Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants.
The oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor, or “essence.”
Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence.
Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.
Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use.
The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.
How do essential oils work?
Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy, in which they are inhaled through various methods.
Essential oils are not meant to be swallowed.
The chemicals in essential oils can interact with your body in several ways.
When applied to your skin, some plant chemicals are absorbed.
It’s thought that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, research in this area is lacking.
Inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is a part of your brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory.
Interestingly, the limbic system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions.
The limbic system also plays a role in controlling several unconscious physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. As such, some people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect on your body.
However, this has yet to be confirmed in studies.
Popular types of Essential Oils:
Clove Bud - an antimicrobial, to help kill bacteria
Lemongrass - anti-inflammatory properties and help prevent gastric ulcers or relieve nausea
Lemon - used to aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more
Orange - help treat anxiety and aid in some pain relief
Eucalyptus - relieve coughing and eases joint pains
Peppermint - used to boost energy and aid digestion
Rosemary - stimulates hair growth and eases stress
Lavender - used to relieve stress
Tea Tree - used to fight infections and boost immunity
Ylang Ylang - used to treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions
Patchouli - treating skin conditions such as dermatitis, acne, or dry, cracked skin
Mandarin - diminishes acne, stretch marks and scars
Juniper Berry - anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Grapefruit - reduce blood pressure and provide stress relief
Geranium - antifungal properties that may help reduce any harmful bacteria
Bergamot - used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema
Health benefits of essential oils:
Here’s a look at some of the common health problems that essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat.
Stress and anxiety
It has been estimated that 43% of people who have stress and anxiety use some form of alternative therapy to help relieve their symptoms.
Regarding aromatherapy, initial studies have been quite positive. Many have shown that the smell of some essential oils can work alongside traditional therapy to treat anxiety and stress.
Interestingly, using essential oils during a massage may help relieve stress, although the effects may only last while the massage is taking place.
Headaches and migraines
Recent studies have also observed reduced headache pain after applying peppermint and lavender oil to the skin.
What’s more, it has been suggested that applying a mixture of chamomile and sesame oil to the temples may treat headaches and migraines. This is a traditional Persian headache remedy.
Sleep and insomnia
Smelling lavender oil has been shown to improve the sleep quality of women after childbirth, as well as patients with heart disease.
It has been suggested that essential oils may help fight inflammatory conditions. Some test-tube studies show that they have anti-inflammatory effects.
Antibiotic and antimicrobial
The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has renewed interest in the search for other compounds that can fight bacterial infections.
Test-tube studies have investigated essential oils, such as peppermint and tea tree oil, extensively for their antimicrobial effects, observing some positive results.
Essential oils have many uses outside of aromatherapy.
Many people use them to scent their homes or freshen up things like laundry.
They are also used as a natural scent in homemade cosmetics and high-quality natural products.
What’s more, it has been suggested that essential oils could provide a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to man-made mosquito repellents.
Safety and side effects:
Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Plants and herbal products contain many bioactive compounds that may harm your health, and essential oils are no different.
However, when inhaled or combined with a base oil for use on your skin, most essential oils are considered safe. Be sure to consider others in your environment who might be inhaling the aroma, including pregnant women, children, and pets.
Nevertheless, they may cause some side effects, including:
Swallowing essential oils is not recommended, as doing so could be harmful and, in some doses, fatal.