Essential Oils: So Much More than an “Aroma” in a Bottle!
Lately I've been hearing a lot about essential oils. This past winter, I overheard a mother saying that her family had been so much healthier since starting on essential oils. A few weeks ago I came across a recipe for tick repellent that called for a few drops of several different essential oils. Finally, in my last blog, I discovered that peppermint oil is added to foot lotion for a specific reason. Essential oils are added to many different products on the market, such as perfumes, skin care products, cleaning products and much more. So what exactly are essential oils and how can these different “aromas” accomplish so many various things?
Essential oils are basically the liquid form of a plant's aroma. So whatever gives a plant its' smell or fragrance is extracted to create essential oils. The use of essential oils is on the rise as alternative medicines, such as aromatherapy become more popular (1). But, essential oils are so much more than an aroma. Many people believe that they can improve your health, such as improve sleep, relaxation, skin and digestion. They can have a healing effect not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well (2). This definitely sounds like something worth looking in to!
Essential oils are generally used in two different ways: applied to the skin or inhaled. Within these three uses are several different application methods. The application method used will depend on the oil being used, the condition being treated and the desired effect (3). Most essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin because the oil is so highly concentrated it can cause a skin reaction or irritation. Instead, essential oils should be added to a “carrier oil” such as coconut oil (for many 'recipes', a 1% concentration is best) or diluted in water before applying to the skin (2). To use in a compress, the oil would be diluted in a medium, such as water, applied to a compress and then applied to the skin. Essential oils can also be used in the bath which combines absorbing the oil through the skin with inhalation of the oil. However, because essential oils are not water-soluble, they require a dispersing medium, such as bath salts so they can be absorbed through the skin. The use of essential oils through inhalation can be accomplished through the use of a diffuser, dry evaporation, steam or spray. A diffuser is a device that evaporates essential oils. In dry evaporation, a cotton ball containing several drops of an essential oil is allowed to evaporate into the air. To use steam, several drops of essential oil are added to a bowl of steaming water, thus vapourizing the oil. Then a towel is placed over your head and the bowl and you inhale deeply, being careful to keep your eyes closed. Only one to two drops is needed as this method is very powerful. To use in a spray, add a few drops of essential oil to a water-based solution and spray into the air to freshen up a room (3).
There are many different essential oils, each with their own specific properties and uses. If you're new to essential oils like me, it is difficult to know where to begin. You may be looking for an alternative to treating a skin problem or maybe you're looking for an essential oil to help boost your mood. Maybe you need help to relax after a stressful day at work or at home. Here is a list of just a few essential oils and their common uses:
Lavender is known as a very versatile oil. It is most commonly know for its' relaxation and calming effects, but can also be used on respiratory and digestive problems, bruises and cuts, as well as skin irritation. Lavender can decrease stress hormones in the blood, be used as pain relief and can be used in insect repellent (4).
Lemon is often used to detox the body because it boosts the immune system, cleanses the body and improves digestion. It is also good for the circulatory system because it reduces blood pressure and helps with blood flow. It is good for the skin and hair and can relieve pain caused by headache, migraines or arthritis (4). Some also find it improves focus and concentration (2). I have seen many people add lemon to their water bottles and maybe it wasn't just for taste, but for some of these other reasons as well. I also find it interesting that it cleanses the body because if you take a look in the cleaning aisle at the grocery store, many cleaners are lemon-scented. So there is obviously an association between lemon and cleanliness.
Eucalyptus oil is often used to combat cold and allergy symptoms. It not only clears congested sinuses, but boosts the immune system as well (4). Eucalyptus can be used to soothe tired, achy muscles and treat several skin ailments such as burns, blisters, cuts and insect bites (5).
Tea tree oils is known as an immuno-stimulant. Simply put, it stimulates the immune system to improve the body's ability to fight infections. People use it to fight all kinds of infections caused by various bacteria, fungi and viruses, such as skin ailments, respiratory infections and even as a treatment for lice (5).
The most popular use for citronella, as you probably already know, is that it is a very effective insect repellent. It works well when used in a spray, a diffuser or dry evaporation (5). I'm quite sure that there are very few patios where you wouldn't find a citronella candle (or even a citronella plant) during mosquito season. (At least you will on my patio...and in my camping trailer!)
Peppermint stimulates the mind and improves mental alertness (4). Peppermint is also good for the digestive system. Now I know why my mom used to give me a peppermint when I complained of a stomach ache!. When used on the skin in lotions, it helps relieve irritation and inflammation, reduces redness, and has a stimulating cooling action which is why peppermint oil is found in foot lotions. Our feet can take a beating after a long day, so peppermint foot lotions are great to rejuvenate and soothe tired, achy feet.
That certainly is a lot of information to digest and it is literally only a small handful of the essential oils currently available on the market. As with anything new, it is important to exercise caution when using essential oils. Because they are so potent, there is definitely a proper way to use them and it's best to either get advice from a professional or do some thorough research before starting a new health regimen. There are some helpful websites that outline the proper concentrations of essential oils for the different applications, as well as some safety precautions to keep in mind when using essential oils (http://www.floracopeia.com/education/how-to-use-essential-oils-effectively/). I will definitely keep essential oils in my mind for the next cold and flu season, especially with three young children in the home. It seemed like every cold and illness ran in circles, jumping from one child to another and then back again this past winter. And I also plan to look into some more natural alternatives for insect repellant. My kids have an intense dislike for bugs, especially mosquitoes. If one gets in the house, they will not rest until mommy has smacked it! We haven't even gone camping yet, but it would be nice to find something that works to keep the bugs away without having to tell your kids to close their eyes and hold their breath while you spray them down. If you have any tips or good “recipes” you've had success with using essential oils, please do share!