Essential oils 101

Let’s start at the beginning and explore what an essential oil is. Not to sound redundant, but essential oils are  the distilled essence of a plant. These aromatics are extracted by various methods, depending on the plant and the nature of the oil being extracted. 


The most common method of extracting aromatics is steam distillation. This is effective for soft and herbaceous plant material. Many of our mint family friends are distilled this way. Steam distillation not only provides us with essential oil, hydrosols are produced as the byproduct of steam distillation. Citrus oils are cold pressed from the peels. Floral essences are usually extracted by maceration or effleurage.  CO2 extraction is a newer method of distillation that is eliminating the use of solvents in the maceration process. 


 Not all plants produce essential oils. Some plants, such as many in the mint family, produce a lot of essential oil. Some plants produce very little. This is why there is so much variation in the prices of essential oils. Rose essential oil, for example, is so expensive because it takes a ton of plant material to create an essential oil. Rosemary however, is much cheaper because rosemary produces so much essential oil.  


Essential oil is a misnomer. Essential oils are complex aromatic compounds made of lots of different phytochemicals. Most essential oils are actually made primarily of various alcohols. These phytochemicals are what make essential oils effective. This is why lavender fragrance will not have the same effect that lavender essential oil has. The fragrance oil does not have the chemicals that affect change in your body. Essential oils are highly complex. Lavender alone has almost 50 different compounds in it. Nature is a master alchemist.

Essential oils are not really oils. Essential oils are also volatile, meaning that they evaporate, and some do so very quickly. In fact, the only thing essential oils have in common with oils is that they do not mix in water.

These complex bouquets are made by the plants as a first line of defense for them to stave off diseases and drive off harmful pests. Some of these compounds also attract pollinators. These compounds are effective not only for the plants, once distilled they are also effective for us. 

A word of warning. Nature's potions are powerful! Here are the main cautions of using them:

You should never use essential oils directly, undiluted on your skin. This can cause sensitization and irritation. Always dilute essential oils in a carrier when you are using them topically and NEVER use them internally. 

Essential oils should always be kept in the dark, away from the sun. The heat of direct sunlight can break down the components of the oils, making them less effective AND will contribute to them evaporating faster. 

Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children. 

Never use essential oils around your eyes or other sensitive areas of your skin. 

What do I mean by carrier?

Like I said, essential oils are far too powerful to use undiluted, you must always add them to a carrier.  Many essential oils can cause sensitization and skin reactions when used undiluted. When referring to a carrier oil this means something you dilute the essential oil in. Examples of these include olive oil, almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. These are oils pressed from plants that do not contain essential oils. 

Carriers however, are not limited to oils. You can also use honey, milk, or plant butters, such as shea or cocoa. As an example, our Voodoo Goo salves, the carrier is the salve base. The carrier for the oils in our Lip Revival lip balm is the beeswax, coconut and almond oils. 


Let’s talk specifics. Here are some measurements for using essential oils


1% dilution- this is appropriate for children, elderly, and pregnant ladies.
For 1 TBSP of carrier use 3 drops of essential oil
For 1 OZ of carrier use 6 drops of essential oil
For 1 Cup carrier use 48 drops of essential oil

2% dilution- this is good for all over body applications such as lotion or body oil
For 1 TBSP of carrier use 6 drops of essential oil
For 1 OZ of carrier use 12 drops of essential oil
For 1 Cup carrier use 96 drops of essential oil

4% dilution- this is good for acute and localized treatments, such as compresses, or massage oil
For 1 TBSP of carrier use 12 drops of essential oil
For 1 OZ of carrier use 24 drops of essential oil
For 1 Cup carrier use 192 drops of essential oil


More helpful measurements:


For a bath use a maximum of 12 drops of essential oil for the whole thing.
For use in a body scrub use 10 drops per ½ cup of carrier.


**Make sure to spot test concoctions to make sure you don’t have a reaction to them before using it.

The Fun Stuff: How to work with essential oils

For the Home


When people originally requested Voodoo Essences they intended to use them in a diffuser. Diffusers have become increasingly popular over the past year. Must be all that time we’ve been spending inside. To use Voodoo Essences in a diffuser, just add 5-7 drops along with your water in the diffuser, turn it on and enjoy. 


Even less technological than a diffuser, you can add a couple of drops of these Essences to a tissue and just inhale. You can even skip the tissue and inhale directly from the bottle. I have also added essential oil drops directly to a hot lightbulb to scent a room. Grapefruit essential oil is my favorite to do this with.

Room Spray

Add 20 drops of essential oil and 1/2 cup of distilled water to a spray bottle. Shake well before use.  I prefer glass bottles, as essential oils will degrade plastic over time. Rooms sprays are a fun way to uplift and change your space. Scent is the number one sense tied to mood and memory and I like to play with different blends and oils in different areas of the house. As an example, you can use something like Yemaya Essence in the bedroom to relax, and Papa Legba Essence in your office to help you focus. This change in scent from place to place will also help your brain reset and change gears. Marie Laveau essence makes an uplifting, and deodorizing room spray. 



You can add a few drops of essential oil to your mop water, dish soap, or counter cleaner. I like to mix up some white vinegar and add a few drops of grapefruit essential oil to clean my windows with. 

For the Body

In the tub 

A wonderful bath is 2 cups carrier with MAX 10 drops of essential oil. Good carriers for this are epsom salts, milk, or 1 tbsp honey.  I don’t like using carrier oils in the tub. For one, they can gum up your bathtub and can be a pain to clean up, for two they will make your tub slippery to get out of.  You can however, mix a tbsp of carrier oil in with 2 cups of tea or milk for a nice moisturizing soak. I’ve even thrown some yogurt in there. Soak in and enjoy! 

Just FYI, our Erzulie Voodoo Essence goes well with a mimosa in the tub for sure! Simbi Anpaka would make a nice muscle soak as well. 

Salt or sugar scrub

Mix 1.5 cups of sea salt or sugar, with 3 oz of carrier oil in a bowl. Mix thoroughly and then add  15 drops of essential oil. Mix well and add to a jar. This will keep for about 3 months. 

Salt is a more abrasive scrub, while sugar is more gentle. I prefer sugar. You can also mix it half and half. As far as the carrier oil, I like sunflower and or apricot. They are light and not too greasy. Something like olive oil or avocado will be heavier. Take care not to slip in the shower after use. Erzulie and Papa Legba Essences would be a good choice for a scrub!


Body Spritzer

Mix 4 oz of distilled water, aloe vera juice, (not gel), or vodka  and  8 drops of essential oil in a spray bottle. Shake well before use and spray on till your heart's content. Just don’t get it in your eyes, especially if you used vodka as a carrier. 

Body Powder

Mix 1 TBSP powder, like baking soda, arrowroot powder, or bentonite clay with 9 drops of essential oil to a jar. Cap it tightly and shake well to mix. I like to let these sit for about a week before use to let the oils really penetrate the powder.  I like to apply it with a powder puff for a light scent all over. Marie Laveau Essence is a wonderful choice for this. 


Add 12 drops of essential oil for every 1 oz of oil. Sunflower oil is a wonderful carrier choice. Apricot and almond (if you don’t have nut allergies) are also nice light blends. If you are after something heavier you can always use olive oil. 

Good Voodoo Essences even more to make an effective massage oil blend for a more generalized use. Our Simbi Anpaka and Baron Samedi Essences are effective muscle rubs. Yemaya Essence would be a nice relaxing blend. Papa Legba Essence would make a divine massage oil. Erzulie Freda and Maman Brigitte Essences both contain aphrodisiac compounds. . I’m just saying. 


Really the use of essential oils is limited to your imagination. Make sure to respect the power of the plants and honor all contraindications, and safe use techniques. If you don’t already use essential oils, I hope this opens up a whole new journey for you. If you do, I hope you learned something new. This has been a very brief introduction to get people started and confident in the safe use of essential oils. Here are some of my favorite books for further reading. 

Further reading

Aromatherapy, a Lifetime Guide to Healing with Essential Oils- Valerie Gennari Cooksley

This is one of my favorites, and has been so well loved the spine is gone. 


The Fragrant Heavens- Valerie Ann Worwood

This book is focused more on the energetic and spiritual side of essential oils. 

This book appears to be out of print. Look for it in used book stores vs Amazon. 


Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair- Dina Falconi

This is by far one of my favorite books for personal care recipes. 


Aromatherapy: Essential Oils for Vibrant Health and Beauty- Roberta Wilson