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see also General Guidelines for applying essential oils

Applying Essential Oils - Topical

Parts of this were taken with permission from Essential Oils Overview and Reference Guide,
published by: The Family Tree, 2008

HeadacheTopical application of oils allows them to quickly enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.  Simultaneously as the oils are applied and absorbed into the skin the scent is inhaled giving a double benefit.  Logic often dictates where to apply an oil (or blend). Often applying directly to the affected area is most effective. Headaches originate from certain places, like some might be sinus headaches.  Common sense says that cup and inhale, applying it to the temples, and/or applying it to the sides of the nose would be appropriate.  Other headaches start at the back of the neck.  Massaging a selected oil to the neck and shoulders offers relief.  Complete the process by applying a compress to the effected area.   The pressure points identified in reflexology or acupressure have also proven effective places to apply oils.  These points are shown for your convenience in charts on the page covering reflexology elsewhere on this website.



Administer directly to an effected area for pain relief or for protection from infection.  An oil (with or without a carrier) in a spray or a salve works well.  Appropriate situations to consider direct application include burns, rashes, fungal infections, cuts, scrapes bumps, bruises and bites.

Additionally, areas of inflammation and associated pain may be included, use topically for muscle aches, joint pains, arthritis and gout.  For upset stomachs or digestive problems, direct application on the stomach (especially for children) is appropriate.  Caution should always be observed to avoid contact, especially neat (undiluted oils), with eyes or mucus membranes during direct application.  



One of the most common ways to administer essential oils topically is through aromatherapy massage.  Massage therapists attend hundreds of hours of instruction to learn proper techniques of massage.  It would be ideal to employ an expert every time a rub down is needed, but that’s not always feasible.  For a very useful discussion of oils and massage consider the book Essential Oils Overview and Reference Guide



Compresses are ideal for after an oil massage.  While there is still residue from the massage, apply a hot or cold towel to the effected area.

For a a compress, fill a bowl with ice water or hot water and add 4-6 drops of essential oil.  Dip a folded clean, sterile cotton cloth into the prepared water and ring out.  Place the cloth on affected areas until the cloth reaches body temperature. 
Oils are concentrated  and only a small amount is required, at times it is advantageous to use them with a carrier.  Carriers allow the essential oil to be spread over a larger area while reducing the risk of irritation to sensitive skin.

  • Hot compresses are helpful for backaches, rheumatism, arthritis, abscesses, earache, toothache, and menstrual cramps.
  • Cold compresses are helpful for headaches, neck tension, swelling, bruises, sprains, and muscle strains.
  • A common technique for finishing off the massage to an area is to apply a hot or cold compress or towel to the area for a few minutes after the massage.

  • Massage for Infants and Small Children

    Essential oils are of great benefit for babies and young children using massage techniques.  Clearly, their skin is very sensitive and extreme care should be taken to use a carrier oil during a massage.  A 2-5% carrier dilution is appropriate. 

    With those precautions in mind, recognize that an essential oils massage for a baby encourages a great fun and bonding time with parents.  Massage for babies is also a proven technique for pain relief of many kinds including digestive discomfort and colic as well as other health concerns.  When using the correct essential oil, a massage is a physical type of ‘lullaby.’

    A highly effective method with babies and small children is to massage their feet with essential oils.  It is considered a safe area to apply oils that might sometimes be considered too strong or concentrated for sensitive baby skin.  Still, use care with “hot oils, their feet will develop calluses but not until they begin walking.  With stronger oils the use of a carrier is recommended. 

    Compresses with a damp, warm towel are comforting and therapeutic to a baby that is suffering from discomfort or pain.  Apply directly to the affected area(s), i.e., to the stomach area for tummy discomfort, etc.

    Here are some further tips to keep in mind when massaging babies:

    ·         Warm hands under warm running water before beginning.

    ·         Find a relaxing time for both the baby and the administrator.  Prior to nap or bedtime is ideal.

    ·         Talk to the baby in kind gentle tones while massaging.

    ·         Warm the oil in the hand first before applying.

    ·         Use gentle soft rotary strokes.

    ·         Be gentle when applying to the tummy area.

    ·         Keep oils away from the eyes, genitals and mucus membranes.

    Keep in mind that babies do not know better than to touch their eyes.  Therefore, massage only those area(s) that can be clothed or covered after the massage to prevent transfer to the sensitive spots.  For instance, place socks on the infant or child after massaging their feet.

    Baths and Soakings

    Baths and soaking provide another method to topically apply essential oils and blends.

  • Full bath.  A full bath with essential oils can be a great source of relaxation and help.  Before entering a bath, do these two steps: In warm bath water, place oils 4-6 drops of selected essential oil.  Agitate the water and oil to prevent concentration in any one area.   Every so often, repeat the agitation to keep the oils from pooling in one area.

  • Jacuzzi.  Oils placed in a Jacuzzi help destroy bacteria as well as produce a pleasant aroma and mind relaxant.  All essential oils have antibacterial properties which can prevent hot tub rash. Users may choose an oil based on personal preference or aroma.  

  • Suana.  Essential oils mixed with the water can be used in a sauna bath to create a pleasant effect.  1 or 2 drops per cup of water is usually sufficient depending on the oil selected.

  • Showers.  Temporarily plug the drain.  Place 2-6 drops of oil or blend on a wet washcloth or bathing sponge.  Rub over the entire body when showering.  Enjoy the aroma of the steam and the effects of the oils.

  • Sitz bath.  Run enough water in the tub to cover the person’s backside.  Pour and mix in 2-4 drops of selected oils.  Mix the water and oil well or blend as recommended for the specific health concern.

  • Foot bath.  There are a variety of oils, combinations and blends for various foot ailments.  4-6 drops released into a vessel large enough for both feet filled with warm water. Use a dispersing agent or mix well with the water.  Soak the feet for as long as the solution is comfortable.

  • Hand soak.  This is similar to a footbath but a smaller container to fit the hands is used.  Reduce the number of drops of oil to 2-4.  Use a dispersing agent or mix well with the water and soak hands as long as the temperature is comfortable.

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    NOTE: The advice shared in this site has not been evaluated by the FDA. The products and methods recommended are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease, nor is it intended to replace proper medical help. As members offer or look for answers, kindly understand that essential oils work to help to bring the body into balance - thus helping the body's natural defenses to restore homeostasis. Essential oils are not used to "treat" medical problems.