Never put Undiluted Essential Oils on your Skin

Misleading Claims Related to Undiluted Essential Oils

Essential oils are described as aromatic highly-concentrated oil, derived from plants. The essential oils are extracted via pressure, distillation, or hydrodiffusion. Essential oils are used as “neat oil” when they are used undiluted. However, the essential oils are usually diluted using carrier oils. The carrier oils may include sunflower, olive, sweet almond, canola, and jojoba oils. (Manion & Widder, 2017)

A lot of websites direct their users to apply undiluted essential oils for several skin-related benefits, however, these claims are rather misleading. The proceeding section describes the dangers of topical application of undiluted essential oils and discusses the right way to use these oils

Dangers of Topical Application of Undiluted Essential Oils

Essential Oils and Cytotoxicity 

Essential oils are typical lipophiles, which penetrate the cell membrane and induce membrane damage. The essential oils may also disruption of the mitochondrial membrane, resulting in cell death via necrosis and apoptosis. The cytotoxic property of essential oils is attributed to aldehydes, alcohols, and phenols. (Bakkali et al., 2008) Even at significantly lower concentrations, essential oils demonstrate high toxicity to the skin cells. (Prashar et al., 2006)

Essential Oils and Photosensitivity 

Photosensitivity is another important adverse effect of topical application of undiluted essential oils. Photosensitization occurs as a result of interaction between the skin and phototoxin present in the essential oil. In addition to photosensitization, essential oils such as bergamot oil may stimulate malignant changes in the skin. Common compounds associated with photosensitization are psoralen and bergapten. This risk of photosensitization of the skin following topical application of essential oil is determined by the immediate exposure of the skin to ultraviolet radiation of the sun. (Paul et al., 2020; Vostinaru et al., 2020)

Essential Oils and Allergic Reactions 

Contact allergy or allergy contact dermatitis occurs in response to contact between skin and allergen. This hypersensitivity reaction occurs 2-3 days following the exposure to allergens. Scientific studies demonstrate that essential oils have strong allergic potential, correlating with the onset of allergy contact dermatitis. (Sarkic & Stappen, 2018)

Essential Oils and Skin Irritation 

Another dermatological adverse reaction associated with the topical application of essential oils is skin irritation. (Vostinaru et al., 2020) Scientific literature has reported skin irritation in response to the topical application of lavender, tea tree, ylang-ylang, lemongrass, peppermint, and other essential oils. Oxidation of the components of the essential oil, during its storage or storage of products containing essential oils, leads to a rise in the sensitizing potential of the essential oil constituents. (Dreger & Wielgus, 2013)

Primary irritation related to first-time use of essential oils is characterized by burn or red wheal. Skin irritation occurs in response to different components present in the essential oils. For instance, cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon essential oil, eugenol in clove essential oil, and carvacrol, thymol, and phenol in savory, thyme, and oregano essential oil are responsible for eliciting skin irritation. Usually, skin irritation to the area in contact with the essential oil. (Vostinaru et al., 2020)

The Right Way to Use Essential Oils 

The right way to use essential oils is to dilute them using carrier oils. This reduces the toxicity of the essential oils. In addition to carrier oils, creams and gels also serve as bases for the dilution of essential oils. The bases not only mask the toxicity but also facilitate moisturization, nourishment, and healing of the skin. The recommended carrier oils include coconut, hazelnut, borage, calendula, walnut, sunflower oil, avocado, jojoba, linseed, and grapeseed. The essential oils can be incorporated in peeling cream, anticellulite cream, conditioning cream, and cleansing milk based in oil/water (O/W) emulsions. (Herman et al., 2013; Orchard & van Vuuren, 2019) While reducing toxicity, carrier oils are also useful for enhancing the antimicrobial property of essential oils. (Orchard et al., 2019)


Bakkali, F., Averbeck, S., Averbeck, D., & Idaomar, M. (2008). Biological effects of essential oils–a review. Food Chem Toxicol, 46(2), 446-475. 

Dreger, M., & Wielgus, K. (2013). Application of essential oils as natural cosmetic preservatives. Herba polonica, 59(4). 

Herman, A., Herman, A. P., Domagalska, B. W., & Młynarczyk, A. (2013). Essential oils and herbal extracts as antimicrobial agents in cosmetic emulsion. Indian journal of microbiology, 53(2), 232-237. 

Manion, C. R., & Widder, R. M. (2017). Essentials of essential oils. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 74(9), e153-e162. 

Orchard, A., Kamatou, G., Viljoen, A. M., Patel, N., Mawela, P., & Vuuren, S. F. v. (2019). The influence of carrier oils on the antimicrobial activity and cytotoxicity of essential oils. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019

Orchard, A., & van Vuuren, S. F. (2019). Carrier oils in dermatology. Archives of Dermatological Research, 311(9), 653-672. 

Paul, S., El Bethel Lalthavel Hmar, J. H., & Zothantluanga, H. K. S. (2020). Essential oils: a review on their salient biological activities and major delivery strategies. microcirculation, 5, 9. 

Prashar, A., Locke, I. C., & Evans, C. S. (2006). Cytotoxicity of clove (Syzygium aromaticum) oil and its major components to human skin cells. Cell Proliferation, 39(4), 241-248. 

Sarkic, A., & Stappen, I. (2018). Essential oils and their single compounds in cosmetics—A critical review. Cosmetics, 5(1), 11. 

Vostinaru, O., Heghes, S. C., & Filip, L. (2020). Safety profile of essential oils. Essential Oils-Bioactive Compounds, New Perspectives and Applications, 1-13. 

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