What’s your favorite floral scent? Roses? Jasmine? Or maybe you have a favorite herb like rosemary or oregano that evokes wonderful cooking aromas? The luscious scents wafting into your nose originate from the plant’s essential oils. People crush or distill plant leaves and other parts to release the essential oils, producing a pure, highly concentrated form that they bottle. Essential oil uses range from aromatherapy and personal beauty care to household cleaning products and even natural medicine treatments. If you’re intrigued by essential oils but overwhelmed, this full guide covers all the basics. Let’s dive right in!
How to choose essential oils
There are many different types of essential oils. Some come from fruits like oranges or lemons, while others come from herbs like basil or peppermint. Still, others come from flowers like geraniums or roses. Every part of the plant—flowers, stems, seeds, roots, and bark—has essential oils, each with a different chemical composition.
The essential oil that you choose to use depends on your purpose. What is it that you want to do? Lift your mood, relieve tension, alleviate pain, treat some health condition? Every essential oil contains compounds with unique benefits, but there is no ultimate list of which essential oil best addresses which need or health concern. Before getting started with particular essential oils, we encourage you to research and talk to your preferred medical professional; this guide will tell you about some of the most popular essential oils and how to use them.
Do essential oils work?
Essential oils are the plant’s built-in natural protection against insects and harsh environmental conditions. We have harnessed all of these protective and healing qualities in the essential oils we use today.
If used correctly, essential oils can have tremendous healing properties. The building blocks of essential oils are very small molecules that penetrate your cells. The molecules of fatty oils (like vegetable oils used for cooking) are too large to penetrate cells, so they can’t be used therapeutically, which makes essential oils different.
How do they work?
Essential oils (sometimes also called ethereal or volatile oils) derive their name from the plant’s active chemical compounds. Each plant has these building blocks called volatile aromatic compounds (VAC). Plants produce essential oils, also known as volatile oils, that are liquids containing volatile aroma compounds.
The aroma of essential oil is very strong when you open a bottle. That’s because the oil is quickly changing to gas, emitting its aroma into the room and interacting with olfactory sensors in the nose. For instance, volatile compounds change their state quickly—from a liquid to a gas. This is why essential oils are ideal for aromatherapy.
Each plant’s VACs are unique and determine the essential oil’s unique properties, aroma, and protective benefits. So far, scientists have isolated over 3,000 VACs in plant species; different species of the same plant can have slightly different VACs, and oil compositions can vary depending on many other environmental factors. For example, the same plant grown in different geographical regions or weather conditions can have different VACs.
Health benefits of essential oils: what are essential oils good for?
People use essential oils for many physical and emotional applications today, just as they have done for thousands of years.
As testified by those who use them daily for health, beauty, and household, the most wonderful thing about essential oils is the various uses you can get out of each one. Lemon oil can be an effective cold and flu remedy (being a great decongestant) and a nice cleanser for your kitchen counters; lavender is great to aid in sleeping and can soothe burns, cuts, and scrapes as well. Oregano oil can be equally good for fighting colds, keeping your digestive tract healthy, and soothing problematic skin. Nearly all essential oils are versatile like this, each having multiple uses. Below are only a few examples of possible health benefits!
Anxiety, depression, and stress
Aromatherapy is a natural, effective therapy for mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Have you ever had chamomile tea at night to calm down? The essential oils of the plant are in the tea. They work, don’t they? In a recent study conducted in China, scientists performed animal studies involving aromatherapy using Roman chamomile essential oil for two weeks. Amazingly, scientists used imaging to show the inhalation of the VACs “light up” in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates mood.
Certain essential oils contain the chemical compound carvone, like those in the mint family (spearmint, peppermint, and others). Brazilian scientists published a recent study showing carvone’s significant calming effect on anxiety subjects.
Not only do massage therapists absorb essential oils through the skin, but they also release their aroma into the air for inhalation during the massage. You can use many of these same oils for simple aromatherapy relaxation. It can be as simple as putting a few drops of oil on your hands and rubbing them together to emit wonderful smells. Or place oil on a cotton ball and breathe in the aroma. Here’s a guide on a few s at.
Who among us couldn’t use a better night’s sleep? Poor sleep has downstream repercussions on many other areas of health. For example, dementia patients are very prone to sleep disturbances. For 20 days, a Japanese study used aromatherapy; they put oils onto a towel left near the patient’s pillow. Subjects slept longer and got a better quality of sleep.
Blended oils that contain lavender, chamomile, and other oils, such as cedarwood or vetiver, are very effective for sleep.
Essential oils might be useful in seasonal allergy symptoms. Oils used for respiratory support contain the chemical compound eucalyptol, which effectively combats the immune system changes that occur with seasonal allergies. People have long used oregano for respiratory problems, and other oils like cardamom and rosemary are very effective. In a recent study in mice, essential oil compound mixtures showed a great reduction in airway inflammation.
Our immune systems suffer a daily onslaught of bacteria, viruses, and environmental threats. Add in lifestyle factors of stress and poor sleep, and our immune systems usually do not fare well. Immunity has two parts. The first line of defense protects the body from invader entry; the skin and gastrointestinal tract are good examples. If an invader does happen to get past the first line of defense, we have mobilized immunity that comes to the rescue. White blood cells rush to the infection. Boosting both aspects of the immune system is important to stay healthy.
Oregano is powerful for respiratory issues. Clove oil has both anti-bacterial and anti-parasite qualities. Insects produce a protein called chitin as a waste product. People inhale it from the circulating air. Chitin is an example of one of the intruders we are exposed to daily. Scientists studied the effects of peppermint and thyme essential oils on chitin. Amazingly, these oils reversed the negative respiratory effects of chitin. We cannot do anything about the chitin still in the air, but the oils prevent the cells from having an adverse reaction.
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Just as essential oils can calm your senses, they can also calm your muscles and relieve your joints. Oils like wintergreen and camphor are fantastic, and there are oil blends specifically designed for pain. Oils like wintergreen and camphor are fantastic, and there are oil blends specifically designed for pain. Apply these oils topically to the painful joint or muscle, and let them penetrate deeply to relax tissues.
One of the biggest health issues nowadays is rampant inflammation. This out-of-control situation wreaks havoc on many body systems, creating drastic long-term effects. Our bodies are supposed to regulate inflammation naturally, but the daily onslaught on our immune systems usually means that we have to take action to regulate inflammation. Certain oils like thyme and oregano have a compound called carvacrol that supports the immune system. A group of scientists in 2015 found that carvacrol kept the body from overproducing the inflammatory molecules that lead to negative effects.
Pregnancy and childbirth
For thousands of years, midwives have used essential oils to ease the pain of pregnancy and delivery. Modern midwives still use these oils for massage, and patients report less anxiety and pain. Doctors consider many oils safe during pregnancy, especially after the first trimester (depending on the source).
“While we should respect the power and potency of high-quality essential oils, most can be used safely during pregnancy,” says a doula and essential oil specialist. Essential oils can help reduce nausea, stress, and anxiousness, support the digestive system, reduce back pain, labor, and much more. Only use quality oils from a trusted source and always dilute them while pregnant.”
How to use essential oils
People use essential oils primarily in three ways-topically, inhaled, or ingested. There are many application methods within each of these, and the chosen method depends on the essential oil you choose to use and the desired effect.
Aromatherapy is probably the most common way to use essential oils. During inhalation, the bloodstream absorbs the essential chemical compounds. Many people use diffusers to vaporize and dispense the oils. Use lavender for stress relief and lemon for a clean, disinfecting scent… The options here are countless!
If you don’t have a diffuser, one solution is as simple as rubbing a few drops on your hands and rubbing them together to release the compounds, or place them on a cotton ball and inhale (keep in mind that topical use is not safe with certain oils!) The steam in a hot bath releases the compounds in essential oils.
Essential Oils in Many Ways
Oils can be used topically in many ways. Since the VACs are so small, they can easily penetrate the skin and quickly enter the bloodstream. Important note: undiluted use of essential oils on the skin can cause irritation or an allergic reaction.
Use a carrier oil to slow down absorption when using stronger oils. The carrier oil can also reduce any skin irritation that would occur if the oil were applied full strength to the skin. As a general rule, you should dilute essential oils in a carrier oil in a proportion of 3-5 drops of essential oils per teaspoon of carrier oil. The most popular carrier oils are coconut, avocado, and olive oils.
Although you can ingest certain essential oils by adding a few drops to water, you generally don’t need to take essential oils internally to receive the health benefits of their use. Before using it internally, read the warning labels and ensure your oil is safe for ingestion. Some essential oils are toxic and should be avoided to contact directly. Among those that are (with precautions) safe to ingest, lemon oil water is commonly used due to its cleansing effects and the ability to lower your overall pH (acidity). Peppermint oil can soothe certain digestive issues.
No matter which essential oil and application method you choose, be sure to dilute the oils properly, consider your reactions, and watch closely for adverse reactions!
How to Store Essential Oils
Most essential oils come in dark glass containers to keep light out since light and UV rays can change the oils by creating oxidation. Furthermore, most oils can safely be used for one to two years after you open them. Later, they may see a reduction in potency; other oils will last for as long as 5-10 years. Store oils in a cool place to help preserve their potency.
Essential oil Contraindications
Certain oils can affect hormone levels, so as a precaution, pregnant women should not use them. These oils include basil, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, cypress, fennel, jasmine, juniper, marjoram, myrrh, rose, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Other precautions have to do with your personal needs, reactions, and health concerns, so, as mentioned above, be sure to:
- Consider your reactions: if you’re allergic to the plant, avoid its essential oil! It’s wise to always conduct a skin test before beginning the topical use of a new essential oil.
- Watch closely for adverse reactions (depending on the application method, it can be irritation or swelling of the skin, itchiness, hives, rash, digestive issues, or difficulty breathing). If you find you are sensitive to a particular essential oil, do not use it in the future. Thus, seek medical attention if the adverse effects are moderate or severe.
Choosing the Best Oils
The U.S. FDA does not regulate it. This is important to find reputable distributors. Good quality oils should have a clear statement about purity. The label should indicate whether the product is 100 percent essential oil or whether it’s been diluted. Compare the costs of several brands of the same oil; the inexpensive ones are probably not real.
The best 10 oils and what is the best for
- Bergamot’s citrusy aroma is great for elevating mood and healing skin.
- Clove oil has a warm and woodsy scent and is great for pain relief and inflammation.
- Eucalyptus oil is a great decongestant and is good for topical pain relief
- Frankincense is one of the oldest oils in the world, used for its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties
- Lavender is a great sleep-inducing and calming oil
- Lemon oil is a great air freshener, household cleaner, and anti-fungal
- Oregano is wonderful for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
- Peppermint eases digestion and, headaches, joint and muscle pain.
- Rosemary can be used as a great internal detoxifier for skin conditions.
- Tea tree oil (as well as thyme and ginger) fights symptoms of colds and flu.
Essential oils can be a great addition to your life and health.
Today, essential oils are part of so many products on the market: creams, lotions, shampoos, lip balms, toothpaste—and many people make their blends and mixtures at home to be used as beauty products as well as air fresheners, household cleaners, even bug sprays—and so much more! Thanks to their anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and antioxidant properties. They are rapidly growing in popularity for health and wellness practices worldwide.
So, will you be the next person to try essential oils?
Use them with care and respect then you will receive various health benefits!
Rick Kaselj MS, is a leading kinesiologist and injury specialist as well as co-creator of the best-selling Unlock Your Hip Flexors program. Rick creates exercise programs that help people heal injuries and eliminate pain, so they can go back to living a full, active, healthy life.