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What You Need to Know Before Using Essential Oils in the Bath

Adding essential oils to the bath is one of my favorite things. Well, baths in general are one of my favorite things. A good long soak is just about the perfect combination of self care and wellness. Baths have been used for centuries for health benefits like reducing stress, increasing circulation, alleviating muscle aches, and improving the health of your skin.

What You Need to Know About Using Essential Oils in the BathIf you’ve added essential oils to your bath, chances are you’ve made a few errors. During my essential oil courses I realized I was doing it all wrong! I’m especially cautious with essential oils in the bath because it can impact your whole body – red, irritated skin ruins the whole experience.

These tips will help you get the most out of your oils without experiencing any unpleasant reactions.

Do not add essential oils directly to the water

We all know that oil and water don’t mix. So if you pour essential oils directly into the bath the drops will just float around on the top of the water. When they come in contact with your skin they’re essentially undiluted, which can sting and cause irritation.

Dilute properly

The Tisserand Institute, the experts in using essential oils safely, recommend mixing 5-20 drops (1-4% dilution) of essential oil into 1 tablespoon of a carrier oil like apricot kernel, grapeseed, jojoba or sweet almond. Again, the oil won’t dissolve into the bath. It will float on the top of the water, but you can rub those drops into your skin because the essential oils have been diluted into the carrier oil. Just be careful because things can get slippery!

Want a bubble bath? You can also dilute essential oils in foaming products like castile soap, body wash or shampoo.

Things that don’t dilute essential oils:

  • Milk
  • Epsom salt
  • Baking soda
  • Glycerin
  • Aloe gel

All of these are water soluble, which means they will dissolve in the bath, leaving the essential oils to float around undiluted.

When making bath salts, add your essential oils to a carrier oil first. Then stir that into your salt concoction. As the salt dissolves in the water, your essential oils won’t be floating around undiluted.

Even better, use an emulsifier

How do you get essential oils to actually mix with the bath water? Use an emulsifier. One option is Polysorbate 20, a mild surfactant derived from coconut oil’s lauric acid. It’s used to emulsify oils, specifically fragrance or essential oils, into water.

One note of caution: There is debate about using Polysorbate because it contains a small amount of 1,4-dioxane, a potential carcinogen byproduct that’s created in the manufacturing process. This article helped demystify the debate for me, but only you can make the right decision for you.

Polysorbates are considered non-toxic and safe as used in the concentrations found in cosmetic and personal care products. Please consider that Polysorbates are used in manufacturing at a maximum of 1% of the total compound, and then recall that typical levels of both residual ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are less than 1 ppm of the Polysorbate. Any residual ethylene oxide or 1,4-dioxane in a finished cosmetic base would be present in quantities too infinitesimal for detection, let alone to cause a health concern.

To use Polysorbate 20, stir together a 1:1 ratio of emulsifier and essential oil. If you’re super patient you can wait a couple of hours to see if there is any separation. If there is, add more emulsifier. Then add to your water based products or salts.

Don’t use oils that can irritate the skin

As much as we love essential oils, there are some that don’t belong in the tub. Avoid essential oils that can irritate the skin or mucus membranes. On this list: basil, lemongrass, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, peppermint, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and bay.

Mix up the perfect blend

Honestly, with endless essential oil combinations, it can be intimidating. Starting with your bath goal in mind helps narrow down your choices. Are you stressed? Sore from a tough workout? Having trouble with insomnia? These easy blend suggestions from Essential Glow will get you started. Just remember, your nose knows you best, so choose what appeals to you and don’t get hung up on having the ‘right’ oil.

Add essential oils last

The time to add your oils is after the bath is full and you’re in it. Don’t add the oils while the water is running or their lovely scents will evaporate before you get into the tub. If you’re combining your essential oils with a carrier oil another option is to slather the mixture all over your body before you get in the tub. You’ll get the benefits of absorbing the oils and enjoy the fragrance.


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