How To Use Essential Oils: Beginners Guide

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Learn how to use essential oils in this simple guide, so you will feel confident and ready to use essential oils in your everyday life. Not only will you learn how to use essential oils, but you will also learn about different companies, which oils are great to begin with, and a few of my favorite recipes with essential oils.

3 bottles of essential oils with rose buds, diy products, and eucalyptus behind it

A little backstory…

I remember when I first starting using essential oils, I was so confused. I didn’t understand what to do with them, or how to apply them in order to get any benefit. First jumping in, I did it for the pretty smells, and thought maybe they did something, but I wasn’t really wasn’t sure what they did. So today, we are going to dive into all the basics of essential oils.

In our house, we love essential oils (EO). I dream of the day we have an arsenal of many different kinds. Some people swear by the magical powers of oils, while others think they are voodoo (hey mom 😉 ). I like to think of myself as someone who is pretty level-headed and I fall somewhere in the middle: I believe essential oils have great health benefits when used correctly and safely.

This post is not to take the place of your medical provider. Also, consult a doctor before using essential oils, especially with special groups of people (if you have medical condition, pregnant, nursing, around children etc.). I’m not a doctor and do not make claims to be.

Our Personal Experience

My family has personally experienced great benefits from the use of EOs. Funny story: when we first moved to Oregon almost two years ago, my mom flew across the country to help us move. Of course, my daughter caught a cold and was a super snotty mess. I made my favorite blend of oils for colds and began using it as soon as symptoms appeared.

At first, my mom would call it voo doo and didn’t believe EOs did anything. But after seeing how August’s nose would stop running and her cough would subside within a few minutes of using them, she started calling the blend her medicine. After about 2-3 hours, her symptoms would return, and my mom would start asking for August’s “medicine.” I think we made my mom a believer that day.

We use EOs in our everyday lives. Most of the time I don’t even realize it. We put them in our cleaning products, in my homemade skincare products, we diffuse it, and more.

Below, we will be discussing all of this and then some, from how to use EOs, to where to buy them, to safety, and to the best oils to choose for beginners.

3 bottles of essential oils with dried plants around

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What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated chemical compounds made from distillation (water or steam) of stems, leaves, flowers, roots and other parts of plants. According to Plant Therapy: “An essential oil is a hydrophobic liquid that contains volatile aromatic compounds from plants. Each plant part has a distinct smell, or aroma and can be useful for various therapeutic uses.” To give you an idea of how concentrated they are, it takes about 50 rose petals to make a single drop of rose essential oil, which also suggests why they are not super cheap.

History Of Essential Oils

EOs may have become super popular more recently, but they have been around and used for thousands of years. The bible mentions them over 200 times, and the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese all used oils. Many times they were saved for royalty. Luckily, now we get to use EOs in our everyday lives.

Where do you purchase essential oils?

Y’all, this is a big one. I would highly recommend you do research before purchasing EOs. Find the best quality you can afford. There are many different brands out there to choose from, and I’m not here to sell you anything or a certain brand (so no worries).

Please make sure you buy a quality brand, and don’t buy essential oils from the grocery store (although a local grocery store sells Doterra, so there is that).

Many essential oil brands can contain synthetics, are diluted, or cut with other compounds to make them not pure. Even if they say 100% pure, that doesn’t actually mean anything. There is no regulation on this phrase.

Below, I’m going to share with you the five main essential oil brands that I would say are great enough quality for me to use (and that is saying a lot). Then, you can research them and decide on your own.

I personally would choose any one of these brands, but have landed on one. This is not to say which one you should choose, or to start a debate. This is totally up to you.

4 Main Essential oils brands to choose:

I used Plant Therapy for a long time because of their high quality (strict 3rd party testing) and affordable price. I’ve had great experiences with them, and I love their transparency and customer service. I’ve also used Doterra and NOW essential oils. 

Health Benefits of Essential Oils

There are many health benefits to essential oils.

  • Help balance hormones: find my hormone balancing blend here. It takes away menstrual cramps like a boss.
  • Improve immunity and help you get over illness more quickly.
  • Help eliminate toxic chemicals in your everyday life.
    • Use them in homemade cleaning products.
    • Replace artificial fragrances (which can disrupt hormones), like those found in candles, perfume, body care products, etc.
  • Relaxation
  • Help with minor health issues.
  • For hair growth.
  • Support mental and physical health.
  • Many, many more.

How To Use Essential Oils: 3 Main Ways

  • Topically – this is when you apply essential oils to the skin. EOs should be diluted in a carrier oil (find the dilution chart below).
  • Aromatically/Diffusing – Diffusing releases essential oils into the air; you then inhale the EOs and the receptors in your olfactory membrane identify and deliver the sensory stimulation messages to your brain, helping you to perceive the aroma and reap the essential oil’s therapeutic benefits.
  • Ingestion – This is when you take them internally. See my thoughts and feelings about this below.

How To Use Essential Oils: Topically

Using essential oils topically is a great way to get the benefits of essential oils. You dilute the essential oils in a carrier oil (see my favorite carrier oils below) and apply them to the skin. The essential oils then are readily absorbed through the skin into the blood stream.

To use essential oils topically, you dilute them into a carrier oil and then apply them with your fingers onto different places on the body. You can also place them into a roller ball bottle. Then apply the diluted EOs to the bottom of your feet, your spine, or specific area of trouble (say stomach, forehead, arms, chest, etc).

You can also dilute and use essential oils topically by adding them to body lotions, balms, creams, lip balms, etc.

Never apply to open or wounded skin. Some essential oils (i.e. lemon, grapefruit, orange, etc) can be photosensitive, and should not be used on your skin before you go outside.

My favorite ways to use them topically:

*Note: Essential oils are very potent and should always be diluted. This will also help down on the cost and allow them to be more sustainable over the long run. Certain sensitive groups of people (i.e. children, pregnant, and breastfeeding women should definitely not use essential oils without dilution (AKA neat).

Diluting Essential Oils: Essential Oil Dilution Chart

As discussed above, when using essential oils you should always dilute them.

Dilution chart for essential oils

What is a carrier oil and which ones are the best carrier oils for essential oils:

Carrier oils are simply an oil you use to dilute EOs. Carrier oils are important to use with essential oils because if you use straight essential oils on your skin, they can cause severe skin irritation, redness, burning, etc. And since EOs are really concentrated, using them without a carrier is really expensive.

I remember when I first started out, it seemed like everyone used fractionated coconut oil (which is, frankly, a little expensive) and I thought this was the only carrier oil you could use. So not true.

I don’t try to over complicate this by any means and usually use whatever carrier oil I already have on hand and is cheaper. Usually I go for avocado oil because it is not that expensive (especially if you purchase it at Costco) and it is very mild in smell.

Carrier Oil Options:

This is a short list of carrier oils you could choose from and there are plenty more options available..

  • Avocado oil
  • Coconut oil (fractionated is the liquid form)
  • Olive oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Apricot oil
  • Almond oil

Avoid mineral oil, corn, canola and soybean oils as these are highly processed oils. Also, they aren’t healthy to eat, so if you have them in your pantry, just toss them.

*Note: vegetable butters (shea butter, cocoa butter, etc) are not carrier oils but are frequently used with a carrier oil to use for body products.

Aromatically: How To Diffuse Essential Oils:

There are three main ways to diffuse: ultrasonic diffuser, nebulizing diffuser, or passive diffusion (like wearing a diffuser necklace or braclet). Some research has shown that diffusion is more effective that ingestion. You can see more of my thoughts on ingestion of oils below.

White essential oil diffuser with essential oils and eucalyptus behind it

Ultrasonic Diffusers

Is the most common type of diffusion. Ultrasonic diffusers use ultrasonic vibrations to a small disk under water to create a fine mist that is released into the air dispersing the essential oils

Nebulizing Diffusers

Nebulizing diffusion uses a air pump to deliver essential oil without water or heat and delivers straight essential oil in the form on fine mist droplets. This type of diffusion gives you the most benefits from your oils since it straight essential oil.

Passive Diffusion

Passive diffusion is a simple way to get the benefits of aromatherapy without any special equipment. As the oils begin to evaporate you can inhale the  molecules being released into the air. You can use things around your house like felt, cotton balls, inhalers, etc

Diffusion Safety:

  • Always follow the instructions on the diffuser.
  • Diffusers should be used intermittently and not just all day long. Try 15 -30 minute intervals with the diffuser off for at least 30 minutes in between.
  • If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have children at home, or a medical condition, always make sure the essential oil you are using is safe. Many essential oils are not safe to use around children. See below for more information.

How To Use Essential Oils: Ingestion

This is a very debatable topic. You can find companies and people promoting regular ingestion of essential oils. While we do tend to ingest essential oils (say in food) in small amounts, that is very different that regular consumption in greater quantities. 

Some research has even shown that diffusion is more effective that ingestion. It is also a more sustainable way to use EOs.

I can not in good measure promote the regular ingestion of essential oils and would recommend working with a certified aromatherapist that specializes in this if you’re interested in ingesting them.

Robert Tisserand, who essentially wrote the bible of essential oil safety, says that ingesting essential oils on a occasion for medicinal purposes is ok. But you have to be cautious of quantity, quality, an which oils. He says:

“What I do believe is that you need to know what you’re doing. You need to know why you’re doing it; what dose you are taking; how long you are going to be taking it for; what the reason is…. If you’re talking about very small amounts as you would use in food flavors – if we’re talking about one or two drops a day – that’s fine, that is OK, but if you’re taking a therapeutic dose of essential oils, if you’re taking 10 drops, 20 drops a day just because somebody told you it was a good idea, it’s not a good idea.” Source

mom putting essential oils on toddlers feet

Essential Oil Safety:

This is something that I’m super passionate about. All too frequently, I see people using essential oils wrong. As stated before, there is a debate whether or not ingestion is safe or not.

I will always stay on the side of caution when it comes to EO. And if you have a medical condition, are pregnant, nursing, around kids, I would always seek medical advice.

Safety With Babies And Kids

Kids are definitely a special group, and should be treated as such with essential oils. There are a few rules to be followed when using essential oils correctly.

  • They should always be diluted, and this dilution rate changes based on age.
  • babies 3-24 months should have oils diluted to 0.25%-.5% for whole body application, or 1 drop per 4 tsp carrier oil.
  • Children 2-6 should be diluted to 1%-2% for whole body application, or 4-5 drop per 2 tsp carrier oil.
  • EO should be avoided topically with babies under 3 months of age because their skin hasn’t developed fully.
  • EO should be avoided in premature babies.

Oils to avoid or severely limit with Babies And Kids

Some oils need to be completed avoided for babies and kids, because it can cause slowed breathing.

  • Peppermint can be diffused cautiously for kids 3-6 years – about 2 drops, and topically at a dilution of 0.5% (1 drop per 4 tsp). Children age 6-10 can apply peppermint at 1.5% (1 dropper tsp)
  • Rosemary can be used in children older that 6.
  • Eucalyptus (glubla and radiata) can be diffused – 1-2 drops and applied topically at 0.5% (2 drops per 4 tsp). Children 6-10 can apply pepper

For more information regarding which essential oils are safe for kids, check out this article. I routinely refer to it.

Also, I love that Plant Therapy has a kid safe line (many are also breastfeeding safe too), which makes my life easier.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

EOs are more than likely to cross the placenta, and great caution should be taken when using essential oils during pregnancy. Some EOs are safer than others during pregnancy and breastfeeding (I usually use this list to determine EO safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding).

As always, consult with a medical provider regarding essential oil use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  • EOs should be mostly avoided or seriously limited (use only as needed at a 1% dilution) and not everyday.
  • Use on occasion for health support, like for nausea, anxiety, etc.
  • Ingestion, rectal or vaginal use of EOs is not recommended.

The Best Essential Oils For Beginners

When you are just starting out, it can be really overwhelming to figure out what EOs to buy first. I’m going to share with you my top 5 EOs for beginners that are single oils, not blends.

  • Lavender – calming, anti-inflammatory, skin soothing.
  • Tea Tree – helps support the immune system, has a soothing effect on skin and has anti-bacterial properties.
  • Lemon – or another citrus (i.e. orange, mandarin) – uplifting, immune system support.
  • Peppermint – cooling effect, promotes alertness.
  • Frankincense – relaxation, immune system support, helps support aging skin.

Something else you may consider, is starting off buying a few singles and a few synergies/blends. Synergies are two or more EOs that have been combined for a specific purpose. Most companies offer a starter kit with the most popular EOs. If you are considering (Doterra or Young Living) and want a starter kit, let me know, and I can get you in touch with someone who sells them. I do not, but know many people who do.

DIY All-Purpose cleaner on a rattan place mat with clothes pins and essential oils around it

Right now my favorite synergies are :

  • Self Esteem (Plant Therapy), which would be similar to Motivate (Doeterra), Valor (Young Living)
  • Germ Fighter (Plant Therapy), which would be similar to Thieves (Young Living) – OnGuard (Doeterra). I use Germ Destroyer (Plant Therapy’s kid safe version) a lot and around the kids.
  • Calming the Child (Plant Therapy)
  • Sniffle Stopper (Plant Therapy)

My favorite single EOs

  • Copaiba – alleviates sore muscles, help with respiratory support and occasional digestion discomfort, immune support, can help tighten skin.
  • Grapefruit – uplifting, help with occasional digestion discomfort, help with oily skin, and help relieve head and neck tension.
  • Clary Sage – can help calm emotions and help hormonal balance during your menstrual cycle.

Essential Oils FAQ

What essential oils are good for skin?

  • Frankincense – helps tone and tighten skin, great for aging skin
  • Lavender – helps with inflammation
  • Geranium – balances oily skin, and can help fight wrinkles.
  • Ylang Ylang – helps treat oily skin, and can promote cell turnover.
  • Chamomile – calming and great for dry, sensitive skin.
  • Clary Sage – reduce puffiness (also great for hormone balance)

What essential oils are good for anxiety?

Lavender, chamomile, grapefruit, and Tension Relief.

What essential oils help with pain?

Frankincense, lavender, ginger, chamomile, rosemary, and eucalyptus (source). Wintergreen or peppermint can have a cooling effect to help with pain. I also really like copaiba.

Which essential oils are good for hair?

From my DIY Hair Spray post

  • Lavender- can help increase the thickness of your hair by increasing the number of hair follicles (source).
  • Rosemary– can also stimulate hair follicles. Rosemary has been touted to help grow longer, thicker hair and can help with premature baldness (source). Also helpful with dandruff.
  • Cedarwood– helps stimulate hair follicles, increase circulation, and reduce dandruff.
  • Peppermint – this study showed peppermint essential oil can significantly increase hair growth.
  • Chamomile–  can soften hair and add shine. (source)

What essential oil is good for sleep?

Chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, blue tansy, clary sage just to name a food. You could also try synergies, like Sleep Aide, Nighty Night, Sweet Dreams.

Which essential oils are toxic to dogs?

This is up for debate. Some people say these oils should be completely avoided, while others claim is it the amount being used and how it is being used. According to this source: Tea tree, Cinnamon, Citrus, Pennyroyal, Pine, Sweet birch, Wintergreen, and Ylang ylang should be avoided, while others suggest that oils, like tea tree, have to be used in large amounts to be toxic.

Which essential oils are toxic to cats?

The same article stated above says cassia, cinnamon, citrus, clove, eucalyptus, lemon, lavender, peppermint, spruce, tea tree, and thyme are all toxic to cats.

Can essential oils be dangerous?

Like with anything, if not used properly, EOs do have the potential to be dangerous. Although usually. when used appropriately, the chance of reaction is low. As we talked about before, especially with certain conditions, or certain populations, it is always good to take extra precautions.

Have you tried using essential oils? What are your favorite oils to use?

This post was updated February 2019

11 Comments

  1. The more I read about essential oils the more confused , my question is what’s the difference in aromatherapy oils & essential oils? I wanted to buy some oils to use as cleaning agents but when I look at for them at stores most are labeled aromatherapy, so I put back others essential oils which is it ?

    1. I know it can be so confusing. Essential oils can have an aromatherapy benefit, but I wouldn’t purchase ones labeled aromatherapy oils because they are most likely not pure and contain fragrances (which are toxic) rather than pure plant essences. Hope that makes sense and is helpful.

  2. Thank you, Amy! Great information. I am curious about essential oils and you answered many questions for me

  3. This is such an amazing post!!!! I totally appreciate your honesty and all the information! The fact that you’re writing on behalf of oils and not a brand is 🙌🏽🙌🏽! I started using lavender and cedarwood in my diffuser and decided to order a few More oils to dip my toes in the water! Honestly a lot of my order was just sort of guessing on what I thought miiioght work for this or that because there is SO MUCH INFORMATION out there it’s hard to make a decision but this helped SO SO much! You’ve broken things down so simple for us newbies I finally feel confident in what I want/need to order! Thanks so much for putting this out there and having a genuine passion for oils!

    1. Thank you Chae! I’m so glad this helped guide you. You are so right, there is tons of information out there and it is hard to sift through it all. Thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful comment. It means the world to me.

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