One thing that I love about essential oils is that they are extremely versatile, unique and effective. There are a variety of oils that have properties for specific conditions (for example rosemary, peppermint and frankincense all help with concentration. So if you don’t like the smell of one of them you can use one of the others.) They also have additional properties which makes them even more individualized. An essential oil has many properties, so you are benefiting in more ways than one way. This could also mean that attaining ‘the perfect’ oil or blend for you might take some time and experimentation.
In this blog I want to tell you a little more about essential oils, what they are and how they work. I use essential oils in my practice and have made up oils for individuals for sinus congestion, eczema, idiopathic itching and peeling of hand, arthritis, to boost energy and mood, flatulence, menstrual cramps, insomnia and many other conditions.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are oils extracted
from botanical material. They are obtained from the leaves, flowers, resin, bark, stem, fruit, roots or seeds of the plant. The oils are extracted by distillation, expression, dissolved in a solvent (absolutes) or gas extraction.
They are different from other oils. They evaporate if left open and they have specific therapeutic properties effecting the mind and body.
How to use them
Essential oils have a variety of uses. Aromatherapists are best known for using them as massage oils for therapeutic effects. They can also be inhaled, either by room spray, steam inhalation or in an oil burner. They can be put in a bath blend, used as perfumes, as a compress, and mouth gargle or massage onto the skin in base oil.
Essential oils enter the body by inhalation or direct application: massaged into skin. It takes 30 minutes to 12 hours for the essential oils to absorb into the various body systems once they have been massaged onto the skin. (This is why it is advised that you do not bath or shower for at least 6 hours after an aromatherapy session.) Essential oils can be taken internally, but it must be with the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Quality and storing
The quality of essential oils is important. Make sure that you buy from a reputable supplier. Good quality essential oils are 100% pure and even better if they are organic, especially if they are of plants that are loaded with chemicals and pesticides.
Make sure that the essential oils you use are not adulterated. This means that synthetic chemicals or compounds have been added to them, making it cheaper to manufacture and the therapeutic properties are diminished.
Essential oils deteriorate with air exposure, light and heat. It is important to keep them in dark glass containers. Plastic containers alter the chemical composition. You can keep essential oils in the fridge, especially if you live hot climates. It is better to buy oil in small quantities, as the essential oils deteriorate with age, and most should be used within 2 years.
How they work
Essential oils are composed of different chemicals. Scientists have tried to isolate the chemicals in the oils, but usually, because of the complexities of the oils, the whole essential oil works better than the isolated chemical.
Essential oils have an effect on the body and mind and emotions.
Essential oils are easily absorbed through the skin and / or the lungs (or less common; ingested).
The skin is permeable, which means that the essential oils can penetrate through the skin and into our blood stream. Massaging the area increases circulation to that area, and in turn increases absorption of the essential oils.
When inhaled, the essential oils are absorbed through the olfactory system. The molecules in the oils interact with the olfactory organs (sense organs of smell) which interact with the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system of the brain is the centre of emotions and memory. It is also connected to the parts of the brain that control automatic functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, stress levels and hormones. This is why essential oils have an effect on the physiological, psychological and emotional aspect of the person.
The essential oils that are inhaled enter the lungs, thereby entering the blood stream and affecting the body systems.
Essential oils all have the following properties (and more):
- ANTISEPTIC : all are anti-septic and anti-bacterial, but against different pathogens
- STIMULATE IMMUNE RESPONSE: aids the body in fighting an infection
- STIMULATE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION: beneficial to many chronic diseases and toxic exposure
- STIMULATE CELLULAR REGENERATION AND CELL GROWTH
- HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE NERVOUS SYSTEM: they effect the brain, and have a psychological influence
- HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM: some oils contain phyto-hormones (natural plant hormones) which act in a manner similar to our own hormones to balance hormones.
What gives them these properties? The natural chemicals of which they are composed.
For example 2 of the main chemicals in lavender are linalyl acetate (30 – 60%) and amylalcohol. Linalyl acetate is a ester, the properties are: anti-fungal, calming, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral. The properties of amylalcohol, an alcohol, are antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial and stimulate the immune system. These are just some of the properties of lavender.
As mentioned above, these chemicals are utilised and work more effectively as a whole with the essential oil instead of in isolation (in isolation they can also be toxic and an irritant to the body).
Why use essential oils
They are easy to use and non-toxic to the environment. They are safe to use (as long as they are used properly). It is a holistic healing method, which means that it includes healing of the whole person: body, mind and soul.
Be intuitive when it comes to selecting an essential oil(s). It is important that you like the smell of the essential oils that you are using. The more you like the smell the more it is likely to work for you. We call this the body’s innate wisdom, instinctively you know which essential oil will benefit you. It is interesting to note the properties of your favourite essential oils. The best way to choose essential oils for healing is to combine the science of essential oils and human intuition.
The base oils, such as sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, wheatgerm oil and grapeseed oil, also have great health benefits and are not harmful. Some of the properties of these oils include moisturising, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, astringent and treatment of eczema or psoriasis.
Common essential oils and their properties
Just as an example, here are some of the essential oils and their properties and what conditions they treat.
- Do not use essential oils undiluted (with the exception of lavender and jasmine)
- Infants and young children are limited to the oils that they can be given (lavender, chamomile, aniseed, mandarin, neroli and rose are safe) and they must be well diluted (1 drop essential oil to 10ml base oil)
- Pregnant women should not use sage oil
- People with cardiac fibrillation should avoid peppermint oil
- Curtis, S. (1996). Essential Oils. Neal’s Yard Remedies: United Kingdom.
- Davis, P. (1997) Aromatherapy An A – Z. The C.W. Daniel Company Limited: United Kingdom
- Esoteric oils. What are essential oils? [Online]. Available: essentialoils.co.za/essential-oil.htm. 2015-10-05
- Fischer-Rizzi, S. (1990). Complete Aromatherapy Handbook. Sterling Publishing: New York.
- Halcon, L PhD. How do essential oils work? [Online]. Available: takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practises/aromatherapy/how -do-essential-oils-work. 2015-10-06