There is a growing popularity and interest in the benefits of essential oils. These oils come from plants and other natural materials through a process known as extraction. For centuries, many cultures have been using essential oils for their known health benefits, especially the mental, physical, and emotional benefits they have been shown to provide.
A number of essential oils are available in today’s market and many motivated entrepreneurs are bottling essential oils, made at home, for personal use or to sell to a broader market. You can also find them in many online dispensary and with so much variety, it can seem overwhelming to narrow down the right type of oil to use when first starting out. There may also be questions about the best way to capture the benefits of the oils.
Understanding the Use of Essential Oils
The oils used to benefit the body are utilized in one of three ways:
- Applied topically to the skin
- Inhaled through the nose
- Ingested through the mouth
Each of these three pathways into the body also have variations. To care for skin conditions or treat abrasions and wounds, essential oils would be applied topically on the skin. Some oils used to treat anxiety and depression or to elevate moods would be inhaled for a quick reaction. Oils are also used in aromatherapy massages and baths where they can be both absorbed through the skin and inhaled through the nose.
Essential Oil Topical Application
Not all oils can be applied directly to the skin due to their highly concentrated nature. The concentrated oils can be diluted using water or a carrier oil, like almond or coconut oil. Dilution percentages are usually 3-5%, meaning for each teaspoon of carrier oil, just three drops of essential oil are needed. For massage application, a 1% solution is recommended. Caring for wounds requires use of an essential oil which is easy on the skin and offers antimicrobial properties, such as lavender, and can be used on the skin without first diluting the oil.
Essential oils are also used as part of a hot or cold compress. The oil is diluted with a carrier oil or water and applied to a dressing. The dressing is then placed on the affected area. Oils can also be added directly to a hot bath and will be absorbed through the skin or effectively inhaled during the bath. As oils are not water soluble, they will remain suspended on the top of the water and be absorbed into the body at full strength.
Examples of oils which can be applied topically include ginger, which has been shown effective at easing the pain associated with arthritis, and chamomile, which is used to treat eczema issues on the skin. When applying oils topically, it is recommended the area be massaged first to increase the circulation in that part of the body. This will speed up the process of absorption of the oils. Research has also shown applying the oils to areas of the body which contains sweat glands will improve the absorption of the oils. These areas include:
- Soles of the feet
- Palms of the hand
- Hair follicles
There are a number of essential oils which can be applied topically to the body. Rosemary is a good choice for treating acne and oily skin problems. Rose geranium is good for use as a facial cleanser for all skin types. Tea tree oil has been shown effective at reducing dandruff problems when mixed with shampoo.
It is advisable users do a “patch test” on a small area of skin prior to applying essential oils to test for allergic reactions. Apply a small amount of the oil mixed with the carrier you plan to use to the inside of your upper arm and check frequently for irritation, burning, or the appearance of bumps. If any allergic reaction is detected, refrain from using the solution elsewhere on the body.
Essential Oil Internal Application
There are some essential oils, beneficial to health, which are taken internally. Essential oils can be used as a gargle to relieve sore throats but it is important the solution is not swallowed. Essential oils are also available in supplement form, taken by mouth, or in suppository form. When taken internally, the oils can help treat a number of stomach problems, including acid reflux, upset stomach, and improve the functionality of the gut to assist in the digestion process.
It is very important to discuss the use of essential oils taken orally with a qualified medical professional. Taking in too much oil or ingesting the wrong oils can cause serious health problems, including liver and kidney damage. There may also be adverse reactions when essential oils interact with medications already being taken.
Essential Oil Inhalant Application
The inhalation of essential oils has been shown to improve mood, alleviate depression and anxiety, and ease common cold and flu symptoms. Inhaling the scent of the oils travels very quickly to the brain, the lungs, the respiratory system, and the limbic system. This system is connected directly to the areas of the brain in charge of controlling memory, stress, blood pressure, heart rate, and the balance of hormones. This connection is what makes certain smells trigger certain memories and emotional experiences.
For example, the essential oil rosemary has been shown to be beneficial for memory recall and helps people feel more relaxed. Peppermint oil has been shown to increase alertness.
The oils can be inhaled in several ways.
- Diffusion– essential oils can be used with a diffuser, either at full strength or diluted with water. The diffuser allows the oils to evaporate, producing the scent in the air. Heat is sometimes used in a diffuser to speed up the evaporation process; however, oils should not be burned as their chemical makeup changes drastically.
- Spray– using essential oils in a water solution makes a simple spray. This spray can be used to freshen a room, help boost good feelings, increase alertness and concentration, and illicit positive moods.
- Dry Evaporation– a few drops of essential oils can be placed on a handkerchief or a cotton ball and allowed to evaporate. Users can then inhale the scent of the oil directly from the material for a more intense, immediate effect. Many people add a few drops of a calming oil, such as lavender, to their pillowcase for a better night sleep.
- Steam– vaporizing with essential oils can be an effective way to relieve the symptoms of a cold or allergies. Adding a few drops of essential oils to steaming hot water will release the oils into the air. For a more intense experience, place a towel over the head while hovering over the bowl of water and inhale deeply. Use of eucalyptus or peppermint oils has proven effective at unclogging a stuffy nose or easing a sore throat.
Other Uses for Essential Oil
Many of the most popular essential oils on the market today offer antibacterial properties. Oils also can offer antifungal and antiviral properties. For this reason, people have begun making essential oils at home for use in DIY cleaning products. The most popular choices for effective cleaning include:
- Lemon oil
- Tea tree oil
- Grapefruit oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Lavender oil
- Peppermint oil
As essential oils are so heavily concentrated, only a small amount of oil is necessary for use. Oils can be stored for five years or longer in most cases but should be contained in the right type of storage bottle. Dark glass bottles are helpful at keeping out damaging UV rays of the sun. Store bottles out of the direct sunlight or extreme temperatures to preserve them.
Versatility of Popular Essential Oils
Many of the oils already mentioned are quite versatile. For those just starting out in the world of essential oils, keeping the following five most popular essential oils on hand will give you a good head-start in the right direction.
- Chamomile Essential OilsChamomile is most often associated with a good night’s sleep. Chamomile can also be used to treat skin problems and improve digestion.
- Lavender Essential OilLavender is thought to be one essential oil with the most healing benefits. True lavender essential oil has been shown effective in treating nervousness, anxiety, sleep issues, skin problems, body pain, and poor digestion.
- Lemon Essential OilLemon essential oil is extracted from the peel of the fruit. Lemon oil is used to stimulate the nervous system, detoxify the body, soothe a sore throat, and improve liver functionality. Lemon oil’s fresh scent and its natural ability to cut through grease makes it a popular choice as an addition to cleaning products.
- Peppermint Essential OilPeppermint oil is extracted from the leaves of the peppermint plant. It is a favorite choice for muscle rubs and aromatherapy massages.Peppermint is also effective when inhaled, shown to reduce negative thoughts and boost alertness.
- Tea Tree OilTea tree oil, also known as melaleuca, is most often used to treat fungal infections, dental problems, and to boost immunity. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and has been useful in treating skin problems including acne and rashes.
There are many essential oils available to try based on your specific needs. Whether you enjoy aromatherapy massages or simply relish the scents of oils diffusing in your home, the use of essential oils has been ongoing for centuries. These natural oils can easily be incorporated into your life and daily routine.