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 Aromatherapy: Guidelines for Using Essential Oils and Herbs 

Suggested Dilutions for Various Methods of Application

Massage/Body Oil
2 - 3% dilution (10 - 12 drops per ounce of vegetable oil)
1% for pregnant women, people with health concerns
and children (5 drops per ounce of vegetable oil)

3 - 15 drops per tub, depending on the oil

5 drops per cup of water

3 - 5 drops in a bowel of hot water
Caution: never do an inhalation during an asthma attack

3 - 5 drops per quart of warm water
Caution: Choose nonirritant oils only (e.g., lavender or tea tree).

Foot or Hand Bath
5 - 10 drops per quart of water

Sitz Bath
5 - 10 drops per sitz bath

Fragrant Body Water
5 - 10 drops per 4 ounces of water

Room Spray
20 drops per 4 ounces of water

Gargle or Mouthwash
1 - 2 drops per 1/4 cup of water

3% dilution

Carrier oils should be stored away from heat and light to ensure their freshness. The addition of jojoba oil as 10 percent of your carrier oil will help extend the shelf life of your blend by slowing down oxidation that leads to rancidity. Vitamin E oil is an excellent antioxidant; adding it to any aromatherapy blend will help extend the life of most vegetable oils. One or two capsules (200-400 IU) per two-ounce bottle of carrier oil is enough. It is recommended that you make only enough of a blend to last a few months. A refrigerated blend may keep six months or more. Refrigeration of all vegetable oils is highly recommended.

Methods of Application at a Glance
Essential oils are versatile and effective in treating many common problems. The following guidelines are suitable for a single essential oil or a combination of oils. Many problems are best treated by a combination of methods. For example, a cold may be treated with an inhalant, a bath, a chest rub and a compress. Details on specific applications are presented throughout this book in the chapters on Facial Care, Massage and Therapeutics.

Carrier Oils
Vegetable oils high in vitamins A, E and F-soothing, skin-softening, nourishing and rich in nutrients that enrich the skin-are among the best carriers of essential oils. They are called fixed oils because their large molecules stay in the plant instead of being easily released, as are the essential oils. This means that they are often extracted with heat or solvent-extracted (a process that also uses heat to extract the solvent). The one exception is olive oil, which can be cold-pressed, although less oil is obtained with this method, resulting in a more expensive product. Whenever possible, choose vegetable oils that are expeller-pressed or cold-pressed, which means they have not been exposed to temperatures over 110 degrees.

Unlike essential oils, vegetable oil molecules are large and do not easily penetrate the skin, making them an ideal medium for cosmetic products. The "saturation rate" of carrier oils measures how thick they are. The more saturated the oil, the thicker it is, the longer it stays on the skin, and the longer its shelf life. On the other hand, unsaturated oils give the illusion that they are being absorbed into the skin when they are actually evaporating. The most suitable oil depends on the application. Most body workers prefer saturated oil for massage, but many cosmetics use less saturated oils that feel less thick and sticky.

Other factors to consider are smell and color. The light smell and color of almond, hazelnut and grapeseed oils put them among the most preferred oils for cosmetics. (We've found that you need to go easy on using unrefined oils, which can leave you smelling like food).

Characteristics of Common Carrier Oils

Almond-Almond is an affordable, nourishing oil, well suited for massage. It provides just the right slip and glide, without wasting oil.

Apricot-This oil is derived from the kernel of the apricot pit. Its cost is comparable to that of almond, but it has a lighter consistency. Suitable for body oils and lotions.

Avocado-Deep green with lots of skin-nourishing vitamins, this thick oil is very rich on its own but combines nicely with other oils. It is well suited for dry-skin conditions.

Borage, Evening Primrose, Black Currant-The oils in this group are high in gamma linoleic acid (GLA), an important fatty acid that helps maintain healthy skin and repair skin damaged by the sun. Their rejuvenating effects are especially useful for treating mature skin. These oils can be used sparingly in a carrier blend (10 percent); because they are expensive, price alone will probably keep you from using too much.

Castor-Castor oil is very viscous and not normally used in aromatherapy, although it may be added in small amounts to formulas for eczema or other dry-skin conditions. Herbalists use castor oil to make compresses that break down fibrous tissue, enhance immunity and detoxify the liver. Sulfated castor oil is water-soluble and often used for aromatherapy bath oils.

Caulophyllum Inophyllum-This is a native of tropical Asia and was used in many Polynesian islands, and considered sacred. Known as kamanu or kamani in Hawaii, tamanu in the South Seas and 'fetau in Samoa (Another variety, "faraha," is from Madagascar.), it is nontoxic and nonirritating, but rather expensive and thick, so you may want to combine it with another carrier oil. Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties make Caulophyllum suitable for sciatica, rheumatism and shingles. It is antibacterial and nonirritating to mucous membranes and can be used to treat vaginitis and cervical erosion, infected wounds, eczema, psoriasis, chapped skin, cracked nipples, chemical or heat burns, and anal fissures. Historically, it was used extensively to treat leprosy.

Cocoa butter-Similar to coconut oil in consistency, cocoa butter is derived from cocoa beans and has a distinctive "chocolate" scent. It will overpower the odor of most essential oils, but may be used in small proportions as a thickener in lotions and creams. When combined with neroli, the fragrance is reminiscent of an exotic, delectable dessert.

Coconut-Highest in saturated fats, coconut oil is solid at room temperature. (It is twice as saturated as lard.) It can be used in conjunction with other oils for massage, and in body lotion or cream recipes. Although coconut oil has a long history of use in many tropical countries, it is often solvent-extracted, and if so, is not recommended for use on the face; it can cause allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.

Corn-The oil comes from our familiar table corn, mostly from the germ found in the corn's kernel. This oil is quite stable because it contains a large amount of vitamin E, which prevents oxidation. Corn-germ oil is also available, but has a strong odor.

Grapeseed-Light in texture, this odorless oil is mildly astringent and useful for acne or oily skin. Unfortunately, the seed is always solvent-extracted and is unavailable cold-pressed, causing sensitivity in some individuals.

Hazelnut-Light and mildly fragranced, this easily absorbed oil is useful in facial blends for those with a tendency toward oily skin. Hazelnut oil makes a great base for calendula infusions (see the section on herb-infused oils) and for all cosmetic purposes, including massage.

Jojoba-The carrier of choice for perfumery, jojoba is technically not an oil but a liquid wax. It does not oxidize or become rancid. A small amount (10 percent) can be used to extend the shelf life of all blends. Because jojoba is very similar to the sebum produced by our own skin, it is particularly beneficial in facial and body oils, and it is also recommended for scalp and hair treatments. It is derived from the seed of the desert shrub.

Kukui-The thinnest, lightest oil for the face, kukui provides just the right amount of lubrication without leaving a greasy feeling. The kukui nut, native to Hawaii, is high in linoleic and linolenic acids, and is rapidly absorbed into the skin. It was used by the Hawaiians for skin conditioning after sun exposure (but is not a sunscreen). Kukui-nut oil has a low toxicity level, but it is laxative and therefore should not be ingested. It has a distinct odor and is very expensive, so you may want to combine it with other oils.

Macadamia-Slightly more viscous than kukui and also from Hawaii, macadamia oil is similar to both mink oil and sebum, our skin's own natural oil. Its lightness makes it ideal as a base for facial or hair-care products, and it combines well with kukui.

Olive-This oil is a favorite for dry skin, but the odor is a little strong for some people. It may be blended with other oils and has a nice texture for massage. This is one of the best mediums for herb-infused oils intended for medicinal applications, such as in salves or rectal or vaginal suppositories. Pure olive oil has excellent stability and can be stored without refrigeration for a year. (Greek olive oil is greener and more acidic than oil from Italy or California.)

Rice Bran-This oil is naturally high in mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) and ferulic acid, another natural antioxidant. It flows on smoothly and is moderately penetrating without being greasy or sticky. Good for massage or lotions.

Rosehip seed-Another oil high in GLA, pungent rosehip seed is the very best for regenerative skin care. It is rich and expensive, so we recommend blending it with other oils (10-20 percent rosehip-seed oil in carrier blend). Combine with infused calendula oil to treat stretch marks, burns or scars.

Safflower-This oil comes from an herb that is cultivated in California and Arizona, where it turns fields aglow with its colorful flowers. Safflower oxidizes easily, especially the natural oil. It can be used in massage blends.

Sesame Seed-This oil contains sesomoline, a natural preservative. Sesame has long been used in Ayurvedic medicinal preparations and is said to be rejuvenating. The unrefined variety has a strong scent, which is the biggest drawback to using this oil alone as a carrier. Good as a base for herb preparations.

Soybean-First introduced from the Orient to the United States, this oil was rarely used before 1950. It now accounts for more than 65 percent of all oil used commercially in the United States. Because of its low oil content (16-18 percent), it is often solvent-extracted. Soybean oil is high in linoleic acid and susceptible to oxidation. Use as a part of a massage blend.

Squalene-Vegetable sources of this oil product are olive, wheat germ and rice bran oils. Squalene can also be derived from shark liver oil. It is used as a fixative in perfumes and as a bactericide, and is very expensive; 5-10 percent in a carrier blend is sufficient. Human sebum is 25 percent squalene.

Wheat germ-Too thick and rich on its own, this oil is a useful addition to any carrier blend. It is high in vitamin B, and because it contains the antioxidant vitamins A and E, it will help extend the shelf life of your blends. Add 10 percent to your carrier-oil blend.

Vegetable Oils
The more saturated an oil, the thicker its consistency and the longer it can be stored without refrigeration. Also, the lower the iodine value, the better the oil will keep. Values can vary according to the source of the oil. Some oils also contain other ingredients that improve their preservation, such as sesame oil.

Oil% of Saturated FatsIodine Value
Cocoa Butter5040
Wheat Germ18125
Almond5 - 10100
Apricot5 - 10100
Sunflower6 - 8130
(Excerpted from Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art ISBN: 0895946920)
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 About The Author
Kathi Keville Kathi Keville has studied herbs since 1969. Her attraction to fragrant plants led to an involvement in aromatherapy. Her other books include Herbs for Health and Healing; The Illustrated Encyclopedia of......more
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