ingestion at all. Essential oils are way too strong and many issues from poisoning to destroying your stomach’s immune holding good bacteria, to being way to hard on the liver to be able to completely process it all, have been problems with ingestion in the US. There is a lot of dangerous information shared out there regarding ingestion. I am not saying that ingestion is bad and shouldn’t be done, but just like with most strong pharmaceuticals, its not properly used safely and training is required to truly know all the drug interactions and medical contradictions with each essential oil!

  • Hi there, this is great, thank you so much!
    You had mentioned a separate post on using oils during nursing and pregnancy .. Is this available now? I recently purchased oils and I want to be super safe before I dive in. I am exclusively nursing my 4 month old daughter & want to make sure I don’t use anything that would harm her or cause any issue. I would like to use valor, joy & peace and calming mainly for anxiety. If I diffuse these, are they safe for her to inhale? If I apply topically to me, am I able to apply eighth over my heart or is that too close to where she nurses? When I do use them.. Will washing my hands well with soap and water be enough to make sure she doesn’t get any on her? I know that is a lot.. Thank you so much Again for writing this.

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  • eriol12

    When you want to make clay minerals hair wash how much EO should I use. Let’s say I wanna mix a total of 16oz of aloe vera juice and clay. So now I have ~16-17oz of solution. I have 9 different EO’s I want to add to this concoction. How many drops of each should I add?!

    • eriol12

      I just wanna add the following:

      Let’s say 2% dilution: 1 oz. = 30 ml. = 600 drops of EO. 2% of 600 drops is 12, so………. for 1 oz. of carrier oil or finished product you are going to add 12 drops of essential oil.

      What if you are using more than one EO (related to my previous question), should the total amount not be more than 2%? Would you put 12 drops of each EO in 1 oz of finished product or only 12 drops total? I believe it would be best to aim for that 2% total (so 12 drops total). I just want a confirmation from an expert in this field 🙂

      • Christina

        Hi there! The dilution ratio is a general guideline. Each essential oil you want to utilize within your final creation, may have a different maximum dermal use percentage based upon the chemistry from those specific essential oils. I would highly suggest you get Robert Tisserand’s book Essential Oil Safety, as it goes through the specific safety percentages that each essential is safe to use topically. For example, if I were making a Lavender/Lemongrass blend, Lavender essential oil has generally not caused any reactions or sensitivities so it can easily be used at a higher amount, but say lemongrass essential oil is a much harsher essential oil and has a maximum dermal use of .7% to avoid skin sensitization and irritation. In this pretend blend i might use 10 drops lavender to 1 drop lemongrass. I develop my own blends with this information in mind. It’s very important to research each specific essential oil that you would like to use in your blend.

        • eriol12

          Very helpful!
          The book looks interesting and it has good reviews on amazon. I wanted to know the specific safety %(s) that each of the following EOs is safe to use topically:

          Rosemary, Lavender, Clove Bud, Peppermint, Ylang Ylang Extra, Clary Sage, Patchouli, Bergamot FCF and Frankincense (Sacred)

          I guess I’m gonna have to buy the book. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction 🙂

  • Rebecca

    Would it be safe to add a drop of essential oil (peppermint, or maybe thieves) when making soap? It would be diluted then, but it would be going on skin.

    • Christina

      yes in soap essential oils are diluted!

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  • Laura

    I’m concerned after the example of becoming overly sensitive to lavender oil. If it ( or another oil) is diluted with a carrier oil, would it be safe to apply to broken skin, or would one still run the risk of developing a sensitivity to it?

    • Christina

      Dilution is the key to not having a sensitive reaction to essential oils. If diluted properly, most often there will not be an issue. That doesn’t account for someone who already is allergic to that plant to begin with, but outside of that, dilution is the way to prevent a reaction from happening!

  • Angie

    This is such an important post — thank you! My fellow EO fans in my network go crazy with them and I am not looking forward to the day that I hear about one of them becoming ill from misuse. The skin absorbs so much as it is, so I wish more people would try that method before jumping onto the capsule or even spiked-water bandwagons. It’s rather irresponsible of the companies that tout EOs as consumable, even with the limitations and dosages that they suggest.

  • Lisa

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have used essential oils for the past couple of years but I’ve more recently been reading books on the subject to educate myself further. It never ceases to amaze me how people will try anything they read on the internet or hear without cross referencing to see if they should or shouldn’t really do something. . . a co worker was about ready to slather EO’s straight on her baby because a friend suggested she try and buy a YL EO kit and told her it was okay. . ..didn’t happen to mention Carrier Oils or any oil safety tips. . . Not Ok. . .

  • vicki

    Even tea tree oil? what carrier is best when using it on wounds/infections?

    • Angie

      I keep around a blend of two drops tea tree to about 2 Tbsp of coconut oil for use as an anti-fungal nail treatment. I tried it on a fresh scrape just yesterday and it immediately decreased the redness and dulled the pain (I use Q-tips or a spoon to remove product, so there is no double-dipping, even though it is a very anti-microbial blend). Today, it’s well on its way toward healed. I reapplied once this morning. For my nighttime face moisturizer, I dilute tea tree in sweet almond oil (2 fl oz almond oil with 10 drops tea tree and 5 drops lavender). Both the almond and coconut oils seem to be great carriers thus far.

  • Thank you so much for writing this. As someone just getting started on this journey and feeling my way around, this is a great source of info!

  • Thank you for the post! I have been using my Peace and Calming EO on my feet neat. Off to go dilute that now!

  • This is such an important topic. As EOs become more popular, I see so many people blindly jumping into using them. They don’t really know what they are doing. Although it may be natural, it still needs to be used safely.

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  • Lovely post, as always! Thanks for the great articles!

  • You are right, lots of miss-informed advice out there because I was told to use tea tree oil and peppermint oil directly on my skin. Thankfully I have not had a problem but it’s good to know!

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