A Crash Course on Essential Oils

What are essential oils? Essential oils are different parts of plants, such as leaves, herbs, barks and rinds that have been concentrated into oils. They may be added to vegetable oils, creams or bath gels for a variety of purposes. Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, a type of alternative medicinal practice, and are often used to positively affect mood and emotion.

Where can one purchase essential oils? Essential oils can be found at your local shopping center, such as Walmart, drugstores like Walgreens, or natural food and supplement stores. Before purchasing, however, check the quality of the oils. Make sure you are buying from a trusted producer, avoiding labels like “pure” because they may cause allergic reactions that may cause hives, rashes, or breathing problems. However, certain more expensive oils may contain added vegetable oil, and this is perfectly normal. If you have any concerns, you may want to check with your doctor to make sure you aren’t allergic to any of the included plants, or that the oils will not affect any current prescribed medication.

How do you apply essential oils? First, it’s important to remember that you can’t just use them anywhere. Oils that are fine to rub on your skin – for example lemongrass, peppermint or cinnamon – may not be safe to put inside your mouth, nose, or eyes. Check to make sure if the oil you are planning on using is labeled “edible” or not. Putting edible oils like cumin or citrus oils on your skin can be bad for your skin, and can cause blisters. You also want to avoid ingesting non-edible oils. For example, eucalyptus or sage oil, which can be soothing by ingestion or absorption into your skin, can cause serious health complications if consumed.

Also consider age and other conditions, like pregnancy, before applying. Younger children and the elderly are more sensitive, and oils applied to them may need to be further dilated. For kids, avoid ingredients like birch and wintergreen, and check with a trusted pediatrician for using essential oils on babies. If you are pregnant, avoid wormwood, rue, oak moss, parsley seed, and sage. Again, ask your doctor if you are unsure.

There are a variety of methods to apply these oils; inhalation, digestion, or absorption into your skin. If you are going to rub or massage an oil into your skin, it’s important to remember a few things. First, don’t use the oils on damaged skin, as applying to injured or inflamed skin may cause unwanted skin reactions. It’s always better to test essential oils in small amounts on a small area, to see how your skin reacts.

One method of using essential oils is digestion. As stated before, make sure the oils you are planning on using are labeled edible before using. The most common oil used this way is a drop of tea tree oil added to a glass of water for a sore throat or discomfort. This can then be gargled, but be sure not to swallow it! Mix the drops of oil with water, gargle the solution, and spit it out.

Another method is in bath gels or salts. Drops of essential oils, such as lavender, are added to bath water in a dispersant immediately before stepping in. This method results in absorption through the skin, as well as inhalation of the volatilized essential oil. A few tablespoons of full cream milk can be used for a dispersant.

The third common method of use is inhalation. For this, there are a variety of options including a store-bought diffuser, drops applied to a bowl of steaming water, or placed in a water-based solution and sprayed. The final method, a solution of water and your favorite essential oil, can also be used as a yoga mat cleaner.

In general, essential oils don’t keep for more than three years. Exposure to oxygen can spoil older oils, which should then be tossed out, as spoiled oils could stop working or irritate your skin. If you experience a change in appearance, feel or smell, it’s probably time to throw out your essential oils.

Remember to use responsibly – don’t overuse your essential oils. Also, store them safely, especially if you have younger children. Keep all essential oils locked out of the child’s sight and reach. They may cause serious health problems if used in the wrong dose or in the wrong way.

Essential oils can be used to reduce stress, affect mood, and help you feel better emotionally or physically with few side effects. For example, ginger tree vapors can help you feel less nauseated from chemotherapy cancer treatment and tea tree oil can help to fight certain bacterial or fungal infections. As long as they are used correctly, with help from a trusted doctor if needed, you can be well on your way to a more relaxing and enlightened life.