What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are concentrated liquids from plants that contain volatile aroma compounds. They are most commonly used in aromatherapy and consist entirely of botanical matter. Essential oils may also be referred to as volatile oils or ethereal oils. Similar to herbs, essential oils have many uses that include aromatherapy, pharmacology, food flavoring and perfumery.

Botanical oils should always be used with caution since they do carry potential dangers. Natural products are often healthy, but they must still be adequately dosed. Too much can be toxic to our delicate bodies. When experimenting with a new oil or trying essential oils for the first time, it’s important to carefully follow the directions.

How are Essential Oils Made?

Essential oils are extracted from the plant by a process called distillation. The plant is cooked with steam so that it breaks down and releases the oils. The steam is cooled and then the water and oil are separated from each other. The oil is also filtered through to ensure its purity.

Distillation is the most popular use for extracting oils since it’s easy and effective, but there are other methods that can be used as well. Sometimes, essential oils can be extracted just by pressing on the plant. For instance, grapes, oranges and lemons have strong smelling juices that can be extracted by pressing on the fruits.

Uses for Essential Oils

Botanical oils have many uses because of their fresh and abundant aromas. They are most commonly used in perfumes, cosmetics, cleaning products and soaps. They may also be added to foods and drinks thanks to their flavoring properties. We’ve learned from historic textbooks that essential oils were used for medicinal purposes, primarily to treat skin conditions and certain diseases. In modern times, chemically based medicines have proven to be effective in treating these conditions, and evidence-based research shows no proof that essential oils are effective from a medical standpoint.

Still, essential oils have been drawing in more attention for their ability to act as an alternative medicine. While we recognize that an essential oil wouldn’t be effective at treating an infection or curing cancer, botanical oils may manage symptoms like anxiety and stress, lowering the risk of certain health conditions. Additionally, essential oils used in massage and aromatherapy can have curative effects on the total health and wellbeing of our bodies.

Even though there may be some uncertainty regarding the healing effects of botanical oils, we can be certain that these oils are much better for our bodies than chemically based products. Using oil-based products may prevent certain cancers and health conditions, so in a way, they can be part of a preventative lifestyle.

For instance, traditional cleaning products contain harsh chemicals that have been linked to various health conditions and especially dangerous for those with allergies and asthma. Thymol is an essential oil that is contained in all-natural cleaning products, and this ingredient is safe yet provides the same disinfectant properties as harsher ingredients. What would you choose for your own home?

The bottom line is this: while we have yet to uncover all there is to know about essential oils, choosing products that are oil based rather than chemically based are better for the environment, our health and our well-being.

essential oils

Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy deserves its own spotlight since essential oils are the core of this alternative therapy. Aromatherapy uses volatile plant materials to alter the person’s mind, mood and health. It’s true that there is limited research that supports essential oils from a medical standpoint, but research does show that these oils may have benefits in a therapeutic setting.

For those that truly believe in the power of these oils, great things can follow an aromatherapy session, especially when coupled with a massage. People have stated that botanical oils reduce anxiety, enhance energy and aid in short-term memory. Others have attested to essential oils’ ability to help with skin conditions, hair loss prevention and relaxation.

To the many people who are comforted, relaxed and perhaps even relieved of various symptoms, scientific research doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that something simple and natural can lead to improved health and cognitive functioning.

Still, we must wonder what it is about essential oils that give them their healing effects, even if these effects can’t be measured in scientific analyses.

Why Essential Oils May Have Curative Effects

When looking at the structure of botanical oils, we can understand how these substances can aid in natural healing. First, the aromas that are released from the oils go through the olfactory system and work on the limbic system.

The limbic system is responsible for controlling our emotional responses; therefore, the soothing, calming scents produced by the oils have the same effects on the brain.

When the brain is more relaxed, it means that we have a better state of mind. Obviously, with more relaxation comes less stress, anxiety and depression.

We may approach an old problem in a new way, register pain differently or develop an improved sleep pattern, all of which alleviate depression and anxiety. Second, there may indeed be pharmacological effects of essential oils, even though our understanding of the connection between the body and aromatic oils has yet to be measured by conventional science and medicine.

Buying Essential Oils

If you decide that botanical oils may help improve your health and well-being, your next step will be purchasing the oils.

Essential oils are sold in small bottles that are 5ml, 10ml or 15ml in size. When purchasing an essential oil, it should be used in the first few months since the solution will start to oxidize is six months or so. When oxidization occurs, the oil starts to lose its aroma and healing effects.

There are some oils that contradict this in fact, as botanical oils like patchouli and sandalwood actually mature with age.

It’s best that all oils are stored in amber or cobalt blue bottles, as these dark bottles help filter out sunlight that can break down the structure of the oil. Glass is always the best material for the bottle, but essential oils can also be sold in aluminum-lined bottles. Plastic bottles are not ideal since the oils will eat away at the plastic.

You may purchase essential oils in one kind or as a blend depending on what you plan to use the oils for. Blends can be a good option since you save yourself money from having to buy several separate oils. However, with oil blends, you have no control over how much of which oils are placed into the concoction.

The price of essential oils varies greatly because of the quality of the oil. Factors that affect the quality of aromatic oils include the country of origin, the climate and growing conditions, the quality standards of the distiller and how much oil was produced. As with other products, it’s best to find a brand that you like and trust for your essential oil purchases.

How to Use Essential Oils

Essential oils are used in a variety of ways, but not all can be used in the same manner. For instance, oils are very popular in massage and aromatherapy, but only some can be applied directly to the skin. Lavender and tea tree oil are often safe to put directly on the skin while other oils will need ‘carrier oils’ to dilute them.

Reading labels is important in this context, and it’s always best to try the oils on a small area on the skin to ensure it doesn’t cause an allergic reaction.

Another way that aromatic oils can be used is through inhalation. Done carefully, the oils can provide therapeutic benefits as the oil molecules enter the lungs and are absorbed into the bloodstream. There are also certain oils that can be taken in a pill form, but this should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

These pills can be taken orally or as a suppository, but like all medications, they do have side effects and should never be taken without the consent of a doctor.

Essential oils are intriguing; they have been around for a very long time yet we still know so little about them. When used appropriately, botanical oils have natural effects on the body that can boost energy, reduce anxiety and combat fatigue without having to put any additional chemicals into the body.

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