Essential Oils in the Bath

Safety article

I just wrote a thorough post for the Herbal Academy on using how to safely use essential oils in the bath. There is a lot of outdated information on the internet, and I hope to give you the updated information you need to be able to enjoy the pleasures of aromatic bathing without running the very real risk of skin irritation. This article will be published January 2019.

 

 

I will share some of the highlights of that article here, so you know the most important points. Then you can go read the article for more details.

Choosing your essential oil

The most important safety concern for bathing is skin irritation. While the word "irritation" sounds fairly benign, bathing with essential oils can potentially case very painful irritation.

 

Personally, I saw my friend's skin after she had used oregano (Orignanum vulgare) on her washcloth while she was in the bath. She only knew that it was a good germ fighter, so she thought it would be a good bath oil. Her skin, even a week later, was discolored, and she told me that when it happened she felt like she was being badly burned. I have also heard of other such reports from other people using all kinds of essential oils, even tangerine (Citrus reticulata), which we think of as being a relatively skin-safe oil.

 

So, the first key is to choose your essential oils wisely. Don't choose anything known to be skin irritating (oregano), including peppermint (Mentha x piperita). I see all kind of bath salt recipes using peppermint EO, but I know that I would not want it anywhere near my sensitive tissues when I sit down in the tub! If you don't know whether or not an essential oil is gentle or harsh on the skin, then do not use it. If you feel any kind of strong cooling or burning when you use a particular EO on your skin, like peppermint, then don't use it.

Always choose an appropriate essential oil that you would not mind having come in contact with your most private, most sensitive tissues.

Carriers

The second key safety consideration is what carrier you use. Most recipes you find floating around do not use appropriate carriers, and this even includes recipes from reputable aromatherapists. The safety guidelines for EOs in the bath has changed, based on the numerous negative experiences people have had, and not everyone has gone back to correct their older recipes.

 

Do NOT just put EOs straight in your bath water, first and foremost. This is the same as a "neat" application of EO. Always use a carrier.

 

When you make a bathing product, be it bath salts or you really just want the EO aroma, you must include one of the four (4) appropriate carriers: an emulsifier (like liquid Castile soap), a dispersant (like Solubol), Aloe very jelly (NOT Aloe vera gel - these are different things), or a fixed oil (like fractionated coconut oil or jojoba wax).

 

Some people think full-fat milk is a fatty carrier. Full-fat milk is an emulsion of its own, since the fat in milk would not be evenly distributed without the homogenization process. Since it is an emulsion, it is not an emulsifier, nor is it a fat. If you wish to use milk or cream in your bath, just be sure to include one of the safe carriers as well.

Appropriate carriers include:

  • emulsifiers
  • dispersants
  • Aloe vera jelly (not gel)
  • fixed oil

Recipe examples

An internet search for essential oil bath recipes listed over 4 million results. Right at the top of the list was a recipe that goes against both of the two most important guidelines. The ingredients are:

Epsom Salt
Sea or Coarse Kosher Salt
Baking soda
Peppermint essential oil
Food coloring {optional – I used red}

 

There is no carrier, and the person suggests using peppermint, calling it "refreshing." Now, it's certainly up to you whether or not you use peppermint in your bath, but I will not ever do so knowingly. That is not an experience I ever want to have.

 

However here, at the Learning Herbs blog, is a safe recipe. It includes essential oils that are not usually irritating and also includes olive oil as a carrier. This is an excellent example of the kind of recipe you should seek out when looking to make your own DIY bath products.

 

For more details and more information, including bathing children and three safe recipes, read my blog post on the Herbal Academy website. (I will link it here, as soon as it is posted.)