What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine to support health and well-being.
Essential oils have been getting a lot of attention recently for helping with everything from headaches to sleep to sore throats. Essential oils can make a positive impact on your health and well-being as long as you use them in a safe way.
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.
Most popular essential oils
There are more than 90 types of essential oils, each with its own unique smell and potential health benefits.
Here’s a list of 10 popular essential oils and the health claims associated with them:
- Lavender: used to relieve stress
- Peppermint: used to boost energy and aid digestion
- Sandalwood: used to calm nerves and help with focus
- Bergamot: used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema
- Rose: used to improve mood and reduce anxiety
- Chamomile: used to improve mood and relaxation
- Ylang-Ylang: used to treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions
- Tea Tree: used to fight infections and boost immunity
- Jasmine: used to help with depression, childbirth, and libido
- Lemon: used to aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more
Each essential oil has an array of unique healing properties, uses, and effects. Which essential oils are best depends on what symptoms you’re looking to ease or fragrances you prefer. Combining essential oils to create a synergistic blend creates even more benefits.
How to find quality essential oils
The most important thing to consider when shopping for essential oils is product quality. But figuring out which oils are the best is challenging, since there’s no government agency that provides a grading system or certification for essential oils. Many companies claim their essential oils are “pure” or “therapeutic grade”, but that’s just a marketing word.
Unfortunately, there are lots of products you might find online or in stores that aren’t harvested correctly or may have something in them that isn’t listed on the label.
Keep the following tips in mind to choose only high-quality oils:
- Look at the label carefully: 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. Pure oils usually list the plant’s botanical name (such as Lavandula officinalis) rather than terms like “essential oil of lavender.”
- The reputation company: Purchase from a well-known and reputable aromatherapy company that’s been around for several years for producing high-quality products.
- 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).
- The 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.
In short word: High-quality essential oils only use pure plant compounds extracted by distillation or cold pressing.
How to Apply Essential Oils
Through smell. We call this “aromatic” use of essential oils. This includes any application method that helps you experience the aroma of the oil. You can use essential oils aromatically by:
- Diffusing in an essential oil diffuser
- Applying a drop to your hands and inhaling
- Wearing as a personal fragrance
On your skin. “Topical” application of essential oils allows the oil to absorb into the skin. Some ways to use essential oils on your skin are:
- Apply to targeted areas and rub in
- Add to lotions or moisturizers
Ingesting, or “internal” use of essential oils allows the oil to be transported throughout your body. Make sure the essential oil is safe for internal use first, and then try one of these methods:
- Add to a glass of water
- Take in a veggie capsule
Safety and side effects
In generally, essential oils are considered safe. However, they may cause serious side effects for some people, especially if applied directly to the skin or ingested.
Plants and herbal products contain many bioactive compounds that may harm your health, and essential oils are no different.
However, when inhaled or combined with a base oil for use on your skin, most essential oils are considered safe. While essential oils are natural, they can be just as powerful as traditional medications. Don’t take them by mouth, and you shouldn’t attempt to self-treat any underlying medical condition. Ask a doctor before using essential oils if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
The bottom line
With their anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and soothing properties, essential oils are used for a variety of skin care concerns. While research into the efficacy of essentials is ongoing, advocates say oils can help dry, oily, and acne-prone skin.
Before using essential oils, seek input from your dermatologist, especially if you have any underlying conditions like eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. Stop using essential oils immediately if you experience any negative reactions.