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Aroma Science

Using Essential Oils

How to Get Started in Using Aromatherapy Essential Oils

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote health and well-being, a form of treatment that has become more common and accepted in recent years. The most frequent way of using essential oils is through massage, although essential oils can also be used in a variety of other ways.

The three primary modes of using essential oils are: topical application, inhalation via diffusers, or ingestion.

Topical applications are most often for muscular aches and pains, and as support for skin conditions and rejuvenation. When used topically, essential oils are most often diluted in a carrier oil, such as Almond, Hazelnut, Olive, or another “fatty acid.”

Inhalation is commonly used for the psychological effects of oils, as the olfactory sense organs are directly tied to the brain’s emotional centers. Inhalation is often also employed for sinus and bronchial congestion, along with other breathing ailments.

In certain cases, ingestion is prescribed. Capsules of Peppermint essential oil have been shown to be effective in scientific studies on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a debilitating condition thought to be the result of rampant bacterial grown in the intestines.

The list of the proven efficacy of essential oils continues to grow. There are many good texts available to educate yourself, and there are a growing number of professional practitioners in the field. If you’d like to incorporate essential oils in your own health program, a little research surrounding your own needs will lead you in the right direction. Essential oils are a powerful medicine – be safe, understand what you’re doing, and you’ll likely find aromatherapy can support your own personal needs in a fun and pleasantly aromatic way.

Below, you’ll find a couple of the more common methods for using essential oils.

Oil Warmer

An Aromatherapy oil burner that is used by heating a few drop of essential oils in a water bowl, which is then set above a tea light candle. This method is the easiest way to benefit from essential oil’s scent and therapeutic effect. For someone just starting out with essential oils, it’s a good investment. (Note: our Plug-in Diffuser is a warming diffuser!)

Electric Nebulizing Diffuser

An electric nebulizing diffuser will allow you to create fantastic scents and expand them throughout the room it’s located in. These diffusers are the most effective way to disperse essential oils throughout the air. They are recommended for emotional and mental health, as well as for diseases affecting the lung, blood and the brain. A nebulizing diffuser can break down the oils into a fine mist, making it easier for the aroma to be inhaled. Once you switch it on, the oil can last for a couple hours.

Steam Inhalation

Steam inhalation is commonly associated with treating respiratory illness, such as colds and flu. Add about 10 drops of Eucalyptus, Peppermint or Pine essential oils into a bowl of hot water, then lean over the bowl and cover your head with a towel for about ten minutes as you inhale.

Mists and Sprays

If you want to quickly purify and freshen the air in your home or your office, you can make an Aromatherapy air freshener. To do so, first fill a spray bottle with distilled water. Then, add 5-10 drops of the essential oil of your choice for each ounce of water. Shake well and use it to spray around the room as often as needed. Remember to shake well before each new spray!

Aromatic Bathing

Bathing can be a pleasurable, highly-relaxing experience, and adding essential oils to your bathwater can increase the benefits tenfold. Start by adding six drops of essential oils (or blends) into the bath water, making sure to add them after the bath has been drawn. The scents of the essential oils fill the room with delightful fragrances, while they enter the skin pores and relax tired muscles.

Aromatherapy Massage

When used in massage, essential oils (usually diluted with carrier oils) are applied to the skin. In doing so, these oils are absorbed by the skin, and penetrate into the tissues of your body, blood and interstitial fluid. Applying these fragrant oil blends into tired muscles is one of the most pleasurable ways to relax and unwind.


This method can be a fast and effective way to speed recovery from muscular pain and strains after a rigorous workout, along with helping aid bruises, headaches, insect bites, toothache, spots and more. Compresses can be made from adding 3-6 drops of essential oils (or blends) into one quart of warm water, then stirring carefully. Soak a clean cloth in the water, rinse it, then apply to the affected area. Leave applied for approximately 15-20 minutes, then repeat as needed.

Natural Perfume

Adding essential oils to your own perfume base is a lot cheaper than buying a branded perfume full of chemicals. See our Recipe section on Perfumes for some of our favorite blends!

Aromatherapy Candles

Candles can be used to help set the atmosphere and improve ambience in many situations. They can be used in any room of your home or office to provide a wonderful enhancement, while also providing a positive effect to your body and emotions. The key here is choosing the correct scent to match the emotion and/or sense you wish to evoke.

By knowing some of the different methods of using essential oils, you can evaluate which is the right one for your current needs. We hope that with this information, you will be able to create and apply your own aromatherapy treatments.

Storing Essential Oils

The shelf life of essential oils is a complicated question, mostly because each oil has a different shelf life, and much of that has to do with how the oils are stored. Some companies claim their oils do not have a shelf life, and others (like Ananda) try to be more truthful, noting that there is such a thing, even with the highest-grade oils available. But answering the question very specifically is tricky, so we’ll do our best to explain it all here.

What Does “Shelf Life” Mean for Essential Oils?

First, what does “shelf life” mean for essential oils? The truth is they don’t go “bad” as a carrier oil could (which we’ll get to in a bit). They can, over time, lose a sense of freshness, and could smell “flat,” or less lively. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve lost their therapeutic value. For example, the oils which can “go flat” fastest, if not properly cared for, are the cold-pressed citrus oils: Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Bergamot and Mandarin. This is because they’re pressed directly from the fruit, without ever being heated – so they’re in the most natural state of all essential oils. These oils are considered to have a shelf life of anywhere from six months to a year after being opened, yet this only means they lose some of the freshness in their aroma, not that they “go bad” (as the term is commonly understood).

A couple specific oils have been shown to cause skin irritation in a small amount of the population if they’ve oxidized, perhaps over more than a year, again if not properly stored. Scientific examination has shown this can happen with Tea Tree and Lavender, though thus far these are the only ones known to do this. (The study discussed oils that are an ingredient in a cream or other compound, where you can imagine the life of the oil: shipping from the distiller, to the manufacturer, to the store – at each point, the oil could sit for some time). Compare these to Helichrysum, for example, which doesn’t necessarily have a shelf life – its aroma improves over the first year, and doesn’t oxidize in a way that causes irritation of any sort.

As you can see above, “shelf life” means different things for different oils. For most oils, it really comes down to their aromas being as fine, bright and potent as they were when they were fresh. Looking at it this way, the cold-pressed citrus oils have the shortest shelf life, then some of the floral oils (though not really Rose or Jasmine), herbal, and conifer needle oils. Then we get to the woods and resins: Cedarwood, Frankincense, Myrrh – these can age quite nicely. And some oils are more highly valued the older they get: Sandalwood and Patchouli are the most renowned of this group.

Storage Conditions and Shelf Life

Given all that, the storage conditions of your essential oils makes a huge difference in how long they’ll stay fresh (when we’re talking about oils that don’t necessarily improve with age). Grapefruit, kept in a tightly capped bottle, with as little “air space” as possible, in a dark cabinet (or refrigerator) can be kept for at least two years (perhaps longer) without any change in the aroma. Even if not kept “cold,” but still in a dark, cool cabinet, it’s likely there would be no detectable change for a year.

So essentially, if you’re buying oils you plan on using up within a year, there’s really no concern about shelf life at all, should you store your oils properly. And for all oils other than the cold-pressed citrus, this extends to two years or more.

The factors which age an oil are heat, light and oxygen. Hence, the ideal condition being a cool, dark place, capped tightly. Should you decide to refrigerate your oils, but still plan to use them frequently, it would be best to pour yourself a smaller bottle that’s not kept refrigerated, as taking the oil from cool to warm to cool to warm (etc.) isn’t ideal. Frequent change in temperature can affect the oils, resulting in the collection of moisture if this is done too often.

The bottom line: if you’re storing your oils properly, there’s really no reason to be concerned about their “shelf life,” should you expect to use them within two years of their purchase.

Shelf Life and Carrier Oils

Carrier oils are more like food than essential oils; some can go rancid, and some do this faster than others. Oils with the most unsaturated fatty acids are the most sensitive. Hempseed (with its high amount of omega-3’s), Sunflower, Borage Seed, Rosehip Seed, Avocado and Evening Primrose oils are best kept refrigerated if they’ll be kept for longer than a month.

At the other end of the spectrum, Jojoba and Fractionated Coconut last for years, without need for keeping them cool. To extend the life of ALL carrier oils, you can add a few drops (per ounce/30 mL of carrier oil) of vitamin E – or even better, Rosemary Antioxidant (it’s more effective because of the way it quenches oxidative radicals). This is a good idea when making blends that may not be used very quickly as well.

A Word of Caution

A few words of caution when using essential oils for aromatherapy: many oils are not recommended for use with children or animals. If you have children, especially very young ones, you should be sure to check the properties of each type of essential oil before using it, even if it’s just in a diffuser. If you feel that a child could benefit from direct contact with an essential oil, you should check with a pediatrician first.

Many animals are particularly sensitive to essential oils, even when used in very small doses in a diffuser. Overuse of essential oils can actually cause liver damage in some pets. If you share your home with animals, please try to limit your use of essential oils in a diffuser and perhaps stick to using them in creams. Before considering using an essential oil directly on your pet, please visit your veterinarian.

Aromatherapy is a wonderful way to enhance your life through balance in your body and mind. The use of essential oils can not only have profound effects on a person’s mood, but can affect your body as well. Essential oils can be very powerful, and must be used carefully and responsibly, especially when being administered to a child or pet. The world of aromatherapy is vast and complex, and the benefits can improve your life greatly.

*Portions of this page’s content are courtesy of Aromatherapy at Home. For more information on Aromatherapy and Essential Oils, please visit

*Portions of this page’s content are courtesy of Claire Evesham, the owner of Feel Good Aromatherapy, the #1 source on the internet for information about Aromatherapy.