We love essential oils because incorporating them into our lives can help us achieve a better degree of clean living. Diluting essential oils in appropriate levels for applications is one of the basic standards of safe use, especially when applying directly to the body. See our free essential oil Dilution Chart to help you figure out safe percentages for various types of use.
Sometimes this is very easy to achieve. But there are inevitably going to be occasions when we need to combine essential oils with substances that may not really “jive” well with their chemistry in pursuit of this standard.
In other words, the essential oil may not adequately mix into these substances without separation. This in and of itself causes an issue since one of the most important things about essential oil safety that we need to pay attention whenever we might be putting ourselves into contact with neat essential oil. Ultimately, an essential oil’s capability to mix into another substance or liquid boils down to solubility – both of the essential oil and whatever you are wanting to mix it into.
Are y'all ready to go back to school? You may have heard before that “like dissolves like” when it comes to chemistry. This is true. And it applies to essential oil recipes as well! But what substances actually serve to dilute or dissolve essential oils has been greatly misrepresented throughout aromatherapy’s history.
What You Will Learn
Easiest Method for Diluting Essential Oils – Carrier Oils
By far, the most simple and common way to assure that essential oil is properly diluted (and so not used at full concentration on the skin) is to use carrier oils. Carrier oils work nicely to reduce (or dilute) the concentration of essential oils because their overall chemical qualities match that of essential oils. Both are lipid-loving substances. Remember that like dissolves like? So, we are able to use carrier oil to sufficiently dilute our essential oils. You can read more about how to go about doing that here.
Solutions and Emulsions With Essential Oils – A Step Up in Complexity
Real life isn’t always simple, however, so sometimes we need a base beyond just a carrier oil. Sometimes we need our essential oils to mix into substances that they are not normally miscible in – meaning they don’t fully dissolve or mix into each other. When this is the case, we have two potential options. 1. We can reach for a substance that will help dissolve the essential oil into the uncooperating substance, thus creating a solution. 2. We can utilize something with that will force the essential oil to combine with something it normally wouldn’t, creating an emulsion.
Solutions: You get a solution when one substance (referred to as a solute) is dissolved into another substance (known as the solvent). (1)
Substances that can be used to dissolve essential oils include 190 proof alcohol, perfumer’s alcohol, and 91% isopropyl alcohol. When the essential oil is first added to one of these substances, it can later gently be added to an aqueous substance like water, witch hazel, or hydrosol. Likewise, the you can add an aqueous substance directly to your solubilized mixture.
The essential oil, being dissolved into a substance that cooperates nicely with these other mentioned substances, is able to be safely incorporated (or really, diluted) into something it typically would not work well with. In other words, add your essential oils to the alcohol first, and then to your other ingredients.
Emulsions: An emulsion occurs when one liquid is dispersed through another it is typically not miscible in. (2)
Where essential oils are concerned, an emulsion occurs through the use of something called a surfactant or another substance with surfactant properties – such as liquid soap. Surfactants work by reducing the surface tension of the substance it is to be dissolved into, allowing for a substance (in this case essential oils) to be distributed throughout another liquid, such as water. (3) One important thing to remember is that you need to add your essential oil to your surfactant first and make sure it is sufficiently mixed with it before attempting to add it to the other liquid.
So, for example, if you are wanting to safely mix essential oil into your bathwater, your best bet is to add the essential oil to some liquid soap (good options for this are unscented bubble bath or liquid castile soap), mix it in that thoroughly, and then add that mixture to your bathwater, creating an emulsion.
Want to make a quick pillow or air spray? Diluting essential oils by first solubilizing them is the way to go. Add your essential oil to some 190 proof alcohol and then gently add your water to it. The solution you create from the high-proof alcohol and essential oil is able to then be diluted into the water (using at least a 1:4 ratio of alcohol to water should ensure some preservation and a longer shelf life as well!). More practical tips at the bottom of the article.
Prepared Base Products for Homemade Essential Oil Products
A third option to mix your essential oils into would be prepared cosmetic bases. All of these options may not be completely natural, but there are many supply companies that carry pre-made lotions, creams, and even sometimes gels that are intended for you to add your own fragrance product to (and we of course suggest using essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance!).
These products are created with the additional fragrance load in mind, so they contain enough surfactant to handle you adding essential oils to them. These can be especially helpful as they will detail for you exactly how much extra essential oil can be added to the product, the method to add that essential oil, and their shelf life will be much longer than what can typically be made in the home.
Another product that could be used to hold essential oil for topical applications is thickened aloe gel. These gels differ slightly from pure aloe gel in that they have a thickener like carbomer or xanthan gum added to them which offers some stability in being able to bind up the essential oil when mixed well enough.
Substances That Don't Properly Dilute Essential Oils
The above mentioned options are solid choices to reach for when solubilizing or diluting essential oils or otherwise create some cooperation between them and liquids they won’t normally mix in. But there are a lot of substances thought to work with essential oils like this that really do not.
Many substances promoted in aromatherapy traditions or in online DIY recipes don’t actually blend with essential oils the way people think they do, and this could potentially leave you at risk for skin irritation or sensitization.
When I first started learning about essential oils some of the information out there was misleading or incorrect. When you learn the chemical properties you learn a lot of what is out there doesn't actually work. Here's a list of substances that cannot dilute or be used to disperse your essential oils:
- distilled water
- deionized water
- witch hazel
- sea or table salt
- Epsom salts
- magnesium oil
- baking soda
- aloe vera juice
- pure aloe gel
In a nutshell, the chemical properties of these substances don’t match up with that of essential oils, so without incorporating a surfactant, like discussed above, diluting essential oils into these things will not be effective.
A quick note on honey: while it is not recommended to use honey when diluting essential oils into water, it does contain enough binding properties to mix essential oils into for quick internal dosing should it be necessary.
DIY Essential Oil Mixing Cheat Sheet
Here’s a brief list of products often made in the home done just a little bit better using the principles for diluting essential oils mentioned above. For DIY products containing aqueous ingredients, such as water and witch hazel, be sure to make small batches to use up within a week since home DIY products have short shelf lives!
Witch hazel facial toner: Add 6 drops of your favorite essential oil for supporting a healthy complexion to 1 ½ teaspoons of 190 proof alcohol. Stir and gently add this mixture to a 1oz bottle, slowly filling the bottle the rest of the way with witch hazel.
Shot glass bath: Add 10-20 drops total of your favorite essential oils (don’t use hot oils!) to a shot glass and fill the rest of the way with liquid castile soap, diluting essential oils properly. Stir thoroughly until the soap takes on a smooth, milky appearance (this let’s you know the essential oils have been adequately mixed in), and then add to your bathwater. Running water will help the mixture blend into the tub. If you add it after the water has finished running, be sure to swish it around with your hand to incorporate it into the water.
Quick countertop cleaner: Add 36 drops of your favorite antimicrobial essential oil to 2 tablespoons of liquid castile soap in an 8oz spray bottle. Mix thoroughly and fill the rest of the way with distilled water.
Sunburn relief gel: Add a total of 48 drops of your favorite combination of cooling, anti-inflammatory and analgesic essential oils to 4oz of thickened aloe gel. Mix well until the aloe gel becomes milky in appearance. For children, reduce the number of drops to 24. Be sure to store this in the refrigerator as a chilled gel helps bring even more relief to skin suffering too much sun exposure!
Sleepy-time pillow spray: Add 60 drops of your preferred relaxing and sedative essential oils to 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of 190 proof alcohol. Stir and add to a 2oz spray bottle, filling the rest with distilled water.