Essential oils explained
Essential oils are concentrated, liquid forms of the essence of the plant, herb, fruit, or flower the oil is extracted from. They are collected through a cold-pressing or distillation process using steam or water. The concentrates are combined with a carrier oil, like coconut oil, argan oil, sweet almond oil, or others. These carrier oils are used to protect your skin, as the potent concentrates can often be irritating when applied directly.
Essential oils are known for their wide range of therapeutic and medicinal properties. They’ve been shown to provide relief from headaches and general aches and pain, improve skin conditions, and promote sleep health and a strong digestive system.
Using essential oils
There are several ways to use essential oils, depending on which oil you’re using and what you’re using it for. Different oils affect people (and pets!) in different ways, so consult your healthcare practitioner and veterinarian, if applicable, before beginning to use essential oils.
Here are some of the best ways to use essential oils:
Most commonly, essential oils are used in aromatherapy, where they are diffused in water and the resulting steam is inhaled. It’s believed that inhaling the steam allows the essential oil molecules to travel from the olfactory nerves to the brain. Some oils, such as bergamot, may activate the areas in your brain that control your emotions (like the hypothalamus) and create serotonin, the feel-good chemical.
Inhaling essential oils using a diffuser or humidifier is a great way to begin exploring essential oils. You can also try essential oils by dabbing a cotton ball with just a few drops and inhaling without touching the cotton to your skin.
You can use essential oils for skincare or as a massage aid, but it’s recommended you first try the essential oil on a small patch of skin to test for any potentially adverse effects, like redness or a rash. Wait 24 hours to see if a reaction occurs after applying the oil (diluted with a carrier oil) to your inner forearm, for example. If one does, discontinue topical use of that oil. If you experience no adverse reactions, you can move forward with using the oil topically and focus on pressure points or any areas that are giving you trouble.
You can even add some essential oils, like tea tree oil (a natural antibacterial agent), to your favorite shampoo for a natural dandruff treatment. Tea tree oil has also been shown to topically treat bacterial infections, like athlete’s foot and some acne.
Ingesting essential oils is not recommended, and most people don’t take essential oils by mouth. Because of their potency, ingesting essential oils can irritate your mucous membrane, kidneys, and liver.
Essential oils for sleep
Several essential oils are well-known for their ability to promote sleep and relaxation as well as alleviate symptoms that can keep you from falling and staying asleep.
Lavender essential oil is one of the most popular essential oils on the market. As a sleep aid, several studies have been done on lavender, including a 2015 study that found using lavender essential oil helped college students improve their sleep hygiene.
Scent: Floral, light, and powdery
Just like the tea, chamomile essential oil promotes a soothing feeling upon application or diffusion and has been shown to act as both an anxiety and digestion aid. Many studies have shown just how effective the properties of chamomile essential oil can be.
Scent: Herbal, sweet, and floral
Frankincense oil has been around since the times of pharaohs, and for good reason. This spicy and warm oil works as an anxiety aid and promotes a feeling of relaxation when applied. Frankincense can also be a great addition to your massage routine.
Scent: Spicy, warm, and clean
Ylang ylang essential oil is native to Asian and South Pacific rain forests. It’s an especially fragrant oil, with notes of rose, jasmine, and fruit. Adding drops to a warm bath or diffuser can promote sleep and relieve tension.
Scent: Spicy, rich, and fruity
Native to Europe and Asia, valerian is commonly used to manage sleep disorders, especially insomnia. It’s often used as a sleep aid, so dotting your temples or spritzing your pillow with valerian oil may help you fall and stay sleep. Studies have shown valerian to be one of the most effective essential oils for sleep.
Scent: Smoky, musky, and woody
Neroli essential oil is said to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and relieve stress. It’s also been shown to improve the symptoms of menstruation, which can impact sleep health. Adding drops to a warm compress or bathwater can promote sleep and relieve cramping.
Scent: Herbal, clean, and fruity
While not typically promoted as a sleep aid because of its bright and punchy scent, peppermint can still help you sleep better. Acting as a decongestant, peppermint essential oil can alleviate some breathing issues when inhaled. Combining peppermint oil with a more traditional essential oil for sleep, like lavender, can provide the best of both oils.
Scent: Bright, sharp, and sweet
Cedarwood is reported to be a natural sedative, with research showing it’s a beneficial treatment for insomnia. It’s also been shown to have a soothing effect on mood and can reduce anxiety.
Scent: Woody, earthy, and clean
The bottom line
When used correctly, essential oils can relieve some common problems without having to take over-the-counter medications – but not always. Though inhaling diluted essential oils is the safest way to consume them, it comes with its own set of risks. People with sensitive skin or breathing problems, like asthma, should avoid directly inhaling undiluted essential oils. If you’re looking to begin incorporating essential oils into your routine, be sure to consult with your doctor or healthcare team before starting.
The benefits of essential oils go beyond their amazing smells; many promote sleep, diminish anxiety, relieve stress, and much more. Looking for more ways to incorporate holistic practices into your lifestyle or want to help others do so? IIN has been teaching this way for nearly 30 years – check out our holistic, no-one-size-fits-all approach to wellness and nutrition by reading through our Curriculum Guide today