November 6, 2017

Skin Patch Testing for Essential Oils

In my aromatherapy classes at American College of Healthcare Sciences one of the cardinal rules is never to apply essential oils “neat”, meaning-undiluted. Essential oils in most cases are entirely too potent to be applied directly to the skin.

Essential oils should almost always be used in some sort of “carrier”.

For example, if I am creating a massage blend for someone with anxiety…I would mix my oil blend with an oil like jojoba, or my personal favorite; fractionated coconut oil. If that person has sensory issues and does not like to be touched or massaged, you could put the oil blend into a spray bottle with water to be used as a room spray. If I am using my oil blend as a wearable “fragrance” I would dilute the blend in either grain alcohol or vodka for faster drying purposes.   

Exception to this rule: Skin path testing.

Skin patch testing is done on sensitive individuals before the use of any essential oils. For someone who does not have sensitive skin, a skin patch test would be done only in the case of known sensitizing oils, or known irritants.

There are two different skin patch tests. One for when you are testing an essential undiluted and one for when the oil or blend has been diluted in a carrier oil. The first step is the same in either case.

For testing an oil “neat” or undiluted:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry your arm with an unscented soap.
  2. With your arm fully extended, apply 1-2 drops of oil to the crook of the inner arm.
  3. Flex or draw up your arm so the oil is tucked in the inner crook of the arm.
  4. Wait 5 minutes.
  5. Then, re extend your arm, open and close again, and examine the skin for any signs of irritation.
  6. If there are any signs of irritation, you can choose to dilute the oils and repeat the test.

For testing an oil that has been diluted: This time you would be testing for sensitization. In that case you would use the oil in the dilution concentration that you are intending to use it at. For example 1%, 2%, or 4%, etc.

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry your arm with an unscented soap.
  2. Apply 1-2 drops of the diluted oil to the crook of the inner elbow.
  3. Cover the area with gauze or a bandaid and leave it in place for 24 hours.
  4. After 24 hours remove the gauze and check again for any irritation.
  5. If the reaction is more then mild, stop and do not use that particular oil.
  6. If the reaction is mild, for instance if the skin is only mildly pink, and not raised in any way you could remove the gauze and start again.
  7. Always starting with the arm freshly washed. Any Irritation will usually show up within 24 hours.
  8. If the irritation is more than mild, do not use that oil and begin the testing process again with another oil.


Petersen, D. (1986-2014). “Aromatherapy I”. Portland, Oregon. American College of Healthcare Sciences.


Petersen, D. (1986-2014). “Introduction to Aromatherapy”. Portland, Oregon. American College of Healthcare Sciences.

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