Hot baths and essential oils are both good for relieving stress, congestion, and muscle pain. But can you put essential oils in your bathwater to get the best of both worlds and double the benefits?
You can use essential oils in a bathtub, but only after taking certain precautions. First, patch test essential oils to ensure you don’t experience adverse reactions. Next, dilute essential oils with carrier oils before adding to bathwater to prevent dermal contact. Also, note that some oils are too strong or irritating to be used on the skin or in bathtubs.
Essential Oils in Your Bathwater?
When I was in graduate school, I got a raging headache from studying too much. I just so happened to be browsing in a local apothecary that had tester bottles of essential oils. I unscrewed the cap on the lavender bottle, sniffed and– poof!–my headache was gone. That’s when I realized the power of essential oils to heal.
But what if I could combine essential oils with my favorite magical healing chamber—the bathtub? Then I could compound the benefits of the oils and hot water.
I tried adding essential oils directly to the bathwater but I found this sometimes irritates my skin. After a bit of research into the matter, I learned that essential oils are extremely concentrated. Additionally, hot water reduces the effectiveness of the skin barrier, making it more vulnerable to irritation and damage.
So, how can you use essential oils in the bathtub safely, which essential oils are best to add to the bath, and which ones should you avoid?
Benefits of Using Essential Oils in the Tub
Using essential oils in the bath can enhance the natural benefits of soaking in a hot bath, which include decreasing stress, improving sleep, detoxifying skin and decreasing joint pain. To learn much more about what a hot bath can do for you, read 20 Hot Bath Benefits for Mind, Body and Soul. Essential oils also provide numerous health benefits, so when you combine the hot bath with essential oils, you truly are increasing the healing power of your tub.
And while it’s true that hot water from the tub can dry out your skin, essential oils are very hydrating and prevent or counteract this effect. Plus you can also take steps to hydrate your skin in the tub. Read expert advice from a medical aesthetician about exactly how to moisturize your skin as you bathe.
One of the methods of aromatherapy with essential oils is to steam yourself. This involves adding a few drops of essential oils to a bowl of hot water, covering your head and the bowl with a blanket or towel, and breathing in the steam.
While effective, this is often very uncomfortable and can be oppressive to people with claustrophobia. Instead, you can inhale the steam from the bathtub as you relax in the water. This may not be quite as effective as steaming but it is decidedly more relaxing.
How to Safely Use Essential Oils in Bathwater
1. Use 100% pure therapeutic grade essential oils.
If you start with essential oils that don’t have any additives (like GMOs or pesticides) or preservatives, it’s less likely you’ll have any type of reaction. I love the Natrogix Nirvana Aromatherapy Essential Oil Set. All of the 18 essential oils in this kit are sourced for safety and come in an amber bottle to prevent degradation from UV light. (Plus, it comes with an e-book that has 200 essential oil recipes–recipes you might add to your tub!)
2. Patch test on your skin.
Skin patch testing is essential for safely using essential oils. The purpose of skin patch testing is to determine if you will have a dermal reaction to the oil by exposing a small patch of skin before submerging your entire body in the bathwater with the essential oil. I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to skin patching later in this post.
3. Dilute essential oils in carrier oils.
Water and oil do not mix unless you add a solubilizer or emulsifier. This means that in your bathtub, the oils will not disperse throughout the water, they will collect together in droplets, and you will come into direct contact with the concentrated oil.
Another issue with the undiluted oil is that you are not just exposing the tougher skin of your arms or legs; you are exposing the more sensitive skin and mucous membranes of your private regions.
So it’s important to dilute the highly concentrated essential oil with a less concentrated carrier oil. This way, the essential oil won’t irritate your skin. More on how to dilute essential oils later in this post.
4. Consult a physician first if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Many people believe that because essential oils are natural substances, they are safe to use. However, these oils are incredibly potent and can be very harmful if used incorrectly. Research regarding the effects of essential oils on pregnancy is limited.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and you still want to use essential oils, consult your physician. If you are breastfeeding, remember that your baby is coming into contact with whatever your breasts are in contact with, so they may end up ingesting the essential oils, which can be very dangerous. Additionally, if you are recently post-partum, you may have tears or a Cesarean section incision that will need to heal before you can expose these areas to essential oils.
5. Don’t use essential oils with infants and children under 12.
Essential oils should be treated carefully. Just as you cannot give adult dosages of medications to infants and children, you should not expose children to adult dosages of essential oils. Speak to a physician or aromatherapy professional before using essential oils with children.
6. Add essential oils (mixed with carrier oil) to a full bath.
Essential oils are volatile substances. Don’t add them directly under the tub spout as the bathtub is filling, or they will dissipate before you get in.
7. Clean your bathtub afterward.
Oils are slippery substances and can lead to accidents if you do not clean the bathtub after having an aromatherapy bath. Additionally, other people who have not been skin patch tested with the oil or are allergic to the oils may use the bathtub after you and get exposed to the essential oils. Remember to use a degreaser, like soap, to clean the bathtub because rinsing it with water will not clean off the water-insoluble oils. For the easy and effective ways to clean your tub read Tricks to Make Your Bathtub Gleam Like New.
How To Skin Patch Test Essential Oils
You will need to test each essential oil you plan to use on your skin before you put it in your bathwater.
You should ideally do the test twice if you do not show a reaction after the first test. The first test can reveal an irritation reaction, which will be seen soon after applying the oil to the skin. If this happens, don’t do the test again, and don’t use the essential oil.
Another possible reaction is the unseen sensitization reaction. Sensitization is an immunological reaction that will only become apparent when next you are exposed. This is why a second test is important. Sensitization can develop at any point, so this test is not a guarantee that you will never have an allergic reaction to the oil.
6-Steps to Skin Patch Test
- Dilute the oil you would like to test with a carrier oil. The correct dilution depends on the dermal maximum, which we will discuss in the next section.
- Place 1-2 drops of the diluted essential oil onto the skin of your inner arm or back and cover with a band-aid. The skin of the inner arm or back is preferable because it is slightly more sensitive and is typically free of thicker hairs, which could interfere with the test’s effectiveness (oil might not sit on the skin properly).
- Leave the band-aid on for 24-48 hours and prevent it from getting wet.
- If you present with an allergic reaction at any point, remove the band-aid immediately, and wash the area with some gentle soap and water. In the case that you have a severe reaction or the allergic irritation does not go away, go to see an appropriate medical professional.
- No reaction? Wait for 24-48 hours, and then repeat the test.
- If you still don’t react, you can go ahead and use the essential oil in your bathtub.
How to Dilute Essential Oils for the Bath
When discussing how to dilute essential oils for use on skin or in bathtubs, you need to understand what carrier oils are and how to calculate the dermal maximum.
What Are Carrier Oils?
While an essential oil is the essence of a plant, pressed from its stem, berries or flowers, a carrier oil is less potent. Carrier oils are derived from seeds, nuts and plants. They help disperse essential oils throughout the bathwater, and they prevent essential oils from touching your skin in their potent form. Examples of carrier oils include hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, olive oil and sweet almond oil.
What Is the Dermal Maximum?
The dermal maximum is a percentage of essential oil to a carrier oil that should not be exceeded.
Most people work with the number of drops per fluid ounce of carrier oil, but the size of a drop of essential oil depends on the size of the pipette, dropper, or reducer lid, as well as the viscosity of the oil. However, at Aromaweb, they have determined that on average 600 drops of essential oil go into a fluid ounce (30 ml) or 2 Tablespoons.
This means that if your essential oil has a dermal maximum of 2%, you should add 12 drops of the essential oil to a fluid ounce or 2 Tablespoons of carrier oil. (Or add 6 drops to ½ oz or 1 Tablespoon.)
Some essential oils have lower dermal maximums, and you should adjust the number of drops you add to the fluid ounce of carrier oil accordingly.
Best Essential Oils To Use in Bathwater
These oils are gentle and soothing on the skin.
Essential Oils To Avoid Using In The Bathtub
These oils are more likely to irritate skin or cause sensitization.
- Bay laurel
Types of Baths With Essential Oils
There are so many types of baths that use essential oils. A milk and honey bath can nourish and soothe your skin. A bath with Epsom salts and essential oils is especially great for reducing stress and anxiety. And why not try a healing turmeric detox bath to really flush your system and rejuvenate?
So Should You Use Essential Oils in the Tub?
Essential oils are wonderful to add to a warm or hot bath. They can help you relax, improve your mood, and ease pain or congestion. However, take time first to skin patch test them. Then dilute your essential oils with a carrier oil like olive oil or coconut oil or sweet almond oil. (You likely already have something in your kitchen.) This way, you can surely relax in the tub as the healing power of the oils and the hot water help to improve your health.