Can I use a different essential oil (or essential oil blend) than what is called for in a recipe?

Generally speaking, yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Are the essential oils part of the function?

In something like tiger balm or a tingly mint cooling concoction the essential oils are part of the core function of the product—don’t change them.

If it’s a lip product

Are the essential oils you’d like to use lip safe? Essential oils like wintergreen and tea tree are orally toxic, so I wouldn’t recommend them for lip use. Additionally, lip skin is quite thin, so essential oils that can be extra irritating (cinnamon bark, cassia, etc.) are probably best avoided or used in very low concentrations. Also—do they taste nice? A few aromatic compounds (like labdanum) smell divine but taste wretched!

What are the maximum usage levels for the new essential oils you want to use?

Find out and make sure you stay within those maximum levels. Your suppliers are typically not a good place to determine maximum usage levels for essential oils. The IFRA has a database that contains a lot of information, but isn’t massively user friendly as it mostly focusses on the individual fragrant compounds rather than whole essential oils. If you are interested in working with essential oils I highly recommend investing in a copy of Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young. I’ve also found this page listing 400 essential oils and their maximum usage levels and the rest of the associated website to be quite useful. The levels listed there don’t always jive with EU regulations, but if you aren’t selling in the EU it is a good place to start your research.

If it’s solubilized

If the the essential oil in the original recipe was solubilized into a mostly watery concoction using a solubilizer, using a new essential oil may necessitate a different amount of solubilizer to ensure everything stays properly solubilized (yes, even if the weight stays the same). This is something you will need to determine yourself through experimentation.

Want to leave out the essential oils entirely?

As long as they’re not part of the integral function of the recipe (see above), go for it—just be sure to replace the lost amount with a liquid oil or water, depending on the recipe. Oil is the preferred replacement medium, but if it’s a recipe that is almost entirely water (say, a toner with a small amount of essential oils solubilized into an otherwise water-based product) you can eliminate both the essential oils and the solubilizer and replace them with more water.

Posted in: Substitutions