Many people use essential oils to treat various medical conditions, being careful to mix them with a carrier oil like coconut, almond, jojoba, olive, or grapeseed oil, to name a few. This dilution protects the skin from irritation and the carrier oil often has skin-enhancing benefits.
Two essential oils, lavender and tea tree (melaleuca) work well as neat essential oils, meaning they can be applied directly to the skin without being mixed with a carrier oil. They can be applied full strength, undiluted, sometimes referred to as “neat”.
Is It Safe to Use Neat Essential Oils?
Many aromatherapists, wellness experts, and authors of books on essential oil recommend using neat essential oils in certain situations. In order for this advice to be safe and sound, the aromatherapist would need to have substantial experience working with essential oils, access to professional advice, and a clear understanding of the skin type of the person using the essential oil.
Potential Problems Associated with Use of Neat Essential Oils
1. Skin Reactions
The most obvious complication commonly encountered with using an undiluted essential oil is phototoxicity and skin irritations such as rashes or even skin tears. There is also the risk of skin desensitization involving an allergic reaction so intense that the offending essential oil cannot be used on the skin again, even in a diluted form. In extreme cases, exposure to the substance (ex. lavender) in any form will cause a reaction that is hard to bring under control.
2. Systemic Reactions
The use of essential oils full-strength can cause systemic reactions such as neurotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, fetotoxicity, or carcinogenicity. While skin reactions are visible and can be handled promptly, systemic reactions are not immediately obvious and the cause may be difficult to discern.
Essential Oils That Should Always Be Diluted With Carrier Oil
Some essential oils are known as “hot” oils because they produce a warming sensation on the skin. These oils should never be applied to the skin without first being properly diluted with carrier oil. Some of the most common hot oils are:
- Thieve's Blend
More Reasons for Diluting with Carrier Oil
Effectiveness Not Compromised
Diluting with the carrier oil of your choice does not decrease the effectiveness of the oil or compromise your purpose in using it. In fact, the degree of absorption may be greater with carrier oil because it eliminates the problem of quick evaporation of undiluted essential oil.
In an emergency situation such as a painful bee sting away from home, a sparing application of a neat oil like lavender could be acceptable, but it might be a good practice to massage some carrier oil into the area as soon as possible to soothe any resulting skin irritation.
Diluting Essential Oils Saves You Money
In most blended oils, whether premixed or blended at home, the common dilution is 2% essential oil to 98% carrier oil. Because of the intense concentration of essential oils, all the therapeutic or beauty benefits needed are fully present in such a dilution.
The cost savings can make it possible to build a well-stocked ‘medicine cabinet' of essential oils to cover almost any need that could arise.
How to Safely Use Essential Oils on Babies and Children
Careful choice of essential oils and proper dilution is crucial if applied to babies or children. They have much thinner, more sensitive skin and are more susceptible to allergic reactions. Dilution with coconut or apricot kernel oil can have a positive effect on even the most sensitive skin.