How to use essential oils

They are said to help with everything from sleep to sore throats, but there are some important do’s and don’ts when using concentrated essential oils.

Essential oils are booming business.

Made from highly concentrated plant extracts, the global essentials oils market was valued at $12 billion dollars in 2020.

They are the new kid on the block in Western countries when compared to ancient cultures in China, India and Egypt, which used aromatic plant components in resins, balms and oils for their physical and psychological benefits.

When inhaled, research has found scent molecules in essential oils travel from your olfactory nerves (responsible for your sense of smell) directly to the parts of the brain that affect mood and emotion.

How are essential oils made?

Essential oils are made by distilling the roots, stems, leaves, flowers and bark of plants with steam or water, or using mechanical methods such as cold pressing.

The extracts capture the plant’s scent and flavour, or “essence”.

How to use essential oils

Naturopath Alison Mitchell says there are many ways to use essential oils, the most common being in a diffuser.

“They can also be used topically, in creams, diluted in a carrier oil or a few drops added to a bath,” Alison says.

“Essential oils shouldn’t be consumed – but infused oils can be.”

Meanwhile naturopath Belinda Kirkpatrick suggests:

  • Tea tree oil for pimples and bacterial infection
  • Lavender oil for anxiety or sleep issues
  • Clary sage oil for menstrual cramps
  • Peppermint oil in a cream can be a good option for muscle aches and pains
  • Sweet orange oil to help promote feelings of joy

What to look for in an essential oil

Belinda says essential oils can be a great addition to your health and wellness toolkit when used correctly.


“One important thing to remember is to look for a good quality oil. You shouldn’t have to re-mortgage the house, just one that is a 100 per cent pesticide-free essential oil,” Belinda says.

“There are a lot of products out there that are marketed as ‘pure’ or ‘medical grade’ but those terms aren’t regulated and so hold little weight.”

Be careful when using essential oils

While essential oils are hugely popular, Alison says they do have potential side effects and it’s important to use them safely.


Some essential oils are not recommended for use during pregnancy, such as:

  • Aniseed
  • Clary sage
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Sage

Check with your doctor or qualified aromatherapist when in doubt.

Patch test

Alison recommends doing a small patch test on the skin before use to see if there is an allergic reaction.


Essential oils are powerful and potent, and a couple of drops go a long way, so be sure to dilute, Belinda advises.

Keep away from children

Alison warns some oils can produce toxins that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system if they’re swallowed.

“The number of adverse effects from essential oils has been increasing each year and in the majority of cases, it’s been people under the age of 15,” Alison says.

“So keep your oils out of reach if children are around.”

Written by Liz McGrath.