Is Essential Oils a True Cure-All?

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that retain the natural smell and flavor of their source. They are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy, where they are inhaled for health benefits (1, 2).

When choosing a brand of essential oil, look for one from a manufacturer that is transparent about their oil extraction methods and plant sources. This will ensure that the oil you are buying is high quality and safe for cooking.


Inhaling these essential oils can lift your mood, calm your mind and even relieve symptoms of certain ailments. But is it a true cure-all?

Research has shown that some oils can ease headaches, nausea and anxiety. And some oil, like chamomile, can help reduce the intensity of pain from arthritis and other conditions.

Before applying an oil to your skin, make sure it is diluted (typically about 30 drops of oil per ounce of carrier, such as sweet almond or olive). And beware that there are many products out there that claim to have health benefits—look for ones from companies that practice sustainable and responsible growing and harvesting. (Also, avoid buying your oils in plastic bottles, as the chemical compounds can break down the material over time). This PDQ cancer information summary was reviewed by the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Oncology.

Skin Care

Essential oils have long been used by herbalists and aromatherapists to help smooth skin, tone it, brighten and even heal minor injuries such as cuts and scrapes. These same oils can also be used to encourage circulation and promote cellular regeneration for radiant, healthy-looking skin.

For dry skin, try geranium oil or ylang ylang oil — both are known to be balancing and deeply moisturizing. If you have oily skin, try chamomile oil, which soothes irritated or blemished complexions and can reduce redness associated with rashes. If you have sensitive skin, a patch test is highly recommended before using any essential oils. Some types of essential oils can be a strong irritant, including citrus oil (like lemon and tangerine) and mint oil. Other potential irritants include cinnamon bark, clove and oregano oil.


A drop of lemon oil on grilled fish, for example, brings out the flavor. You can also add oils to healthy recipes, such as lime oil in homemade salsa or lemon balm infused honey. But be sure to read the labels carefully. Some qualify as dietary supplements, so they should be taken only as directed.

Manufacturers use essential oils as flavor or aroma enhancers in products such as cosmetics, food additives, soaps, plastic resins and perfumes. They can also be used in a number of non-traditional ways, such as aromatherapy. When inhaled, scent molecules travel from the olfactory nerves to the amygdala in the brain and can influence emotions and physical responses. It takes several pounds of plant material to produce just one bottle of essential oil.

Pet Care

Using Essential Oils safely with pets requires proper dilution. Often a mixture of essential oil and what’s called a carrier oil is needed. Carrier oils such as olive, avocado, and jojoba help protect your pet’s skin from possible irritation.

When applying diluted Essential Oils to your pets, use a safe and well-ventilated area. It’s best to slowly expose them to the oil, checking for a reaction such as skin irritation, pawing at the face, coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing or unsteadiness.

Cats in particular need to be careful with Essential Oils. Their livers can’t metabolize them properly and can cause toxicity. If you notice any of the above reactions, call your veterinarian immediately. Your vet may want to know what kind of oil and at what concentration it was used, as well as how much of it your pet ingested or came into contact with.


Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that contain the natural scent of the original source. Manufacturers distill flowers, leaves, bark, roots, seeds, twigs and other parts of the plant to capture the chemical compounds that produce the oil.

They use these compounds to enhance the smell and flavor of cosmetics, food additives, soaps, plastic resins, perfumes and other products. Manufacturers also use them to treat certain physical and mental health ailments.

While some people believe that inhaling the scent of an essential oil, like lavender, can reduce mild sleep disturbances, there is limited research to support this claim (1,2). And while they may help with other conditions like nausea or headaches, a visit to a licensed physician is still recommended.