Believe it or not, people have used essential oils for thousands of years.
Different cultures have used essential oils to heal wounds, soothe sunburns, relieve pain, prevent infection, and more!
But, do essential oils actually work?
In this post, we’ll review the facts around the essential oil trend and discuss potential benefits and uses.
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Essential Oils 101: Facts, Benefits, and Uses
What Are Essential Oils?
Despite the name, essential oils are not “essential” for optimal health. Rather, they are called “essential” because they contain the essence of a particular plant.
Basically, essential oils are concentrated extracts of plant sources. If you’re wondering how concentrated these oils are, then picture this: 220 pounds of lavender flowers are required to make 1 pound of lavender oil (1). That’s bananas! No wonder they can be so dang expensive, #amiright?!
The extracts can come from the plant’s flowers, roots, fruits, or leaves. Essential oils often come in small vial sized bottles with a squeezable dropper. Because they are so concentrated, you only need to use a small amount, usually ranging between 2 and 20 drops.
How to Use Essential Oils
You can use essential oils in three main ways: diffusion, topical, and household.
Diffusion is a way to disperse essential oil molecules into the air to reap the benefits of aromatherapy. You can do this by mixing water and 5-10 drops of essential oil into a diffuser. The diffuser will turn the water into a mist. That light scent and mist wafts and allows you to breathe in the wonderful benefits.
You can also apply essential oils to your skin. But, here’s the catch: most essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin.
Rather, you will want to use a “carrier oil” as a way to protect your skin when using essential oils topically. Common carrier oils include olive oil, jojoba, avocado oil, and grapeseed oil. But don’t worry! Using a carrier oil won’t reduce the effectiveness of the essential oil. Carrier oils actually reduce waste because just a few drops of essential oil will go a long way.
You can also use essential oils to make safer household cleaning products. Many people use these oils as a natural deodorizer, dish soap, all-purpose cleaner and more!
Essential Oil Benefits
Ok, let’s answer the question that everything is thinking 😉. Are essential oils a scam? Are there any proven benefits or uses?
First of all, researchers think that essential oils work by binding to the receptors of your olfactory bulb – the part of your brain that analyzes scents and then tells your brain what to do (2). On the other hand, topical use of essential oils may have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and pain relieving benefits.
While many people report numerous benefits for essential oils, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research yet to back up many of these claims. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any benefits to them! We scoured the research and found that there are three main proven benefits for essential oils.
Essential Oils for Anxiety
One of the most well-known essential oil benefits is their ability to reduce anxiety. Many specific oils have calming, hypnotic, and anti-anxiety effects.
The best essential oils for anxiety include lavender, chamomile, vetiver, and rose oil (3-6).
Essential Oils for Sleep
Sleep affects everything from your metabolism, sugar cravings, fat loss, and risk of chronic disease. But unfortunately, today’s society tends to undervalue sleep. In fact, only 1 in 3 adults get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, and just 10 percent of adults rank sleep as a top health priority (7, 8).
Fortunately, if you have trouble getting adequate sleep, essential oils may be a helpful alternative therapy. Studies show that inhaling essential oils (usually by using a diffuser) can be an effective and safe therapy for people with mild sleep disturbances (9).
The most common and effective essential oil for sleep is lavender oil.
Reducing Toxic Exposure
Many household cleaners are full of dangerous ingredients that may be harmful to your health.
Luckily, some essential oils contain natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that make them a safe alternative to common household cleaners. The best essential oils for household products include lemon oil, tea tree, cinnamon, and orange oil.
Simple All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe:
For a natural all-purpose cleaner using essential oils, mix together:
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 15 drops lemon oil
- 15 drops orange oil
Mix all ingredients into a spray bottle (choose glass over plastic, if possible) and shake well. Warning: many experts recommend against using vinegar-based solutions on granite as it may erode the stone.
Are They Safe?
Even though essential oils are derived from plants, this doesn’t guarantee that every extract is safe.
Essential oils may cause rashes, allergic reactions, discomfort, and more. Plus, since oils are generally not regulated, it may be difficult to know the exact ingredients of the particular brand or oil.
Before using essential oils on your skin, try a patch test. To do this, simply mix 1-2 drops of essential oil with a carrier oil and rub into a small area of your skin. Wait 1-2 days and monitor for any reaction.
In general, most experts recommend against eating/drinking essential oils.
Finding High-Quality Essential Oils
There are lots of essential oil brands on the market. But, how can you know which one is best?
Here are a few tips to help you find high-quality essential oils:
- The bottle should list the scientific (botanical) name of the plant used.
- Choose organic varieties to avoid exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides.
- The glass bottle should be dark amber or dark blue to preserve the essential oil’s properties.
- The company should provide transparent information about how they test their oils for purity.
Although we need more research, essential oils seem to be a safe and alternative option for helping anxiety, promoting better sleep, and reducing toxic exposure through household products.
Do you use essential oils in your home? Leave a comment below to share your experience!