We had a great turnout for the Media Library’s Essential Oil 101 overview last week. Thanks to all who braved the weather. For those who missed it, I’ll be doing another program there after the holidays. In the interim, please contact me for a personal overview and consultation. In this post, I’ll review some of the most frequently asked questions and select pictures.
What are Essential Oils (EOs) and how are they made? Essential oils are volatile liquids, which rapidly evaporate in the form of vapor. They are extracted from plants (including the leaves, roots, bark, seed, fruits, flowers and trees). The process begins by planting high quality plants in nutrient dense organic soil native to their natural environment. The plants should be harvested when their healing compounds are most available. EOs are created through two different processes. The “steam distillation” process separates the oil and water based compounds of a plant. Oils made by “cold expression” are extracted through mechanical pressure which “presses” the oils out of the plant material. The cold press method is most commonly used in the making of citrus oils. Finally, the oils should be bottled in dark glass containers to protect from oxidation and sunlight.
How can I choose quality oil? Since EOs are a wholly natural product, they cannot be patented. This means the essential oils market is totally unregulated. Importantly, not all essential oils are created equally. Synthetic or altered oils are considered the lowest grade of oil and are created in a laboratory. Natural and “pure” oils are the most common type found in the market, but they are still overly processed, so they lose their healing properties. Wellness grade essential oils are steam distilled; however, they may or may not have been sprayed with pesticides. Certified therapeutic grade (CTG) oils are medicinal-grade and are the highest grade of essential oils with greatest healing properties. When purchasing EOs, consider buying therapeutic grade, organic oils whenever possible. These products should also require third party testing, which ensures the highest quality. The CTG oils are the only ones I feel are safe for internal ingestion.
Are essential oils studied for their therapeutic use? In the scientific literature, there are thousands of studies referencing the therapeutic effects of essential oils. A simple search on PubMed reveals that EOs are being used studied for use in everything from peppermint oil in irritable bowel syndrome and headaches, oregano for infections, vetiver in ADHD and frankincense (i.e. Boswalia) in cancer. Combinations of lavender and rosemary have been shown to affect cognition and mood. Even hospitals like Vanderbilt University have studied oils for their use in the treatment of anxiety, depression and infections in hospitalized patients.
How long have EOs been around? EOs have been used for thousands of years. The Egyptians are credited with being the first to use oils like frankincense, myrrh, cedarwood, juniper, and coriander. Other early adopters include China, Greece, Rome, Israel, Arabia and Europe. What is the relation of EOs to Aromatherapy? Aromatherapy uses plants, plant essential oils and other aromatic compounds to change mood and wellbeing. Lavender, peppermint, grapefruit, chamomile, lemon, ylang-ylang can improve mood and are commonly used for things like massage.
Are there any safety concerns for using EOs? EOs are very concentrated oils. To put into perspective, it takes 150 pounds of lavender plants to make 1 pound of EOs. As a general rule, a little goes a long way. They are generally safe, but can produce skin reactions for some with sensitive skin. I recommend applying 1-2 drops of EO to a patch of skin such as the forearm. Observe that area of skin over the course of 1-2 hours for any noticeable reaction; usually reactions occur within 5-10 minutes. If you experience a hot or burning sensation or if you develop a rash, add a “carrier” oil like coconut, jojoba, olive or grapeseed oil to the site. Never use water, as it can add to the discomfort. It’s especially important to dilute “hot” oils, like cinnamon, clove, lemongrass, peppermint, oregano, thyme, which could be irritating to skin. Simply combine them with a carrier oil. Some oils are generally recognized as safe to use undiluted and include lavender, German chamomile, tea tree, sandalwood, and rose geranium. Additionally, for infants and children, I always suggest dilution of oils. Use 1 drop of oil in a tablespoon or more of carrier oil for infants and children. If you are pregnant, always consult with your physician before using any oil. Aniseed, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, ginger, jasmine, lemon, nutmeg, rosemary, sage should be avoided, especially in the first trimester. For more safety information, the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy houses a comprehensive database of injury reports for essential oils.
What are some easy ways to start using EOs at home? There are 3 easy ways to get started using EOs: using topically, inhaling or diffusing and ingesting.
1. My favorite way is to put a few drops of an oil or a blend in a diffuser and inhale the oils. A diffuser disperses essential oils in the air in your home or office, allowing you and your family to easily inhale the oils (for immune boosting, stress relief, etc.) and naturally and effectively disinfect the air.
2. Additionally, EOs are well absorbed through the skin and can be used topically. Because EOs are super-concentrated as noted above, it’s usually best to mix 1-2 drops of a concentrated EO with a “carrier” oil like coconut, olive, jojoba or grapeseed oil. This combination makes the skin less likely to react, but the oil’s effectiveness won’t be diluted. The oils can be applied to the back of the neck, wrists, bottom of the feet or behind the ears, where the oils can be easily absorbed.
3. I only recommend ingesting oils, when you can find a certified therapeutic grade of oils. Do not take essential oils wintergreen and eucalyptus internally. A drop or two of high quality lemon or orange in a glass of water can refresh and detoxify the body. A drop of peppermint in a glass of water can settle an upset stomach.
What are your “go-to “ EOs?
- I love diffusing a combination of lemon, lavender and peppermint (3 drops each). It lightens the air and is very refreshing.
- Peppermint is good for mental alertness, headaches, fever and digestion.
- Orange can improve mood, decrease anxiety, and purifies the air.
- Melaleuca (tea tree) can be helpful for acne and hair care (dandruff), and in cleaning products.
- Lavender is great for minor burns and cuts, for anxiety, sleep, and relaxation.
- Lemon is known for lifting moods, as an antibacterial in cleaning products, or in skincare products for oily skin.
- Frankincense provides natural immune support, spiritual awareness, and is beneficial for skin.
- Clary sage is helpful for irritability during premenstrual syndrome.
Where can we find out more about you and essential oils? For more information on where to find quality essential oils, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
What are your favorite resources?
Aromatic Science. Accessed at: http://www.aromaticscience.com/ Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy.
Accessed at: http://www.atlanticinstitute.com/injury-report-2014
Modern Essentials: A Contemporary Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils. 6th ed. By AromaTools, 2014.
Modern Essentials app
Disclaimer: This information should not be treated as advice. The medical information in this article is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied. This information is not intended to be patient education. The information does not create any patient-physician or patient-pharmacist relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. You should consult your doctor or other healthcare provider if you have any specific medical questions.