Essential Oils Basics
What are Essential Oils? Why should we use them? Which body systems do they support? How do they work?
ESSENTIAL OILS ARE NATURAL AROMATIC COMPOUNDS FOUND IN THE SEEDS, BARK, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants. They can be both beautifully and powerfully fragrant. If you have ever enjoyed the gift of a rose, a walk by a field of lavender, or the smell of freshly cut mint, you have experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. Essential oils can lift the mood, calm the senses and elicit powerful emotional responses. Yet the use of essential oils goes well beyond the fragrant appeal.
Essential oils have been used throughout history in many cultures for their therapeutic benefits. Essential Oils work on a cellular level, supporting our body systems when applied topically, aromatically, or ingested (please always follow label instructions of each individual essential oil). Modern trends towards more holistic approaches to self care are driving a rediscovery of the profound wellness benefits of essential oils.
Therapeutic grade essential oils are most often extracted via a low-heat steam distillation process in which steam is circulated under pressure through plant material liberating the essential oils into the steam. As the steam mixture cools, the water and oils are separated and the oil is collected in its pure form. To ensure the highest quality oil extract of correct chemical composition, temperature and pressure must be monitored very closely. Too little heat and pressure will not release valuable oil, while too much can fracture an extract’s delicate chemical composition and alter its potency. Equally important to the carefully controlled extraction process, the meticulous selection of correct plant species and plant parts, harvested at the perfect moment when their essential oil compounds are most concentrated, is also required for a quality therapeutic grade essential oil extract. This complex process is as much an art form as it is a science and requires experienced growers and distillers working together to ensure a superior product.
Essential Oils & Your Body Systems
The chart below lists single essential oils and essential oil blends, indicating which body systems they primarily support. It does not list every system that could possibly be supported.
Click on any Essential Oil listed below to read more details.
How do they work?
Essential oils are used to support the body bringing back into balance what has been out of balance physically or emotionally. They can be used singly or in complex blends depending on user experience and desired benefit. Essential oils are usually administered by one of three methods: diffused aromatically, applied topically to the skin, or taken internally as dietary supplements (only use oils approved for internal use – contact me to find out which oils I’m using).
Essential oils are naturally safe and have few, if any, undesirable side effects when used as directed. They are, however, powerfully concentrated and should be used with care. Be sure to use only 100% pure therapeutic-grade essential oils and follow all label warnings and instructions. Essential oils should never be used in the eyes or inside the ear canal. If redness or irritation occurs when using essential oils topically, simply apply a vegetable oil such as fractionated coconut oil to the affected area—water will not dilute essential oils. Consult your physician before using essential oils if you are pregnant or under a doctor’s care.
How do you use Essential Oils?
There are three main applications of essential oils:
- Oral / As Dietary Supplement
Aromatic Use of Essential Oils
Aromatic use of essential oils can support focus, memory, moods and emotions, hormonal balance, the respiratory system, the immune system, the endocrine system, skin and hair, and help purify and cleanse the air.
Aromatic Use with a Diffuser
There are two types of diffusers which are best to use with essential oils, a nebulizing diffuser and ultrasonic diffuser. A nebulizing diffuser breaks down the essential oil into tiny particles through the use of a high velocity, pressurized air stream and jet nozzle. When the essential oil is released, it goes into the air in a fine mist. This method does not alter the chemical composition—it diffuses the entire oil at once so you don’t get the more volatile components first and then the heavier later. The particle size is small enough to be easily inhaled. Nebulizing diffusers work without heat or water. An ultrasonic diffuser uses water but no heat. The diffuser uses electronic frequencies to create a fine mist from the essential oil and water. Ultrasonic vibrations are created by a small disk under the surface of the water which causes the essential oil to break up into tiny micro particles which are small enough to be inhaled.
Things to consider: room size (different diffusers fill certain sizes of air space); automatic shut-off feature; length of running time (some diffusers run only for 2 hours others up to 10 hours; if you want your diffuser to support you during the night get an 8 hour diffuser ); intermittent settings (diffuser does not run continously but turns on and off in intervals – preferable feature when diffusing oils around children, pets and elderly);
Usage Tips: Nebulizing diffuser add 10-15 drops. Ultrasonic diffuser add 2-4 drops. You can use just a single oil, combine a selection of oils, or use a pre-made blend. Place your diffuser in your living room, bedroom, kitchen, office or any place where you spend time. Your body will benefit from breathing in the essential oils. Using a diffuser in the bathroom in the mornings can help you wake up your senses and set the tone for the day. You can even get a car diffuser that plugs into your USB adapter to make your rides to and from work more enjoyable. Add a motivating essential oil in the morning and a stress reducing essential oil on the way home. The car diffuser also works well plugged into your computer, to benefit from aromatherapy while working in an office environment where you can’t place an ultrasonic or nebulizing diffuser.
Aromatic Use from the Bottle
Open the bottle of essential oil, hold about 2 inches from your nose and inhale directly from the bottle.
Aromatic Use from Your Hands
Add 1-2 drops to the palms of your hands, rub together to create a little heat, cup about 6 inches from your face, close your eyes and breathe through mouth and nose. Very beneficial to reduce feelings of stress, calm emotions, uplift spirits, and support the sinuses and respiratory system. I love using the 4-count breathing method: breathe in counting to 4, hold breath counting to 4, breathe out counting to 4 – repeat 3 times, then breathe normally. Repeat this sequence as needed to calm emotions.
Other Aromatic Use Tips
Inhaler: Make your own inhaler for on-the-go. Here is a link to where you can get refillable inhalers. Put 12-14 drops of essential oil into the cap of the essential oil bottle, stick the wick into it on both sides letting the wick absorb all the essential oil. Here is how they look like.
Cotton Balls: Add 1-2 drops to cotton ball and place next to your computer or desk where you work.
Room Spritz: Create a spritz with distilled water and a few drops of essential oil and mist pillow before bed time, mist yourself, spray in the kitchen or bathroom, mist dog bed to neutralize smells or support restful sleep. Mist sneakers, soccer cleats and other sports items to purify air.
Topical Use of Essential Oils
Most therapeutic grade essential oils can be applied topically. Always follow label instructions of your essential oils and familiarize yourself with recommended dilution ratios.
One of the best places to apply an essential oil topically is to the bottom of the feet. There you have the largest pores and also your skin isn’t as sensitive. The essential oil will be absorbed quickly and enters your blood stream within 30 seconds. Within about 30 minutes, many essential oils will reach their destination cells in your body. People also apply essential oils along the spine and energy meridians, neck and temples, pressure and reflex points, and locally to sore muscles, achy joints, on the abdomen, or directly to the skin where it’s irritated. Please make sure to dilute essential oils when recommended and apply with care. Keep away from sensitive body parts, genitals, eyes, ears, nose and open wounds.
Hot Essential Oils
Some essential oils are considered “hot”. Those essential oils should never be applied neat to the skin. Especially for people with sensitive skin, young children, and babies always follow proper instructions on diluting with a carrier oil. Some good carrier oils include fractionated coconut oil, almond oil, aloe vera oil, and jojoba oil (see below for more carrier options). I often get the question, “What is fractionated coconut oil?“. It is as the name indicates a fraction of coconut oil. A good brief explanation is that it is coconut oil where the long chain Triglycerides have been removed making the coconut oil non-greasy, a thin liquid which can be quickly absorbed by the skin, has no odor, and most important it doesn’t alter the chemical composition of the essential oil you are using.
Here is a list of some essential oils that are considered “hot” and should always be diluted:
Tip: To be on the safe side, always perform a small skin test on the inside of your forearm before applying a new essential oil topically.
The Pathway of Topical Use
Sometimes I get the question, “Can I get the full benefit from using essential oils just topically? I don’t like to ingest them.”
Here is my explanation of what happens in the body when we apply an essential oil to the skin:
When an essential oil is applied to the skin, there is dermal absorption through the layers of the skin, from there it goes into the muscle tissue and into the blood stream, reaches joints and the intestines. The blood circulates throughout the entire body, so they also reach the heart, brain, other body tissues and other organs including the liver and pancreas. EOs will be excreted through the skin, kidneys and lungs. They are not stored in our body and only affect the body systems and cells that the particular oil or blend supports to restore balance to. The closer you apply the oil on the skin to an organ, muscle or joint you want to affect, the better. For instance applying a digestive blend to the stomach area when you have an upset stomach. We can receive the full benefits of essential oils without ingesting them. The only areas where they can be more effective, or effective quicker when used internally, is when addressing issues inside the mouth, inside the esophagus, and inside the intestines, i.e. support eliminating parasites. Read more about internal use here.
Benefits of Topical Use
- works fast
- localized, systemic effects
- benefits autonomic balance
- supports the immune system
- soothes the skin
- soothing and comforting to emotions/moods
- reduces feelings of stress
- can enhance the benefits of a massage
Carrier Oils, Lotions, Butters
Here is a list of my favorite carrier oils, butters and lotions:
- fractionated coconut oil (non-greasy, absorbs completely, no sticky residue, no odor)
- coconut oil (best if diluted with other carrier oils, great support for the skin, coconut scent)
- jojoba oil (balancing to hair and skin, nourishing and regenerative properties, rich in antioxidants)
- almond oil (moisturizing for the skin, soft, non-greasy)
- avocado oil (rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids, very soothing to the skin, blends well with almond oil)
- carrot seed oil (balances moisture in the skin, regenerative properties, also great for hair)
- flaxseed oil (high in fatty acids, rich in Vitamin B and E, regenerative properties, heavy scent, blend with other carrier oil)
- cocoa butter (rich, creamy,high in polyphenols, vitamins and minerals, balances the skin, blend with other carrier oil)
- unscented lotion
Do not use mineral oils or petroleum jelly and make sure to stay away from almond oil if you have a nut allergy or sensitivity.
Phototoxic Essential Oils
Some essential oils contain furocoumarins, a special class of constituent that can cause photosensitization of the skin. When applied topically, the following essential oils could be “phototoxic” or cause “sun sensitivity”:
Angelica Root, Bergamot, Cumin, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Tangerine, Wild Orange, Opoponox, Verbana
Avoidance of sunlight is recommended for up to 12 hours after topical use (this includes tanning beds).
Recommended Dilution Ratios for Topical Use
1% dilution = 1 drop of essential oil in 1 tsp. of carrier oil
2% dilution = 2 drops of essential oil in 1 tsp. of carrier oil
3% dilution = 3 drops of essential oil in 1 tsp. of carrier oil
0.5% dilution is generally recommended for 3-24 months old babies, 1% for 2-6 years old, 2% for 6-12 years old, 2% during pregnancy or with elderly people, 2% for older than 12 and adults with daily or long term use, 3%-5% (or even higher) for temporary use
Need help finding the right essential oils for you? Simply contact me..
Internal or Oral Use of Essential Oils
Internal or oral use of essential oils is a widely discussed subject. Professional opinions range from that it is safe to use certain essential oils internally to that you should never use any essential oils internally. As a Certified Aromatherapist I would like to advise you, not to take essential oils internally without appropriate aromatherapy education and understanding of the safety issues involved in doing so.
Essential oils are commonly used internally throughout the world. Some individuals are doing so without the appropriate knowledge or understanding of safety concerns. If you are considering using essential oils internally, I recommend doing so under the guidance of a knowledgeable health professional. As a Certified Aromatherapist I want to stress the importance of the quality of the essential oils, that you always need to adhere to label instructions, and never use essential oils internally that are not labeled for internal consumption. Make an informed decision and stay within your comfort zone. Perhaps find some research studies published online about safety concerns and studies on internal use of essential oils. Make sure that it is a trusted source (scientist, medical professional, research institute) as there is a lot of wrong and misleading information on the Internet.
Always follow label instructions of your essential oils to see if your oils are approved for internal consumption!
Why do people use essential oils internally?
People use essential oils internally to support the immune system, digestive system, oral health, natural detoxification of the body, mental clarity or increase their antioxidant intake. Often essential oils are added to water, smoothies, tea and other drinks, taken internally in a veggie cap, added to appetizers, main courses, and desserts, used under the tongue or a drop on the tip of the tongue and then pressed under the roof of the mouth for a few seconds.
Essential Oils Commonly Used Internally
(only when labeled for internal use – many brands can not be used internally!)
Lemon – to support natural detoxification
Ginger Rhizome/Root, Peppermint Plant, Caraway Seed, Coriander Seed, Anise Seed, Tarragon Plant, and Fennel Seed essential oils – to support the digestive system
Blend of Wild Orange, Clove, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus and Rosemary – to support the immune system
Clove – to increase antioxidants in the body
Cilantro, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Basil, Dill, Marjoram, Black Pepper, Peppermint, Lemon, Lemongrass, Wild Orange, Grapefruit, Cinnamon Bark, Ginger, Fennel, Chamomile and Lavender – in smoothies, teas, and preparing healthy dishes to support overall health
Frankincense – under the tongue or tip of tongue pressed under roof of the mouth to support cellular health and mental clarity
Peppermint and Immune Support Blend (Wild Orange, Clove, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus and Rosemary) – to support oral health
Cooking with essential oils also adds exceptional flavors to dishes. Learn more about cooking with essential oils right here on myoilguide.com.