Essential Oils are making a huge splash here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, like Europe and Australia. Practitioners of Natural Health see the value in essential oils and the benefits of aromatherapy. But as you may have seen, many different brands and types of essential oils are available from which to choose. You may be wondering “Which oils do I purchase, and how or why should I even use essential oils?” So before you reach for that bottle of Lavender or Lemon on the grocery store shelf, here are The 5 things you need to know about essential oils:
1. Aromatherapy (the therapeutic use of essential oils) is a safe, natural method to improve your health
Aromatherapy is an effective, yet subtle, method to naturally improve physical and emotional health. Effects of a one-time treatment tend to be immediate but fleeting so regular treatments are needed to restore balance in the body. The exact science behind how aromas affect the mind is still unknown, but theories suggest that smells are converted into electrical impulses which are then transmitted to different areas of the brain that control our moods, emotions, mental alertness and concentration.
While aromatherapy is not recommended as a cure for any disease, it can benefit everyone, no matter their age or health status. In fact, aromatherapy has been shown to be particularly effective in the prevention and treatment of insomnia, depression, anxiety, muscular pain, and all areas of women’s health.
2. Essential Oils are not a recent “fad”
The aromatic properties of plants have been used in healing for thousands of years. Some ancient cultures, in particular those of India, China and the Middle East, have documented the importance of aromatic oils and the role they play in physical, emotional and spiritual health. In fact, the “father of medicine” himself, Hippocrates, utilized fragrant conceptions to purge the plague from Athens. After making its way to the West during the time of the Crusades, aromatherapy was used during the plague in the 14th century.
Scientists continue to study the use of medicinal plants through the extraction of active components. One can find the irony in the fact that this extraction led to the development of many drugs created by Big Pharma and ultimately, a rejection of plant medicine as a common practice. So before you write essential oils off as “the latest health fad” or “health scam”, keep in mind that naturopathic approaches like aromatherapy have been implemented for millennia to treat a wide range of maladies whereas doctors have employed pharmaceutical drugs only in the last 150 years. Natural remedies should not be an exception to the rule… they are the rule.
(Read our article on Most Important Essential Oils.)
3. Not all Essential Oils are created equal
Probably the most important of the 5 things you need to know about essential oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants, trees, flowers, herbs, fruit and spices. In order to get the most “bang for your buck,” it is important to choose pure essential oils that have been extracted from natural, raw ingredients. Some less expensive, off-brand oils tend to be adulterated and less effective. Make sure to avoid oils that use the word “fragrance” because this implies that the scent has been chemically manufactured, altered, or enhanced in some way. Other words to be weary of are “potpourri” or “perfume”. These fragrances do not have the same unique healing properties as pure essential oils.
That being said pure essential oils are not cheap and if the price of an oil seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Don’t purchase these low-grade ones. Remember that bonafide essential oils may seem expensive at first but they are concentrated and you should only be using a few drops in your applications.
Not only are there many different brands of essential oil, there are over 150 essential oils that have been extracted from plants. These oils all have different medicinal properties that operate on pharmacological, physiological or psychological levels. When choosing an essential oil, research these properties to find the appropriate oil and only use the oil as directed.
4. Practice Essential Oil safety
The 2nd most important of the 5 things you need to know about essential oils. Since essential oils are concentrated from plant constituents, it is vital to use caution when applying or diffusing oils. Use proper dilution according to the oil AND the individual receiving treatment. Some, if not most, oils can cause irritation to the skin if applied without a carrier oil so proceed with care and always dilute with at least 2% dilution.
Do not allow oils to come in contact with the eyes or inside the ear canals as these are made up of soft, tender tissues and the oils are sure to cause irritation, if not permanent damage. As with most oils, essential oils are flammable and should be kept away from open flames. Overall, practice common sense and do your research before using any essential oil on yourself or others.
5. Choose your Carrier Oil carefully
A carrier oil is a base oil in which you dilute essential oils. Carrier oils allow for the small amount of essential oil to be transported to larger areas of your body. For most oils, a 2% dilution is appropriate. This means that for every 100 drops of carrier oil, only 2 drops of essential oil should be used. Some oils are very gentle and can be used at a higher dilution rate (like 20% in the case of lavender) though some oils are very strong and should be diluted at a lower dilution rate, like 1% in the case of oregano.
There are many different kinds of carrier oils but most are cold-pressed vegetable, nut or seed oils. Most carrier oils have little to no scent and do not evaporate like essential oils. They are used to distribute the oil evenly across one’s skin. It is vital that you watch the shelf life of carrier oils as they, unlike essential oils, become rancid over time. Different carrier oils have different shelf lives and you should take that in to consideration when purchasing and using carrier oils with your essential oils.
Don’t let the aforementioned warnings dissuade you from implementing essential oils. They are amazingly therapeutic and versatile! (Try diffusing lavender, your house will smell sublime!) Just practice some common sense.
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Kate McCall, certified aromatherapist and herbalist.