Welcome to the world of essential oils!
To help kickstart your journey into this fun and fragrant field, we’ve got a snapshot on the realm of essentials so you can feel comfortable on this new venture.
Let’s start with the term “essence,” where the name for essential oils derives. Essentials, regardless of their properties, all have one thing in common – they hail from plants. Whether extracted from the stems, roots or leaves, the essence of the plant involves capturing the fragrance or odor in liquid form.
Essential oils are closely linked to aromatherapy and for good reasons. Aromatherapy is the practice of using these extracts as a form of treatment for ailments spanning the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. This ancient practice is the subject of countless studies, assessing the biological processes behind the “magic” of essences.
Because essential oils have active properties that break down over time (sorry, oils do not last forever) they are also referred to as volatile oils and active oils. Think about the active ingredients in a medication – if you choose a cream to ease the pain of a sunburn, usually the portion of the lotion working is very small, less than 10%. The other 90% of the cream is made up of non-active components such as water.
How are Essential Oils Made?
Volatile oils start with a large amount of plant matter – roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. The plants are harvested in various ways, and not every oil uses every part of the plant. The plant bulk must be broken down and the essence extracted for use.
The oil yields in two ways, by distillation or pressing. Distillation is one of those chemistry labs you did back in high school, wondering when you would ever use this in the real world. The pieces of plants are steamed or boiled until the matter breaks down into two distinct parts – the essential oil and everything else mixed in a watery solution. The oil doesn’t mix with water and allows for separation and collection.
The second method is pressing. This process is similar to making natural orange juice. The plant matter is squeezed until the oils come out. Distillation is the more complex, but also the more popular method of extracting the essence.
What can Essential Oils do for me?
Depending on whom you ask, essentials can do just about anything. Since aromatherapy is a holistic treatment, addressing the mind and body simultaneously, the effects of many oils are multi-faceted.
For example, inhaling peppermint oil can clear your sinuses while invigorating your mind. It eases nausea while fighting cold sores. It opens nasal passages, increasing oxygen intake which in turn gets more O2 to your muscles and your brain.
The easiest way to start with essential oil is first to decide what symptoms you want to treat. Do you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome? Yeah, we forgot to mention peppermint oil does that too!
Want to address wrinkles without cosmetic surgery? Argan oil’s antioxidative properties are also anti-aging properties. Dealing with the chronic torture of eczema? Scratching the dry patches can lead to infection, so try soothing your skin with lavender, tea tree or chamomile and let their anti-inflammatory traits do the work a steroid cream can’t.
Do Essential Oils Work?
Topical treatments of oils like lavender and tea tree have proven track records in speeding the healing process for burns and cuts, while also staving off dangerous infections. Tea tree oil has even shown itself as an effective treatment against the flu and MRSA.
Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant and antibacterial studies have all shown some efficacy for essential oils. The science and research continue, but with use in traditional medicines across the globe for thousands of years, you know it’s more than just folklore.
When you have a cold, breathing is more difficult. Mucus clogs your sinuses, and white blood cells are working overtime to contain the germs. Your body gets less oxygen and muscles begin to ache. Essential oils are useful in opening up those passages, letting your body work better and get well faster.
Anxiety and stress causing your blood pressure to spike? Relaxation techniques work differently for each and locking yourself in the bathroom may not be an option every time you need space. By inhaling an essential oil with a pleasing fragrance, sometimes even a personal blend that calms your nerves or sends you back to a mentally peaceful time (like walking in the woods), micro-relaxation sessions can take place right at your desk.
Are Essential Oils Safe?
When dealing with your health and the wellbeing of your loved ones (pets included), it makes sense to do a little research before testing a treatment. To help put your mind at ease, here are some frequently asked questions, along with short and sweet answers:
Do essential oils cause rashes or skin reactions?
Some people have specific allergies or sensitivities. While the essential oil may not be an allergen, check the inactive ingredients to make sure the carrier oil or lotion won’t be an issue. Be aware that few very volatile oils are safe for direct use, and usually require dilutions. If you have sensitive skin, increase the dilution before first-time use of any oil.
Are essential oils safe to ingest?
Very few essentials are safe to take by mouth. Even oils from edible plants, such as lemon, can be dangerous due to the high concentration of pure oil. Always follow the guidelines on the label of a product and use them as intended.
I’m pregnant, can I still use my favorite essential oil?
Maybe, but check first. Your hormones are working overtime, and new sensitivities often develop during and after pregnancy. Some oils are great to relieve stress and are safe to use during labor.
Are essential oils safe when inhaled?
Inhalation is the method of essential oil use with the lowest risk. The oils are very diluted, often only five drops or so in an entire pot of steaming water, and breathing the vapors is more likely to assist breathing than cause respiratory issues.
Improve life on your terms. You don’t need a life coach to teach you how to calm down. You don’t always need to pump up with off the shelf medicines that stop working as resistances build. You can even protect the kids from mosquitoes without putting chemicals on their face. Keeping it natural leads to a healthier outlook and lifestyle for the long run.