5 Things You Should Know Before Using Essential Oils – A Beginner’s Guide
By: Meghan Toups & Heather Brown
More and more people are wanting to find safe, natural options for boosting their health. And, understandably so! With the state of healthcare, chronic stress and disease, feeling more in control of our health can make us feel empowered and strong. Immune building and alternative ‘get well’ remedies are becoming abundant and easily available. As you begin to delve more into the world of natural healing, it’s important to become conscious consumers and educate yourself on products and services that interest you. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years with great benefit. While they can be extremely effective in helping our bodies heal and prevent illness, building our knowledge base before use is very important. High quality, therapeutic essential oils are very potent and it’s important to understand how and when to use these beneficial healing aids. Essential oils do not heal by themselves, but rather they work with the natural flow and healing abilities of your body to promote wellness. They can be a cost effective, mood lifting and restorative way to help you and your family heal and stay immune strong.
1) History Of/What is an Essential Oil?
While the use of essential oils (EO) might be new to some, the use of aromatic plants has been used since early civilization for many aspects of life. The Egyptians have been accredited with being the first to forge the way of using essential oils aromatically and therapeutically. While historians believe that the process by which the oils were extracted from the plants are different, they were, none the less, used for their same properties as we use them today.
Today, the extraction of essential oils from their respective plants can be achieved in two ways: by expression or steam distillation. The process of expression, or cold pressing, is often used for extracting oils from citrus fruits, such as lemon or orange. Mechanical pressure is used to extract the essential oil from the citrus, most commonly from the rind. The most frequently used extraction process is steam distillation, responsible for 93% of essential oils. In this approach, the plant is placed in a chamber while steam is produced mechanically to pass through the plant material, causing the essential oil to rise to the top. Then, during the cooling process, the essential oil is separated from the water. This can easily be done since essential oils are hydrophobic, meaning they do not mix with water.
It is highly recommended when deciding on what brand of essential oils to use for yourself and/or your family to know how your essential oils were extracted from their respective plant. This way you can ensure that your essential oils are only pure, unadulterated, and without additives.
2) Many Ways to Use Essential Oils
To Heal: Just as our ancestors before us, we too can and do use essential oils in a multitude of ways. One of the most prevalent means of use is for natural healing, which can be accomplished with several different methods including aromatically, topically or internally depending on the essential oil. Using oils in a diffuser is such an easy and effective way to disperse the oils into the air for long periods of time. Diffusing can, depending on the oil used, do anything from cleansing the air, to boosting your immune system, to calming a child. Another approach for the use of essential oils is topical use. Again, depending on the oil, certain areas of the body can be applied with small amounts to help with an ailment or simply to boost your mood. Lastly, some essential oils are used internally. This is where we feel it is of utmost importance to know your brand as well as the essential oil you’ll be using. Not all essential oils should be ingested and it is up to you as a consumer to know what it is that you may potentially put into your body. We also strongly encourage research on the matter if this is a method that you choose.
To Clean: Another use, and one that is gaining more and more popularity, is the use of essential oils in the home for cleaning. Hopefully soon, gone will be the days of using toxic, harsh chemicals replaced by safe, natural alternatives for cleaning, disinfecting and deodorizing countertops, appliances, bathrooms, dishes, toys and more. With the help of the internet, it is fast and easy to find recipes for the home incorporating the use of essential oils as natural disinfectants. Some of our favorites to use due to their proven antifungal and antibacterial properties are orange, peppermint, lemongrass lemon, lime, and lavender. Combine your favorite antibacterial oils with vinegar and water for an effective, great smelling, safe all-purpose cleaner.
To Enhance: Cosmetically, essential oils have been used for ages due their abundance of benefits such as skin brightening, tightening and smoothing. Have a skin problem? There is likely an essential oil for that! From burns to bruises, acne, wrinkles, and ringworm, there could be an essential oil that can be helpful in alleviating your ailment. Geranium, lavender, frankincense and melaleuca (tea tree oil) are some of the most commonly used oils when making natural lotions, soaps and cosmetics.
3) Quality Matters
It has been said before, and it will be said again, and again, that the quality of essential oils is imperative when using it for its healing properties. There are at least 200 companies just in the United States that sell essential oils, but not all are selling the same grade. It can be confusing when purchasing essential oils how two of the same types of essential oils can have such a difference in price. In the case of essential oils, you DO pay for quality. While a less expensive one can be ok for cleaning, it is not recommended to use anything other than pure, natural and unadulterated oils. The best oils should have no added ingredients or price reducing additives. Additives could affect the benefits, as well as be extremely toxic. It is also important for those new to essential oils to know that fragrance oils and essential oils are not the same.
4) Potency & Cost Effectiveness
When we talk with our friends and clients about using essential oils, we’ve found that most are very surprised to learn that 1-2 drops is all that’s needed for a ‘dose’ (mixed in with a carrier oil such as coconut or grape seed oil). Essential oils are that potent. Oils are metabolized in the body just like any other food and a little bit goes a long way. Rule of thumb: Less is more when it comes to EO use. Most bottles contain roughly 250 drops. Because of the potency, and depending on how often you use them, your investment is a good one: they last. Bottles of essential oils range from $10-$200 per bottle, depending on the rarity and availability of the plant.
While research is still emerging about essential oil efficacy and usage, some exciting studies have been conducted. This study measured the effectiveness of an essential oil blend “On-Guard” in reducing the flu and inhibiting viral activity. “An essential oil blend significantly attenuates influenza virus PR8 infectivity in vitro without affecting viral binding or cellular internalization in MDCK cells. Oil treated virus continued to express viral mRNAs but had minimal expression of viral proteins, suggesting that the antiviral effect may be due to inhibition of viral protein translation.”
5) Safety, Safety, Safety
We highly recommend purchasing a book or reference guide if you plan on regularly using essential oils. Not all essential oils can be used topically or internally and everyone should be informed before use.
Some oils can be used topically, diluted with a carrier oil, others can ingested (for many groups of people), and some inhaled aromatically. The variance of usage is crucial to understand to avoid skin irritation or other issues.
Unadulterated oils have less of a threat to safety, so ensuring that your oils are additive free, steam distilled or cold expressed, and of a high quality is important.
If you are struggling with any chronic illness or condition, it’s important to research oils that are safe for use. For example, peppermint is a favorite and very useful oil. However if you have high blood pressure, you must use with caution. We always recommend checking with your doctor or trusted health professional who has experience with EOs, if you have any major health concerns. Using oils can be extremely beneficial, but doing so in an educated, responsible manner is vital.
According to the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy, some oils are safe for use during pregnancy. They recommend diluting oils and avoiding internal use. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, please avoid these oils:
Aniseed, Basil, Birch, Camphor, Hyssop, Mugwort, Parsley, Pennyroyal, Sage, Tansy, Tarragon, Thuja, Wintergreen and Wormwood.
Some of many oils that appear to be safe according to NAHA include German and Roman chamomile, frankincense, geranium, ginger, neroli, patchouli, petitgrain, rosewood, rose, sandalwood, and other nontoxic essential oils.
Children’s lungs and skin are developing and growing rapidly. For use with children, please dilute essential oils and remember that a little bit goes a long way. NAHA recommends diluting “3-6 drops of EO per ounce” (6 teaspoons) of carrier oil for young children. Most oils are not to be ingested by children, especially under the age of 6. Using a diffuser in your child’s bedroom with an approved oil is a great way to begin using oils with kids. Some favorites to use topically and diluted with kids are lavender for bug bites, as a calming agent, and as a fever reducer, and lemon for runny noses. Do not use peppermint on children 30 months or younger. Here is a list of oils that have some warnings against use with children. It’s best to stick with oils that have been approved as safe, when diluted.
Skin Sensitivity & Dilution
Most safety recommendations suggest always diluting your essential oils with a carrier oil. A favorite is fractionated coconut oil but you can also use grape-seed or olive oil. This will help prevent possible skin sensitivity issues and irritation. Again, read about each oil before use – especially when using ones you haven’t tried before. For example, Oregano can be VERY irritating to the skin and cause burning. While it’s an extremely effective oil, it MUST be diluted prior to use. You can also “test” a diluted oil on your skin. If you have any negative reaction, stop using the oil.
Avoid using oils on sensitive areas such as eyes and ears.
This guide, although a brief glimpse into the world of essential oils, is a great starting point if you’d like to begin using oils with your family. We strongly encourage purchasing a reference and safety guide and becoming a conscious consumer to help you feel more empowered and in control of your personal health. There are many different avenues to achieving optimal wellness. Adding different tools into your natural healing & total health regime can be very useful. Essential oils is simply one of those tools. It is not THE way, but they are ONE, readily available way to achieve a more natural, vibrant, healthful life. There are several different high quality oil companies to choose from. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions! If you’d like to go ahead and purchase a few of our favorites, click here.
Wishing you the very best in your health journey!
Meghan & Heather