Essential oils seem to be a modern hype, but in truth they've been used in traditional medicinal systems around the world for thousands of years. More recently, medical researchers have studied essential oils for the therapeutic effects of their numerous naturally-occurring chemical compounds. Essential oils can be used as natural remedies for a host of short-term and chronic ailments, whether physical or psychological in nature. They also have beauty-enhancing properties for your skin and hair and can be used to clean your home effectively without chemicals.
In this guide, you'll learn how to use various essential oils effectively and safely for a wide array of benefits.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are extracted or distilled from herbs and plants known to have medicinal value. They're the most concentrated form of a plant or its seed, giving you its most potent therapeutic properties.
Essential oils have strong fragrances and often the most active compounds in them are the aromatic ones. The molecules in these compounds are tiny compared to the larger molecules found in cooking oils. Their small size allows them to enter your bloodstream and even pass through the blood-brain barrier. This way, they directly modulate chemical systems in the body. Many nutrients can't do this even when ingested internally.
What The Research Says
Medical studies have determined that many essential oils have antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties that make them useful in fighting infections and treating wounds without producing side effects synthetic drugs can cause. In fact, studies continue to show that essential oils, when used at appropriate doses, produce virtually no adverse side effects.
Many essential oils are being studied for their anticancer effects, which may be effective for cancer treatment or adjunctive therapy. Certain compounds in various essential oils are able to trigger apoptosis, or cell death, in the case of cancer and tumor cells. Other compounds repair DNA, protect cells from oxidative damage linked to cancer and stop the proliferation of cancer and tumor cells.
Essential oils also contain compounds commonly used in pharmaceutical-grade skin and hair care products that promote healing, beauty and anti-aging. They can directly modulate the immune system, boosting the production of antibodies in the face of colds and flus. Some essential oils act as natural remedies for managing symptoms of illness, from mucous congestion to allergic reactions and digestive ailments.
Mounting research points to the incredible ability of essential oils to produce meaningful psychological effects. By directly interacting with the brain's chemistry, the aromatic compounds in essential oils can have antidepressant effects, reduce anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, agitation and everyday stress.
Ways You Can Use Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is the inhalation of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. The most common way to inhale essential oils is to use a diffuser, which come in different sizes to accommodate different spaces. Simply fill your diffuser with water and add a few drops of essential oil, as per the instructions that come with it. The larger your diffuser, the more drops of oil you'll need to add. Plug it in, turn it on, and the diffuser will go to work releasing essential oil-infused vapors that permeate the air you breathe.
You can also enjoy aromatherapy using aromatherapy sprays or making your own. These are generally water-based sprays you can use as air fresheners, perfume or to spray on your pillow before going to bed at night. You can also enjoy aromatherapy by adding a few drops to a hot bath. When you're in a pinch, you can simply open a bottle of essential oil and take in the smell directly for instant effects.
Hot Steam Inhalation
Some essential oils, such as tea tree, eucalyptus and frankincense oils, work as decongestants and expectorants to expel mucus from the lungs and sinus cavities. The best way to use them is to add a few drops to a bowl of steaming hot water and inhale the warm vapors for up to 5 minutes. Be sure to close or cover your eyes so that they don't come in contact with the essential oils.
Essential oils are used topically for natural skin care, first-aid applications or to enjoy their aromatherapeutic effects. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, it's important to take caution in applying them directly to the skin. Some essential oils, like clove oil, cause direct skin irritation and should be avoided for topical use unless diluted. Others are very gentle on the skin, such as lavender oil and chamomile oil. For instant aromatherapy benefits, you can put 2 or 3 drops on your fingers and rub these oils into your temples or on your neck to inhale the aroma.
However, as a general rule, it's wise to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before using them on your skin, as potential allergic reactions can occur. You also don't want to use a large amount of undiluted essential oil on your skin, because the tiny molecules absorb very quickly into your bloodstream and have powerful internal effects.
Carrier oils are oils with much larger molecules that help hold essential oils on the surface of your skin, causing them to absorb into the bloodstream much more slowly. Some good choices are jojoba oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil and almond oil. You can also combine essential oils with high-quality lotions like raw shea butter and raw cacao butter.
When diluting essential oils, use a 1:10 ratio, which is equal to five drops of essential oil per half-teaspoon of carrier oil.
Hair Care Use
Essential oils have rejuvenating effects on your hair. They can serve as natural replacements for chemical-based products when you use them for DIY haircare recipes, or they can provide a boost to your existing hair care routine. Coconut oil is a great carrier oil to use when you apply essential oils to your hair, since it benefits your hair's structure and can prevent and treat dandruff. If you want to stimulate hair growth, jojoba oil is a great option.
To reap the benefits of essential oils for your hair, combine them with a carrier oil at a 1:10 ratio and massage the mixture into your scalp and throughout your hair strands. Let it sit as a conditioner for at least 30 minutes, and then wash it out.
You can even use essential oils as dietary supplements, but only in very small amounts. Not all essential oils are safe for internal use. When using essential oils internally, it's important to use 100 percent pure oil from a brand labeled “therapeutic grade.” Naturally, non-GMO and organic essential oils are optimal, especially for internal use.
Take no more than 2 to 3 drops of an essential oil per day. You can take them under your tongue for easy absorption, mix them with a spoonful of honey or add them to water, tea or juice.
Cleaning The Home
Essential oils don't just make your house smell clean; they also have germicidal effects without the harmful chemicals you find in conventional cleaning formulas. Antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral essential oils like thyme, tea tree, lemon, clove, orange, lavender, peppermint, cinnamon and lemongrass can all be used in disinfectant solutions for sanitizing the kitchen, bathroom and entire home.
Here's a recipe for a natural DIY essential oils all-purpose cleaner:
- 1 tsp borax
- 1/2 tsp washing soda
- 1 tsp liquid castile soap
- 15 drops of disinfectant essential oils of choice
- 2 cups water
- Spray bottle
- Combine all ingredients into the spray bottle and shake well.
Essential Oils For Every Application
Not sure where to start? The best way to start incorporating essential oils into your life is to determine what you need them for. Whether you want to lose weight, boost your immune system or step-up your skin care routine, here are the essential oils you'll need.
Essential Oils For Anti-Aging And Skin Care
- Sandalwood Oil: Contains hyaluronic acid, a compound used in anti-aging products to boost collagen, elasticity and moisture. Promotes even skin tone and luminosity.
- Frankincense Oil: Hydrates your skin and normalizes natural oil production. Treats acne and skin ailments by reducing inflammation and killing bacteria. Tones, lifts and tightens skin, shrinking large pores. Promotes even skin tone and reduces scars and stretch marks.
- Hibiscus Oil: Boosts collagen, reduces excess oil, unclogs pores, helps skin retain moisture and inhibits the breakdown of elastin, which allows skin to maintain its original state after being stretched.
- Myrrh Oil: Reduces skin damage, wrinkles and fine lines. Improves skin strength and elasticity by boosting collagen and elastin. Stimulates the production of new skin cells and diminishes scars.
- Pomegranate Seed Oil: Protects skin from sun damage and works as a natural sunscreen. Hydrates and rejuvenates skin with antioxidants.
- Geranium Oil: Tightens skin, shrinks pores, balances natural oil production and reduces dark spots. Treats acne, reduces inflammation and protects your skin from free radical damage.
- Carrot Seed Oil: Fights aging by increasing the rate of skin cell turnover. Reduces free radical damage, hydrates your skin and normalizes its oil production.
- Rosehip Oil: Stimulates collagen production, hydrates skin, neutralizes free radicals and reduces dark spots, wrinkles, fine lines and scars.
- Lavender Oil: Treats acne, wounds, burns and inflammation. Diminishes wrinkles and fine lines while promoting even skin tone.
Essential Oils For Hair
- Lighten your hair: chamomile oil, lemon oil
- Stimulate hair growth and thicken hair: cedarwood oil, rosemary oil, lavender oil, peppermint oil
- Reduce greasy, oily hair: peppermint oil
- Add shine: geranium oil, lavender oil, sandalwood oil, rose oil, ylang ylang oil, jasmine oil
Essential Oils For Weight Loss
- Grapefruit oil: Reduces appetite, dissolves fat and reduces water retention that causes bloating.
- Lemon oil: Regulates appetite by boosting serotonin levels, supports lipolysis (the breakdown of stored fat) and curbs cravings.
- Cinnamon oil: Stabilizes blood sugar, helps curb cravings and reduces overeating.
- Peppermint oil: Suppresses appetite and cravings and reduces bloating, gas and indigestion.
Essential Oils For Allergies, Colds And Flus
- Oregano oil: Shown to kill common flu strains and work as a natural antibiotic without side effects.
- Cinnamon oil: Antimicrobial, decongestant, anti-inflammatory.
- Thyme oil: Kills bacteria and viruses, prevents the release of histamines (reduces allergies).
- Tea tree oil: Decongestant, expectorant, antimicrobial.
- Eucalyptus oil: Decongestant, expectorant, antimicrobial.
- Frankincense oil: Decongestant, expectorant, prevents and reduces allergic reactions.
Essential Oils For Stress, Anxiety And Insomnia
- Gentle sedatives: chamomile oil, ylang ylang oil, vanilla oil, cedarwood oil, rose oil, neroli oil
- Lower stress hormones: lavender oil, chamomile oil, orange oil, bergamot oil, clary sage oil,
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure: jasmine oil, frankincense oil, orange oil, ylang ylang oil
Essential Oils For Depression
- Citrus oils: Lemon oil, grapefruit oil, orange oil, bergamot oil and lime oil all contain d-limonene, which is shown in studies to significantly boost levels of serotonin (the “happiness hormone”). This is what many antidepressant medications do to boost mood and keep depression at bay.
- Ylang ylang oil: Shown in studies to curb mood swings and thoughts associated with depression. Lowers stress and promotes hormonal balance.
- Chamomile oil: In clinical trials, chamomile oil showed antidepressant activity in people with depression.
- Sandalwood oil: Balances emotions by modulating the brain's limbic system, uplifts mood and boosts mental clarity and focus.
- Clary sage oil: Boosts confidence and uplifts mood by increasing dopamine levels, which is the same action as certain antidepressant medications.
Anticancer Essential Oils
- Citrus oils: The compound d-limonene, found in all citrus essential oils, has been proven to stop tumor growth and prevents the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. Researchers have suggested it has potential as a chemopreventive treatment.
- Clary sage oil: Clary sage oil is shown to kill cancer cells in lab studies. It's also rich in antioxidants, which protect cells from oxidative damage – a known cancer risk factor.
- Frankincense oil: Frankincense oil is shown to have anti-tumor effects and kill cancer cells in cases of skin, bladder and breast cancers. It reduces pain, helps manage depression and reduces swelling that occurs after radiation therapy.
- Lavender oil: With its potent antioxidants, lavender oil protects cells and DNA from damage that can lead to cancer. One study found that inhaling lavender oil for one hour each day protected the brain from oxidative stress that can lead to cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.
- Thyme oil: A study that looked at the effects of ten different essential oils on cancer cells found that thyme oil rose to the top of the pack as the most effective against prostate, breast and lung cancers.
Essential Oils For Oral Care
The antimicrobial properties of essential oils can help protect you from tooth decay, cavities and gum disease. You can incorporate them in DIY toothpaste recipes, or simply add 2 to 3 drops to your toothbrush before adding toothpaste. Create an essential oil mouthwash by adding 3 to 5 drops to a tablespoon of water. Just swish and spit to kill germs and fight bad breath.
- Clove oil: Kills microbes and relieves toothache pain by numbing the gums.
- Tea tree oil: Antiseptic, treats canker sores and cold sores, reduces gum inflammation and pain, helps treat gum disease.
- Peppermint oil: Antiseptic, freshens breath.
- Myrrh oil: Antiseptic, relieves gum inflammation and pain, increases circulation in the gums.
Blending Essential Oils
Blending your essential oils together is a great way to create awesome fragrances and get the most out of the medicinal compounds essential oils offer. However, there is a science to it.
In creating an essential oil blend, you want to start with its therapeutic purpose and application. Then you can write a list of all the essential oils that can serve the purpose you're aiming for. Narrow down the list based on safety considerations depending on how your essential oil will be used (inhaled, applied topically or taken internally). Consult the safety information that comes with your essential oils, or use a credible website or book to research essential oil safety.
Next, pull from your list a combination of oils that compliment each other. Essential oils are grouped based on their aromas.
These groups include:
- Citrus – grapefruit, orange, lemon, bergamot, lime, tangerine
- Medicinal – eucalyptus, tea tree, rosemary
- Spicy – clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, aniseed, black pepper, cumin, nutmeg, ginger, coriander
- Earthy – oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, valerian, angelica
- Woodsy – cedarwood, sandalwood, pine, wintergreen
- Floral – jasmine, chamomile, rose, ylang ylang, geranium, lavender, neroli
- Herbaceous – hyssop, marjoram, basil, clary sage
- Minty – peppermint, spearmint
One way to blend essential oils is to choose oils from the same category, as they blend well together. Use equal amounts of each oil to do this.
Another option is to blend oils that represent two or three different categories. This is generally done at a 4:6 or 2:3:5 ratio. Some essential oil categories have stronger scents than others. To create a balance, use the strongest smelling oils in the smallest amounts, and the more subdued scents in larger amounts. For example, citrus oils and medicinal oils have strong scents that can overpower the more mellow aromas of woodsy and earthy oils.
When combining oils from different categories, keep in mind that:
- Citrus oils blend well with floral, minty, spicy and woodsy oils
- Floral oils blend well with woodsy, citrus and spicy oils
- Woodsy oils blend well with all other categories
- Herbaceous oils blend well with woodsy and minty oils
- Earthy oils blend well with minty and woodsy oils
- Medicinal oils blend well with woodsy oils
- Spicy oils blend well with floral, citrus and woodsy oils
Essential Oil Safety
Not all essential oils are safe during pregnancy. In fact, some should be avoided if you're pregnant because they trigger effects on the uterus that can put your pregnancy at risk. Although lavender is a popular and common oil used to bring on relaxation, pregnant women should avoid it because it encourages menstrual flow and may increase the risk of miscarriage. Pay attention to warnings that come with the essential oils you purchase or consult with a doctor or naturopathic professional to ensure you're using oils that are safe for pregnancy.
Just because essential oils are all-natural doesn't mean you can't have adverse reactions to them. If you're sensitive to strong fragrances or have allergies or asthma, some essential oils may cause irritation or even an allergic reaction. If you know you're prone to allergies, try essential oils with caution in small amounts to test your reaction. Stop inhaling any oil that causes discomfort.
Because they contain potent, drug-like chemical properties that directly modulate systems in the body, essential oils can interact with several medications. If you're on medication, it's important to consult with your physician about which essential oils are safe for you to use.
Once again, even though essential oils are natural, they still exert powerful effects that shouldn't be taken lightly. Even if you're not using oils topically or internally, you still don't want to inhale essential oils in excess. It's best to use a diffuser for 30 to 45 minutes at a time and use the amount of oil recommended in the diffuser's instructions. Avoid leaving your diffuser running overnight.
Take extra precaution using essential oils that work as decongestants and expectorants and use only the amount you need to see symptom improvements. Inhaling too much can cause excessive coughing and runny nose.