Topical application is the process of placing an essential oil on the skin, hair, mouth, teeth, nails, or mucous membranes of the body. Since essential oils are so potent, and because some essential oils may irritate the skin or other areas of the body, they are often diluted with a pure vegetable oil (usually called a “carrier oil“) such as Fractionated Coconut Oil, Almond Oil, olive oil, Jojoba Oil, etc. However, some essential oils can be applied directly to the skin without dilution (this is referred to as applying the oil “neat”). Several topical application methods are defined below.
Direct application refers to applying the oils directly on the area of concern. Sometimes it isn’t possible to apply the oils to the area of concern, so the next best areas to topically apply essential oils are on the feet, behind the ears, and on the wrists. These are the fastest absorbing areas of the body because they contain larger pores. When applying oils topically, it is important to remember that because essential oils are so potent, more is not necessarily better; 1–3 drops should be sufficient.
When applying oils to infants and small children, dilute heavily with a carrier oil. Use 1–3 drops of essential oil to 1 Tbsp. of carrier oil for infants and 1–3 drops of essential oil to 1 tsp. of carrier oil for children ages 2–5. An easy way to make sure your essential oil is properly diluted is to pre-mix the essential oil with a carrier oil in a roll-on bottle. The roll-on bottle also helps make application easier.
Use caution when creating blends for topical use. Layering individual oils is preferred over mixing your own blends.
Note: “Layering” refers to applying one oil at a time (i.e., apply the first oil, rub into the skin, apply the second oil, rub into the skin, etc.). If dilution is necessary, a carrier oil can be applied to the skin before or after the essential oils.
Massage is the stimulation of muscle, skin, and connective tissues using various techniques to help promote healing, balance, and connection. Essential oils can enhance the invigorating, relaxing, stimulating, or soothing feelings of massage.
Unless you are a certified massage therapist and have a thorough understanding of anatomy, it is best to use only light to medium strokes for applying oils and to avoid the spine or other sensitive areas of the body.
Modern Essentials outlines a specific massage technique that can be done using essential oils and includes instructions and illustrations of various strokes.
Simple Massage Oil
Servings: Yield 1 oz. | Time: 2 minutes active | Difficulty: Easy
Combine ingredients in a small glass bowl, and stir to combine. Pour mixture into the 1 oz. plastic bottle. (Use a funnel if needed to avoid spills.)
To use, simply apply small amounts of your mixture to the desired area, and massage lightly into the skin.
Essential Oil Recommendations:
You can use one or more of the following oils to equal a total of 15–30 drops.
Calming/Relaxing: Oils that are good for a calming or relaxing massage oil include cedarwood, Roman chamomile, lavender, clary sage, jasmine, myrrh, or ylang ylang.
Invigorating/Energizing: Some oils that would create a more invigorating or energizing massage oil include cypress, white fir, juniper, lemon, nutmeg, orange, grapefruit, or peppermint.
Romantic: Some oils that can be used to create a more romantic massage oil include rose, jasmine, clary sage, or ylang ylang.
“Reflex therapy is a simple method of applying oils to contact points (or nerve endings) in the feet or hands. A series of hand rotation movements at those control points create a vibrational healing energy that carries the oils along the neuroelectrical pathways. The oils either help remove any blockage along the pathways or travel the length of the pathway to benefit the particular organ” (Modern Essentials, p. 48). Refer to our reflex hand and foot charts for more information.
Auricular therapy is a method of applying the oils to various points on the rim of the ears to effect changes on internal body parts. Similar to reflexology, small amounts of an essential oil are applied to the point before the point is stimulated with the fingers or with a glass Auricular Probe. Refer to our Auricular Body Points Chart for more details.
A compress helps with topical application of essential oils because the water helps drive the oils into the skin. There are 2 ways explained in Modern Essentials for doing a compress:
Basin: Fill a wash basin with 2 quarts of hot or cold water, and add the desired essential oils. Stir the water vigorously; then lay a towel on top of the water. Since the oils will float to the top, the towel will absorb the oils with the water. After the towel is completely saturated, wring out the excess water (leaving much of the oils in the towel), and place the towel over the area needing the compress. For a hot compress, cover with a dry towel and a hot water bottle. For a cold compress, cover with a piece of plastic or plastic wrap. Finally, put another towel on top, and leave for as long as possible (1–2 hours is best).
Massage: Apply a hot, wet towel and then a dry towel on top of an area that has already been massaged with essential oils. The moist heat will force the oils deeper into the tissues of the body.
The concept of using baths to help topically apply oils is similar to using a compress—oils and water don’t mix, so the warm water will help drive the oils into the skin. There are a few methods that you can use to help you apply oils while bathing.
Bathwater: You can simply add oils directly to your bathwater, but keep in mind that the oils will rise to the top, so it is best to avoid oils that could cause irritation to sensitive areas of the body. To add oils to your bath, place 3–6 drops of oil in the bathwater while the tub is filling. Soak for 15 minutes.
Bath and Shower Gel: Using a bath and shower gel as a base helps to evenly disperse the essential oils throughout the water and can increase the benefits obtained from using essential oils in the bath. To do this, just add3–6 drops of oil to 1/2 oz. of a bath and shower gel base, and add to the water while the tub is filling.
Bath Salts: Similar in concept to using a bath and shower gel, bath salts or Epsom salts help disperse the oils more evenly throughout the water. Combine 3–10 drops essential oil with 1/4–1/2 cup of bath salts or Epsom Salts, and dissolve the salt mixture in warm bathwater before bathing.
Washcloth: When showering, add 3–6 drops of oil to a bath and shower gel base before applying to a washcloth and using to wash the body.
Body sprays: A body spray can be used before or after taking a bath or shower. When used before, the water from the bath or shower can help drive the oils into the skin. When used after a warm bath or shower, the pores are open and will absorb the oils quickly. To make a body spray, fill a small spray bottle with distilled water, and add 10–15 drops of your favorite oil blend or single oils. Shake well, and spray onto the entire body.
Want to learn more about topical application of essential oils? See Modern Essentials for more information on topical use of specific oils and more.
Looking for a warm, woodsy autumn blend for your diffuser? Autumn Leaves is a delightful way to welcome the new season! The fresh, sweet aromas of bergamot and ginger harmonize with the warm, rich touches of frankincense and ginger. Together, these essential oils promote energy and awareness and help relieve tension.
Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) is an essential oil absolute extracted from the flowers. It belongs to the Nymphaea botanical family, commonly known as water lilies. Blue lotus has an exotic fragrance that uplifts and creates simultaneous feelings of euphoria and peace.
Introducing the 15th edition of the Modern Essentials® Handbook: The Premier Introductory Guide to Essential Oils. Of course, the 15th edition includes all new products up through the 2023 dōTERRA® convention. But that hardly scratches the surface.