How Do Natural Essential Oils Work?
Natural essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that can be used in beauty and health products. The unique chemical makeup of each oil gives them a distinctive scent and properties.
They have become popular for their aromatherapy and naturopathy benefits. But they shouldn’t be a replacement for professional medical care.
- Harness the power of nature for therapeutic effects on mood, stress levels, and overall well-being through aromatic essential oils.
- Certain essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, are known for their calming properties, providing relief from stress and anxiety.
Improved Sleep Quality:
- Essential oils such as lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot can promote relaxation, helping to improve the quality of sleep.
- Citrus oils like lemon and orange are renowned for their uplifting properties, promoting a positive and energized mood.
- Some essential oils, like peppermint and eucalyptus, possess analgesic properties that may help alleviate headaches and muscle pain.
Immune System Support:
- Certain essential oils, including tea tree and eucalyptus, are believed to have antimicrobial properties that may support the immune system.
Enhanced Focus and Concentration:
- Oils like rosemary and peppermint are thought to enhance cognitive function, improving focus, concentration, and mental clarity.
- Essential oils like tea tree, lavender, and frankincense can be beneficial for the skin, addressing issues such as acne, inflammation, and aging.
- Eucalyptus and peppermint oils are often used to support respiratory health, providing relief from congestion and promoting easier breathing.
Natural Cleaning Solutions:
- Many essential oils, including lemon, tea tree, and eucalyptus, have antimicrobial properties that make them effective additions to natural cleaning products.
Mood Enhancement in Environments:
- Diffusing essential oils in living spaces can create a pleasant ambiance, fostering a positive and tranquil atmosphere.
- Essential oils can be used in various ways, including aromatherapy, massage, inhalation, and topical application, providing flexibility in incorporating them into daily routines.
What are they?
Essential oils are concentrated botanical extracts that contain the natural smell and flavor of their source plant. They are most often used in the practice of aromatherapy. The oil is extracted from the leaves, petals, bark, roots, fruit or other parts of the plant using processes like steam distillation, expression and solvent extraction. The oil is used in perfumes, soaps, and many other commercial products. It is also commonly used in home and health care to treat a variety of ailments.
Although there is some evidence supporting the benefits of certain essential oil blends, more research is needed to understand how these plant-based oils work. They have been known to have a number of therapeutic properties including enhancing mood, improving sleep and relieving stress, among others. When used topically, they can help strengthen nails, enhance hair shine, smooth the skin and promote a healthy complexion.
As with any type of product, it is important to choose high-quality pure essential oils that have been properly diluted for use on the skin and are not mixed with any synthetic or other less-than-pure additives. Choosing organically-grown plants and following proper storage guidelines can also help ensure the quality of the oils.
It is recommended to seek advice from a certified aromatherapist or medical professional before using essential oils, especially if you are pregnant or are taking prescription medications, or have a serious health condition. Essential oils can be very concentrated and can cause serious health issues, such as irritated skin or toxicity if they are not used correctly or if the incorrect dose is taken.
Aside from a few exceptions, a true 100% pure essential oil will have no other additives or fillers, and the label will state so clearly that it is important to check carefully. The oil will not feel greasy, and it should smell very strong and fresh. Look for labels that state '100% pure,' 'absolute oil' or 'clinical grade' to be sure you are getting the best quality.
Remember, however, that just because an oil says 'natural,' 'organic,' or 'pure,' doesn't necessarily mean it will not irritate your skin or cause other side effects. If you are unsure about an oil, do a skin test by diluting 1 drop of the oil in 4 drops of carrier oil and applying it to your arm or leg. If it causes a rash or irritation, do not use the oil and try another.
How do they work?
A lot of the buzz around natural essential oils is based on their ability to promote health and wellness, from reducing stress and sleep issues to soothing skin blemishes and even repelling household pests. But how exactly do these highly concentrated plant-based oils work?
Essential oils are made by steaming or pressing various parts of a plant (such as flowers, bark, leaves and trees) to capture the chemicals that produce fragrance. It can take several pounds of plant material to create just one bottle of oil.
Because the oils are so concentrated, they’re very potent. You need to dilute them with a neutral oil, like fractionated coconut or jojoba oil, before applying them to the skin. This can reduce the risk of irritation and help your essential oils last longer by limiting their exposure to oxygen.
The chemistry of each essential oil is complex, and this is what gives them their healing properties. The oils may be inhaled or mixed with a carrier oil to apply topically. They may also be added to a bath, or taken orally in the form of capsules or extracts.
Some studies suggest that inhaling the scent of an essential oil can affect your emotions or mood, such as reducing depression or anxiety, or boosting your immune system and easing breathing. Other research has shown that certain oils can be effective for treating specific ailments, including a headache, sore throat or stomachache.
For example, there is some evidence that smelling peppermint oil can relieve nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, while lemon oil can alleviate tension headaches. Similarly, lavender oil can ease tension and promote relaxation, while ylang ylang has been shown to be effective at lowering stress levels.
While it is possible to buy bottled essential oils at many stores, it’s best to consult an aromatherapist or doctor before using them for therapeutic purposes. A qualified aromatherapist will be able to educate you on what oils are safe to use for your situation, how to properly dilute them and other safety considerations. They can also help you choose the right carrier oil to pair with your chosen essential oils.
How do I use them?
Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways. They can be inhaled, used topically or even added to foods, but they need to be properly diluted before using on the skin, Nelson says. A common way to use them is to add a few drops to a carrier oil & then apply it to your body. She suggests trying a few different oils to find one that suits you, but always choose ones that are labeled as being safe for topical use & avoid any that may be irritating to your skin.
Because they're so concentrated, it only takes a small amount of an oil to create a possible well-being effect, but some have been shown to trigger adverse reactions in some people, including headaches, rapid heartbeat or other serious health issues, Yufang Lin, MD, an integrative medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells WebMD. Also, since the FDA doesn't regulate them, you can't be sure of their purity, she says. That's why she recommends choosing oils that have been extracted through "clean" distillation methods.
Some essential oils can be spritzed onto surfaces in your home or car to add a pleasant fragrance, but this use hasn't been well studied yet. It's not recommended for young children, who might be more likely to get the oils in their eyes or on their skin. It's best to keep them away from heat sources like stoves, radiators & fireplaces, too, as the heat can cause them to break down faster.
You can also drop the oils on a cotton ball or wool dryer ball and throw it in with your clothes or linens to give them a fresh scent while you're washing them. If you have a diffuser, you can place a few drops of an oil on the bottom of it to keep the air in your home or office fresh and fragrant. And you can also use a few drops in your bath to help relax or to promote a good night's sleep. Just make sure to mix the oil with a liquid or lotion before applying it to your skin to prevent a burning sensation.
Are they safe?
Essential oils are liquid extracts from potentially beneficial plants that can carry the "essence" of a plant in much smaller quantities than the whole plant would. People use them in a wide variety of natural and alternative health practices, such as aromatherapy, naturopathy, and herbal medicine. Although many of the compounds in them may be helpful, there is not yet enough evidence to recommend them as a treatment or cure for any specific illness. They can, however, provide relaxation, elevate mood, and repel insects, among other things.
While they are safe to apply directly to the skin, if used incorrectly, they can cause rashes or burns. If inhaled, they can irritate the throat and sinuses. They can also interact with some medications and make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, according to the Missouri Poison Center. If swallowed, they can cause chemical pneumonia; this is most likely to happen when a person mistakenly swallows them or chokes on them. And since the FDA doesn't regulate them like it does other medicines, there's no guarantee they are completely safe.
Getting any oil into your eyes can damage the tissue and cause burns. It's also important to keep them away from children, because if they're applied to the skin or inhaled and they accidentally get into the mouth, it can be very dangerous, Dr. Jain says. Similarly, some of them can be toxic to pets, and should never be put in the cat or dog's food bowl.
It's also important to buy them from a reputable source and read the label carefully. Some companies put other, synthetic chemicals or similar-smelling "carrier" oils (like coconut or vegetable oil) in with the pure oils to reduce their cost. You should also look for the words "pure" or "100%" on the bottle. The label should also tell you the approximate date of production; older oils are more prone to spoiling and could be less effective. And always store them properly; if they're exposed to light, heat, or air for too long, they can become rancid and lose their therapeutic properties.