Essential Oils are oils extracted from plants which give them their medicinal and aromatic properties. I was introduced to them about a year back when I was looking at ways to replace my skincare products with natural alternatives. Over the last few months I am discovering that they are amazingly versatile and have great potential in decluttering your bathroom cabinets of expensive and useless creams and lotions.
Ancient Egyptians, Chinese and even Indians used them in perfumes, cosmetics and also as medicine. Medicinally they can be used to alleviate pain, infection (fungal, yeast), inflammation, depression, heal wounds and burns, etc. Essential oils are an off-shoot of herbal medicine and used extensively in Asia and parts of Europe.
Extracting the essential oil from plants is carried out through distillation by steaming and separating the oil from collected water. These oils carry all the plant’s beneficial properties while also being extremely concentrated. They are made up of tiny molecules which can easily penetrate the skin unlike other heavier oils which are made from nuts and vegetables. Owing to their tiny size, essential oils and some of their compounds can easily enter the blood stream to provide immediate relief.
Some Essential Oils and their Uses
Essential Oils blend easily with each other which allows herbalists to prepare various combinations to cater to people with handle different dispositions. You can find a detailed list of the properties of each and the associated health benefits here.
A few important ones are:
ROSEMARY: is great for stimulating hair growth and has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Useful for hair and skin care, depression, pain, headache and respiratory problems
LAVENDER: Calming effect on nervous system and has sleep inducing properties; Also anti-inflammatory and anti fungal – uses in hair care, skin care and immune system health
CLARY SAGE: Well known antidepressant, anti convulsive, sedative and nerve tonic. Soothes monthly discomfort associated with menstrual cycle; helps balance hormones
BERGAMOT: Considered a deodorant. Also has antiseptic and sedative properties. Removes body odour, reduces tension and stress; Calms anxious feelings and lessens sadness
CAMOMILE: Very versatile and used for a lot of maladies. Eliminates gases, promotes bile discharge, regulates menses, sedates inflammation and hyper-reactions; improves digestion and fights infection
CYPRESS: Astringent, antispasmodic, vasoconstrictor, respiratory tonic and a sedative. It assists with clear breathing; helps relieve tight and tense muscles
LIME: Is antiseptic, antiviral, restorative tonic. Protects against viral infections, boosts appetite, supports healthy immune function. Also promotes emotional balance and well being.
Easy Ways To Use Essential Oils
Apply them to your skin
The essential oils are highly concentrated and to avoid irritation they should always be mixed with a carrier or base oil like virgin sunflower oil, coconut oil, almond oil, castor oil, etc.
The carrier oils also serve to hold down the essential oil, which evaporate very easily, and so allow it to spread over a large area. A drop of essential oil has 40 quintillion (or ‘million trillion’ thats 18 zeroes after 40) molecules and can easily cover the 100 trillion cells in the human body many times over! (Ref)
About the Carrier Oils: Carrier oils or base oil are mostly cold pressed vegetable or nut oils. Commercially available oils are treated with heat which reduces their therapeutic benefits. Most mineral oils (or petroleum oils) should be avoided as base oil as they prevent essential oil absorption. Since most baby oils in the market are made of mineral oils, they should also be avoided as carrier oils.
Diluting Essential Oil with Carrier Oil: For adults who plan to use the mixture everyday, 3-10% dilution is desirable. This is about 3-10 drops in a teaspoon of carrier oil. The strength also largely depends on your skin’s sensitivity. For babies and kids upto 6 years of age, the dilution should be around 0.5% (or 1drop in 2 teaspoons of carrier oil). For your reference, one teaspoon is about 5ml of carrier oil.
Inhaling the oils also allows the blood vessels in the lungs to uptake them and circulate them through the body. The easiest way to do this is to open your bottle of essential oil and take a deep breathe!
However, opening and closing your essential oil bottle will shorten its shelf life. The other ways include:
- Placing 3-5 drops on your pillow or onto a cotton ball and keeping it near your bed
- Else you can also add 10-15 drops to a small amount of salt (or epsom salt) in a wide mouthed container and place that near your bed. This will allow diffused inhalation through the night, or
- Using an Ultrasonic Diffuser allows preserving the medicinal properties of the essential oil. These are lost if these oils are dispersed using heat as done in the typical ceramic diffusers.
Part 2 (Coming soon): Various essential oils and how you can use them to replace your chemically laden skin and hair care range
Precautions while using Essential Oils
You might read or hear that people apply the oil directly to the skin. However, because of their high concentration, some oils might lead to an allergic reaction in certain individuals. Given the rampant use of synthetic oils which are sold in place of essential oils, some brands of these oils may even be toxic if ingested.
Pregnant women should seek advise as to which ones are safe for use during pregnancy. Some essential oils are toxic to pets if ingested and you should use precautions like safe storage of its bottles and containers.
The general guideline of diluting them with carrier oils or using a diffuser to experience their benefits takes care of most of the problems above.
How Many Cells Are In Your Body – http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/23/how-many-cells-are-in-your-body/
Bassett, I. B., Pannowitz, D. L., & Barnetson, R. S. (1990). A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust, 153(8), 455-458
Bernardes W, Lucarini R, Tozatti M, Flauzino L, Souza M, Turatti I, Andrade e Silva M, martins C, da Silva Filho A & Cunha W. (2010). Antibacterial activity of the essential oil from Rosmarinus officinalis and its major components against oral pathogens. Journal of Biosciences; 65(9-10):588-93
Burt, S. A. (2003). Antibacterial activity of selected plant essential oils against Escherichia coli O157:H7. Letters in Applied Microbiology 36, 162-7.
Cappello, G, Spezzaferro, M, Grossi, L, et al. (2007). Peppermint oil (Mintoil) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: A prospective double blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Digestive & Liver Disease, 39(6), 530-536
Saeki, Y. (2000). The effect of foot bath with or without the essential oil of lavender on the autonomic nervous system: A randomized trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 8, 2-7
Price, S. & Price, L. (2007). Aromatherapy for health professionals, 3rd Ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier