From social media to blogs to your local supermarket, it seems like essential oils are everywhere these days. Like many you might be wondering: What even are essential oils, and how can I use them? As natural lifestyle advocates and big fans of these organic oils, we’d like to help clear up the confusion. Below you’ll find 5 of the most frequently asked questions regarding essential oils. Enjoy!
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are simply highly concentrated organic compounds extracted from the seeds, leaves, flowers, bark, roots or fruits of plants and trees. Essential oils are usually distilled via a steaming process which helps separate the desired botanical oils from the rest of the plant material. Essential oils can be over 75 times more potent than their source material (for example, it takes roughly 16 pounds of peppermint leaves to make a single ounce of peppermint essential oil!)
What Are they Used For?
The internet is full of misinformation and countless unsubstantiated health claims when it comes to essential oils. While they’ve been used for centuries to help relief health issues and support wellness, scientists have only somewhat recently started researching their potential health benefits, including:
From minor to major, essential oils have been shown to help alleviate various forms of pain. A study from Pain Research and Treatment looking into a variety of potential applications ranging from postoperative pain and chronic neck and back pain to cancer and labor-related pain “found a significant positive effect of aromatherapy in reducing pain,” especially when combined with traditional pain management approaches.
Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Relieving stress is one of the most popular essential oil uses and science appears to back up this benefit. A 2016 clinical trial involving the effects of rose water aromatherapy on dialysis patients showed anxiety levels were “reduced significantly in the treatment group compared with the control group.”
Another study looking at anxiety and depression in postpartum women discovered “positive findings with minimal risk for the use of aromatherapy as a complementary therapy in both anxiety and depression.” A 2014 study centered on quality of life in the elderly found similar results, concluding “depression, anxiety, and stress levels were significantly reduced…showing that aromatherapy can help to maintain the psychological health of community-dwelling older persons.”
Boosting Energy Levels
It’s long been believed that aromatherapy and other essential oil applications have a naturally uplifting effect on energy levels. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at the effect of peppermint essential oil on young male athletes for this very reason, ultimately finding that the “results of the experiment support the effectiveness of peppermint essential oil on exercise performance…blood pressure and respiratory rate.”
Promoting Healthy Sleep
A 2014 University of Minnesota review evaluated 15 studies on the effects of essential oils on quality of sleep. Their search revealed the majority of these studies “suggested a positive effect of essential oils on sleep,” with lavender being the most frequently studied essential oil.
A more recent study published by the British Association of Critical Care Nurses investigated the impact of lavender essential oil on the sleep quality and anxiety levels of patients in a coronary intensive care unit. Their research concluded that “lavender essential oil increased quality of sleep and reduced anxiety” in these patients.
How Do I Apply Them?
Now that you understand what essential oils are as well as some of their benefits, you might be wondering: But how do I use them? While there are limitless ways to incorporate essential oils into your natural lifestyle, there are 3 main application methods: Aromatherapy, DIY mixtures, and topical.
We suggest starting with the first two and moving onto topical application only after you’ve done more research on essential oils and consulted a professional.
Aromatherapy is the most popular approach, and involves using a diffuser or simple inhalation to harness the beneficial aromas of essential oils.
Adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to DIY mixtures like homemade soaps, cleaners, or natural air fresheners is a fun way to enjoy essential oils’ therapeutic qualities.
Because of their small molecule weight, essential oils are readily absorbed into the skin, making topical application an effective way to enjoy these organic oils. After proper dilution with a carrier oil, essential oil mixtures can be applied directly to the skin as a soothing lotion or balm.
Should I Consult a Doctor Before Using Essential Oils?
For many reasons—including possible contraindications with medicine, potential allergies, and underlying health issues—we strongly suggest consulting a physician before starting an essential oil regimen, especially with the elderly and children. Essential oils, while natural, are highly concentrated and misuse can cause irritation and other unwanted reactions.
Do I Need to Dilute Them?
Essential oils are much too concentrated to use undiluted. It’s a common misconception that diluting essential oils with a carrier oil or other DIY mixture will reduce their effectiveness, but that’s simply not true. In fact, carrier oils can increase efficacy and the aromatherapeutic effects of your chosen essential oil by preventing evaporation and premature absorption into the body. Failing to dilute essential oils before use can lead to severe skin irritation, rashes, or more serious health complications like respiratory issues.
The exact amounts will vary, but start by adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a carrier oil like almond, avocado or coconut oil, or to a mixture like a DIY soap or homemade natural cleaner. Start small and increase the amount of essential oil as needed—generally, aim for somewhere in the 1-4% strength range.
Can I Use Them on My Pets?
Yes and no. We suggest always consulting a vet before incorporating essential oils into your natural pet care routine, especially for cats. When used correctly, essential oils can offer a chemical-free alternative to help address inflammation, anxiety, and other health concerns. When used incorrectly, however, they can do more harm than good.
First, always dilute before use and never allow your pet to ingest essential oils. Second, know which ones to avoid, not all essential oils that are safe for people are safe for pets. In general, avoid using the following essential oils on or around your pet:
- Citrus oils (like lemon and orange)
- Ylang ylang
- Tea tree
- Sweet birch