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Essential Oils Guide
Essential oil popularity has boomed in the last 20 years. Why are these aromatic oils so popular and what are they used for? Ever wanted to know about the healing and wellbeing benefits of essential oils? Want to know how you can incorporate essential oils into your daily routine?
Here’s my guide to essential oils, understanding what essential oils are, practical applications for use, safety and most importantly how to know a quality essential oil when buying.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils (also known as volatile oils) are the natural aromatic oils found in plants, flowers, fruits, barks, and roots. The natural essence of the plant, these oils gives the plant its aroma and protect the plant against disease. Essential oils are widely used in beauty products, perfumes, food and as a treatment with aromatherapy. 1
The majority of essential oils are extracted by steam distillation to separate the oil from the water content of the plant. The other way to extract the oil is the cold-pressed method used for citrus oils. Extracting these oils from the plant provides a very concentrated strength of essential oil. Quality essential oils are 100% pure with no added solvents or diluents – just as nature designed.
Essential oils contain a high number of natural chemicals which makes each oil’s chemical composition individual. Most essential oils are natural antiseptics, and many have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. These attributes make essential oils a practical natural treatment for many ailments and conditions.
Aromatherapy is a natural complementary therapy that uses the therapeutic qualities of essential oils for the treatment or prevention of disease. Essential oils, when applied to the skin, are absorbed into the bloodstream. 1
Aromatics have a long history of use in ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, Greek, and Persian cultures. These ancient cultures used herbal oils as perfumes, cosmetics, and topically applied them to the skin to cure ailments.
Interest in distilling aromatic oils gained popularity for perfumery during the 18th and 19th centuries. This was when scientific research into the chemistry of essential oils started. Not until the 1910s was the word ‘aromatherapy’ coined as the therapeutic application of essential oils by René Maurice Gattefossé a French perfumer. He studied the chemicals, science, and therapeutic medicinal properties of essential oils. 2
In the 1980s and 1990s, aromatherapy became a popular complementary therapy in Europe and the USA. Essential oils became mainstream with the main uses being in candles and beauty products.
Today the essential oil industry has exploded in popularity. Consumers want more natural ingredients in the products they use in their lives. From beauty products to green cleaning products used in homes, users are driving the use of essential oils. 3
The alternative complementary therapy market has also seen a rise in popularity as consumers seek holistic healing therapies such as aromatherapy alongside conventional medicine. 4
Uses of Essential Oils
Essential oils are used in many ways – their applications are almost endless. The main ways of using essential oils are topically and aromatically. Here’s some popular ways you can use essential oils in everyday life.
- Diffusers – to enjoy the aromatics of essential oils diffusers, heat the oil to disperse into the air. This fills a room full of fragrance and depending on the essential oil used, it can cleanse the air!
- Green cleaning – antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils, such as tea tree, lemon, grapefruit, peppermint, and pine are perfect for cleaning around the home. Mixing a few drops of essential oil to warm, soapy water as a floor cleaner, or adding to a few drops to water in a sprayer to clean and sterilize kitchen surfaces.
- Bathing – indulge in the relaxing and cleansing properties of essential oils by adding a 3-5 drops to your bath water. Oils such as lavender are excellent at calming your mood and relaxing tired muscles. Used in bath water the oils penetrate your skin and diffuse in the air and you inhale the aromas.
- First aid kit – keep a few essential oils on hand for minor injuries. Lavender oil for burns, tea tree oil as a disinfectant for wounds and for insect bites. A blend of eucalyptus, peppermint, cinnamon, and thyme oils for colds and stuffy noses.
- To deter insects – oils such as citronella can be used to deter mosquitoes and flies in your home or in the garden.
- Beauty products – add a few drops of rosemary oil to your shampoo to cleanse your scalp. A drop of frankincense oil to your daily moisturizing cream will do wonders for your skin.
- Massage – one of the traditional uses of essential oils. Dilute with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil and use as a massage. Not only relaxing but very therapeutic for tired muscles or problematic skin.
- Cleansers – diluted tea tree oil is an excellent cleanser for teenage skin and makeup removal. Gentle on the skin, this oil’s antibacterial properties are outstanding and a cheaper alternative to expensive branded skin cleansers.
- Foot baths – Peppermint oil soothes achy arches; with the addition of tea tree oil, it makes an effective antifungal for athlete’s foot.
These are just a few ways essential oils can be used in our lives. Essential oils should always be used diluted – be sure to follow the guidelines on the product label.
Safety, Cautions, and Contraindications
Essential oils are powerful concentrated compounds that need to be used with care and guidance. Although essential oils are natural, they can have side effects. Here’s a few tips on safety, cautions, and contraindications to help you use your essential oils with care.
#1 Allergies and Irritation
Individuals who have allergies to wood should avoid topical use of any bark or wood essential oil such as sandalwood, tea tree, and cedarwood.
Essential oils can be irritating to individuals who have sensitive skin, its best to patch test a new oil before use.
With the exception of tea tree and lavender essential oil, no other essential oil should be used undiluted on the skin. Tea tree oil can be used as 1 neat drop for first aid such as on cuts or insect bites. Lavender oil can be used as 1 neat drop on mild burns. These two oils are used in emergency first aid only.
All other application of essential oils to the skin should follow the label guidelines on dilution quantities.
As a general rule, essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy unless used under the guidance of a qualified aromatherapist.
#4 Babies and Infants
Essential oils should never be used on infants under the age of 3 years. They should only be used on infants with the guidance of a qualified aromatherapist.
Certain essential oils should be avoided for a 24 hour period before using a sunbed or sun exposure. These essential oils are photosensitizing and can cause burning of the skin which is harmful. Photosensitizing essential oils include bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, angelica root, cumin, and tagette. 5
#6 General Safety
All essential oils should be kept out of children’s and pet’s reach. Essential oils should be kept away from the eyes. Keep essential oils away from naked flames as they are highly flammable liquids. Never take essential oils internally.
Essential oils are best stored out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature. Heat and sunlight decreases the quality of the essential oil which could lead to skin sensitivity when used.
Some essential oils degrade in quality when stored for a long time, so they have a limited shelf life. Quality essential oils will have an expiration date on the bottle label or packaging.
#7 Medical Conditions
Individuals taking prescribed medications should seek their doctor’s advice prior to using essential oils.
Asthma and epilepsy sufferers should only use essential oils under guidance from their doctor or a qualified aromatherapist.
Benefits of Essential Oils
Essential oils have many therapeutic benefits. They are a lot more than just a nice aroma. Here’s a brief overview of essential oils properties.
- Mood enhancer – relaxant properties of essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, and roman chamomile are well known.
- Antibacterial – essential oils are very effective for bacterial infections. Tea tree oil is one of the most proven in research. 6
- Antioxidants – many essential oils have proven antioxidant properties. 7
- Antifungal – cinnamon, peppermint, tea tree, and pine essential oils are powerful antifungals. 8
- Help fight colds and flu – inhalation of eucalyptus, thyme, cinnamon, and clove essential oils help alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu. 9
- Help alleviate pain – essential oils have shown to aid in short term pain relief with topical application. 10
- Ease muscle tension – the anti inflammatory effects of essential oils can help relax muscle tension through massage. 11
- Painful periods – lavender, rose, and clary sage essential oils are used for abdominal massage to help alleviate the severity of menstrual cramps. 12
- Help disturbed sleep – lavender essential oil has been studied and shown to be effective for treating mild insomnia. 13
- Acne – tea tree essential oil at a 5% dilution when applied topically is effective for mild to moderate acne. 14
- Headaches – peppermint oil is particularly good for relief from tension types of headaches. Studies have shown peppermint to work better than paracetamol. 15
- Anxiety – one study showed a reduction of anxiety in individuals up to 47% when using essential oils and mindfulness techniques. 16
- Gingivitis – mouthwashes with essential oils help reduce plaque buildup and inflammation related to gingivitis. 17
Research into medicinal usage of essential oils is ongoing. Particular research into the use of frankincense essential oil in helping fight certain types of cancer has shown promising results. 18
Buying Essential Oils
Quality is very important when buying your essential oils. With many brands available to purchase on the high street and internet, it can be a hard task. Knowing what to look for when making your purchase will ensure you have a therapeutic quality oil rather than a fragrant oil.
- Cost – Top grade essential oils are not cheap; the cost of a quality production process is reflected in the price. Avoid oils that seem a bargain. They probably are too good to be true.
- Purity – 100% pure essential oils are used by aromatherapists. These are the oils you want to use. Try sourcing from a reputable essential oil company that guarantees purity of their products.
- Labelling – Essential oil labels should not have words like ‘fragrance oil’ or ‘perfumed oil’. The label should state the botanical name of the plant and common name. The country of origin of the oil, a batch number and production/expiration date should also be on the label.
- Packaging – Quality essential oils are always supplied in sealed brown glass bottles with a dropper insert. Never buy essential oils in plastic bottles or clear bottles. That’s a clear sign of an inferior product.
- Organic – Using organic certified essential oils will ensure chemical pollutants are not concentrated in your essential oils. Look for USDA Organic certified essential oils. 19
- Third Party Membership – Look for essential oil companies are members of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). They have a high ethical standard that businesses must follow. 20
- Sustainability – The rise in popularity of essential oils leads to an environmental impact with regards to sustainability. Ethical purchasing of essential oils that come from a sustainable source is key in keeping a natural balance.
- Testing – Essential oils are not regulated in the USA. Ask the essential oil supplier for the GC/MS chromatography test which is used to test purity.
Natural aromatics are very therapeutic even when used simply as a room scent. Not everyone likes the same scent so use your nose! Experiment with blends of oils; combining oils together can enhance the beneficial properties.
Always use essential oils with care, follow the product guidelines, and enjoy the harnessed powers of nature aromatics.
This is our guide to essential oils. Check out our other installments:
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