Essential oils have become hugely popular in recent decades, although they have been in use for thousands of years in traditional medicine practices. These concentrated extracts of various plants, flowers and herbs have potent active compounds, giving them a number of uses at home and for relaxing purposes, as well as for cosmetic and medicinal applications.
What is an Essential Oil?
An essential oil is the pure chemical essence of a plant and is a concentrated liquid commonly derived through steam or water distillation. Essential oils can come from the seeds, stem, bark, roots, flowers or leaves of plants from around the world, and there are hundreds of essential oils in common use, varying depending on your location and access to these plants. The oils are commonly clear in color, although some are yellow or amber, and they possess high levels of key nutrients, chemicals, antioxidants, organic acids and other beneficial compounds.
Due to their concentrated nature, some essential oils must be diluted before use, as they can result in toxicity and negative side effects when used improperly. Essential oils are typically inhaled for their benefits, either through aromatherapy or an essential oil diffuser, or they are topically applied to the skin or hair. Some essential oils can be consumed when diluted, but this is relatively uncommon, due to their high chemical concentrations.
Unlike perfume and fragrance oils, essential oils are pure derivatives of plants and do not contain any artificial chemicals or additives. One should not use perfume or fragrance oils in the same way as essential oils. Many essential oils perform better, medicinally speaking when combined with carrier oils that absorb into the skin and can help to dilute the potent essential oils. Furthermore, essential oils are often blended together to create even more potent and beneficial substances.
Most oils vary greatly in terms of quality and price, due to the availability and rarity of the plants from which they are derived. Due to their highly concentrated nature, they are typically purchased in small amounts, in small bottles, which are often tinted blue or brown to prevent any damage from light.
Essential Oil Uses and Benefits
The uses and benefits of essential oil depend entirely on what type of oil you are using, as well as the amount and potency of the blend you choose. However, these typically include antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, relaxant, sedative, detoxifying, moisturizing, insect repellent, air-freshening or cognition-boosting qualities.
Home and Cleaning
When it comes to using essential oils in your home to clean various surfaces, eliminate airborne pathogens and neutralize foul odors, there are many viable options. When you use an essential oil diffuser, it can quickly spread microparticles of active essential oils throughout a room, or your entire home, and effectively detoxify any surfaces it touches. Many people often choose to mix essential oils with carrier oils and apply it to different surfaces to eliminate bacteria and viruses that may be present. Essential oils are also very effective against mold and other fungal growths. Some of the best essential oils for these sorts of home-cleaning purposes are lemon, tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, cinnamon, lavender, and rosemary.
Spa and Relaxation
Arguably the most popular use of essential oils, these potent liquids are known for their soothing and relaxing qualities. They are widely used by people who regularly suffer from chronic stress and anxiety, as well as people who struggle with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia. Many essential oils, when inhaled, can trigger the release of key hormones and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine, and also affect the amount of stress hormones present in the body. This can help relieve chronic disease and oxidative stress in inflamed tissues, improve mood, lower the frequency of depressive episodes, and generally relieve worry and strain. A few excellent essential oils for stress and relaxation include rose, bergamot, vetiver, ylang ylang, lavender, chamomile, holy basil and lemon balm.
Antiviral & Antibacterial Effects
Aside from using essential oils to cleanse your home and eliminate nasty pathogens from the air and countertops, these oils are also excellent for personal use, either topically or when inhaled. Essential oil diffusers can fill the air with micro-particles that will cleanse the skin, helping to relieve symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, acne and other skin conditions. Internally, the antibacterial and antiviral effects of these oils can boost your immune system, clear up respiratory infections and even help to re-balance the microflora of your gut to improve digestion. Some of the most potent antibacterial and antiviral oils are lemongrass, thyme, oregano, tea tree, bergamot, lavender, and peppermint.
Many people turn to essential oils as a topical remedy for aches, pains, joint disorders, arthritis, gout, headaches and a variety of other inflammatory conditions. These oils are known to have certain antioxidant properties, which can counter oxidative stress in organ systems. This, in turn, will reduce inflammation in various parts of the body, including the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, blood vessels and arteries, and muscles. This means that the right combination of essential oils can protect heart health and digestive functioning, as well as every other area of the body. For anti-inflammatory effects, choose clary sage, frankincense, juniper, chamomile and sweet marjoram oils.
As a pain reliever, essential oils can be either diffused, inhaled or topically applied, making it effective both on the large scale and the small. For chronic pain as a result of long-term illness, injury or surgical recovery, these oils are particularly good, as centuries of anecdotal evidence will attest. For pain relief, turn to cayenne, wintergreen, lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus oils.
Applying essential oils to the skin, both in medicinal and cosmetic applications, has been popular for thousands of years. The antioxidants present in many essential oils can help counter premature aging, promote the growth of new cells, minimize the appearance of lines and wrinkles, clear up age spots and blemishes, and increase skin elasticity to make you look and feel younger. Essential oils are also very commonly used on the hair to prevent dandruff, increase luster and strengthen hair at the root. For skin, the best oils are jojoba, geranium, myrrh, patchouli, rose and neroli oils.
For natural medicine purposes, such as lowering risk of chronic disease, eliminating infections, improving liver and kidney function, increasing cognition, protecting the heart, and preventing cancer, essential oils are a wise choice. From China and India to the indigenous people of the Americas, essential oils have been a critical part of natural healing for thousands of years. The plants from which the most popular essential oils are derived remain important crops in certain parts of the world. Many of the oldest and most trusted essential oils for natural medicine include cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, juniper, and cedar.