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Essential Oil Basics: The Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils

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Essential oils have been everywhere lately – from your Facebook feed to the news and getting a lot of attention for helping with everything from falling and staying asleep to headaches and allergies.  You may have questions. In this post we’ll cover essential oil basics.

Essential Oil Basics

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oil basics have to start at the beginning. So what are essential oils? Essential oils are the chemical constituents of plants. They’re created by pressing or distilling various parts of the plant, such as the flowers, leaves, stems, fruit, bark, etc.

Essential oils in the plant help the plant to repel bugs and other dangers and protect them from outside influences.  They are powerful enough to produce scent, but they have also been proven to help humans with a plethora of wellness issues.

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What Is Aromatherapy?

Essential oil basics: Essential Oils and Aromatherapy go hand in hand. Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefit. Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years because essential oils work.

Essential oils can also be applied to the skin.  More on that in a moment.

How Do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oil basics includes a mini-biology lesson.

When inhaled, the essential oil molecules travel from the olfactory nerves in the nose directly to the brain and especially impact the limbic system or the amygdala in the brain. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. The limbic system controls emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory.  It is also the part of the brain that forms memories explaining why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions.

The limbic system also controls many unconscious physiological functions, including breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. As such, essential oils work to have a positive effect on many areas of your body and health issues.

By simply inhaling an essential oil, it will eventually reach all of the cells in your body and can improve your overall health on a cellular level.

When applied to your skin, some plant chemicals are absorbed.

It’s thought that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body.

How To Use Essential Oils

One of the most important questions for essential oil basics is how do I use essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated so a little bit goes a long way. You only need a small amount to notice how well essential oils work.

There are three ways you can use essential oils:

1. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves smelling or sniffing essential oils to improve health or a specific health issue.

As you breathe in, the oil’s aroma immediately stimulates your central nervous system, triggering an emotional response.  It is fantastic for relieving feelings of stress or anxiety and improving overall mood.

Aromatherapy methods include:

  • Inhaling directly from the bottle.
  • Using a diffuser: Just add water and drops of essential oil to the diffuser and turn on.  The fine mist will purify the air and you will receive all of the benefits of aromatherapy. (A diffuser is a small device that disperses tiny oil particles around the room so you can breathe them in).
  • Put a couple of drops of essential oils in your palms, rub together and inhale.
  • Dry evaporation: Put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball and smell the aroma as it disperses.
  • Steam inhalation: Put a few drops of essential oil in a bowl of hot water. Put your head over the bowl, a towel over your head and breathe in the steam.

2. Topical application

Another popular method for using essential oils is topically.  You can apply the essential oils directly to the skin. 

Fun Fact: On average, applying essential oils topically, it will take approximately 15-20 minutes for the oils to reach every cell of your body.

Applying topically is a great choice when using essential oils for skin issues.

For “hot” oils, such as cinnamon, peppermint and Thieves essential oils, it’s a good idea to use a carrier oil with them to reduce the burning sensation that may occur with these oils. This is a great essential oils basics to know!

Many people put their essential oil blend into a small rollerball bottle for easier application. This is great to pop in your purse or pocket and take with you.

3. Ingestion

Only Young Living has had their oils approved by the FDA for dietary use.  You can add a few drops to your water or tea or even place it under your tongue (sublingual).

What Are Essential Oils Good For?

Studies have shown that essential oils may:

  • Improve mood.
  • Improve job performance through reduced stress and increased attentiveness.
  • Help you fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Kill bacteria, funguses and viruses.
  • Reduce anxiety and stress responses
  • Reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Reduce nausea.
  • Relieve headaches

Let’s look at some research indicating that essential oils work in many different areas of wellness.

One of the scientific studies that have revealed positive results from essential oils involves patients with dementia. Although, contrary to common lore, drinking a tablespoon of fish oil every day won’t likely stave off dementia, there is evidence that Lemon oil reduces agitation in patients with dementia according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

There are other proven success stories for essential oils, such as the treatment of acne with tea tree oil and the treatment of alopecia areata or hair loss with oils like Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender and Cedarwood.

Research into the use of essential oils found in citrus fruits is particularly intriguing due to their natural antibacterial qualities. For example, citrus oil, particularly when combined with Dead Sea salts (I would also try it with Pink Himalayan Salt), was shown to inhibit bacterial growth in mice and act as an anti-inflammatory agent.

A simple Google search on medical research on essential oils provides ample sources for explaining why essential oils work and how essential oils work plus the effectiveness of essential oils for combatting many health issues.

There are hundreds of essential oils and blends. You may need to try one or two before knowing which essential oils work for you.  Each of the oils has its own unique smell and potential health benefits.

Here’s a list of 12 popular essential oils and the health claims associated with them:

Peppermint Essential Oil

Used to boost energy and aid digestion. Peppermint oil is also known to:

  • Be anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antimicrobial.
  • Ease headaches.
  • Fight fatigue.
  • Lift the mood.
  • Reduce gut spasms.
  • Support digestion.
  • Support memory.
  • Reduce nausea (I used this constantly while on chemo)
  • Help with irritable bowel syndrome

Lavender Essential Oil

Used to relieve stress. Lavender oil is also known to:

  • Relieve pain
  • Promote sleep
  • As an antiseptic
  • Improve skin conditions

Tea Tree: Essential Oil

Used to fight infections and boost immunity. Tea Tree oil is also known to:

  • Be an antiseptic, antimicrobial and antifungal
  • Improve acne and other skin issues
  • Help with athlete’s foot and ringworms

Note of caution: Since tea tree oil can be neurotoxic, you should not diffuse around small children or pets

Sandalwood Essential Oil

  • Used to calm nerves and help with focus

Frankincense Essential Oil

Known as the “king of oils,” frankincense can help with inflammation, mood and sleep and bags under the eyes.

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Bergamot Essential Oil

Used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions such as eczema.

  • Can help fight the growth of common causes of food poisoning like listeria, e coli, and staphylococcus.

Rose Essential Oil

Used to improve mood and reduce anxiety

Chamomile Essential Oil

Used to improve mood and relaxation

Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil

Used to treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions

Jasmine Essential Oil

Used to help with depression, childbirth, and libido

Lemon Essential Oil

Lemon essential oil is used to aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more. Often used in DIY cleaning products

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Eucalyptus is a great essential oil to have on hand during cold season. It soothes a stuffed-up nose by opening your nasal passages so you can breathe easier. (Peppermint oil can also help with this.)

Safety of Essential Oils

The quality of essential oils on the market varies greatly, from pure essential oils to those diluted with less expensive ingredients. And because there’s no regulation, the label may not even list everything that’s in the bottle you’re buying.

That is why I exclusively purchase my oils from Young Living as their Seed to Seal program ensures that the oils are of the highest quality, pure and unadulterated.

When inhaled or used topically with a carrier oil for use on your skin, most essential oils are considered safe. Be sure to consider others in your environment who might be inhaling the aroma, including pregnant women, children, and pets.

Caution should be used when using essential oils around pregnant women, young children (under 3) and animals.  Be sure to look up the safety of each oil before you use it.

Citrus oils (Lemon, Orange, Lime, Tangerine, Grapefruit, and Bergamot) are safe, effective oils, but can cause photosensitivity to light when applied to the skin.

How to Buy Essential Oils

Learning the essential oil basics includes knowing where to purchase essential oils. The essential oil business is growing fast and, sadly, it is mostly unregulated. It’s important to make sure you’re getting the pure, high quality essential oils and not one with 5% diluted oils and the remainder of the bottle is synthetic.

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Many companies claim that their oils are “pure” or “medical grade.” However, these terms aren’t universally defined and therefore hold little weight.

Look for oils that are:

  • 100% pure: Choose oils that don’t have any added ingredients or synthetic oils. (And just say no to “fragrance oils.”) Find an oil that contains only aromatic plant compounds, without additives or synthetic oils. Pure oils usually list the plant’s botanical name (such as Lavandula officinalis) rather than terms like “essential oil of lavender.”
  • Quality: True essential oils are the ones that have been changed the least by the extraction process. Choose a chemical-free essential oil that has been extracted through distillation or mechanical cold pressing.
  • Sold in dark glass bottles: Pure essential oils are highly concentrated. They can dissolve plastic bottles over time, tainting the oil. Most companies package essential oils in small brown or blue glass bottles to protect the quality. Reputable sellers typically package essential oils in bottles that hold 5ml or 15ml or less. (Fun fact: there are approximately 90 drops of essential oil in a 5ml bottle and 300 drops in a 15ml bottle!)
  • Labeled with details about the oil’s source: Choose manufacturers that:
    • Use the plant’s botanical, or Latin, name. For example, peppermint oil would also list Mentha piperita on the label.
    • Specify the part of the plant used to make it (for example, the leaf).
    • Extract oils through distillation or mechanical cold pressing.
    • Sell organically grown oils.
    • Reputation: Purchase a brand with a reputation for producing high-quality products.

Avoid “fragrance oils”: Fragrance or perfume oils are made from essential oils combined with chemicals or entirely from chemicals. They’re not suitable for aromatherapy — instead, look for bottles that contain a single essential oil in its purest form (100% essential oil with no other fillers).

Compare prices: Essential oils range in price, depending on how involved harvesting and production are. Within a line, there should be a wide variety of prices — rose absolute or sandalwood oils will be more expensive, while orange or lemon oils will be on the less expensive end. If you find a rock-bottom price for an expensive essential oil, it probably isn’t pure.

You may enjoy this brief video by Young Living Essential Oils about essential oil basics:

For additonal information on essential oil basics, we recommend the below books:

Want to know more about essential oil basics or how you can use essential oils to improve your health and wellness? Email me at [email protected] and I’d be happy to set up a one-on-one call or hold a free online class for you and your friends.

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