Essential Oils Basics

I wrote this post explaining how to use essential oils and it was originally published with Jennie over at Easy Paleo and my ForeverGreen upline Pamela liked it so much she published it on her blog at Goinggoinggreen! I want to include it here for my own reference as well as yours if you are interested.

I am so fascinated by the wide range of health benefits that essential oils offer us. The health benefits include supporting the immune system, fighting off bacteria, viruses, and infection, providing a way to detox your system, a way to balance your hormones, improve circulation, bring mental clarity, pain relief, lessening depression symptoms,  provide stress relief, and digestive relief including gas and parasites. Because of the wide-range of types of oils and their benefits, it is very overwhelming to start learning about how to use them. So many resources make it very complicated and I get lost quickly, even those that claim their guide is for beginners. It would be a shame to miss out on the beauty and rejuvenation of essential oils simply because we couldn’t get through all the muddle. There is not enough room here to talk about each specific oil, and I actually avoid doing so on purpose so as to try to keep this as simple as can be. Here I attempt to cut it all down to the bare basics of what’s important, as much for you as for myself!

What Are They?

Essential oils are botanical extracts of various plants, which include flowers, herbs, trees, shrubs, seeds, and bushes. The ‘juice’ that is extracted form the plant is what helped that plant survive in its surroundings, and it is the essence of the plant. That pure essence, if extracted properly, is what we can benefit from and what gives us our essential oils.

Quality Matters

There is not much for regulations on what companies have to report on their labels, and they can make grand claims when in reality their products are full of cheap fillers. A company may say their oil is pure, but it may be diluted with chemical fillers, synthetics, or cheap fatty oils. If you use a cheaper essential oil that has been chemically diluted, you will not experience the health benefits. If anything, you will add a toxic load to your system and feel ill side effects.

It is important for you to know that you could still have a negative side effect even if you are using a pure quality oil; if your system is toxic or you don’t drink enough water, you could experience something like a headache as your body attempts to detox itself with the support of the essential oil. Your body also may just be sensitive to that particular oil, no matter how superior the quality. It might come down to your own experimentation; if the same type of oil from one company causes you negative side effects, but that same oil from a different company doesn’t, then you know it was the quality, not your sensitivity.

A good quality essential oil is truly only what was extracted from the plant and nothing else. The best way to find quality essential oils is to know your supplier. Quality varies from company to company, and some companies really do claim their essential oil as pure and undiluted when in fact they are. Find out all you can about the company that makes the essential oils you are interested in. I love the questions that Linda Halcon recommends us to ask in her article (resource linked below):

  • Is the Latin (or botanical) name provided so that you know exactly what oil you are getting?
  • Can you find out the country the essential oil was harvested from? Even if it’s not on the label, the company should readily tell you if you ask.
  • Does the company make a statement about how pure their oils are?
  • Are the plants organic and/or gathered from wild plants? Pure, good quality oils come from plants that have been grown organically; if the plant was chemically treated, you will get that chemical in your essential oil.
  • How does the cost compare to others? The cheaper it is, the more likely it has cheap fillers.
  • Does the oil smell as you’d expect it to? See if you can compare a smell between different brands of oils and I’m certain your nose will pick out the quality quickly!
  • Make sure the essential oil you buy is stored in a dark glass container in a cool place to help preserve the oil.

Methods of Use

You have to do some research on your oil of choice as some oils do have cautions or may aggravate an existing health concern you have. Some essential oils may be disagreeable to you if you have a specific health condition, are pregnant or nursing.

Less is more! Be cautious when testing oils for the first time, no matter the method you prefer. One or two drops of a pure therapeutic oil goes a long way! Always conduct some research on your oil of choice and start with one or two drops to see how you react. I find it very confusing because of all the mixed opinions out there about how much oil to use for each method. Err on the side of caution and use a very small amount to test how it makes you feel.

This list of methods here is not extensive, but I think they are great for beginners. I don’t know about you, but when I see a list with twenty ways to use essential oils, I get overwhelmed and do not know where, or how, to start. One of my questions was which method is the most beneficial so I can get the best bang for my buck. No matter the method you choose, you will experience the benefits on some level.

Diffuser

This is a gadget that you use to disperse your essential oil into a room; cold air diffusers are better because the integrity of the oil is maintained. The diffuser breaks up the oil to stream it as a mist into the air. There are many different diffusers on the market for you to choose from, from simple to elaborate, and from cheap to expensive. I like the ebay.ca (I’m Canadian, eh!) guide to Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffusers because it is simple and to the point. This lovely mist helps purify the air, offers mental stimulation or calm, or soothes someone with a cold.

Massage

You can mix your essential oil with a carrier, or base, oil. Carrier or base oils are any vegetable, nut, or seed oils such as avocado oil, almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or grapeseed oil.  These oils have their own health benefits, so use a good quality oil that is organic and cold-pressed. For those of us in the paleo world we know to stay away from vegetable oils and I daresay we don’t want to apply the unhealthy fats topically the same way we don’t want to eat it. I use coconut oil because, well, I just love coconut oil and all of its good health benefits. For the oil of your choice, the measurement to go by is 2-5 drops of essential oil per 1 teaspoon of carrier oil. Massage it in wherever you so please, using caution in those sensitive areas.

Direct Application aka ‘Neat’

The first time I started using essential oils, I felt a teeny bit worried about applying it directly on my skin without mixing it in with a carrier oil, but most oils are safe to be used this way. As mentioned above, always try a small amount first to see if your body agrees to the oil and use no more than 5 undiluted drops on the same area. There are some essential oils that need to be mixed with a carrier oil because the oil is considered to be ‘hot’; always do your research on an oil you’re interested in. I like to apply my oil to the back of my neck or massage it in on the bottoms of my feet starting from the big toe and go along the arch. However, you can apply your oil anywhere you experience pain or discomfort.

Direct Inhalation

I love taking a whiff of a favourite essential oil straight from the bottle, especially in one of my muddled moments throughout the day. I find it calming or invigorating depending on the oil, and either way, it clears my mind.  If you want a way to carry the scent of the oil with you, you can drop 1-2 drops onto a kleenix and take a sniff whenever you so please.

In Your Bath

I feel relaxed just thinking about soaking in a warm tub full of water! There are a few different pleasant ways to enjoy essential oils in the bath. To absorb the full health benefits and allow the oil to do its work, avoid using soaps with added chemicals and perfumes.

  • Mix 5 drops of essential oil into 1/2 cup of Dead Sea salts and then add the mix into a warm bath. This way, the essential oil dissolves with the salts more evenly into the water. Your health is supported by both the oil and the salt while relaxing at the same time. As an aside, I’ve seen some sources say to add as much as 20 drops of oil to the Dead Sea salts; I can’t repeat it enough, though, to always use caution when starting out. It is better to use too little and to increase the amount gradually until you get the desired effect.
  • You can add your essential oil just as it is, ‘neat’ and undiluted to the water. You’d be surprised the power just a few drops can carry even in a big tub full of water, so start with a small amount.
  •  To add a moisturizer to your bath, you can mix your essential oil with a carrier oil using the same measurements as you would for a massage (2-5 drops per 1 teaspoon) and mix it into your bath water.

Household Cleaners, Skin Care & Personal Care

I have not experimented with this yet, but I am eager to. I just wanted to include this here so that you are aware of the possibilities of making your own mixes to clean your house or take care of your skin. I have to do more research and need the time to try out recipes on my own, but there are many resources for you sift through if you want to find out more.

Good Beginner Oils

I’m taking the following advice of which oils to start with straight out of Valerie Ann Worwood’s book (reference below), and I chose 6 out of her 10. In her words, “these oils are chosen first for their medicinal properties [but] are useful for a diversity of purposes from skin care to gardening and from home care to celebrations” (page 19). Choose your essential oil and choose your method!

Lavender: Known for its relaxing effect, this oil will help bring balance to the mind and body. It gives relief for anyone suffering from any kind of stress including those with depression, headaches, and sleep  troubles. It should not be used at the same time as taking medicines containing iodine or iron.

Tea Tree: This anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory oil is a wonderful aid for skin abrasions and immune support.

Peppermint: I love this oil for its tingly, cooling relief. You can use it to boost energy, mental clarity, digestion, to relieve stress and tension, and to support your respiratory system. Avoid using near children under 3 as it carries a risk of breathing spasms; also not recommended for those with high blood pressure or those who suffer atrial fibrillation. Peppermint remains on your fingers even with a wash, so be careful not to rub your eyes, and use your little finger for application.

Rosemary: This oil is particularly good for chronic skin conditions such as eczema or those with acne and it is known for its healing effects to sun damaged or aging skin. Those with oily hair may also benefit from this oil. Avoid during pregnancy.

Lemon: An oil commonly used for its cleansing power, both our bodies and our homes. It can be used as a water purifier, as part of a mix in a household cleaner, and is a tonic for the lymphatic and digestive systems.  Citrus oils cause sensitivity to skin exposed to sunlight, so avoid sun exposure to areas you apply a citrus oil to for up to 24 hours.

Clove: This is one of those oils known for its heat, so always use with a carrier oil. Less is most certainly more with this oil, so use with extra caution. It is an excellent antioxidant, and provides relief to those with arthritis or tooth aches. It gives a boost to your memory during particularly stressful and tiring times.

Welcome to the World of Essential Oils

Now it’s time for you to start! Choose an oil by researching a certain condition you want to find relief for, and always find the cautions for that particular oil. Just because a resource doesn’t list any cautions doesn’t mean there aren’t any, which is one reason I get frazzled quickly when trying to find out more about essential oils. Not every oil has a caution, but ensure you know your oil of choice inside and out.

There is conflicting information all over the internet. But the healing and rejuvenating effects you can enjoy from essential oils is worth the extra effort of searching for both quality information and quality oils.

Resources That Were Actually Helpful 

How Do I Determine the Quality of an Essential Oil by Linda Halcon
The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood

Photo Credits

http://www.flickr.com/photos/karen_cb/5355284197/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/locosphotos/7043378127/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jylcat/562388488/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/phuonglovejesus2782010/5389849759/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/purpletwinkie/2573473434/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinodita/1532741767/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/asmamirza/346948782/

 

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