What are Essential Oils and How do they Work?

Essential oils are all the rage right now! You can find them everywhere… health food stores, grocery stores, online, and even at your friends ladies night event. But did you know that even though essential oils are natural, they needed to be treated with respect and used in a safe manner in order to be effective and useful.

What exactly are essential oils?

The origin and meaning of the words “essential oil” actually come from the words quintessential oil. Quintessence is the spirit or life force of something. Just like the word implies, essential oils are the vital essence and the soul of the plant it is derived from. They are a potent extract that encompasses all of the wonderful aspects of that living organism.

Essential oils are extracted from all different types of plants: flowers, trees, herbs, etc. Many essential oils are steam distilled (similar to how alcohol is made), some are expressed (citrus oils), and some are extracted with solvent. The oil itself is powerful, aromatic, and full of therapeutic properties. The chemical compounds that that make up this healing oil can effect you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for therapeutic reasons. Just as you might use teas or herbs as a natural remedy for everyday ailments, essential oils can be used for these reasons as well. The chemical make-up of the particular oil determines what it is good for. For example, an essential oil that is high levels of Esters is naturally calming and helps regulate the nervous system. This means that these oils would be a good choice for someone who is experiencing stress, nervousness, or anxiety.

So, how do we use these amazing oils to make sure we are receiving the great natural therapies they offer?

Essential Oils Applications

Inhalation

As the name Aromatherapy suggests, it is obvious that the aroma is part of it. Essential oils are highly aromatic. They smell like a stronger version of the plant they originate from. This is the quickest and sometimes the best way to use essential oils. Without getting too technical, when inhaled, the oils pass through the olfactory and enter the limbic system. This is the most primitive part of our brain; and it is where emotions are controlled and memories are accessed. Basically, this is the part of the mind that tells your body how to react to a certain situation.

When inhaling an essential oil, it can enter your brain in less than 30 seconds. So, you can see how effective it can be for your emotional and mental state. Inhalation is the safest way to use oils as well. This is usually the best option for children, elderly, and animals.

Topical

Using essential oils topically is a wonderful option when you have a physical ailment. For example, if you have sore muscles, putting the oil blend onto the area will give it a direct route to help ease that inflammation and naturally relieve pain.

In addition, topical use is what is called a double whammy. You get the benefits of smelling the oils as you wear it, but also absorption. Essential oil molecules are very small and have the ability to permeate into our skin and enter our blood stream. This can give a longer term effect and even help on a cellular level. Many essential oils are antioxidants and some even can cross the blood brain barrier!

Important Notes

  • Essential oils are fat soluble and we are made of water. This means that for our bodies to safely and effectively accept the oils into our systems, they need to be mixed with a “carrier” oil before being applied to skin. Carrier oils are fatty oils cold-pressed from nuts and seeds. Some examples are olive oil, almond oil, grapeseed oil, or coconut oil.
  • Essential oils are incredibly potent! They can be up to 500 times stronger than the herb itself. Because of this, we need to use them in low dilution rates. 
  • Many essential oils are “hot” oils. Cinnamon, clove, oregano, and peppermint are examples of these. They can cause burning or a rash on the skin and must be diluted generously. 
  • Citrus oils are phototoxic. This means that they make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Do not apply large amounts of citrus oils and go out unprotected in daylight or a tanning bed.

Myths and Truths

Because essential oils are so popular right now, there is a lot of information that can be found out there online. But how do you know what is true, safe, and useful?

Myth 1: Essential oils are natural so they are safe for use on everyone all the time.

      Truth: Yes, essential oils are natural, but that doesn’t always mean they are safe. There are many oils that can affect your blood pressure, heart rate, or hormone levels. In addition, there are certain oils that should not be used with certain medications or ages. You must check the contraindications of the oil before use.

Myth 2: “Therapeutic Grade” essential oils are the best and only kind you should use.

      Truth: There is no governing body that grades or certifies essential oils. This phrase was created by certain retailers to make their products look superior. What you really want to look for when buying an oil is it’s purity. All pure, true essential oils have therapeutic properties.

Myth 3: Ingesting essential oils is the best way to get your therapy.

     Truth: There are 2 major reasons why a trained aromatherapist does not recommend ingestion. One is that they are very potent. One drop of peppermint oil is equal to 22 cups of peppermint tea… would anyone really need to drink 22 cups of tea at one time? And two, our bodies, including our mouths, esophagus, and stomachs are made of water. Essential oils are fat soluble and not accepted by our bodies properly without a fat. Taking a drop of oil in a glass of water can actually cause severe irritation to your throat and organs. A famous doctor even admits that he gave himself extreme acid reflux from taking oils daily in his drinks.

A Final Note

Essential oils can be a powerful tool in your natural health arsenal. However, educating yourself on the proper use is very important. Do your research on what companies and experts can be trusted. And lastly, enjoy the freedom of improving your own life by using the wonderful healing properties of essential oils.

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Amber Laign

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