Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Beginner's Guide to Using Essential Oils
By Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Swanson Health's Complete Beginner's Guide to Essential Oils
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy may promote relaxation and help relieve stress.1 It has also been used to promote sleep,1 support overall health and wellness and it may even help support healthy blood pressure.2
Aromatherapy uses oils extracted from flowers, seeds, leaves, roots, fruit and twigs for special effect. These essential oils are formulated to work in harmony with the body and may have an ability to affect a person’s well-being.
Derived from the parts of plants or trees, essential oils possess a complex nature that is difficult to reproduce outside of nature. In fact, some oils contain substances that don’t occur anywhere else naturally.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years as stimulants, sedatives, and for religious and medicinal purposes.3 Aromatherapy is the century-old practice of using volatile plant oils, also referred to as essential oils, to support overall health and well-being.
It is part of the holistic healing spectrum that, in addition to essential oils, also utilizes other natural ingredients like vegetable oils, jojoba (a liquid wax), herbs, sea salts, clays and muds.
Aromatherapists apply some aromatherapy oils directly to the skin via aromatherapy massages, but they also use the oils to freshen the air of their living spaces via sprays or essential oil diffusers.
The oils can also be inhaled directly, although one should be careful not to swallow or consume the liquid oils.
"Practitioners of aromatherapy believe that fragrances in the oils stimulate nerves in the nose. Those nerves send impulses to the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion. Depending on the type of oil [the scent], the result on the body may be calming or stimulating." (UPMC4)
Health Benefits of Aromatherapy
Take a whiff of the air around you. What do you smell? Are you immediately put in a good mood with the smell of fresh cut flowers? Suddenly craving pie with the smell of baked apples and cinnamon wafting through the halls? Or feel like gagging after being blasted with exhaust from the bus?
It’s easy to see how our sense of smell impacts our feelings. The sense of smell is incredibly powerful. Your body can distinguish more than 1 trillion different scents.5 But, aromatherapy isn’t just about appealing smells; it also offers many potential health benefits including the following:
- Supporting relaxation and stress relief1
- Aiding mood1 and well being
- Supporting immune system6 and circulatory health2
Aromatherapy can be a great, natural, complementary health treatment in a variety of situations. To find out which scents may help you, find an aromatherapy book at your local library or do some online searching to find out about popular essential oils and get recipes for mixing your own rejuvenating scents.
Blending Essential Oils
Different oils can be blended together to achieve a synergy. This means that the respective powers of the oils change to enhance their energy. When a level of power has been reached, you achieve a synergy. Recipes for blending need to be followed exactly and the oils should be left to age for at least a week before adding them to carrier oils.
Essential Oil Dilution
Once you have chosen your essential oil, you can add it to base products to enhance your favorite health and beauty items. To dilute essential oils, simply add them to unscented bath oils, hand and body lotions, massage lotions and shower gels.
- Massage – 5 drops per tsp of base oil or lotion
- Inhalation – 1 or 2 drops in boiling water or on a tissue
- Bath – Up to 6 drops in ¼ cup carrier oil (we like jojoba oil), then add 8 to 10 drops of blended oils to bath water
- Sauna – 2 drops to 2 ½ cups water
- Facial – 2 or 3 drops in base product
- Foot Bath – 8 drops in bowl of water
- Facial Sauna – 10 drops in bowl of water
- Cleanser – 20 drops in 4 ounces of base product
- Body – 5 to 15 drops in base product
- Chest Rub – 10 to 20 drops to 1 oz of carrier oil
- Laundry Wash – 10 to 20 drops per load
- Vacuum Cleaner – 5 to 10 drops
- Auto Vent Outlet – 2 or 3 drops
- Artificial Holiday Tree – 10 to 15 drops in 8 ounces of water
Common Carrier Oils for Essential Oils
The healing scent of an essential oil can evaporate quickly, so they are often combined with a carrier oil. Carrier oils usually come from the fatty portion of a plant and help the essential oil's scent maintain for a longer duration of time.
- Almond Oil
- Jojoba Oil
- Olive Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Coconut Oil
How to Use Essential Oils – Customer-Sourced Uses
Here are a ton of different ways to use essential oils. Each one of these fantastic suggestions was submitted to us by one of our Facebook fans. We want to know how you use essential oils as well. If you have an essential oils tip, please leave a comment below!
- Make my own laundry detergent and use them to scent it! – Keri L.
- I love to use essential oils to make my own "salt scrub" with almond oil. Makes skin feel so soft! – Sandi N.
- I love to use essential oils to refresh furniture. I mix a spray bottle with half hot water, half vinegar, drop fresh cut lemons in along with Lavender and Clove essential oils....amazing!!! – Bobbi A.
- I use essential oils to make mouthwash, in lotion for skin, in bath water, on the steam radiator's so when it heats up, the whole house smells good as well. – Timothy S.
- I use it with vinegar for a great laundry softener! – Megan L.
- A few drops of lavender oil in my enemas. – Donna W.
- I removed badly burned food from a pan by boiling water with lemon oil in it and putting a lid on. The lemon oil helped the water to get under the burnt stuff so it came off easily. – Rinda F.
- I make my own toothpowder, 1/2 Himalayan sea salt and 1/2 baking soda mixed in my coffee grinder, then Peppermint Essential Oil to taste. I have used it for years and it is wonderful! – Kathy W.
- I put a few drops of lavender oil on a folded handkerchiefand keep it in my pillowcase for a calming bed time aroma. – Kaichita M.
- Instead of buying expensive cleaning sprays that are full of chemicals, I put a bottle of Pine Needle essential oil in a large spray bottle and fill with water. I use it to clean counters, stove, fridge, bathroom sinks, etc. Just about any place that you would use a spray cleaner. I even spray my floors with it and let it sit for a couple of minutes before I mop. Besides having the benefits of no chemicals, it cleans great and smells wonderful! – Lynn L.
- I dab some on cotton balls and add them to my vacuum. I use them in the humidifier water and on the furnace filter. I mix water and the essential oils for my Febreeze. – Sue M.
- Add it to my homemade laundry detergent. – Peggy B.
- I use lavender in a diffuser to put a pleasant scent in the house. – Karen F.
- I put an essential oil of my choice in organic unrefined coconut oil and brush my teeth with it! – Carol L.
- In a vaporizer....excellent. – Jerry G.
- Spray the car interior with lavender oil in alcohol. – Barbara B.
- I put a few drops in organic coconut oil and rub all over my skin after a shower. I dab vanilla behind the ears. – Diane C.
- I rub a drop of peppermint oil and/or eucalyptus onto my forehead. – Jennifer D.
- Home-made air sprays, face creams and cosmetics. – Joyce O.
- My son is playing with his play dough (I hate the smell of it!). Next time I make it, I am adding an essential oil to the water. – Michelle T.
- Any of the oils to get sticker off books. They slip right off. – Mary K.
- I am a yoga teacher. During final relaxation in my classes I rub lavender essential oil on my hands, then go to each student and hold my hands near the nose so they can inhale the scent. They all LOVE it! – Michelle S.
- Inhale tea tree oil mixed in a boiling pot of water. – Susan M.
- Citronella on tops of my shoes to cut the grass, not one bite on me this summer and bugs love me. – Carol F.
- Love the aroma of any of the floral scents mixed with jojoba oil used as a perfume. It's safer on the skin & less costly than perfume. – Marcia W.
- Peppermint oil will keep mice out of your car engine and storage building. – Fred K.
- I will be using essential oils for insect repellant for indoor, outdoor, & personal use. – Lisa G.
- If you have a problem with ants coming into your house, apply Lemon Essential Oil. It works every time. – J.H.
What are the Benefits of Different Essential Oils
There are intriguing myths and folklore associated with aromatherapy and essential oils. Essential oils are the fragrant, concentrated liquids extracted from the flowers, leaves, roots, bark, and fruit of an aromatic plant. Essential oils are often the main ingredients in aromatherapy products. There are many essential oils ranging from spices and herbs to fruit extracts and florals. Each oil has a unique scent and properties that can be applied for many different uses. Here are some popular essential oils and the common uses and benefits for them:
- Eucalyptus is purifying and invigorating, and often used in topical preparations.
- Ginger can be used to stimulate the appetite.
- Juniper Berry is associated with restoring and supporting benefits, and comes from the berry of the juniper tree.
- Lavender is used in baths, sprays, lotions, oils and more; plus, lavender promotes a calm and relaxed feeling.
- Lemon is a refreshing and cheering oil that should be heavily diluted if you plan on applying to the skin or using in cleaning products for a fresh scent.
- Peppermint is refreshing and cooling, and can help invigorate you with its powerful, minty aroma.
- Rosemary is clarifying scent is often used in household sprays, soaps and shampoos.
- Sage has a warming effect from its camphor scent.
- Spearmint is a refreshing and cooling essential oil, which can help refresh your skin if you add a few drops to your bathwater.
- Tea Tree may support immune system health and has cleansing properties.7
- Ylang Ylang is sourced from the ylang ylang plant, which was originally cultivated in the Philippines, but it soon made its way around the world because of its distinctive scent and beautiful appearance; this essential oil is used to relax both the mind and body.
How to Use Essential Oils for Hair & Skin Care
- Body Spray
- In a spray bottle, combine 5 to 10 drops of an essential oil and 4 ounces of water and shake. If you choose citrus oil, be careful when applying it near your face. Some citrus oils may be phototoxic or photosensitizers, making your skin more susceptible to sunburn.8,9
- Support the health of your scalp by adding a few drops of lavender, cedarwood or basil to your shampoo. Try adding rosemary oil to your shampoo to boost volume and increase circulation in the scalp.10
Add two drops of rosemary oil to your skin cream for antioxidant support and protection against oxidative stress.11
Make your own body oil
Add up to 5 drops of an essential oil to a teaspoon of carrier oil, such as sweet almond, olive, apricot kernel, borage seed, jojoba, sesame, sunflower or wheat germ oil.
Add to your hot tub or bathwater
Add up to 6 drops of essential oils to ¼ cup of your favorite carrier oil (we like jojoba oil) before adding 8 to 10 drops of the blended oils to a bath. Avoid culinary oils including cinnamon, lemongrass and peppermint as they can cause skin irritations.
Which Essential Oil Can Support the Health of Your Hair?
Not only is lavender a perennial favorite among aromatherapists, but research also shows that it can support hair health10 when used regularly to massage the scalp. Here's a quick at-home, step-by-step lavender massage guide for your hair and scalp:
- Warm about half a cup of olive oil (not too hot).
- Blend in about 10 drops (or to your preference) of lavender oil.
- Apply this blend to your hair and gently massage your scalp.
- Wrap a warm towel around your head, sit back and relax for about 20 minutes.
- Follow it up with a natural shampoo and conditioner.
Best for Sleep and Self Care
Use Lavender oil in baths, sprays, lotions, oils and more as a part of your bedtime ritual since lavender may promote a calm and relaxed feeling. Make a quick lavender-scented pillow insert by adding 3 drops of lavender oil to a wash cloth or linen square and placing it inside your pillow case. Make your own calming body oil by adding 3 to 5 drops of lavender oil to 2 tablespoons of a carrier oil like sweet almond or jojoba oil to support skin health and relaxation, especially during the dry winter months.
How to Use Essential Oils for Home & Hearth
Place one drop of lavender oil on a cotton ball or piece of cloth to help temporarily get rid of moths and mosquitoes.
To help keep your humidifier smelling fresh, add up to 9 drops of tea tree oil.
Thirty minutes before burning a fire log, place one drop of cypress, pine, sandalwood or cedarwood oil on it. Do not use several perfumed logs at a time; a little goes a long way.
Soothe your kids with the calming scent of lavender or chamomile on their stuffed animals. Place a stuffed animal in a plastic bag, add a few drops of essential oil and close the plastic bag overnight. The following day the stuffed animal will have the dispersed scent and can be used for up to two weeks before reapplying more oil.
Best for Freshening Your Home
Lemon oil or Eucalyptus oilare best to help freshen your home and provide an invigorating, refreshing, and cleansing scent. Select one oil or use both: add 2 drops to a dryer ball to freshen your laundry or 4 drops to an ultrasonic diffuser to help freshen your home with an energizing scent.
Tip: For maximum effectiveness, use essential oils within one year of opening the bottle.
Essential Oils Carpet Refresher Recipe - DIY
This is a brilliant way to freshen up your house by using essential oils. Add your favorite scent to your rooms while you freshen your carpets with this simple mixture that costs pennies to make.
In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of baking soda or cornstarch with 7-10 drops of essential oil. Break up any clumps with a fork and stir well. Pour mixture into a cheese shaker or can with holes punched into the lid. Sprinkle liberally over the carpet. Wait 30 minutes, then vacuum.
Essential Oils for a Natural Bug Spray
Making your own natural bug spray at home is easy. A natural bug spray may provide temporary relief from bugs, but keep in mind they require more frequent application and higher concentrations than some commercial repellants. Sunscreens, sweat, water and evaporation from wind or high temperatures can lower effectiveness.
Natural Oils That May Provide Temporary Relief from Bugs:
- Castor oil
- Cedar oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Citronella oil
- Clove oil
- Geranium oil
- Lemon eucalyptus oil
- Lemongrass oil
- Peppermint oil
- Rosemary oil
Best for Cleaning or Personal Care
Rosemary oil and Orange oilare refreshing and clarifying scents best for household sprays, soaps and shampoos. To help clarify your hair and promote volume, add a drop or two of rosemary oil to your favorite shampoo. For adding a refreshing scent to cleaning products, add 2 drops to your favorite household cleaner.
How to Make Your Own Aromatherapy Kit
Essential oils aren't just for relaxing. In fact, you can even use essential oils at home for personal care.
Not sure which ones to buy? Here's a list of recommendation from Mindy Green, co-author of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art with Kathi Keville, on the top 10 essential oils for starting your own personal care kit:12
- Bergamot - promotes healthy moods and overall wellness
- Chamomile - supports digestive health and relaxation
- Cypress - supports healthy circulation and overall wellness
- Eucalyptus- supports respiratory and skin health
- Geranium - balancing for the mind and body
- Lavender - supports overall wellness, mood and relaxation
- Marjoram - supports overall health and wellness
- Peppermint - supports digestive health
- Rosemary - supports healthy circulation, and overall wellness
- Tea Tree - supports skin health
18 Essential Oils to Avoid!
Just like certain plants, some essential oils are not beneficial for skin contact or human consumption. They may cause skin problems or may even be poisonous. Here is a list of some essential oils to avoid, according to Valerie Ann Wormwood, author of The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy.13
- Bitter Almond
- Boldo leaf
- Yellow Camphor
- Jaborandi leaf
Where to Buy Essential Oils & Aromatherapy Products
We hope you've enjoyed this Complete Beginner’s Guide to Aromatherapy and Essential Oils by Swanson Health. You can shop Swanson Health’s wide-range of aromatherapy and essential oils products here.
Looking for more ways to add stress reduction and relaxation to your daily wellness routine? Read Say Oooom: Six Tips to Help Your Reduce Stress and Relax.
About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products
Lindsey is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.
Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health Products.
1 What is Aromatherapy? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/aromatherapy-overview#1 (Accessed 2/2/2018)
2 Effect of aromatherapy massage on anxiety, depression, and physiologic parameters in older patients with the acute coronary syndrome: A randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Nursing Practice. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijn.12601/abstract
3 Gattefosse's Aromatherapy. Rene Maurice Gattefosse. https://books.google.com/books?id=faQPEZmRlpkC (Accessed 2/2/2018)
4 Aromatherapy (Essentail Oils Therapy) University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) http://www.upmc.com/health-library/Pages/HealthwiseIndex.aspx?qid=aa118637spec (Accessed 2/2/2018)
5 Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli. Science Magazine. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/343/6177/1370.full (Accessed 2/2/2018)
6 Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage. US National Library of Medicine. (Accessed 2/2/2018)
7 Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360273/ (Accessed 2/2/2018)
8 A study of the phototoxicity of lemon oil. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4096528 (Accessed 2/2/2018)
9 Phototoxicity of essential oils intended for cosmetic use. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887233310001864?via%3Dihub (Accessed 2/2/2018)
10 Wave Bye-Bye to Damaged Hair. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/beauty/natural-oils (Accessed 2/2/2018)
11 Antioxidant activity of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) essential oil and its hepatoprotective potential. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25002023 (Accessed 2/2/2018)
12 Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. Kathi Keville, Mindy Green. https://books.google.com/books?id=G7wd8N_jNJcC (Accessed 2/2/2018)
13 The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. Valerie Ann Worwood. https://books.google.com/books?id=aGfLOwZpiVoC (Accessed 2/2/2018)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Updated 2/12/2018 for sourcing and more uses (Originally Published 6/20/2015, updated 2/27/2017 by Anthony Nelson & customer-sourced tips from Swanson.com customer feedback)