By Shannon Rivera
Essential oils have been steadily gaining popularity as the health conscious have become more conscious about their health. Essential oils, however, are not new on the scene. They have been around longer than modern day drugs and medications.
In fact, many of our conventional medications have been derived from plant sources. Although essential oils have been used throughout history; biblical times, Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, there is growing scientific research supporting essential oils and their use to manage symptoms of illness and other health benefits. So, what are essential oils?
Essential oils are derived from the flowers, roots, leaves, peel and bark of various plants. The oils are extracted from the various plant parts in a number of different ways including steam distillation, cold pressing or chemicals. The “essence” of these oils and their compounds provide the therapeutic benefits for our health in many ways. Although these oils are derived from nature does not mean they should be used willy nilly and without caution.
The various components of the different oils are what gives them their particular therapeutic effects such as analgesia, antibacterial, stimulant, anti-fungal, sedative, etc. So, it is important to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to safely and effectively use essential oils. Use of essential oils during pregnancy or breastfeeding should be cautioned as some essential oils have hormonal effects. The same caution should be used when using oils on kids and pets.
When it comes to buying essential oils the quality can make the difference in your experience and the therapeutic nature of a particular oil. This is one case in which you want Quality over Quantity. When considering buying essential oils keep these things in mind:
- Certified organic. No pesticides, herbicides or chemicals have been used in the growing of the plant or processing of the oil
- Third party testing means the oil has been tested for its purity and presence of the right constituents that make up that specific oil.
- Consider purchasing from a reputable company that is known for it’s integrity and quality of its products.
- If the oil you are considering is significantly lower in price than the same oil from a similar essential oil company, consider that the lower priced oil may not be pure or mixed with synthetic oil (manmade).
- Know the latin names of the oil. This is important because some plants may come in different varieties, have similar names but have different effects when used.
Using Essential Oils
Essential oils can be used in many different ways to reap their therapeutic benefits, but not every oil can be used in all ways.
Topical. The skin is our largest organ and porous, meaning it will absorb what is put on it, making the skin one of the best uses for essential oils. In addition, the oils are absorbed directly into the blood stream, bypassing the liver and eliminating the stress on the liver function (2). The soles of the feet are great areas to apply essential oils because there are no sebaceous glands. Sebum from sebaceous glands create a barrier on the skin decreasing the availability of absorption. Keep in mind there are some oils which are irritating and should not be applied to the skin directly (i.e. cinnamon). Carrier oils such as coconut, jojoba, magnesium, argan, almond (and more) can be used to dilute the essential oil and prevent rapid evaporation of the essential oil (2).
Aromatherapy. Inhaling certain essential oils can stimulate mental and emotional responses via the nose and have other therapeutic benefits from being inhaled into the lungs. Aromatherapy can be used by directly inhaling the essential oil from the bottle, or placing a drop or two in the palms of the hands, rub together and inhale. Using a diffuser is another great way to get the oils into your environment. Place your oil blends or your favorite oil in a small glass spray bottle, diluted with water or alcohol (not rubbing alcohol, but liquor; preferably a clear unflavored liquor like vodka). The spray can be use as a room freshener, fabric freshener or body spray. Drops of essential oils can also be used in the bath. When used with a carrier oil essential oils can be mixed in to create an awesome massage or body oil.
Internally. Essential oils are fat soluble and are not easily broken down and eliminated from the body. The liver is responsible for eliminating fat soluble substances from the body so overuse and incorrect use of essential oils can ultimately tax the liver. Type of oil being used and the person using it should be considered as well as doing your research before using essential oils internally. There are certain oils that may cause greater harm than good when not used appropriately and The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends consulting a “knowledegable professional” prior to using oils internally (1).
Getting started. There are so many essential oils available and getting started in learning and using the oils can be overwhelming. Dr Josh Axe recommends starting with just a few oils, learning about them and then using them. The first five he recommends is Frankincence, Lavender, Tea tree, peppermint, and lemon. These can be used on a regular basis and have multiple uses. These and other oils can be combined for synergistic effects or used alone.
As with anything else in life, use caution and common sense when setting out on your essential oil adventure. Essential oils have such great health benefits when used appropriately and have the potential to enhance your health and your life. The recent science on essential oils is demonstrating and supporting the numerous health benefits that essential oils can have. Use in good health.
More Brain Food
- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety/naha-safety-statements
- Dr. Axe’s Essential Oils Guide. https://draxe.com/essential-oils-guide/
- Essential Oils-Ancient Medicine book. Josh Axe, Ty Bollinger, Jordan Rubin
Shannon Rivera is a registered nurse, ACE certified health coach and Functional nutrition educator. She is a health coach at URENÜ, LLC, helping people to restore balance and health to their life (www.YouRenewYou.com)