Essential oils are distilled from different parts of plants and can be used for both scent and health benefits. Some are calming, like Lavender and Roman Chamomile; others, such as Grapefruit and Lemon, can be energizing.
Most oils are never applied directly to the skin, and they should always be diluted with a carrier oil. Look for a label that includes the botanical name and batch number, along with a GC/MS (purity) report.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are liquid extracts from a variety of potentially beneficial plants. They’re often used in natural and alternative health practices such as aromatherapy and naturopathy to support a range of health concerns.
Each oil has a unique set of aromatic compounds that give it its essence. Manufacturers extract these chemicals by using steam or water distillation or mechanical processes such as cold pressing. They’re then combined with a carrier oil (like sweet almond or jojoba oil) before use to dilute the oil and help reduce the risk of causing a skin reaction.
People use them in a number of ways, from placing a few drops into a diffuser to enjoy the scent to applying the oil directly to the skin. But before you buy your first bottle of essential oil, here’s what you need to know about these popular plant extracts:
How to Use Essential Oils
The powerful smells of essential oils trigger emotional, mental and physical reactions in our bodies. They can help ease anxiety, relieve nausea and ease pain.
Hidden inside many plants, seeds, roots, bark and flowers are natural compounds called essential oil. These oils are distilled or mechanically extracted from the plant for fragrance and therapeutic effects.
Most people use essential oils by inhalation or topical application, although you can also put them in a capsule to take orally. When used in accordance with label instructions and under the guidance of a trained professional, essential oils are generally safe for skin absorption. Some essential oils can cause photosensitivity, so it’s important to follow the recommended dilution ratio and always do a patch test. Some essential oils, such as peppermint or citrus, may be irritants, so it’s best to avoid them if you’re prone to rashes. Other common uses include adding drops to a diffuser, using a cotton ball for inhalation or diluting them with a carrier oil for massage.
Although essential oils have received the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status and are hailed as natural, risk-free medicines, a few undesirable chemical reactions associated with their use have been reported. These adverse effects usually occur from inhalation, but can also develop through topical application of the oil or oral ingestion.
Topical applications can result in skin sensitivity, which is often related to the amount of oil applied and the duration of exposure. Acute intoxication from ingestion of undiluted essential oils is uncommon but possible; polypnea, confusion, tremors and even death can occur after ingestion of some oils including tea tree oil, helichrysum and wintergreen [12, 13].
Ingesting any essential oil is never recommended; this practice has been known to cause numerous health problems including liver damage, kidney failure and respiratory distress. It is also important to know that most mass-marked oils contain a mixture of lesser and synthetic oils. CPTG Certified Pure Tested Grade essential oils are made up of aromatic compounds that do not contain protein molecules and thus do not cause allergic reactions in the same way as food-based allergies such as peanut or egg allergy do.
Buying Essential Oils
Many people use these concentrated plant-based oils in a diffuser to inhale their fragrance or to add them to natural perfumes and cleaning products. Others believe that they can help with specific health issues, like anxiety or sleeplessness.
The FDA does not regulate essential oil, so you must do your research to find high-quality ones. Look for a company that clearly identifies the plant ingredient, such as by its Latin name, and specifies how it was extracted. Also, avoid a company that offers “therapeutic grade” or similar claims. Only a licensed aromatherapist or credentialed medical doctor can make these types of statements.
Also, look for a glass bottle that is tightly sealed and dark (i.e., amber), as light can degrade the chemical compounds in an essential oil. And the best essential oil will always come with an orifice reducer, which is a plastic fitting that fits into the bottle’s opening to let you dispense just one drop at a time.