A Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils
Are you curious about essential oils? Do you want to learn more about them, such as which oil is ideal for which use? Welcome to the beginner’s guide to essential oils.
I’ve been using essential oils in my hair and skincare routines for over a decade now so I thought I’d start writing more about them on this blog. They are potent little suckers made from plants so if you want more natural ingredients in your hair and skin care, you’ve come to the right place.
Detoxing Your Home with Plant Oils
Let’s begin by talking about the power of purification. Every day, your body wages a silent battle against chemicals and pathogens in the environment. Essential oils may help bolster your body’s natural line of defense by way of their powerful healing properties – including acting as free-radical fighters, antioxidants, and immune systems boosters.
Long before there were chemical-based cleaning products created in science labs, there were essential oils. In fact, these miraculous substances derived from herbs, flowers, and other plants, have been in use in both cleaning applications and home remedies, for thousands of years.
Many essential oils are praised for being anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-viral in nature. The most powerful germ and infection-fighters include thyme oil, lemon oil, cinnamon oil, tea tree oil, rosemary oil, and clove oil. I always have some of these oils in my home. Nearly all essential oils have cleansing power, just in varying amounts.
Some essential oils behave as natural pain relievers (analgesic). Some tighten and tone, which makes them ideal in skincare applications. You may have heard about certain essential oils being used as an emmenagogue (helping to bring on menstruation.) Some are even said to be aphrodisiac which means they can put you in a randy mood!
Essential oils are also said to cause subtle yet profound changes to the nervous system and overall mood. Oils such as peppermint produce a cooling effect that tends to sharpen the mind and senses while causing blood vessels to constrict. Warming oils like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and cardamom increase blood flow (vasodilation) and speed up the heart rate. This can help the body purge toxins faster.
Some oils even bring on mild sedation, such as lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood. This is much better than popping a pharmaceutical “chill pill” which can result in unwanted side effects or cause addiction.
How Does Aromatherapy Work to Improve Our Health?
You’ve probably heard the term “aromatherapy”. Does it really work, and how? From the processed and pesticide-treated foods that we routinely ingest, to the polluted water that we drink, to the plastics and synthetic fibers in our everyday surroundings, chemicals find their way into our bodies from everywhere. These harmful substances enter our bloodstream through our skin, and when we inhale or ingest them. The burden of environmental toxins takes its toll on the body, and the mental, physical and emotional stress that we face each day put a strain on our nervous system as well.
How does this relate to using essential oils? Essential oils do the opposite of environmentally man-made chemical products. They heal instead of harm. They bring relief to the body as opposed to taxing it. They deliver new life to our cells, instead of killing them off. More and more you can find scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness of essential oils for a variety of health-related purposes.
You may have heard that placing a live plant in your home or office can help to oxygenate and purify the air. Some experts even suggest that if you’ve added new carpet or furniture to your home or office, you can reverse the effects of breathing in the chemicals that off-gas from these new products, by placing several live plants around. Again, how does this relate?
Essential oils come from plants and therefore may work in a similar way. The distillation process captures the plant’s most powerful healing properties by way of that plant’s essence. So if you’re diffusing essential oils into your immediate environment, you are, in a way, delivering very similar benefits as you would if coexisting with live plants. Perhaps even more so, because essential oils are claimed to have the highest level of healing power, as a result of their being extremely concentrated.
For example, it’s said that 1 drop of peppermint oil is the equivalent of the peppermint in 20 cups of peppermint tea.
I am not making claims that essential oils cure disease, though they are said to improve the body’s ability to fight infection, balance hormones, and deliver healing rest or alleviate depression.
If you are experiencing health problems, you should take responsibility for yourself, do your own research and contact your physician.
But in the same way that the overall toxic burden has a negative effect on the body, essential oils can be used to help the body heal, rejuvenate and regenerate. More and more people are recognizing the value of holistic healing methods, some of which have been around for centuries.
Are Essential Oils Always Safe, or Can They be Toxic?
Are essential oils ever dangerous or toxic? Two oils should be used with caution; sage essential oil, and cinnamon bark oil. It is difficult to find sage oil in the first place, as the toxicity of common sage is known. Cinnamon bark oil is used in sparing amounts, to make perfumes.
Most people choose a mild alternative to each of these; clary sage, and cinnamon leaf oil. Both of these are safe for use in aromatherapy, skin care and home cleaning applications.
Essential oils can be toxic if ingested. The majority of essential oils sold on the open market should not be consumed unless otherwise indicated. This is due to the methods used for processing the oils. If you’re ever in doubt, check the label on your essential oil bottle. Food-grade versions of lemon, peppermint, and other essential oils are available, but they are not the kind I refer to when guiding you on diffuser mixes and recipes.
Guide to Essential Oils Cautions and Concerns
If you are under the care of a doctor for a certain health condition, please let your physician know about any essential oils you may be using or intend to try out. He or she can advise you on how to proceed.
It is possible for essential oils to produce an undesirable reaction in some people. If you are prone to allergies, use caution when breathing in or applying essential oil to the skin. For example, some individuals react to phenol, a compound of which is present in peppermint oil. This may result in shortness of breath. If this happens to you, either reduce the amount of oil used, blend with a milder oil, or avoid the offending essential oil altogether.
If you are allergic to the lavender plant, then lavender oil will likely irritate your skin or cause breathing problems if inhaled. Also note that a person may start out as being able to tolerate a specific oil, but can later develop a sensitivity to it. If an essential oil causes you discomfort of any kind, discontinue use.
Some people may have especially sensitive skin. If you are prone to skin reactions, test a sensitive area such as the inside of your wrist, before applying a certain essential oil to another, more exposed part of your body such as your face.
Most essential oils that are used topically should be diluted with a carrier oil such as olive oil, jojoba, coconut oil or almond oil. This is because they are either too potent to apply directly to the skin, or they tend to evaporate too quickly. The carrier oil acts as a base for the plant’s essence to cling to.
Some oils which may burn the skin and leave mild discoloration include lemon oil, cinnamon oil, and tea tree oil when applied directly. If you do experience this, don’t panic. The skin discoloration will fade in a day or two. To stop the burning sensation, immediately wash the area where you have applied the oil with soap and water.
Certain essential oils may produce anxiousness or excitability – for example, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, thyme oil, fir tree oil or pine oil. You may decide to avoid using these oils altogether.
Or, you might try combining very small amounts of the more stimulating oils with other essential oils that are known to produce feelings of calm and well-being. For example, invigorating peppermint, peaceful lavender and mood-enhancing orange oil make a well-balanced blend that will be likely well received by your nose and nervous system.
If you’re pregnant, use extreme caution with essential oils. Check the label of each essential oil you purchase, to be sure of its safety. You may wish to avoid essential oils entirely if you’re expecting. Pregnant women who are over age 35 are considered to be in a higher-risk category, and should be extra cautious about anything they are exposed to. Even a too-warm bath, with or without essential oils added, can cause complications in an unborn baby, particularly in the first trimester.
Essential oils may not be appropriate for children age 4 and under. This again will depend on the type of oil used. For example, eucalyptus oil slows the breathing which can be dangerous for young children.
Tea tree oil contains terpenes, which are compounds also found in turpentine. This powerful substance makes tea tree a germ-fighting powerhouse but it may not be appropriate for the sensitive skin of children, even in minute amounts.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Dogs and Cats?
Essential oils may not be safe for your dog, cat, or other pet. While some suggest calming lavender for dogs, it is best to err on the side of caution when it comes to our sensitive furry and four-legged friends.
The exception is the popular “flea and tick” repellent recipe for dogs that contains a mix of peppermint oil, clove oil, and lemongrass or citronella oil. Mix up in a spray bottle, fill with water and spray your dog before he heads outdoors.
Your dog probably won’t care for this odor, unfortunately, but it won’t make him sick or cause a toxic reaction. Pets are also much more sensitive to smells than we are. However, a scent from an essential oils diffuser should not cause problems for your pet.
If you do notice any unusual symptoms, consult with your vet for guidance.
If your dog seems nervous, a walk and a potty break should ease his tension without the need to put essential oils on him.
Essential Oil Blends – Diffuser Recipes
One of the best and easiest ways to enjoy the amazing healing benefits of essential oils is by diffusing them through the air of your home or office. Each oil has its own unique aromatherapy profile and organic makeup with varying strong points. But despite the differences, you can count on nearly every essential oil to cleanse and purify the air by effectively chasing away germs, fungi, and bacteria. So if you’re breathing bad air, and most of us are, essential oils can help.
Some are more effective at purifying than others, but in general, germs do not care for the potent aroma of essential oils. So no matter which oil or blend of oils you choose to drop into your aromatherapy diffuser, you can feel good knowing that the air you breathe will be cleaner than when you started.
In addition to cleansing and purifying, essential oils are prized for their effectiveness as aromatherapy. Each aromatic plant has its own chemical makeup which affects the nervous system and senses in a unique way. Lavender is long-prized for its calming properties. When we breathe lavender, we experience the natural, mildly sedating effect of this healing herb. Rose and lemon produce mental clarity and an enhanced mood.
Add these to your essential oils diffuser any time you’d like to indulge the senses and create a mood while purifying the air of your home, office or other personal space.
You only need 1, 2 or 3 drops of each essential oil. The more pungent and powerful oils such as cinnamon, bergamot, thyme, and coriander, should be dropped in at a ratio of 1:2 when paired with milder scents like rose, lavender, jasmine, chamomile and others.
Feel free to have a fun time making up your own interesting and delicious-smelling essential oil blends!
Restful Rose Blend
- 2 drops rose
- 3 drops geranium
- 3 drops lavender
Sweetest Musk – Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang and Vanilla
- 2 drops sandalwood
- 3 drops ylang ylang
- 2 drops vanilla
Evening Attar – Jasmine, Sandalwood and Neroli
- 3 drops sandalwood
- 3 drops jasmine
- 2 drops neroli
“The Happy Hippie” – Patchouli, Sweet Orange and Nutmeg
- 3 drops patchouli
- 2 drops orange oil
- 2 drops nutmeg
Sunny Morning – Vetiver, Grapefruit and Rose Geranium
- 2 drops vetiver
- 2 drops grapefruit
- 3 drops rose geranium
Citrus Burst – Orange, Lemon, Lime, Clove, Bergamot and Vetiver
- 1 drop orange
- 2 drops lemon
- 1 drop lime
- 1 drop clove
- 1 drop bergamot
- 2 drops vetiver
Afternoon Snooze – Lavender, Chamomile and Ylang Ylang
- 2 drops lavender
- 2 drops chamomile
- 1 drop ylang ylang