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At-Home Aromatherapy: How to Use Essential Oils

Learn how to benefit from the scents of these powerful plant extracts
Written by 
Anne Fritz Linval
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
January 13, 2015

Experiencing the healing scents of essential oils—extracts from flowers and other plant parts—can reduce anxiety, ease minor aches and pains and even get you (or your significant other) in the mood. While you could schedule a massage or facial that incorporates these oils, you can also reap the mind and body benefits of aromatherapy at home. But when you’re using essential oils at home, it’s important to know what’s involved so you can properly—and safely—perform an effective treatment. Practicing at-home aromatherapy starts with understanding how to handle these powerful oils and which scents you may want to choose.

Consider these methods for using aromatherapy essential oils at home:


  • Use a diffuser. This device is a helpful way to easily infuse any setting with the scent of your choice. Diffusers operate differently—some involve water, some involve heat—so be sure to follow the directions, including how much essential oil to use.

Try: If you’re feeling anxious, the citrusy scent of bergamot can help lower your stress levels. Or try rosemary in the diffuser to help sharpen your focus.

  • Consider a dry evaporation. Place 2-4 drops of essential oil on a cotton ball or tissue and let it sit in a bowl near you.

Try: Energizing peppermint might be the perfect choice in your home office or sweet-smelling jasmine, which can help boost your (or your loved one’s) sex drive, might be optimal for the bedroom.

  • Create a steam treatment. This method is specifically helpful for soothing congestion, respiratory and sinus infections or allergy troubles. Place 3-7 drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot water, put your face over the water and a towel over your head to trap in the steam. Keep your eyes closed as you inhale the vaporized oil through your nose.

Try: Eucalyptus or lemon essential oils can work well in steam form with their cleansing and anti-inflammatory benefits.

  • Make a bottled spray. Creating a spritz or spray with essential oils can deodorize a room, set a mood or transform a space into an aromatherapy session. Put a total of 10-15 drops of your favorite essential oil (or a combination of 1-3 essential oils) and one ounce of water into a spray bottle and shake. Spray liberally in your bedroom, bathroom or wherever you desire. You can also mist it lightly on your sheets or pillowcases.

Try: A combination of lavender, rose and clary sage essential oils creates a stress-relieving spray.

Topical Use

  • Drop it into a bath. While a bathing ritual itself can be a self-soothing treatment, adding essential oils can further benefit you. The important part of this method is using a dispersant in order to properly incorporate the oil into the bathwater. Combine up to 12 drops of your essential oil of choice with one teaspoon of whole milk, vegetable oil or honey and then add to the water just before you step in.

Try: Lavender is known for its soothing, relaxing benefits. Experience its scent in a soak before bedtime if you suffer from insomnia.

  • Apply it to your skin during a self-massage. Your body becomes the diffuser here as it heats up the essential oil and releases its scent into the air. The first step is mixing it with a carrier oil, like grapeseed oil or sweet almond oil. Diluting the essential oil helps avoid an allergic reaction, especially with prolonged use. Citrus oils, in particular, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun if applied directly. When combining, use 20 drops of essential oil for every ounce of carrier. If you’d rather use water instead of a carrier oil, be sure to shake the mixture well right before applying it to your skin.

Try: Lavender or patchouli essential oils are great options when creating a calming massage oil.

  • Add it to your body or face lotion. This is another method where the heat of your skin helps diffuse the essential oil, allowing you to inhale its fragrance. Add about 6-15 drops (halve this measurement if you have sensitive skin) of oil to one ounce of unscented body or face lotion and stir thoroughly before applying.

Try: Using sandalwood oil in your lotion can help release tension while tea tree may be your essential oil of choice if you need to calm your mind.

Most essential oils will last up to a year when you store them in a cool, dark place. Toss them if they have lost their odor or turn thick and cloudy.

Note: If you are pregnant or have a health condition, check with your doctor before using essential oils. Even though they are natural, they are still potent and should be used with care.

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
National Cancer Institute
University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing
About the author 
Anne Fritz Linval is a beauty writer with more than 10 years experience. She lives in New York City.