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7 min read / 15 July 2022 / Laura Garvin Gomez

How to Dilute Essential Oils: A Complete Guide

Learn how to best dilute your essential oils for safe and proper use.

Woman applying oil to her skin with a dropper


When searching for essential oils, you may have heard about the importance of diluting, and how failing to do so may be a safety hazard.

While there's no need to panic at these claims, diluting essential oils is certainly a very important practice if you wish to apply your oils topically (onto the skin).

Choosing to apply any essential oil undiluted, - or "neat", as it is sometimes known - can lead to potentially serious reactions on the skin, and thus should never be attempted unless you have a significant level of expertise.

Even essential oils that are considered to be "lighter" on the skin, like geranium, can produce harmful reactions if used undiluted.

Other essential oils, like cinnamon, should be avoided altogether due to their potency and higher risk for reactions.

Why should I dilute my essential oils?

Since essential oils are natural products, sensitivities may vary depending on what plant the oil is derived from, where the plant is grown, and what season the plant was picked in.

All of these factors can affect the chemical concentration of the essential oil, so there's no way to guarantee any oil is safe to apply undiluted - even if you've used it this way before.

Failing to safely dilute your essential oils before use can lead to two main safety risks for the skin:

  • Irritation and sensitization
  • Systemic toxicity

While the first set of risks may be obviously identified by a red mark or a rash, the second risk could be harder to locate, and could even lead to adverse health effects if left untreated.

Never simply ignore any reactions you get from undiluted essential oils – be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible to avoid developing further symptoms.

Sensitization can be particularly troublesome for a frequent essential oil user, as once your skin becomes sensitized to a particular oil, the reaction will return for all future uses, regardless of if you choose to dilute the oil or not.

The best and safest way to dilute an essential oil and avoid these unpleasant symptoms is by using a carrier oil.


What is a carrier oil?

Carrier oils are unscented (or lightly scented) oils, usually derived from the fatty portion of a plant – such as the nuts, seeds, kernels, or fruits. Carrier oils can also be vegetable based.

In general, many carrier oils will come from seeds or nuts, and are named as such because of their purpose to "carry" the essential oil into the skin safely.

Combining your chosen essential oil with carrier oils like sweet almond or jojoba will not only prevent risks and ensure safe use on the skin, but furthermore can provide a whole host of new benefits to refresh and moisturise the body.

Carrier oils often contain properties that specifically target the skin and hair, and can be applied in higher quantities to the body without the adverse effects of some other similar remedies.

Using carrier oils can also help your essential oils last longer, as their benefits can be spread over a larger area without wasting a lot of product.

Some of the most popular carrier oils for topical use are:

If you are looking for a more foolproof guide, check out the best carrier oils for skin care and massage.

Zoomed in picture of clary sage flower.

Are all carrier oils generally the same?

Not all carrier oils are made equal, and it can be hard to figure out which one is best for your needs if you’ve never experienced them before.

Each carrier oil – as with essential oils – will have its own set of unique properties as a result of the original plant’s chemical makeup. For instance, avocado will differ from sweet almond as one is derived from a nut, whilst the other is taken from the pulp of a fruit.

Overall, some key factors to keep in mind when shopping for carrier oils are the thickness of the oil, its scent, and the individual nutrients it contains.

What are the key differences between carrier oils?

Some oils, like grapeseed, are great for greasy skin types due to their lightweight consistencies, while oils like jojoba are specifically used for massages due to their high viscosity levels.

Keeping the scent of the carrier oil in mind is important if you don’t want any factors to contaminate the aroma of your chosen essential oil.

For example, if you’re wanting to use a carrier oil as a reed diffuser base, choosing one with a stronger natural scent could end up impacting the final product. Oils like fractionated coconut oil tend to be the best for these sorts of projects due to their clear colour and minimal scent.

Another important factor to keep in mind is the shelf life of your chosen carrier oil. Oils containing tocopherols – or vitamin E – will last a lot longer than oils made entirely out of fatty acids.

In fact, the latter is more likely to spoil quickly if exposed to too much air for prolonged periods of time.

If you’re still not sure where to begin, be sure to research each of your options carefully, as well as try out a few different varieties to find the best one for you.

Top view of four amber glass bottles with dropper caps in

How much carrier oil to essential oil should I use?

There’s no strict rule on how much carrier oil to apply to your body at any one time - however it is important to monitor how much essential oil you’re using in relation to this, as too much can lead to unwanted sensitivities or unexpected reactions if used without care.

  • In general, a 2% essential oil dilution is recommended for topical use. This is considered to be a safe percentage for daily application regardless of skin type or oil type.
  • If you don't know what this means or how to measure it, don't worry! The easiest way to figure out a 2% dilution is by using the dropper provided on your essential oil bottle.
  • A good rule of thumb is to simply add two drops of essential oil for every teaspoon of carrier oil, or 5 drops for every 10ml of carrier oil.
  • One drop of essential oil equals one percent of dilution (1 drop = 1%), so be sure not to go overboard if you want to ensure complete safety for your skin!

What's the best dilution rate for me?

Diluting essential oils up to 10% can be suitable for adults and teenagers above the age of 15, but it's normally not advised to use a rate this high.

If you do make the choice to do so, be sure to only use higher dilutions on smaller, more concentrated areas of the skin to avoid irritation.

When applying essential oils on children or the elderly, a 1% dilution is preferred as their skin tends to carry greater sensitivities.

    In these cases, always ensure you are using oils that are regarded as safe for children. Learn more about how to safely use essential oils around children.

    How to dilute essential oils

    Mixing essential oils with a carrier oil is the most popular way of diluting essential oils. Here's a step by step guide on how to dilute:

    1. Lay out your chosen essential oil and carrier oil combination.
    2. Grab a bowl or small plate to mix your oils together in (you can also use a bottle if you want to set aside a larger quantity of pre-mixed oil)
    3. Carefully pour 10ml of carrier oil into your dish.
    4. Add 5 drops of your essential oil and mix well.
    5. Add more oils to your dish as needed, keeping to a 3% dilution rate (or lower, if necessary) throughout.

    Large drop of carrier oil

    Do I always need to dilute essential oils?

    There is no need to dilute your essential oils if you choose to diffuse them into the air or sprinkle them into your bath - although it is always advised to follow the instructions of your individual diffuser to ensure safe and proper use.

    It's also not required to dilute the oil if you choose to smell it directly from the bottle or from a tissue, but do try to avoid contact with your face when doing so.

    Any time topical application is involved - such as with skin care, hair care, or a massage - carrier oils must always be used. We also advise performing a patch test on your skin before applying any essential oils.

    Can I use something other than a carrier oil?

    While carrier oils tend to be the best choice for easily diluting essential oils, they are not the only option at your disposal.

    Lotions and creams can be a great alternative for skin applications, as they often contain their own set of natural properties, and are thick enough to avoid irritation.

    Adding a few drops of essential oil to your daily shampoo or conditioner and shaking well can also be a good, hassle-free way to make the most out of the benefits.

    Botanical illustration of wheat germ, used in Vitamin E carrier Oil

    In summary:

    • Essential oils must be diluted before use on the skin to ensure proper safety
    • Less is always more when learning how to dilute essential oils
    • Carrier oils are the most popular ingredient for dilution
    • Always carry out a patch test before applying any oil onto your skin

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