Today many people are turning to Essential Oils, blending Western medicine with the ancient practices of Aromatherapy and Herbal Medicine to aid their health and healing. These potent and powerful substances have been used by a variety of cultures for thousands of years for both wellness and fragrance purposes.
However, with the onslaught of information out there concerning Essential Oils it can be difficult to know which oils to use, how to use them and where to find high quality products. Fear not! This article will break down all you need to know to get started with Essential Oils.
What Are Essential Oils?
An Essential Oil is created by extracting and distilling plant compounds to form a concentrated liquid. Not really an oil in the traditional sense, a pure Essential Oil will evaporate completely rather than leave an annoying stain behind as you may have experienced with vegetable or nut-based oils.
The difference is that Essential Oils do not contain fatty acids, but are rather considered volatile, meaning that they will vaporize completely.
It can take several pounds of a plant to produce just one 5ml bottle of an Essential Oil. This explains the sometimes-large price tag for what may seem to some to be a rather small amount of product.
Packing a huge punch, one drop of oil in a cup of water can be equivalent to drinking dozens of cups of tea containing the same plant, herb or flower. Though the bottle may be tiny, the contents are mighty.
The plants themselves produce the compounds we find so useful for their own protection and healing. The scent they admit and the compounds they contain repel or attract what is needed for their survival.
More than just a beautiful smell, these fragrant compounds are useful and necessary for the perpetuation of a plant’s life. As we are a part of the natural world it comes as no surprise that humans have found increased health, vitality and longevity through working with Essential Oils.
Essential Oils are sometimes confused with aromas or fragrances. While oils are direct extractions from the plants themselves, fragrances and aromas are lab-created and are not pure.
Fragrances are often used in perfumes, soaps and shampoos and mimic the scent of the plant or herb, whereas Essential Oils are direct distillations of the aromatic compounds themselves.
They may smell fantastic, but aromas and fragrances are not meant for therapeutic use. Essential Oil buyers should be mindful when reading labels to make sure that what they are purchasing is not an aroma or fragrance, as these products will not have the same benefits.
To avoid a diluted or low-quality oil, look for brands whose products are labeled as containing only 100% pure Essential Oil.
Many studies show that Essential Oils can aid a wide variety of conditions such as anxiety, depression, burns, rashes, insomnia, influenza, headaches, respiratory ailments and sore muscles, just to name a few.
Though the FDA does not consider any Essential Oil to be a pharmaceutical grade drug capable of curing any disease, many people are even using the oils to help with more major issues such as cancer, autism and menopause.
First-hand accounts pile up daily supporting the claims of major Essential Oil producers that their products do indeed serve to alleviate pain, discomfort and symptoms associated with a plethora of illnesses.
How to Use Essential Oils
There are many ways to use Essential Oils but some oils lend themselves to certain applications over others.
The Diffusion Method
One of the most common ways of receiving the positive effects of the oils is to place a few drops with water in a diffuser. Once turned on, the diffuser will emit either a warm or cool steam, carrying the fragrance of the oil throughout the space.
This is a great way to prolong the effects of the oil as it will remain in the air to be inhaled and enjoyed for several hours. Eucalyptus, Frankincense and Sandalwood all make exceptional diffuser oils.
The Topical Method
Another way to use Essential Oils is to apply them topically. You can place the oils directly on areas of the body such as your temples, neck, wrists and chest. Lavender is a great choice for this method.
The oils are then quickly absorbed into and circulated throughout the system. The body receives the full benefit of oils applied directly to the skin, but the oils do fully evaporate so the scent is likely to fade quickly through direct topical application.
The Carrier Oil Method
To get the scent to linger, try blending several drops of one or more oils with a high-quality carrier oil. Fractionated coconut oil is a common and well-liked choice for this.
Not only does this method keep the scent on your skin longer, it also provides just enough dilution to mitigate the potentially irritating effects of certain oils such as Cinnamon, Clove, Bergamot and Ginger on the skin.
Those with sensitive skin or any type of skin condition such as eczema or rosacea should utilize this method over direct application.
The Internal Method
Some oils, such as Chamomile, Peppermint and Ylang-Ylang are safe for internal use. A drop in hot water makes a powerful “tea.”
They can also be used in baking or cooking. Again, a drop or two is all that’s needed to flavor your baked good or meal.
For oils with strong or spicy flavors, the use of vegetable capsules can be a good choice if you want to take the oil straight. Place a drop of oil in a capsule, close it up, and take it preferably with food. Vegetable capsules can be found readily and for very little investment on sites like Amazon.
The Blending Method
A fun and creative way to use Essential Oils is to create your own combinations and blends at home. The sky is the limit here. For example, Lavender, Lemon and Peppermint combined with coconut oil and rubbed in a circular motion upwards on the skin is said to aid in circulation.
Citronella, Lemongrass, Peppermint and Tea Tree oils can be mixed with a carrier oil to make a natural mosquito repellant. The combination of Rose, Sandalwood and Neroli can potentially help ease depression. The options are endless!
Which Oils to Start With?
Below are ten common and easily procured Essential Oils and their declared benefits. These would make a great starter set for any newbie Essential Oil user:
Said to help alleviate pain from burns and bites. Can help calm anxiety and ease insomnia.
Helps with nausea, headaches and circulation. Promotes positivity and increased energy.
Useful in creating homemade, eco-friendly cleaning products. Acts as a mood lifter. Calms and restores.
Boosts metabolism. Promotes joint health. Increases focus.
Helps regulate menstrual cycle. Works as an anti-inflammatory. Builds immune system.
6. Tea Tree
Acts as an antiseptic and can shorten the length of a cold. Great on bug bites.
Aids in alleviating bronchitis, allergies and congestion.
Improves brain function. Can thicken hair. Revitalizes the system.
Calming. Works as an anti-inflammatory. Aids digestion and sleep.
Has anti-fungal properties. Helps with Gingivitis (blend a drop or two with coconut oil and swish in mouth for 15-20 minutes).
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The journey into Essential Oils is one of unlimited possibilities. Part of the joy is discovering what works for you.
What about Essential Oil Safety?
As with anything, Essential Oils are not without their potential risks and pitfalls. It is good practice to consult with your physician before beginning to take or use Essential Oils if you are on any medication. Though most oils will not interfere with medication, some such as Grapefruit do not blend well with certain drugs.
Not all Essential Oils are created equal. There is unfortunately no regulation currently in place protecting the consumer from impure oils. A product can be labeled an Essential Oil even if it only contains 5% plant compound. This is misleading for a customer in search of a pure oil.
Much the same, some companies advertise their Essential Oils with trademarked statements about their purity, but these claims are not regulated by the FDA or anyone and do not necessarily mean the oil is better than others on the market.
A good rule of thumb is to research the company, their sources and their product ingredients. While 100% pure Essential Oils are desirable, some companies do sell oils that have already been blended with a carrier oil, and these are valued by some for ease of use.
Again, ensure that the blend is just the oil and the carrier oil with no additives, chemicals or lab-created fragrances.
While some oils are safe for internal consumption, others are not. Birch, Cedar, Citronella, Clary Sage, Cyprus, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree and Wintergreen for example are best used topically or aromatically but not ingested.
Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Oregano and Cardamom should be used sparingly, and diluted with a carrier oil or placed in food to avoid stomach or esophageal irritation.
Oils may help reduce or alleviate symptoms of a disease or condition, but refrain from using essential oils internally as a means of preventing illness, unless specifically directed to do so by a professional. These oils are powerful and continuous internal use can actually cause problems rather than relieve them.
Pregnant woman and children are especially sensitive to Essential Oils and should take care when using them. Myrrh, for example, should not be used by pregnant women as it is poisonous to the fetus.
Typically, Lavender, Bergamot, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Juniper and Ylang-Ylang are fantastic options to apply topically or diffuse during pregnancy.
To store your oils, keep them in their dark glass bottles and either in the fridge or in a dark, cool location. Citrus oils have a shorter shelf life than others (about 1-2 years) and will last longer in the fridge. Oils such as Frankincense and Ylang-Ylang can last in your cabinet for up to 10 years.
In general, Essential Oils are safe to use but every person is different and therefore it is best to use caution when beginning to use Essential Oils. Connecting with a certified aromatherapist is a great way to get started on your Essential Oil journey, especially if you are unsure about which oils to use.
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Where Can You Buy Essential Oils?
There are so many companies out there now selling Essential Oils that it can be difficult to choose who to buy from. As there is no governing body regulating the standards by which the oils are produced, it is up to each company to set their own standard and then follow it.
Some companies have created more rigorous criteria for their oils than others. Here are six of the most acclaimed and popular brands:
1. Mountain Rose Herbs
Completely organic and dedicated to non-GMO, eco-friendly business practices. You can feel good about purchasing from Mountain Rose Herbs. Their oils come in a wide range of prices. Available on their website.
2. Plant Therapy
A great option for the budget-conscious buyer, Plant Therapy puts all its oils through third-party testing. The test results are available on their website to be reviewed by all, and they produce a consistently top-notch oil at a reasonable price.
3. Young Living
The “Big Daddy” of the Essential Oil world. Around since 1993, you can expect high quality, high price tag oils from this company. They distill most of their oils at their own farms throughout the world, giving them extremely direct access to and control of the creation and production of their oils.
Founded in 2008 by a collective that used to work for Young Living, doTERRA is a popular and well-marketed brand that touts their oils as “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade.” Don’t be fooled by this label however. It is a trademarked title that is used only by them and does not hold them up to any standard save their own. That being said, they produce a fabulous and diverse line of single Essential Oils and blends.
5. Eden’s Garden
Rotating their stock every two weeks, Eden’s Garden prides itself on freshness. This is another brand where affordability and quality meet. They follow their own E.D.E.N.S. standard, which stands for Effective, Dedicated, Educational, Natural and Safe. This is a company of integrity and fair value.
6. Aura Cacia
Aura Cacia is a co-op that values its member’s desires. Their oils are affordable, though not always organic. Be mindful when purchasing that their bottles are smaller than the standard 10ml size.
Essential Oils are generally safe to use and a great addition to your home for aromatherapy and holistic health purposes.
It is important to do your research when choosing which company and which oil best suits your needs, and to seek help from a professional when necessary. Whether or not Essential Oils really do aid in curing diseases and illnesses is still up for debate, but the number of positive consumer reviews is growing.
In the end, even if all they do is make you feel more positive, happier and calmer when you use them, that’s a pretty great reason to invest in some Essential Oils for your home, family and personal wellbeing.