There are many who also see essential oils as the essence of a plant, the purest distillation of nature’s living energy. These oils have enhanced lives for thousands of years, with new uses and benefits still being discovered today.
Within the plants they’re extracted from, essential oils create that plant’s signature scent along with other benefits. For example, plants depend on their oils to attract pollinating insects and repel predators. Once extracted, essential oils will often have a stronger scent than the plants they hail from and exhibit more concentrated effects.
To enjoy these concentrated effects—the benefits of essential oils—you can apply them topically, typically added to other carrier oils, creams and lotions. Other benefits come from diffusing these oils’ inviting aromas throughout your living or workspaces with an essential oil diffuser. Certain grades of oil can even be ingested and are used to flavor food and drinks. Of course, concentrated extracts like essential oils should be handled with care. Be sure to always check individual labels for instructions on how to use and apply an essential oil. Ask your doctor if you’re not sure a particular oil is right for you.
How are essential oils made?
Steam distillation is the most common way to extract essential oils. It involves placing water and select aromatic plants into specialized equipment called a distiller. The water is boiled to the point where it creates steam. The steam pulls the essential oils out of the plants.
Once separated, the oil-laden steam is cooled in a condenser where the oil becomes a liquid again. Different essential oil companies will use different distillation methods, some more gentle than others. Essential oils contain hundreds of small molecules called constituents and too much heat and pressure will destroy these beneficial components. That’s why the slightest variation in the temperature or pressure can alter the oil’s chemical profile. The gentler the process, the more potent the oil.
Oil companies generally use cold pressing to extract oils from citrus fruits such as lemons, grapefruits, limes, oranges and tangerines. Cold pressing is preferred with these fruits because other oil extraction methods can compromise the potency of the oil.
In the past, cold pressing was performed by hand. These days, the rind of the citrus fruit is placed in a container with spikes that puncture the peels while the device rotates. The punctures release the rind’s essential oil, which is then collected and separated from the natural juices.
Oil harvesters use resin cutting to extract oils such as frankincense and myrrh. The harvester scrapes the outside of the plant, which causes the plant to produce a sap-like substance to heal the wound. The sap eventually hardens into a resin that is then collected and taken for distilling. Done properly and responsibly, resin cutting causes no harm to the plant.
Resin tapping is similar to resin cutting and is used to extract such oils as copaiba. Instead of merely scraping the outside of the plant, a harvester using resin tapping will cut a small hole in the trunk of the plant, enough to allow sap to seep from it. The plant eventually fills the hole with resin over the next few days, allowing the harvester to collect the extra resin.
How do essential oils work?
Aromatically: Breathe them inInhaling the scent of essential oils can stimulate the body on various levels. You’ll find that when you breathe in a certain scent, your body will react without you even realizing it. By simply inhaling or diffusing a scent, you can evoke a desired atmosphere or even recall a childhood memory through the limbic system—the brain’s center of memory, emotion and behavior. Using oils aromatically is an excellent way to reap the benefits of essential oils and positively impact your outlook and environment.
Topically: Soak them upEssential oils can also work topically when applied to the skin, where they can be absorbed into the body. Remember that essential oils are extremely potent, though, and you should proceed cautiously with the topical application of a new essential oil, especially if you have sensitive skin.
A patch test is a way to take an oil for a limited trial run to see how it interacts with your unique skin and system. With a patch test, you simply apply one or two drops of the new essential oil to your forearm. Any reactions typically occur within an hour or two.
If you experience a bad reaction to the oil, apply a carrier oil to the affected area instead of soap and water. Carrier oils are neutral, plant-derived oils such as almond oil or coconut oil. They’re often used to dilute the powerful effects of essential oils. Carrier oils are recommended instead of water because oils are fat soluble. This means they’re attracted to fat and repel water. The skin contains layers of fat, which attracts essential oils. If an oil causes any kind of discomfort, washing with water will only drive it deeper into your skin.
It’s important to keep essential oils away from sensitive regions of the body including the eyes, ears and other soft-tissue regions. Also, some essential oils, particularly those that belong to the citrus family, cause photosensitivity. Please check labels for any warning signs to dilute before application, wait 24 to 48 hours before exposing skin to the sun or to take any other precautions.
Internally: Take them inThe rich, bright aromas of certain essential oils can add a delicious kick of flavor to your favourite recipes! Not all oils can be ingested, but some qualify as dietary supplements. Review the labels of oils to make sure they’re intended for internal use before you add them to your cooking or flavor your drinks with them. For example, you can add some Lime oil to fresh salsa or your favourite marinade, Lemon to grilled fish, Peppermint to hot cocoa or Oregano or Basil to homemade pasta sauce. Just remember that these oils are extremely powerful—one drop may overpower your recipe! One way to add essential oils to food is to dip a toothpick in the oil and mix that into your dish or drink. If you add oils to a drink, make sure you use a glass or stainless-steel bottle, because oils will degrade plastic.
The history of essential oils
Essential oils were prized throughout history and by many ancient cultures for their various cosmetic, aromatic and dietary benefits. Many civilizations treasured these oils so much that they were incorporated into their spiritual and religious rituals. In fact, oils are mentioned in many historical texts from around the world.
The Egyptians used aromatic oils as early as 4500 BC and their practices were the source for the Evers Papyrus, the first compilation of ancient healing practices that dates back to approximately 1,500 BC. India boasts a 3,000-year history of incorporating essential oils into their healing potions, with Vedic literature listing over 700 substances including cinnamon, ginger, myrrh, sandalwood, jasmine, rose, lotus and other essential oils. In China, the use of essential oils was first recorded between 2697–2597 BC during the reign of Huang Ti, the legendary Yellow Emperor. His famous book, The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine, contains uses for several oils.
The ancient Greeks and Romans also documented the use of essential oils. During the Crusades, the European knights and their armies discovered the Middle Eastern use of essential oils and the distillation methods used to extract them. They became acquainted with the literature about the oils’ many uses and took it back with them, where the oils soon spread across western Europe.
The modern essential oils movement builds on this foundation of ancient tradition and wisdom, re-introducing essential oils and their benefits to the world.
Essential oil uses and benefits
Though ancient civilizations documented essential oil uses and benefits, the modern essential oil movement is still seen as a new trend. The movement builds on this foundation of tradition and wisdom and, with the help of increasing scientific research, is re-introducing essential oils to the world.
Throughout history, essential oils were included in spiritual, religious and meditative practices. They were also used for aromatherapy, cosmetics, personal care and food preparation. Today, manufacturers rely on essential oils to scent their perfumes and lotions. There are hundreds of essential oils, each with unique benefits and uses. Many people use oils to scent their homes, freshen their laundry, flavor their food and drinks or to enhance their DIY cosmetics and cleaners. Clinical trials are also being done to study whether essential oils can help calm everyday stress, promote restful sleep, etc., though more trials are needed.
In our more sustainable, environmentally conscious society, essential oils make a compelling case as a green alternative to many of the standard cosmetics and cleaners. Essential oil-infused products are naturally derived without harsh, synthetic chemicals, making them an eco-friendly solution you can feel safe using on your skin, around your family and in your home.
What are essential oils good for?
Lavender essential oil
Lemon essential oil
Peppermint essential oil
Peppermint’s refreshing scent and cool, tingling sensation make it especially good for a pre-workout boost and post-workout cooldown. Apply it topically to your chest or inhale it for a cool burst of energy before a big workout and then apply it to soothe fatigued muscles afterward.
Frankincense essential oil
Also called the “king of oils,” Frankincense is renowned for its sweet, warm, balsamic aroma. Add a few drops to your next bath or to an unscented face lotion, toner or face wash to support the appearance of your healthy-looking skin. Try diffusing its complex scent or applying it topically to your temples or the back of your neck during yoga, meditation or spiritual studies.
Even in the case of these go-to oils, remember to read their labels to know how to safely use them. Potent oils like these should be handled with care, especially if this is your first time trying them out. Always start with a small sample to check that you won’t experience an adverse reaction to them.
Why should I use essential oils?
Why would you want to use essential oils? Because a healthier world starts with small, simple changes in the home. The products we use in our homes impact our health and wellness in countless ways.
Many people turn to essential oils as an alternative to standard industry products. Essential oils and oil-infused products contain naturally derived, plant-based ingredients that provide a cleaner lifestyle and safer solutions across the board when it comes to cosmetics, household cleaners, personal care products, etc.
Additionally, the products we all use over time can impact the overall health of the planet. Leaders in the essential oil industry go out of their way to implement sustainable, responsible farming and harvesting methods that respect the planet and the people who live on it.
How to use essential oilsl
How do you use essential oils safely and effectively? The best way is to use one of the three methods discussed above: aromatically, topically and internally. It’s also important to start with the understanding that simply because a product is derived from natural ingredients doesn’t always mean it’ll react well to your body and its particular makeup. Every oil is unique and so is every person’s body, making it difficult to predict how you’ll react to an oil.
That’s why, whenever you use an oil for the first time, always apply only a small amount at the beginning. You’ll also want to read the label and follow the instructions you find there. For example, not all oils are safe to take internally, so unless the label says it’s safe to ingest this oil, assume it’s only for external use. Some oils are so concentrated that they need to be diluted before you can apply them safely. Other oils, mainly citrus oils, can cause photosensitivity, requiring you to stay out of the sun for at least 12 hours while your skin absorbs the oil.
There’s no deep expertise required to safely use essential oils. Armed with healthy caution, label instructions and widely available knowledge, you can enjoy the natural the wealth of benefits these oils have to offer.
How to choose the right essential oils
Beware of jargonMany companies sling around terms like “pure” or “therapeutic” or “medical grade.” Be aware that these aren’t industry terms. They don’t have any concrete definition or standard, so they can mean anything that the company wants them to mean.
Check the labelQuality essential oil companies are upfront and transparent about their product. They’ll list the plant’s name or Latin name from which the oil is derived and provide web pages, booklets and other material about the product. Look for any additions or synthetics that might dilute the oil’s purity.
Research the company>Look for an oil company with a reputable and established name.
Look for dark glass containersDark-tinted glass protects the quality of the oil, and unlike plastic bottles, glass will not degrade over time when in contact with essential oils. Oil companies who know what they’re doing will make sure their product arrives in the best condition.
Compare pricesYou’ve probably heard the phrase “You get what you pay for.” With essential oils, it’s the truth. Prices for individual oils will vary, depending on harvesting and how much raw plant material is needed to produce each drop of oil. The cheaper an oil, the more likely that its purity is compromised.
Hopefully, once you find an oil company you can trust, they’ll become more than a vendor taking your money for their product. The leading essential oil companies become a partner and advisor in your journey to wellness and a cleaner, healthier lifestyle.