What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated hydrophobic liquids that contain volatile aromatic chemical compounds from plants. They are also known as ethereal oils, volatile aromatic extracts or simply oil of the plant.

They’re getting a lot of buzz for their ability to treat everything from pain to sleep problems. But before you start slathering them on your skin, read up to learn how to use them safely.


Essential oils can be inhaled or diluted and applied to the skin. They can be used for many reasons, such as to stimulate the sense of smell, enhance mood and support physical health.

Some researchers believe that when molecules from an oil enter your nose, they bind to receptors in the part of the brain that has to do with smell and affect the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions and memories. This is believed to be the reason why some people say that aromatherapy helps with their emotional and mental health.

Adding aromatherapy to a treatment plan can be beneficial for a wide range of conditions and symptoms, such as making needle sticks less painful for dialysis patients, easing stress for children undergoing cancer treatments, improving sleep for hospitalized patients and relieving pain for adults and children undergoing tonsillectomy. However, more research is needed to understand exactly how and why these oils work.

Pain relief

Essential oils can be a natural way to help with inflammation. Whether it’s from sore, swollen muscles or the stress of a big project at work, the body can produce a lot of extra inflammation as part of its response to ward off infection and heal itself.

Typically used for aromatherapy, essential oils are concentrated hydrophobic liquids that contain volatile plant compounds and encapsulate the fragrance, flavor and therapeutic properties of their source plants. They are extracted from the seeds, stems, flowers, barks, roots, leaves, resins and zest of a variety of plants using various methods, including steam distillation and cold pressing.

Because of their highly concentrated nature, they can have a powerful impact on health and can interact with certain drugs. For that reason, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning use, especially for those taking medication or those with pre-existing conditions.

Immune system support

Inhalation of certain essential oils, especially those with menthol, may help with respiratory issues like congestion and cough. It is thought that these oils can stimulate airway muscles to open up the breathing tubes which can aid in easing nasal congestion. However, if you have asthma, you should be cautious with consuming or inhaling essential oils. Certain oils, such as eucalyptus, contain volatile compounds that can trigger asthma symptoms, including bronchoconstriction (tightening of the smooth muscle around the airways) and wheezing.

Essential oils can be used topically but must be diluted with a carrier oil like almond, jojoba or coconut oil to reduce the risk of skin irritation. They can also be consumed as teas or a supplement. Optimal nutrition supports immune function. Certain vitamins and minerals are vital for the specialized defenses that keep viruses out of our bodies, destroy invaders that enter and support recovery from infection. These nutrients can be found in a wide variety of foods, particularly those that contain vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, zinc and the B vitamins.

Stress relief

Inhaling essential oils can reduce anxiety and stress by triggering the brain’s natural calming responses. But before you start stocking up on lavender and patchouli, consult a healthcare professional about whether this is safe for you and your family.

The FDA doesn’t regulate the quality of essential oil, and many companies use vague terms like “pure,” “therapeutic” or “medical grade.” Look for a company that’s transparent about its products. It should list the plant name or Latin name and provide web pages, booklets and other information about each oil it sells.

It’s also important to note that essential oils should never be ingested or applied to your skin without diluting them with carrier oil. This can cause irritation, especially for people with certain health conditions. For example, peppermint can irritate sensitive digestive tracts and isn’t recommended for pregnant women or young children. It’s also a good idea to check for contraindications with any medications you might be taking.