Why Should You Use Essential Oils?

Natural oils produced from a diverse range of plant species have a long history of use that stretches back for millennia. The first records of the use of natural plant oils come from ancient India, Persia and Egypt. These uses would range from religious rituals to medicines and perfumery, to covering foul odors and even food flavoring.

The use of plants medicinally has developed in different cultures around the world over thousands of years. The fact that different plants and herbs have an effect on the body and mind was well known to the ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians and Greeks. They were a luxury item, most often reserved for priests and rulers. In Egypt in particular, they were popular for use as cosmetics and one of those most famous users was the Egyptian queen Cleopatra the 16th. Much of Egyptian history might have actually even been lost without the use of natural plant oils. In ancient Egypt the dead were rubbed with cedarwood oil, which has a preservative effect and the same was also done for papyrus scrolls. The Babylonians even used a mixture of myrtle, cedarwood and cyprus to perfume the mortar with which they built their temples.

Herbal medicines of Ancient Egypt & India
Essential oils are the natural plant extract of a variety of plants & herbs.

With respect to use in aromatherapy, India mentioned earlier, was one of the first civilizations to document the use of what we now call essential oil as a medicinal practice going back about 5,000 years ago. One of the oldest books with information on herbal medicines was compiled in India from around the 16th to the 10th century BCE. They are the 4 Vedic texts, and in part they are said to list the various uses of over 400 plants.

Today, there are about 5 main ways that aromatherapy is applied. Aromatherapists who specialize in the practice, through topical application, massage, inhalation or water immersion. It should be noted that there is no good medical evidence that aromatherapy can either prevent, treat or cure any disease. However, aromatherapy tests for cancer patients showed some results in lowering anxiety and depression symptoms. This is often because the aromas of natural plant oils affect the limbic system, which is responsible for controlling and regulating the emotional state.

Before you use it, you no doubt want to know exactly what it is you’re putting on your body. Well, essential oils are to start with, just oils from plants that have been extracted from the roots, flowers, leaves or seeds of plants using a variety of methods. The word “essential” refers to the fact that the oil contains the 100% natural chemicals or the “essence” of the plant. This is fundamentally what they should be. Plant oils are produced by steaming or most often pressing a part of the plant. This could be its flowers, bark, leaves or fruit. For it to qualify as essential oil, it has to be extracted naturally.

Something you have to be wary of, is that many companies that produce plant oils may include chemical dilutants, alcohols or fillers in order to keep the price down. Additives and adulteration of the product could reduce the effectiveness and may be harmful. The best plant oil you could use is all-natural and organic. Only then does it qualify as essential, because it is 100% plant oil extract.

Even if you’re just getting to know about essential oils for the first time, you probably have already used some natural plant extract based substances if you’ve had cold or flu with a bad cough. Menthol vapor rubs contain the plant oils eucalyptus, cedarleaf and nutmeg diluted in petroleum jelly. Maybe when summer rolls around, you also stave off the mosquitoes with tea tree oil.

Here’s how essential oils work in your body. When essential oil vapors are inhaled, the scent molecules in them travel directly to your brain and considerably impact the limbic system. The limbic system helps govern your emotional state and your reactions to memories. The cingulate gyrus connects different areas of the limbic system together. The hypothalamus is one the most important parts of this system because it is the part responsible for forming hormones and thus physiological reactions in the body. So it triggers different responses in the brain, it might stimulate the development of new neurons, stimulate different brain regions, etc.

So for example, if you inhale lavender, it will have a positive effect on your sleep by relaxing your muscles and allowing you to fall asleep easier. This is effected by your limbic system once the vapors are taken in. It may also improve memory, focus, concentration and more.

Essential oils can also be absorbed into the skin because the oil molecules are extremely tiny. They can penetrate the skin through hair follicles, pores and sweat glands. They then travel to capillaries and lymph nodes and are transported through the body by the circulatory system. Essential oils are especially effective on the feet because the pores there are some of the largest on the body.

It is always best to use essential oils that are trusted to be pure and in small doses with some kind of diffuser. You might use candles or a petroleum rub or balm, for example.

If you are going to use natural essential oils, here are some things to keep in mind…

Be Careful Using Essential Oils

Selection of essential oils with various herbs and flowers in the background

Essential oils are highly concentrated, so to safely use them you might need to first dilute them in a carrier oil, such as olive or grape seed oil. A good ratio to follow is no more than 3-5 drops of essential oil per one-teaspoon of carrier oil. If you do decide to use in undiluted form on your skin, be sure to contact a reputable practitioner before doing that.

Use on Mucous Membranes

Everything mentioned about why you shouldn’t use it on skin is amplified even more so on mucous membranes, the tissue that lines sensitive body cavities, like the mouth, the throat or the vaginal tract. These sensitive tissues might receive a burning or inflamed sensation.

Caution With Internal Use

Essential oils aren’t consistently regulated. You shouldn’t use essential oils internally unless you’ve undergone advanced training and certification or are acting under the guidance of a trained professional. As such, you will want to avoid oral ingestion.

Caution for People with Fair Skin

Some citrus-based essential oils are phototoxic, meaning they can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This may cause you to get more severe sunburns. Avoid using citrus-based essential oils if you’re planning to spend a lot of time out in the sun, and are already at risk of sunburn.

If You Have Allergies

If you have a hard time tolerating fragrances, you’ll want to show caution and discernment. Some who are allergic to synthetic fragrances may sometimes find that they can tolerate essential oils. Synthetic oils are full of additives that could irritate the respiratory system. By contrast, our bodies are used to naturally occurring substances found in pure plant extract, but still you’ll want to be careful with even that. If the source plant is something you have an allergy to then skip that altogether.

If You’re Pregnant

You want to be careful to absolutely not take them internally during pregnancy. There is no regulatory body for this market and so it is recommended you buy from a vendor with a history of selling pure essential oils. Before using, ask your doctor if essential oils for pregnancy are right for you, and if they have any recommendations. You should also as well consult an aromatherapist before using during pregnancy, because there are some that can cause complications, like uterine contractions or because experts aren’t sure about how it may affect the fetus. If you’re pregnant, you definitely want good quality essential oils that are certified to be pure and expert guidance with your doctor and a qualified aromatherapist. Then you can find the use of natural plant oils that is just right for you. You can find essential oils that relieve nausea and improve sleep.

Here’s a list of some of those oils that are pregnancy-safe.

  • Treats morning sickness and nausea
  • Cardamom

Lowers blood pressure, improves breathing and aids in weight loss. Fights bacteria and is good for your liver.

  • Ginger

Increases serotonin and dopamine levels, reducing depression and anxiety, and treats digestion and improves function of immune system.

  • Promotes calm, relaxation and a good night’s sleep
  • Frankincense

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce arthritis. These same properties can also improve gut function. Frankincense also has compounds that suppress leukotrienes, which trigger asthma attacks and coughing fits in your body.

  • German or Roman Chamomile

Chamomile is good for the digestive tract. It reduces stress and alleviates anxiety. Chamomile tea is good for inducing sleep as it has a mild sedative effect.

  • Lavender

Lavender oil will help to treat pre-menstrual tension, using lavender oil can significantly reduce the symptoms associated with PMT. It can also reduce anxiety and improve your sleep quality. It also can alleviate mild to moderate pain symptoms.

  • Neroli

It’s true botanical name is Citrus aurantium because it is derived from the blossoms of an Orange tree. As such, it is also known simply as Orange Blossom oil. it has a rich, floral scent and is often used in perfumes. It has a soothing effect on mood, treating symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is often used on skin as it has antimircobial, antifungal and antioxidant properties.

  • Petitgrain

This is a natural oil derived from the bitter orange tree. It carries a fresh, floral aroma. It has a great ability to promote relaxation in people.

  • Rose or Rosewood

This oil has anti-infectious properties for treating bacteria, viruses and fungi. Rosewood oil is also known to boost libido in women.

  • Can help uplift your mood
  • Geranium

Geranium has antioxidant properties and its astringent properties may help reduce signs of aging.

  • Lemon

Lemon oil can lift mood and calm anxiety. When applied to skin, it has both antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial effects. Pregnant women who inhale lemon oil are shown to have a significant decrease in nausea, and less frequent and less intense vomiting.

  • Patchouli

Has the ability to treat acne, dermatitis and dry, cracked skin. It also has pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. Due to it’s anti-inflammatory benefits, it has been noted to aid in pain relief.

  • Sandalwood

Sandalwood oil comes from the wood and roots of Santalum album, or the East Indian sandalwood tree. It has been used for ages to calm the mind and relieve anxiety. It also is an anti-inflammatory that supports wound-healing and fights bacteria. A compound found within sandalwood, called a-santalol, may even help fight skin cancer by promoting the death of cancerous cells.

  • Wild Orange

Wild Orange oil has a strong, sweet citrus scent. It has antibacterial properties so that it can even be used as an all-natural, organic cleaner or detergent. The oil is also digestible and can be added to foods. Wild Orange oil can assist with viruses, eliminate toxins from the body and improve the lymphatic and immune systems.

Start with a small amount (about 1 drop) diluted in a carrier oil, there are usually vegetable-based oils for this; such as grapeseed oil or almond oil. Grapeseed oil has a light texture, it leaves little residue on skin and it has wound-healing properties. Almond oil has vitamin E, moisturizing properties, and can protect your skin from UV damage. It’s important you keep the amount low. Let’s put it into perspective; one drop of pure peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea. So it’s very potent. Put that on a cotton ball or tissue and gently breathe in, to gage your tolerance. Pregnancy can heighten sensitivity to smell which may make some essential oil scents overwhelming.

Remember to consult with your doctor and a qualified aromatherapist with questions or concerns. Find dedicated suppliers and producers of essential oils. When you go to the drugstore or herbal store, ask if what you’re buying uses synthetic fillers in place of real plants.

Now that we’ve explored some of the basics, we can get into more detail about how to start using essential oils with some more fleshed-out safety info. In an upcoming article I’ll give you a rundown of what are some of the top 12 essential oils that are most popular on the market and their benefits.