For many people, natural remedies are the best way to relieve pain and treat some minor health conditions. And when it comes to natural remedies, some of the most popular ones are essential oils. As you may have noticed, it’s impossible to scroll through social media without seeing a video or reading a post about essential oils and their power to cure everything – from headaches to sleep to sore throats. This may have led you to wonder if essential oils really work? The truth is, when used in a safe manner, these concentrate plant-based oils can have a positive impact on your health and well being.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are plant-derived extracts that capture the aroma and flavour of the plant, or as the name indicates, its essence. The extract can be obtained whether by distillation (the most common method) or expression.
With the distillation method, pressured steam circulates through the plant until the aromatic component is freed from it and then carried away by the steam. Once the steam cools, the water and oils separate from each other and the oil is then collected.
With the expression method, the oils are extracted from the skins of citrus fruits. Also called cold pressure, this process is often used to extract citrus oils due to their intolerance to heat.
Not only have essential oils been used for centuries by ancient civilisations, but they are also now scientifically recognised for their benefits in terms of health, beauty and well-being. By mixing them, it’s possible to create unique aromatic combinations tailored to specific needs, such as increasing immunological defences, relaxation, stimulation, joint and muscular pain alleviation, etc.
How to Choose Essential Oils
Now that you know what are essential oils, let’s talk about how to choose them. Ask any essential oils expert and they will tell you that only pure essential oils will bring you the benefits you are after. The problem is, essential oils are an unregulated industry, which means their quality and composition can vary greatly. Many brands claim that their oils are “pure”, but considering that these terms aren’t universally defined, this can’t be taken into consideration.
In order to find the best oils, you need to consider their purity, quality and reputation. Look for oils that contain only aromatic plant compounds and that are free from additives and synthetic oils. With pure oils, you can often find the plant’s botanical name (like Lavandula officinalis) listed on the label instead than terms like “essential oil of lavender”.
You’ll also want to make sure the oil has been extracted through distillation or medical cold pressing, both process that ensures the oil’s properties don’t get much changed.
The Most Frequently Used Essential Oils and Their Health Benefits
A variety of essential oils are available on the market, each with its own scent and chemical composition. As for which essential oil has the most benefits, lavender is probably the most popular due to its power to reduce anxiety, increase relaxation, improve mood and promote better sleep. Still, the best essential oil for you will depend on the symptoms you’re looking to ease as well as the fragrances you prefer.
Let’s take a look at the most commonly used essential oils and their benefits.
Tea Tree Oil
Also known as melaleuca, tea tree oil is known for its antiseptic, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Commonly used by Australia’s aboriginal people to treat wounds, this type of oil is also a popular way to treat acne, athlete’s foot, and bug bites.
This woody essential oil with a spicy scent can aid in reducing inflammation and improving mood and sleep. Research suggests it can also help reduce asthma symptoms and prevent gum disease.
When taken in an enteric-coated capsule, peppermint essential oil appears to help reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. When used topically, it can help to relieve headache tension.
Lemon oil’s zesty fragrance is a mood enhancer for many individuals. It is also known for helping ease nausea and kill bacteria.
How to Use Essential Oils
If you are new to aromatherapy, you might be wondering how do I start using essential oils? The good news is, you don’t need a chemical degree or substantial expertise to utilise essential oils effectively. Though it’s important that you determine the uses and benefits of the oil you plan to use and follow the label instructions. Consider consulting with a healthcare practitioner if you have particular concerns. Different ways that you can use essential oils include:
By Diffusing Them
Essential oils can be diffused in a diffuser in your home or workplace. A diffuser is an electrical device that disperses tiny oil particles around the room so you can breathe them in. The perfume of the oil activates your central nervous system as soon as it is inhaled, causing an emotional reaction that can immediately alleviate anxiety and reduce stress.
All you have to do is add water to the diffuser mixed with a few drops of the essential oil of your choice, turn the device on and watch the magic begins. If you like to practice yoga, consider adding an essential oil diffuser as part of your yoga accessories for the ultimate zen experience.
You can also diffuse essential oils the old-fashioned way, which includes opening the bottle and taking deep breaths of the aroma or by putting a few drops of the essential oil in an aromatherapy bracelet so you can inhale the aroma wherever you go. Steam inhalation is another way to diffuse essential oils. In a bowl of hot water add a few drops of the oil and put your head over the bowl with a towel over it and breathe in the steam.
By Applying Directly to the Skin
Applying the essential oil directly to your skin is another way to enjoy its benefits. But since essential oils are highly potent and can be harsh to the skin, you need to first dilute the oil you want to use with a carrier oil such as jojoba, almond, coconut, etc. Read the instruction label on how to dilute the oil properly.
By Ingesting Them
Essential oils can be taken orally in teas, supplements, or even by adding a drop or two on the tongue. However, I don’t recommend using them this way unless you’ve been told to by a skilled herbalist. Experts warn that because they’re so powerful, they might be hazardous. Even if you only use a few drops of essential oil, you’re consuming a significant amount of plant material without even realizing it. Pure essential oils can even cause your mouth’s mucosal lining to burn. So be careful when it comes to ingesting essential oils.