One commonly used method of applying essential oils is through inhalation of the essential oil. This is a
very effective way of dealing with a respiratory infection or headache. When sinuses are clogged, there is difficulty breathing or blood flow is constricted causing a headache this method can offer tremendous relief. To inhale the oils simply place them in a diffuser, or in some hot water for a hot compress. Essential oils can be diluted in warm water or inhaled directly from the bottle which makes them very convenient and portable. Another convenient way to inhale oils is to place one or two drops on a tissue or cotton ball. Depending on the oil, prolonged use of concentrated essential oils can cause an altered state such as in the case of clary sage. Too much of this oil can create a drunk-like feeling. Other oils can be a bit overwhelming to the senses so it's best to be aware of the action on the body and use it only for the specific amount of time to induce the desired effect. "Some side effects of prolonged use can be headache, dizziness, lethargy and nausea". (David Crow, How to Use Essential Oils).
Putting a few drops of essential oils in the bath has been a widely accepted method of direct contact and can have beneficial effects but some precautions should be taken when using this method. Taking a bath for muscle aches, stress, nervous tension, various pains and poor circulation has been a common therapy and the application of essential oils can make the soothing effect of the warm water even more therapeutic. Many of the oils recommended for circulation, like rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus and pine all have strong rubifacient properties. This means they help to pull blood to the surface which in turn brings heat and increased circulation. The combination of the warm/hot water and these circulatory herbs can lead to a very hot and sometimes harmful environment. It can cause over-heating and skin irritation. Please use caution and dilute appropriately.
Keep in mind that oil does not mix with water and so a dispersing agent needs to be added to the bath. These are such things as milk, oil or salts. 10 drops of essential oil to one cup of emulsifying agent is a good ratio for a bath. Spicy, hot oils like cinnamon, oregano and thyme or oils like lemongrass which can irritate the skin should be avoided in the bath. There are several oils that cause photo-sensitivity, sensitivity to the sun which can cause dermatitis and over-reaction to the suns rays. These oils are usually found in citrus and bergamont. Always buy bp free bergamont. This is an oil in which the chemical that causes photo-sensitivity has been removed.
A compress, or a warm water soaked cloth, can be applied for muscle aches. A good ratio of essential oil to 4 ounces of hot water is 10 drops. This can be used as an alternative to a bath for similar problems like menstrual pains, muscle aches and headaches. Always remember that even though the method of application is not specifically through inhalation that the effects of inhaling the oils are still present as in a compress for headaches. This applies to almost all methods of application and can result in a exaggerated effect of the oils on the body.
Facial Steam is a method of inhaling dispersed oils that have been placed into a pot or bowl of hot water. Placing a towel over the head when inhaling helps to keep the water hot and contain the oils. This is a very effective method of helping sinus congestion, sinus blockage, respiratory infection, sinus inflammation, thick mucous build up, bronchitis and headache due to clogged sinuses. It is also helpful for some inflammatory skin conditions. Again, remember that hot water will heighten the heat of an already hot oil and oils retain heat for longer periods of time. When choosing the oils be sure to understand its chemical composition. Chamomile is an essential oil that when used on the skin can be helpful in relieving pain and certain skin conditions but when inhaled has an anti-inflammatory effect. Chamomile, when combined with eucalyptus, peppermint or rosemary, can be helpful when there is a dry, inflamed sinus infection. Another point to remember is that when deciding the method of application of an oil consider the site of contact as in a respiratory infection. If there is an infection or a virus in the lung then inhalation will deliver the oils directly to the site of infection. Use 3-5 drops in a bowl/pot of hot water.
Massage: The therapeutic effect of this well-known technique can be enhanced through the use of essential oils. The therapeutic effect of a massage can be tailored to the needs of the individual using specific essential oils. Keep in mind when blending a massage oil that the essential oil is an incredibly concentrated pure plant oil and that dilution rate is somewhere around 2-10%. Also, keep in mind the age of the individual. Children need a much higher dilution that is, more carrier oil to less essential oil or somewhere around 1-2%. A simple chart is as follows:
1%=6 drops per ounce
2%=12 drops per ounce
3%=18 drops per ounce
5%=30 drops per ounce
10%=60 drops per ounce
For every increase in % add 6 more drops in one ounce of carrier oil. Various essential oils and various conditions warrant a specific dilution.
Direct application or applying essential oils directly to the hands and breathing them in should be used only with oils that are safe to apply, undiluted, to the skin. The anti-microbial effects of this type of application are the strongest but so can be the irritation to the skin. If unsure which oils to use in this fashion it is best to apply them diluted or breathe them in using some of the above methods and not putting them directly on the skin. Lavender and tea tree are two safe oils with strong anti-microbial and anti-fungal effects that can be applied neat, undiluted, to the skin. Dilution, application and choosing which oil to use can be a daunting undertaking.
A recent development in the essential oils industry has moved our attention from a clinical, therapeutic perspective to a marketing perspective only. The knowledge generated and the practices encouraged through marketing can be damaging and misleading. When in doubt always side with caution and if treating a serious medical condition please consult a certified aromatherapist. Next I'll move into the very complicated area of ingesting essential oils.