Aromatic = having a distinct scent that is usually pleasing and may be herbaceous or spicy
Essential Oil = An aromatic oil distilled from a plant. These are volatile oils - they evaporate easily and quickly. They also tend to have low flash points which is why products like diffuser blends must ship by ground only.
Carrier Oil = Carrier oils are the 'fixed' oils and butters - they don't evaporate. These oils are more stable than essential oils and have long chains of fatty acids. They can be used in cooking and for topical application. Many of them also have their own therapeutic properties which may contribute benefits to a blend. They are referred to as carrier oils because they 'carry' the essential oils into your skin. Flash points for carrier oils tend to be very high, so blends with carrier oils can ship faster.
It's important to note here that carrier oils can be blended without EOs to use on your skin. This comes in handy when someone should not be using essential oils (like a woman who is pregnant, or a young baby). Example: My Skin Butter: SMS is made with Shea Butter, Mango Butter, and Safflower Oil, with Arrowroot Powder added to improve the whipped texture. This blend can be safely used on all ages from newborn to 100 + and has been great on diaper rash and rough, dry skin.
Chemical Constituents = The individual chemicals found in a substance.
In aromatherapy, they are the individual chemicals that are found in essential oils and hydrosols. They may be referred to as CTs.
Example: You have an EO called 'Thyme ct thymol' (Latin name: Thymus vulgaris ct thymol. This means you have Thyme essential oil with a high level of a chemical constituent called thymol.
Contact Dermatitis = swelling of the skin that is the result of a substance coming into contact with the skin. It may appear as raised bumps or a rash.
Diffusion = spreading a substance. In aromatherapy, aromas are spread in the air via a special diffuser (NOT a humidifier) in a room or a car, or diffuser jewelry for a more personal level.
Diluted = to make thinner or weaker. In aromatherapy, diluting an essential oil means adding it to a carrier oil so that the essential oil is a small percentage of the solution.
Flash Point = the lowest temperature at which the vapor of a volatile substance will burst into flame when exposed to a condition like fire or sparks or high heat.
Hydrosol = Many aromatic plants go through a water distillation process to extract the essential oils. The water used during distillation soaks up some of the chemical constituents from the plant material. The water then has an aroma and may have very mild therapeutic properties. Hydrosols are generally considered safe for all ages and are great to use with infants.
Ingestion = taking a substance into the body
Mitigate = to make less serious or severe
Neat = without dilution
Orifice Reducer Cap = is a small, plastic part that fits into the opening of a bottle and provides a small opening that allows liquid to pass through drop by drop.
Oxidized = oxygen molecules attach to other chemical molecules. When that happens, the original chemical structure changes. If an essential oil oxidizes, it can irritate the skin. When a carrier oil oxidizes, we say it goes rancid. In both cases, the aroma of the oil will change. That aromatic change is much easier to detect with a carrier oil.
Topical Use = used on the surface of the skin
Volatile = evaporates quickly and easily
You've determined the purpose for an oil blend you want to make, now you're ready to decide on your ingredients - and every ingredient you include will make a difference in your blend.
The essential oils you choose for your blend can be based on what you have on hand, the aromas you love the most, therapeutic properties, and how they act on the skin (skin friendly or potentially skin damaging).
Your selection of carrier oils, including any herbally infused carrier oils, is just as important as your choice of essential oils!
Imagine you're making a roll-on blend for your muscles. While the essential oils are the highlight of the blend, the carrier oils are very important supporting actors because they may provide skin protection and/or healing properties as well as other therapeutic properties. Let's walk through the selection process.
For a warming effect, you might choose Black Pepper and Ginger. For a relaxing effect you might choose from Peppermint, Patchouli, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, and Geranium. These are all good choices for a muscle blend, but the Black Pepper, Peppermint, and Ginger may be hard on skin cells.
Peppermint may cause skin or mucus membrane irritation, and has other cautions with its use. Black Pepper oxidizes easily, and if it does, it could cause skin irritation or sensitization. If you have sensitive skin, Ginger may be irritating. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use these oils - they are all very good oils -- it means you should use them with care and in low dilutions. You can combine them with skin-friendly essential and carrier oils to minimize/eliminate potential irritation.
Patchouli, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, and Geranium are all very skin-loving oils that are great for relaxing muscles and can possibly mitigate the potential risk of skin irritation from the above oils.
A blend with low dilutions (2% max each) of Peppermint and Ginger for that warming and cooling effect combined with Lavender and Geranium would be a great roll-on blend for after exercising.
Now, it's time to decide on your carrier oil(s). Carriers are (imho) a whole other fascinating branch of study. You'll want oils that will absorb easily and provide their own therapeutic properties. Shelf life may or may not be important depending on how quickly or slowly you plan on using up your blend. Three quick-absorbing oils that come to mind are Grape Seed Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, and Jojoba Oil.
Grape Seed is a common oil used as a carrier because it's easy to find, reasonably priced, light, and absorbs quickly. It's chock full of vitamins and minerals, and has a flavanol that supports collagen and elastin (which are components of cartilage and skin). (Parker, 2018) The drawback with Grapeseed Oil is its shelf life. After being opened, it will last from 3 - 10 months (depending on temperature and air exposure) if stored without refrigeration. If refrigerated, it might last up to a year before going rancid.
Hemp Seed Oil (not the same as CBD oil) is another option in this blend. With what is considered to be a great balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 Fatty Acids, its anti-inflammatory and skin-healing properties would compliment the blend. It absorbs easily as well. Hemp Seed Oil needs to be stored in the refrigerator and has up to a
1 year shelf life.
Jojoba Oil - which is really a wax - is chemically a close match to the sebum of our skin. It absorbs quickly, penetrates deeply, and moisturizes the skin. The 20 year shelf life and it's ability to extend the shelf life of the blend would make it a great choice; however, it's more expensive than Grape Seed and Hemp Seed.
All three of the above carriers are good choices, and mixing two or all three of them would enhance your blend.
This simple scenario demonstrates that as you make your own blends, considering the purpose of each individual ingredient is an important aspect of your creation.
I've mentioned using whole milk to stop a skin reaction in other posts. Since this seems to be a little known remedy, I thought I'd elaborate on it.
The very first class I took for aromatherapy was a safety class taught by a registered nurse/aromatherapist. It was her suggestion to use whole milk to calm a skin reaction (contact dermatitis) to an oil. She was right. So far, I've successfully used whole milk to stop a reaction I had to an oxidized oil, to flush sunscreen out of my grandson's eyes, and to stop minor skin reactions of three highly chemically sensitive clients who did wrist tests of ingredients prior to formulation of individual products.
In each case, whole milk stopped the reactions!
I've searched online to try and understand why milk has this effect, but haven't been able to find anything. I finally did find a website (https://www.allure.com/story/how-to-deal-with-red-irritated-skin) which mentions a dermatologist's
(Amy Wechsler) recommendation to apply a cold milk compress to a contact dermatitis reaction to calm it down. (Edgar, 2015) Dr. Wechsler explained that the fats in the milk have anti-inflammatory properties.
Given my experiences, I wonder if there's more to it than that. My hypothesis is that, in addition to the anti-inflammatory properties, the lipids in whole milk are able to absorb oil molecules more readily than the lipids in our skin. With the epidermis providing a barrier that slows the absorption of substances, perhaps it gives enough time for the milk to pull the oils back out. Since milk is also an emulsifier, it could be that it disperses the oil molecules and washes them away. The combination of absorbing and dispersing the 'offending' molecules would remove them from the skin. Once those molecules are gone, the immune system no longer has a reason to react.
Can I prove my hypothesis? No, I don't have the equipment. Can I prove that whole milk can stop/calm a skin reaction? Yes, by documenting it's use in cases of contact dermatitis.
True or False?
If you get a rash, or any kind of skin reaction. from using an essential oil, it's just your body detoxifying.
If you get a skin reaction of any kind from using an essential oil (or any other substance), it is very likely either an allergic reaction or irritation from using an oil neat (without diluting in a carrier oil), at too strong of a dilution, an oil that has oxidized, or an oil that is too harsh to use on the skin. If it was a phototoxic oil, and you were exposed to UV radiation after applying the oil, it could be photosensitivity or a phototoxic reaction. It is highly unlikely to be detoxification.
First, what to do in case of an allergic reaction or skin-irritation after using an essential oil: if it's a severe reaction, seek appropriate medical attention immediately; otherwise, wash the affected area with whole milk or vegetable oil, then wash with soap and water. (An RN-Aromatherapist taught me that trick and it works well.) Do not use that essential oil again in the case of allergic reaction. If the reaction followed the use of an undiluted EO, wait several days before trying to use that oil again, and dilute it first to 1% or less (6 drops of EO in 1 oz of carrier oil). Test it out on a small patch of skin like the inside of your wrist or elbow and wait at least 15 minutes to see if you react. If you do react to the test, don't use that essential oil again - not even as part of a blend.
Second, let's take a brief look at what detox is and how it happens. Detoxification means cleaning the blood. Our bodies are designed to do this naturally through the kidneys, liver, lungs, digestive system, lymph system, and skin. Very simply put, we eliminate waste (the stuff our bodies can't use and the stuff that's bad for our bodies) when we use the restroom, when we perspire, and when we exhale. There's a great deal more detail that goes into our bodies' detoxification processes, but you get the idea here.
Then, why isn't a rash a form of detox? In the case of an allergic reaction, a rash, or skin reaction is the immune system saying "I don't like this substance" or "this is too strong and may harm the body". The purpose of the immune system is to protect the body from harm from invaders (i.e. germs). It does this by providing physical and chemical barriers and cellular 'soldiers' (like white blood cells, T-cells, and B-cells). Sometimes the 'soldier' cells make a mistake and think a substance is harmful. When that happens, the B-cells produce the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE). The first time (or two) this happens, there may not be a reaction. But our immune systems have memory - once the system has encountered an invader it perceives as harmful (like a virus, a bacteria, or a chemical), when it meets that specific invader again, it goes to work producing greater amounts of IgE. This is why there are many occasions when it's the second or third exposure to a substance that a noticeable allergic reaction occurs.
There are a couple of things to take note of here: 1. It is possible to become allergic to something to which you've already had multiple exposures. 2. Often, continued exposure to an allergen will cause the reaction to worsen.
Skin irritation is a reaction on the surface of the skin caused by physical or chemical stimuli. Here are examples of each type: Physical -- You're cooking and a drop of hot grease splashes on your hand. You feel it burning and develop a blister on that spot. Chemical -- you use an oxidized oil (one that has been stored improperly and exposed too long to air, heat, light, and/or time), your skin turns bright red and feels like it's burning.
Let's go back to the cooking oil example. Would you say "Oh, the hot grease caused a blister - that must mean my body is detoxing." ? Would you then start deliberately splashing hot grease on yourself to detox more? That sounds pretty crazy, doesn't it?
In a phototoxic reaction, your skin may burn following UV exposure on an area of skin where a phototoxic oil was used at too high of a dilution. Many citrus oils fall in this category. I mention this here, because it is a skin reaction, but this topic will get a later blog by itself.
So, how does all of this relate to essential oils? Essential oils come from plants and consist of nature-made chemicals. If you have allergies to certain plants, plant families, or chemicals, then you should avoid using an essential oil that comes from that plant, plant family, or contains that chemical - or at least test a small amount first. A rash would be one type of allergic reaction. This reaction is a result of antigens coming to the rescue to combat something that the immune system thinks is harmful.
Let's make an analogy here. Let's say a person ate some peanuts, and went into anaphylactic shock (i.e. his/her mouth and throat swelled up and (s)he had trouble breathing). Would you consider that reaction a form of detoxification? Would you recommend that the person eat more peanuts? Of course not - you would tell him/her to avoid anything containing peanuts! Why? Because you know that that type of reaction is an allergic reaction and not a form of detoxification.
A rash or skin-irritation reaction caused by topical application of a substance may not be life-threatening, but it is a signal from your body that something's wrong. Therefore, if you get a skin reaction to an essential oil, you need to determine what caused the reaction. Was the oil oxidized or not diluted enough? Was it a phototoxic oil? Did you have an allergic reaction?
The one thing you can say with near certainty is that it is NOT detoxification.
Note: This is a VERY basic blog about rash and detox, for a much more in-depth discussion on the topic, I highly recommend the article Essential Oils and the "Detox" Theory by Kristina Bauer (Tisserand Institute).
Bauer, Kristina, Tisserand Institute, Essential Oils and the “Detox” Theory, June 18, 2015
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Contact dermatitis, (1988 – 2018)
Johns Hopkins Medicine, Allergies and the Immune System: What You Need to Know; https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/allergy_and_asthma/allergies_and_the_immune_system_85,P00039
O’Lenick, Tony, Cosmetics & Toiletries, Exclusive! Comparatively Speaking: Irritation vs. Sensitization, October 13, 2008