I’ve been hearing lots of misinformation about essential oils lately. Some is simple lack of knowledge, and some is scary to me.
Recently, I was talking with someone (who?? I can’t remember! I’m sorry, but thanks for the topic inspiration!)
Anyway, we were discussing essential oils, I think the person was using them on the skin. In the conversation that followed, it turned out that this person had been advised (“it said”, so the bottle’s instructions? A pamphlet?) to use another liquid like water to dilute the EO.
HOLD THE PHONE. Nowhere in this universe does water dilute oil. Ever heard the phrase, they go together like oil and water? There’s a reason for that! They DON’T.
Essential oils are extracted by steam distillation. Plant matter is put in a still, heat is applied and steam rises into a cooling coil- hey, detailists, this is the simple version! So, the steam cools and the water (this is a “flower water”) dumps into a container, while the oil-based fragrance parts of the plant separates from the water and voila! Essential oil drips into a separate container. You can see essential oils when you peel an orange in the sunlight- bend the peel backwards and look for a fine mist to spray from it. That’s the EO, and why you will smell oranges right away.
Contrast that with vegetable oils, from nuts and seeds like Olive, Avocado, Coconut and all the other oils you can buy more cheaply (relatively) and in quantity. They are squished under lots of pressure to expel the oil, which is strained out and bottled.
Both methods can produce oils of varying quality, and both can use synthetic chemicals to improve yield. And it’s tough to locate and trust good suppliers of oils. There was a big olive oil scandal a few years ago, where different companies were analyzed and it was determined that many, if not most, of the readily available olive oils were not what they claimed to be. By the same token, essential oils can be adulterated with synthetic chemicals or outright be synthetic themselves- remember, you get what you pay for. Orange EO is plentiful. However, it takes 40-60 Roses to make a single drop of its EO, so is MUCH more expensive.
Are you confused about essential oils vs regular/vegetable/cooking oils? How can you keep the two types of oil clear in your head, you wonder? Easy! Booze!
Hard liquor is made in much the same way as EOs, with distillation of a mash. And like EOs, hard liquor is more costly, usually purchased in smaller quantities, and lasts a long time.
Vegetable oils are pressed like cider apples. Both produce large quantities, are cheap to get compared to liquor/EOs, and go bad if not properly stored. True, some methods of going bad produce hard cider (yum!) whereas bad vegetable oils are rancid and nothing good comes of that. But still. When trying to remember which oil is which, think "Liquor or Cider?"
All this makes the point that Essential Oils really are oil, and do NOT dilute in water.
I was recently talking with a nurse friend of mine (I remember who that is! Hi L!) She was telling a story about a hospice patient she had- the family had been taken in by one of the big EO multilevel marketing companies, who push EOs in all sorts of applications and just got censured by the government for blatantly suggesting unsafe usage. You know the ones?
Well, the family was feeding my friend’s patient a mix of essential oils that had been promised to cure him, IN A GLASS OF WATER. She said there was a thick layer of oil sitting on top of the water, and she was horrified to imagine how it burned the patient’s mouth and throat and esophagus and stomach and intestines, but there was nothing she could do. The family was convinced this was the cure and their ‘consultant’ had told them so.
If you’re not familiar with using essential oils, if you're not sure why drinking EOs is horrifying, just follow this simple guideline:
Think of liquor- if you’re not used to drinking it, start with mixed drinks, not a straight glass of bourbon.
Some EOs are perfectly safe neat- that is, directly on the skin. Some are even safe internally. But if you don’t already know which ones, do more research and dilute them ALL for now. Many will cause burns, rashes, or other unpleasant or harmful reactions. These are super concentrated products.
What does dilute Essential Oils? More oil.
Those vegetable oils we discussed become what’s called ‘carrier oils’. You add a few drops of EO to a small amount of, say, jojoba oil, and you have a fabulous massage oil.
Now to the point of this whole post, which came to me tonight in the bath- what if you want to use EOs in the tub? You can dilute them in more oil, but won’t they still just sit on top of the water?
YES! Now you’re thinking! And imagine how you enter the tub, what delicate parts enter the water as you sit down. Ugh. You don’t want a dollop of concentrated oil, diluted or otherwise, sticking there. So what’s a bath fan to do? Here’s a more accurate rule to go by:
DILUTE OR DISPERSE
EOs will disperse in whole milk. There’s enough fat (read, OIL) in full fat milk that whisking in a few drops of EO will break them up into tiny particles that will hang onto the milk fat particles, preventing EO burns.
You can also use salt (sea, pink, Epsom…) Put salt in a bowl, add a few drops of EO, and mash it all together really well. Something about the chemical structure of the crystals and the oil, I don’t know, there’s chemistry involved, but it works with sugar too. Then add the whole thing to the tub.
That’s it! Use EOs safely by remembering to DILUTE OR DISPERSE them, and go take a long soak in a deep tub.
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
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