New to essential oils? You’re about to step into a whole new world! These oils are highly concentrated extracts from plants (seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and more), which have unique and powerful benefits on health and overall wellness. While there’s been a recent surge in their popularity for healing simple illnesses, relaxation, and creating natural cleaning products, they’ve been used for centuries.
In fact, the Ancient Egyptians are renowned for their knowledge and use of essential oils in cosmetics, ointments – and they also played a crucial role in the mummification process. Their most famous herbal preparation is known as Kyphi, which was a spiritual blend of 16 ingredients.
Although essentials oils are natural, they’re potent, and need to be used safely.
Essential oils typically come in small dark coloured bottlesto ensure they don’t oxidise (just like good cooking oils)
They don’t feel greasy or oily – they evaporate very quickly and behave almost like an alcohol.
Usually they’re less dense than water and they’re not water soluble – if you add a few drops to water, you’ll see them float on top.
Many oils need to be diluted so they don’t irritate or burn the skin, and you do this by adding them to a “carrier oil”, which mixes well, and ‘carries’ the essential oils onto the skin.
One of the most common carrier oils is coconut oil, and other popular options are seed, kernel or nut oils, like almond oil, or aloe vera gel.
There are thousands of oils out there, so identifying why you want to use essential oils will whittle it down. Do you just want overall relaxation or help sleeping, or is there a physical problem, and is it chronic or acute? Once you know, our foolproof guide’s here to help.
Quality is key, and you want to buy a pure essential oil. But there’s no such thing as ‘therapeutic grade’ or ‘certified pure’ oils – these are misleading marketing terms, because there’s no regulatory body that scientifically certifies the purity of essential oils.
Because essential oils are incredibly fragrant, many companies use them to scent products – from candles to cosmetics and cleaning products. But because these oils are expensive, companies often use cheap synthetic oils instead, yet they’re still labelled as essential oils (daylight robbery). Sometimes these synthetic oils will be labelled as ‘fragrance oils’ or ‘aroma oils’ so watch out for them, as well as suspiciously cheap oils.
Some reputable companies we recommend (and use ourselves) aredoTERRA, Neal’s Yard Remedies, and Tisserand.
This is an important point when you buy essential oils for therapeutic use. Because they’re highly concentrated plant essences, the effect of any pesticide residue in the oil can be magnified. Companies making high quality oils should have organic certifications – although some essential oils are extracted from wild plants rather than cultivated crops, and therefore organic certification isn’t always possible. But if you go with a trustworthy company, you will be in safe hands.
Essential oils have common names and Latin names (also called scientific names). It’s important to pay attention to the Latin name for a few reasons.
Firstly, different plants can share a common name. An example would be chamomile oil –there’s German chamomile and Roman chamomile, and they’re not even closely related species. Their properties and therapeutic uses are different too, which is reflected in different Latin names.
On the other hand, you can get different oils from different species of the same genus. For example, sweet orange oil comes from Citrus sinensis, while Bitter orange oil is usually derived from citrus aurantium. Likewise, there’s over 250 types of eucalyptus (but only 8 are widely used in aromatherapy). Again, put your trust in the scientific name. Good quality brands will feature the scientific name on the bottle.
While individual oils are potent, together they can deliver even greater benefits. Naturally, there’s a bit more to it than you’d think.
Essential oils are said to work on the mind, body and spirit, and this is where energetics come into play. For example, oils that come from the roots of plants – like ginger and angelica root – are grounding, anchoring and supportive and deal with the first chakra. Whereas oils from the flowers of a plant or tree – like ylang ylang, rose and jasmine – are emotionally supportive and nurturing, and related to the heart chakra.
Energetics aren’t for everyone and you don’t need to understand them to reap the benefits, but it does help to understand the chemistry. Some oils are cooling, while others bring on the heat. For instance, eucalyptus and rosemary contain 1.8 cineole (also known as eucalyptol), which has a cooling effect, and peppermint is high in the chemical menthol which triggers the cold-sensitive TRPM8 receptors in the skin (so much that it has to be treated very carefully and is often avoided with children). At the other end of the scale, oils high in phenols (including oregano, thyme and clove) are known to be hot, and should also be used with caution.
It’s often easier to buy pre-made blends from a company, rather than make them yourself – particularly if you’re just getting started.
Most essential oils are happiest when cool, so it’s best to keep them in your fridge. Many oil (particular citrus) only last for a year, so pay attention to expiration dates to avoid pouring money down the drain. Then there’s application: topical application with gels are the fastest to dermally absorb, but rollerball blends can be great on pulse points. Inhalers are particularly brilliant for dealing with colds and upper respiratory illnesses, due to their direct passage into your lungs and system.
Diffusers are equally great, as they set an ambience and can alter mood and emotion (whether you want to reduce stress, support sleep, or awaken and increase alertness). There are many on the market, and we’d recommend investing in one that uses cool air to create an aromatic vapour – many heat the oils, but this can change the chemical stricture of the oil, potentially affecting its aroma and benefit.
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