If you spend any time on social media at all, you’ve probably heard about essential oils.
These little bottles contain concentrated extractions from various plants and have strong aromatic qualities.
In fact, essential oils contain many organic molecules from plants, which is one reason they are so powerful.
For example, essential oils are often promoted as ways to relieve stress, improve mood and wellbeing, while also promoting better physical health overall.
These areas aren’t just hype either. Essential oils are very relevant for health and they’re worth getting involved with. But, with so many options, the field can be confusing.
So, in this beginner’s guide to essential oils, we’re stepping you through the field of essential oils and how you can get started.
Why Use Essential Oils?
Essential oils may be popular but the potential for benefits isn’t always clear. Basically, they let you access a range of compounds from plants, including volatile aroma compounds.
The oils themselves are typically obtained through mechanical methods (like cold pressing) or through distillation approaches. A carrier oil is also used to create a product that is easy and practical to use.
The compounds in the oil then have the potential to interact with your body.
That pattern makes sense because smells can have a dramatic impact on mood. This is the same reason lemon essential oil is often used as a mood booster. Likewise, simply the smell of citrus can improve mood, reduce stress and even boost energy (7,8,9,10).
Theories also suggest that the impacts on the limbic system could result in other health benefits. For example, essential oils could help lower blood pressure and heart rate. In the long-term, such effects could lower disease risk or help treat some symptoms.
For the most part, proof of these benefits is limited.
Essential oils are incredibly difficult to study anyway, especially as there is no standardization. This means that individual oils will vary in their concentrations, even when the same methods are used each time.
Likewise, there is often little to no funding to do this type of research. Instead, most of that money goes to drug companies.
Still, some evidence does exist. For example, research into peppermint oil has highlighted some potential for headache relief (11). Likewise, peppermint oil may help with symptoms of irritable bowel but the research has focused on using the oil as a supplement (12,13).
Nevertheless, the lack of research is balanced by the experiences of individuals.
In particular, many people to swear by essential oils, finding them essential to their health and wellbeing. And, if nothing else, it’s clear that the aromas from the oils can impact alertness, mood and related areas.
Those aspects alone make the oils a powerful choice. So, how do you use them effectively?
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Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
Using Essential Oils
The most well-known use of essential oils is through aromatherapy. Here, people rely on the smell of the oil. For example, aromatherapy often involves the use of oil diffusers, which disperse the scent of the oil around a room. Other people may inhale the scent of the oil directly or rub it on their skin.
Additionally, essential oils are often included in homemade products. For example, some people choose to make their own body products with essential oils, like scrubs and creams.
Doing so lets people take advantage of the skin benefits of essential oils. Plus, making your own products means you’re typically exposed to fewer chemicals.
Some people also recommend ingesting essential oils, such as adding essential oils to water. Often this is promoted as a way to improve physical health and to reduce issues like an upset stomach.
However, ingesting essential oils is a controversial subject and is not always recommended.
For one thing, research suggests that doing so can lead to adverse events, including irritation and damage to the mouth (14). There is also relatively little research about the safety of ingesting essential oils (15).
At the same time, ingesting oils in this way isn’t particularly efficient. The oil doesn’t mix with the water, so most of it would end up on the side of the glass.
And, any you do consume may come in contact with your mouth. It’s easy to see how this could be harmful, especially as the oil is basically undiluted.
If you do want the potential benefits from ingesting essential oil, then you need to follow effective formulations. In particular, it’s important to disperse the oil to ensure that irritation doesn’t occur.
The site Vintage Remedies offers insight into ways to achieve this. Their solutions are much more effective than simply putting essential oils in water.
Nevertheless, many people feel that using essential oils this way is mostly a waste and our bodies are not going to take advantage of them effectively (16). This means that you should be very careful about ingesting essential oils and make sure that the potential benefits are worth it.
So then, the main options for essential oils are aromatherapy, using the oil in lotions and the like, or ingesting it. But, those are very general ideas, so let’s take a look at some specifics.
A Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils and Their Use
Essential oil is a huge field and people use them in so many different ways. For any single oil, there will probably be hundreds of individual ways to use them, along with dozens of potential benefits for health.
For example, I listed 21 different uses for lemon essential oil in a recent post and that simply covered general uses. There are many more specific examples and the same is true for all types of essential oil.
However, I do want to briefly highlight some of the most common essential oils out there and what they are typically used for.
If you want to use essential oils, then these options can be the perfect place to start.
Lavender. Versatile and safe. Often used for stress relief and to promote sleep.
Chamomile. Used to promote relaxation and stress relief.
Peppermint. Can help improve energy levels and aid digestion.
Lemon. Helps to improve mood, fight headaches and provide energy.
Eucalyptus. May help fight colds and flu, while also having antimicrobial properties.
Oregano. Often used in creams to help improve skin conditions. Also relevant for reducing menstrual cramps.
Rosemary. Topical use may help fight pain and inflammation in the joints. Can also be relevant for improving scalp health and the immune system.
Tea Tree. Commonly used in shampoos and creams to improve hair and skin health, respectively.
Rose. Tension and stress relief. May help reduce depression and anxiety.
Ylang-Ylang. Stress relief. Also functions as an aphrodisiac.
Clove. Helps treat toothaches and gum diseases – but should always be diluted and used carefully.
Frankincense. Promotes sleep and fights anxiety, along with helping reduce headache pain.
There are many other oils too and their benefits vary.
Many people find that they start out with a small collection of oils, including some of the ones on this list. Then, as time goes on, they may expand their range, based on what oils they use the most often and how they use them.
Diluting and Blending Essential Oils
Essential oils are concentrated and you typically need to dilute them before use. A few oils are gentle enough to be used straight, like lavender and tea tree oil. But, even then you don’t want to use more than a drop.
To do so, you would typically use carrier oils. The precise oil you would use and the dilution you’re looking for strongly depends on the oil that you’re looking at and what you want to use it for.
At the same time, people often choose to blend essential oils. This can be effective if you’re looking for a specific benefit, as there are often multiple essential oils with similar properties.
For example, a blend of lavender and cedarwood may sometimes be used for calming and promoting sleep, while lavender and frankincense work well to fight anxiety.
One of the best ways to figure this out is to look at recipes and advice online.
For example, our Pinterest board highlights many key ways that you can use essential oils, including recipes for blends of oils for your diffuser and for rolling on your skin.
Side Effects of Essential Oils
For the most part, essential oils are considered safe when you’re using them externally. Nevertheless, it’s still important to be careful, especially if you are putting the oil (even diluted) onto your skin.
One aspect of this is to simply be aware of how your body responds. Likewise, it’s worth testing the oil first. For example, if you are using the oil in a skin cream, you would want to apply some to a small area of your skin and wait to see whether any reactions occur.
If you do experience issues, you may be able to use a higher dilution or oil from a different brand.
Additionally, you need to check for any known interactions with medications or specific conditions. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy offers information about some of the issues that you need to be aware of, including which oils to avoid if you are pregnant.
It’s also important to note that children are much more sensitive to the effects of essential oils. So, the oil will typically need to be diluted more when used for children – and some options may not be a good choice. A similar pattern is true for the elderly as well.
If you are concerned at all, then it’s important to talk to your doctor before relying on essential oils regularly.
Finally, you should be very careful about applying essential oils to any skin that is inflamed or damaged in some way. These types of issues can increase the risk of adverse reactions.
Buying Essential Oils
One other major challenge with essential oils is buying them. There are upwards of 90 individual oils out there, like lavender, lemon and peppermint. And, that doesn’t even include all of the oil blends.
If you're wanting to get started, then one option is the essential oils kit below, which comes from a brand called Eden's Garden. This isn't the most well-known brand but the company has a strong emphasis on quality and testing their oils thoroughly.
Additionally, the set offers a good selection of basic oils at a reasonable price. As such, you get the chance to try the various oils, rather than having to buy one or two at a time.
Beyond this option, there are many other brands out there, each with their own set of products.
The industry itself also isn’t regulated. So, you might see terms like ‘medical grade’ or ‘pure’ but they are mostly meaningless. Instead, companies just use them for marketing.
However, there are still some things you can look for.
One is purity. You want to find an essential oil that doesn’t contain anything synthetic or any additives. Typically, these will feature the scientific name of the plant, rather than only using the common name.
Another is the extraction process. Ideally, you want an oil extracted by distillation or mechanical methods, as these alter the oil the least. Companies that do this will often provide the information on their websites or their products, so you can normally find it with a little digging.
You also need to seriously look at reputation.
A company’s reputation speaks volumes about the quality of their products. With so many people relying on essential oils, you can normally get a good indication of whether a specific company is any good or not.
One way to do this is through Amazon. The reviews that people leave on Amazon provide considerable information about products.
Now, some companies do purchase reviews, so you have to be careful. But, when you find a product that has 5,000 plus reviews and more than 70% of them are the top rating (for example), that’s a pretty good indication that the oils are quality.
Additionally, you can take a look at the negative reviews and see what specific problems people experienced. If you do that, just bear in mind that most products will have negative reviews. After all, some customers are just unreasonable, while others may have been unlucky with a damaged product or poor shipping.
The final thing to consider is the price.
Price is never a perfect indicator of quality – because some companies charge much more than a product is actually worth. Nevertheless, it is an important factor with essential oils.
Realistically, if you’re paying less than $5 for a bottle of essential oil, then it is probably low quality. Instead, essential oils are often $15 or more for a 15 ml bottle.
That may sound expensive but it’s worth it for a quality product. Additionally, essential oils are a concentrated product, so they tend to last a long time.
There are high quality cheaper alternatives if you shop around and you can get cheaper oils by buying in bulk. So, price certainly isn’t the definitive factor. Still, it is one of the most obvious indications and can help you figure out which oils may be worth investigating further.
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Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
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