Essential oils have recently received a lot of attention for their ability to help with everything from headaches to insomnia to sore throats. Do these concentrated plant-based oils, on the other hand, work?
Essential oils can have a great impact on your health and well-being if you use them correctly.
Do you want to experiment with essential oils? Learn about the conditions that essential oils can help with and how to obtain high-quality essential oils, as not all products are created equal.
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What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are basically plant extracts. They’re made by steaming or pressing various parts of a plant (flowers, bark, leaves or fruit) to capture the compounds that produce fragrance. It can take several pounds of a plant to produce a single bottle of essential oil. In addition to creating scent, essential oils perform other functions in plants, too.
What Is Aromatherapy?
The use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes is known as aromatherapy. Aromatherapy has been practiced for millennia. The aroma molecules in essential oils move directly from the olfactory nerves to the brain when inhaled, affecting the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center.
Essential oils can be absorbed via the skin as well. During a massage, a massage therapist could add a drop or two of wintergreen oil to the oil to help relax tense muscles. To provide a relaxing soak, a skincare brand can add lavender to bath salts.
What Are Essential Oils Good For?
Essential oils are said to be natural cures for a variety of maladies, but there isn’t enough evidence to determine their efficacy in human health. The results of lab research are promising — one at Johns Hopkins discovered that particular essential oils could kill a strain of Lyme bacteria more effectively than antibiotics — but human clinical trials have yielded mixed results.
Some studies indicate that there’s a benefit to using essential oils while others show no improvement in symptoms. Clinical trials have looked at whether essential oils can alleviate conditions such as:
How Can You Use Essential Oils Safely?
Essential oils are available in a wide range of quality, from pure essential oils to those diluted with less expensive substances. Because there is no regulation, the label on the bottle you’re buying may not even list all that’s in it. As a result, essential oils should not be consumed.
Essential oil diffusers, which are little household appliances that produce scented vapor, are also discouraged by Johns Hopkins. People can be affected differently by diffusion in a public space or in a family with many members. Peppermint, for example, is frequently recommended for headaches. However, if you use it with a youngster under the age of 30 months, the child may grow upset. It’s possible that it’ll have a negative impact. Peppermint can also cause an unpleasant reaction in people who have a quick heartbeat.
The safest ways to use essential oils include:
- Aromatherapy accessories: Necklaces, bracelets and keychains made with absorbent materials you apply essential oils to and sniff throughout the day.
- Body oil: A mixture of essential oils with a carrier oil such as olive, jojoba or coconut oil that can be massaged into skin. Because essential oils are concentrated, they can cause irritation. Avoid using them full-strength on skin.
- Aroma stick: Also called an essential oil inhaler, these portable plastic sticks have an absorbent wick that soaks up essential oil. They come with a cover to keep the scent under wraps until you’re ready.
Allergic reactions to essential oils
A small number of people may experience irritation or allergic reactions to certain essential oils. You’re more likely to have a bad reaction if you have atopic dermatitis or a history of reactions to topical products. Although you can experience a reaction to any essential oil, some are more likely to be problematic, including:
- Oregano oil
- Cinnamon bark oil
- Jasmine oil
- Lemongrass oil
- Ylang-ylang oil
- Chamomile oil
- Bergamot oil
Because pure essential oils are potent, diluting them in a carrier oil is the best way to avoid a bad reaction when applying directly to the skin. If you get a red, itchy rash or hives after applying essential oils, see a doctor. You may be having an allergic reaction.
Which Essential Oils Are Best?
There are dozens of essential oils, each with its own scent and chemical composition. Which essential oils are ideal for you depends on the symptoms you want to alleviate and the scents you enjoy. The following are some of the most popular essential oils:
- Lavender oil: Many people find the lavender scent relaxing. It’s often used to help relieve stress and anxiety and promote good sleep.
- Tea tree oil: Also called melaleuca, this essential oil was used by Australia’s aboriginal people for wound healing. Today, it’s commonly used for acne, athlete’s foot and insect bites.
- Peppermint oil: There’s some evidence peppermint essential oil helps relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms when taken in an enteric-coated capsule (from a trusted health supplement provider). It may also relieve tension headaches when applied topically.
- Lemon oil: Many people find the citrusy scent of lemon oil a mood booster. It’s also often used in homemade cleaning products.
How to find quality essential oils
When purchasing for essential oils, the most crucial factor to consider is product quality. However, determining which oils are the best is difficult because there is no grading system or accreditation for essential oils in the United States. Is this a major issue? Many businesses claim that their essential oils are “therapeutic grade,” but this is really a marketing word.
Unfortunately, there are many goods available online or in stores that have been improperly harvested or contain ingredients not specified on the label.
Here are some tips to help you shop for pure essential oils:
- Look at the label: It should include the Latin name of the plant, information on purity or other ingredients added to it, and the country in which the plant was grown.
- Evaluate the company: Purchase products from a well-known and reputable aromatherapy company that’s been around for several years.
- Choose dark-colored, glass containers: Pure essential oils are highly concentrated. They can dissolve plastic bottles over time, tainting the oil. Most companies package essential oils in small brown or blue glass bottles to protect the quality.
- Avoid “fragrance oils”: Fragrance or perfume oils are made from essential oils combined with chemicals or entirely from chemicals. They’re not suitable for aromatherapy — instead, look for bottles that contain a single essential oil in its purest form (100% essential oil with no other fillers).
- Compare prices: Essential oils range in price, depending on how involved harvesting and production are. Within a line, there should be a wide variety of prices — rose absolute or sandalwood oils will be more expensive, while sweet orange oil will be on the less expensive end. If you find a rock-bottom price for an expensive essential oil, it probably isn’t pure.
Essential oils can lift your mood and make you feel good with just a whiff of their fragrance. For some people they may even help alleviate the symptoms of various conditions. For more information on how to incorporate them into a healthy lifestyle, consult an integrative medicine expert.