How and Why to Emulsify Essential Oils for Safety

The information provided in this post is for information purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.
It is not a substitute for your doctor's care plan or advice.

Have you heard about Essential Oil Emulsifiers? If you're using essential oils, you need to know what an essential oil emulsifier is -- your health could depend on it!

Have you ever heard of emulsifying essential oils?

If you've been using essential oils for awhile, you know that there is just a lot to learn, and an essential oil emulsifier is one thing that you should know for many essential oil usages.

So what is an essential oil emulsifier and why do you need to know?

The concept is important both for performance of your essential oils recipes, but also for essential oils safety, so today I am going to share with you how to emulsify essential oils and why you need to know about this.

It's easy to just get caught up in what brand carries the best essential oils, what kind of diffuser to buy, and then scour the internet or essential oils books to find all kinds of recipes for DIY recipes for essential oils like DIY Body Scrub, DIY Antibacterial Oil Blend, DIY Hair Spray, Homemade Essential Oil Breathing Blend, and more.

However, essential oils are powerful substances and we need to treat them with respect.

One of the safety tips that many don't know about it that essential oils should be emulsified if they are going to used in a water-based product.

What is an Emulsifier?

An emulsifier is something that mixes two oil and water-based components together.

Oil and water do not mix.

When you have a salad dressing made of oil and a water-based product (like apple cider vinegar, for example), the two components will stay separated and so you must stir then together prior to using the dressing, or else you will have a bunch of oil on your salad instead of the whole dressing.  Blech.

If you use a salad dressing that doesn't have an emulsifier in it, you have to shake or stir it before using it, or you end up with all of the oil and none (or very little) of the water-based portion.

After shaking or stirring a mixture of an oil and water-based blend, a dispersion of the oil droplets in the water is formed. However, when the shaking or stirring is done, the two phases start to separate.

Here is where an emulsifier comes in. When you add an emulsifier to the system, the droplets of oil remain dispersed in the water base, and the result is a stable emulsion.

No more shaking or stirring necessary.

Well, the same concept applies to essential oils.

Essential oils and water do not mix.

So if you are using an essential oil in a water-based product, you will not end up with a well-blended mixture.  Instead, you end up with the essential oil floating around in the water base.

The Science Behind an Emulsion

An emulsifier consists of a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and an hydrophobic (water-hating /oil-loving) tail.

The hydrophilic head has an electric charge that will dissolve in water but not oil, whereas the hydrophobic end has a long carbon tail that dissolves in oil but not in water.

When you add a essential oils to the emulsifier, the emulsifier's hydrophilic head moves towards the water-based portion of the blend and the hydrophilic tail moves towards the oil-based portion.

The emulsifier positions itself between the oil and the water and by reducing the surface tension, stabilizes the emulsion.

Have you heard about Essential Oil Emulsifiers? If you're using essential oils, you need to know what an essential oil emulsifier is -- your health could depend on it!

Why You Need to Emulsify Essential Oils

when I started using essential oils, like many people, I used them in more of a willy nilly fashion.  I would use them neat (undiluted) on my body, took them internally without much caution (I even used them to try to lose weight), and used them a lot.

Gradually my thinking about essential oils has changed.  While these substances are capable of doing so much good, they can also do harm.

I've heard multiple horror stories about health issues arising from improper use of essential oils. And beyond what I have personal experience with, there are dangers like:

Sensitization

I'll be sharing more later about this, but if you use essential oils without blending them, you are more likely to end up sensitized to them.

Skin Burns

If you don't blend your oils well, you can actually literally burn your skin since some oils are very caustic. (I've had this happen to me, actually.  Ouch!

Inaccurate Dispensing

If you don't emulsify the oils, you will end up using a bunch of the essential oils sometimes and possibly none at another time, so you likely won't get the results you want.

Irritation

(I've used essential oils products that weren't emulsified and later ended up burning my eyes since the concentrated oil inadvertently ended up on my hands, which later touched my face, etc.)

Mucosal Damage

Essential oils can damage your delicate mucosal tissue if not blended accurately.

What Kind of Essential Oil Emulsifier Should You Use?

There are many emulsifiers on the market for many purposes, like cleaning up toxic spills or ones that are used in other commercial products, but since we are talking about essential oils here (and since I want to eliminate toxins as much as possible), I'm only recommending non toxic emulsifiers.

Here are some ideas of non-toxic emulsifiers to consider using as your emulsifier, depending on what you are making.

I should point out that the following are suggestions based on how aromatherapy has been done for years, but there is new information coming as to which of these are truly acceptable emulsifiers.  When I get that information I will be sure to update this post.  For now, the information that I have is that castile and alcohol are better options than the others on this list.

Polysorbate 20 is considered to be a good emulsifier for water based products that will be applied to the skin.

There are other commercial emulsifiers that could also be acceptable alternatives. Their toxicity varies so that is up to you to decide.

How to Emulsify Essential Oils

  1. Add the emulsifier to the essential oils before adding them to the other water-based ingredients.
  2. Shake or stir the combination.
  3. Technically you should wait several hours to see if there is any separation. If there isn't, then you can add the emulsification to the water-based ingredients.
  4. Typically a ratio of 1:1 is appropriate for emulsification of essential oils, however some oils will need more of an emulsifier and others will need less.

 

When Do You Need an Essential Oil Emulsifier?

Typically you would use an essential oil emulsifier when making an aromatherapy spray, but there are other applications when you would also need an emulsifier, such as for a lotion, cream, or some other water-based products such as house cleaners, or this DIY Hair Growth Blend (the water-based method), or this DIY Hair Spray.

You Do NOT Need an Essential Oil Emulsifier When……

  • Blending an essential oil with a carrier oil
  • Combining an essential oil with a non-water based lotion (exception noted above)
  • Blending an essential oil with any other fat, as in when making this Homemade Body Cream

Conclusion

When dealing with essential oils, you are working with powerful products so safety is important.

Essential Oil Emulsification is a must for making DIY Essential Oil products without endangering your health, or the health of others.

If you're wondering what essential oils I use for my family, read my series on the best essential oils, or you can skip to the end where I announced my choice.  There are a lot of comments but they are full of good information as well.

 

Have you ever used an Emulsifier with Essential Oils?

These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.

Comments

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  1. Maria Z Smith says:

    Can I use rubbing alcohol instead of vodka for an emulsifier?

  2. I am trying to make a spray water anti-bacterial/cleansing mist with lavender. It’s a long explanation, but essentially I’m trying to find some kind of emulsifier to bind these two so I can spray it on a condition that my dog has on her paws. So, I need something that will not be harmful if my dog licks it. And, clearly I can’t use vodka (!). It would be highly diluted in water, so I’ve wondered if witch hazel is safe…or if it will help bind? Does anyone know….or have any other ideas? Thanks for any help you can offer!

  3. Hi, I make a massage oil from olive oil as the carrier mixed with a fair few drops of lavender and a sprinkle of oregano and Frankincence.
    It smells really nice so have tried to replicate in a non oily spray as a scent.
    I found that if I add a few drops of Absinthe (just happen to have a bottle in the cupboard some one gave me) to the oils then dilute with water, I get a good result, I noticed though when I smell the open bottle, the scent is not what I want, but if I spray, after a few seconds the scent given off is what I was hoping for. Mixture is cloudy, but does not seperate quickly (2 days old and hasn’t seperate)

  4. NURAZREEN MOHAMAD says:

    Hello, I would like to do the face mist and Im using rose hip oil essential oil, the problem is the oil won’t combine with the water and I’ve try to add more emulsifier but the base turn in to cream.. Before this , I had try few essential oil which is citronella, lavender, cinnamon and it works with this emulsifier.. In fact I add the minimum amount of rose hip essential oil that possible to ensure the emulsifier would combine with the water.. At first, the oil and the emulsifier look clear and combine but when I add this both combination into water, the water turn cloudy and the oil float. Usually the appearance of this mist clear and transparent in colour.

  5. The most impressive essential oil is purifyskintherapy. Holly takes her business very seriously. Always gets back to you about your concerns. I love the different blends she has. They work.

  6. I hear Dr Bronners soap is a good emulsifier. Is that true.

  7. Should you use an emulsifier when using essential oils in a cool mist diffuser?

  8. Great article! In relation, do you have a body spray base recipe for a 4 oz bottle?

    Can I use aloe gel as the emulsifier? I hate the idea of spraying alcohol on my body (or my kids bodies).

    My plan is 1% dilution for a kids spray, and a 2% dilution for an adult spray.

    For a preservative I had thought maybe vitamin E oil and Grapefruitseed extract might do well.

    All in a water base…. Would this work?

    Many thanks in advance!

    • Thanks! I don’t have a recipe like that – what kind of spray?

      Aloe isn’t a good emulsifier – it’s a water base. I hear that Polysorbate 20 is a good one: http://amzn.to/2iAAsIp (affiliate link). I should put that in the post.

      I am not a formulator so I can’t speak to the rest of your comment. I have heard some negative things about GSE contamination and that natural preservatives may not be sufficient for personal care products. I hope to write on that in the near future.

      Thanks!

      • At the moment I’m hooked on a citrus spray (Lemongrass), but the scent possibilities don’t end there. 🙂

        I had seen some health negatives on the Polysorbate 20, but was recommended Solubol as a more healthy alternative for an emulsifier. Vegetable oil or vegetable glycerin was another suggestion, but by less reputable sources.

        I’m thinking witch hazel would be a better base than water, and better for the skin than alcohol.

        I feel so lost with all these ingredients, I just want the healthiest options available.

        Any thoughts?

  9. Hello,

    I was wondering if you’ve seen these emulsion blenders and how they may work as far as essential oils go. They have a lot of power and I’m wondering if it’s enough to keep the two liquids together.

  10. Marisa Moore says:

    I am wondering why essential oils would have to be emulsified when they are not truly oils? My understanding is that while they are called oils, they are actually the “essence” of a plant and do not actually contain fatty acids that would make them hydrophobic. I think that’s why one of the tests to see if an essential oil is pure is to put a drop on a piece of paper and see if there is a ring left when it evaporates. An essential oil does not leave a ring, while a true oil does.
    Anyway, I really am curious if emulsification is necessary since I make a lot of products with essential oils. Thanks!

    • Hello Marisa, good question!

      Essential oils are oils but they are not a fatty/vegetable oil. They are a volatile oil (rapidly evaporating) and do not mix with water.

      They will mix with fats, however.

      Does that help?

  11. I hope this doesn’t post twice as my original post didn’t show up. I’d like to know what you recommend for recipes such as air freshener, linen spray (Febreeze-type product) and bug spray. All recipes I’ve found say to mix EO with distilled water. What emulsifier would you suggest for these recipes to avoid having to shake before each use?

    Oil doesn’t seem like a great choice for a linen or car spray if you don’t want stains…

    For air freshener is there a better recommendation than alcohol since you don’;t seem too thrilled about that option?

    As for a face toner, recipes usually call for apple cider vinegar. Do you still need an emulsifier in this case?

    For any of the above, would you suggest a drop of lecithin?

    Thank you!

  12. Very interesting.

    What would you recommend to emulsify EOs in liquid products such as a homemade bug spray, air freshener, linen freshener? All recipes I’ve noted simply say to mix with distilled water and shake before use. Is there an ingredient you would recommend to avoid having to shake these types of products before use? An oil may not be the best choice for linen or car spray (I don’t want stains),

    For face toners, recipes usually cite apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and EOs. Does the witch hazel act as an emulsifier?

    Thanks for advice!

    • Hi there. I talked with an aromatherapist who said that it’s mostly for skin applications that you need to do the emulsification. You can just shake things that are for cleaning, etc if that is OK with you. Hope that helps!

  13. Michelle Pascua says:

    Hi! Thanks for this info. When using essential oils in a diffuser that uses water would an emulsifier need to be used? If so, would the emulsifier adversely affect the diffuser?

    • Hi there. Good question! No, you do not need an emulsifier in the diffuser. The essential oil diffusers that use water (ultrasonic) use a special technology that basically combines the oil and water.

      This is a sentence from a water diffuser’s manual: “This diffuser is a powerful and effective essential oil diffuser using ultrasonic vaporizing technology. It disperses micro vapors loaded with negative ions and scented with essential oils”.

  14. Johnnie M.Driskell says:

    Sorry I meant to type of oil you have please reply back thank you

  15. Johnnie M.Driskell says:

    I would like to learn more about what time or do you have like the peppermint oil lavender, lemon,

  16. Julie Marsh says:

    Thank you for this post. I love reading the research you do, very informative and useful. And I’m grateful that you share it with all. Love in its true form ?

  17. John Bejakovic says:

    When it comes to alcohol, you apparently need a very high proof in order to dilute essential oils. Here’s a video of German chamomile in vodka (40% alcohol), rubbing alcohol (70%) and Everclear (75%), and the vodka doesn’t seem to do a good job:

    https://www.facebook.com/PetrichorApothecary/videos/1735176756737598/

  18. robin mansfield says:

    Hi! Just adding vodka (alcohol) to an essential oil isn’t going to emulsify it. It needs vibration. And the ratio is far less than 1 to 1. And, you add the vodka to DISTILLED water please, then add the essential oil.
    I’m helping you because EVERYONE should be able to use essential oils without harm but popular mis-information is helping no one. PLEASE DO NOT ingest essential oils without a licensed holistic doctors recommendation. DO NOT believe the hype that some essential oil companies proliferate. Essential oils are powerful healers but in the wrong hands they can be dangerous.
    with Love from a Certified Aromatherapist

    • Hi Robin. Thanks for commenting. Actually even after vibrating the vodka isn’t the best emulsifier. I added the qualification to the post indicating that I would be adding more information to the post about emulsifiers. A higher proof alcohol works better. Thanks for commenting and hope to see you around again.

  19. Kimberley Jumper says:

    Wow! I really learned a lot from this article. Thank you.