Essential oils can replace chemicals in many beauty and home products, boost immunity, reduce stress and anxiety and help fight pathogens. When used correctly, they offer powerful benefits without the potential toxicity and risks of chemical-based products.
Most people use essential oil aromatically by opening the bottle and inhaling its signature aroma for a variety of effects. You can also cook with them, but you must first dilute the oil with a carrier oil.
Traditionally, people use essential oils to promote mental and physical healing. They contain powerful antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and calming properties and can be used in many different ways. They can be inhaled, massaged into the skin or rarely taken by mouth — but taking them by mouth is dangerous and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.
Inhaling the aroma of an essential oil is a popular way to reap its benefits. Smelling these oils stimulates olfactory receptors in the nose, which communicate with parts of the brain that control mood and memory. For example, studies show that smelling lavender can decrease stress and promote sleep. Some oils also have natural sedative and pain-relieving properties, such as tea tree oil or sandalwood. They can be added to a bath or diffused in the home.
Cooking with Essential Oils
Cooking with essential oils can be a fun and creative way to add flavor to food without using salt, sugar or artificial flavors. These concentrated plant-based oils can also make food preparation faster and easier, and can replace many herbs and spices.
Because they’re so potent, only a small amount of essential oil is needed to provide big flavor. When cooking with essential oils, less is more; overdoing it can overwhelm a recipe and be unsafe.
Always dilute your essential oil into a fatty liquid such as olive or coconut before adding it to food. Never ingest undiluted oil directly; it can be toxic to the liver and intestines, says the Western Australian Poisons Information Centre. For safety, look for a label that indicates the oil is safe for internal use (it should have a Supplement Facts panel similar to a standard nutrition facts label).
Essential oils, concentrated extracts distilled from different parts of plants, are often touted as natural remedies for many ailments. Lab studies support some of their claims — for instance, oil from the tree frankincense has been shown to kill Lyme bacteria — but results in human clinical trials are mixed.
When used properly, most essential oils are safe to inhale or apply directly to the skin. But undiluted oil can cause irritation, so it’s best to use a diluted mixture or stick the drops on a muslin cloth before inhaling. People with sensitive skin or a history of allergies may want to consult a specialist for advice. Also, if you take prescription medication, make sure the oil doesn’t interact with it. For example, eucalyptus oil can react with blood thinners.
Essential oil concentrations vary, and certain oils have special dilution requirements. For example, Lemon and Grapefruit essential oils are typically diluted at a concentration of 2% before use to avoid phototoxicity. Infants and children should be administered essential oils at a much lower dilution ratio as well to minimize the risk of adverse reactions.
While it is not common, if too much essential oil is used orally, it can be toxic to the body. However, it would take an enormous amount of oil applied liberally, two or three times a day, to build up to such toxicity levels.
As with all essential oil usage, it is recommended that a patch test be performed before a full-body application. This is done by applying a drop of the oil to an innocuous part of the skin, like the inner forearm, and monitoring the area over 24 hours for any reaction.
Although they are derived from natural ingredients, essential oils can be irritating or toxic if used improperly. The most common side effect is a rash or itching, but other reactions can include headaches, liver or nerve damage and harm to a fetus.
Because they are so potent, essential oils should be kept out of the reach of children. Use a child-resistant cap and practice safe storage to prevent accidental ingestion.
Look for pure, high-quality oils and read labels carefully. The oil bottle should say ‘for external use only,’ and you should never use more than the recommended amount. Also, choose a brand that uses clean distillation methods to avoid adding any additional ingredients to the oil. Avoid oils with additives or synthetic fragrances as they can irritate the skin.