What are essential oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic fluids derived from plants. They may offer us a wide variety of healing benefits when used in safe aromatherapy applications. These benefits include physical, emotional and mental/spiritual support.
You may encounter polarity in perspective in relationship to using essential oils, so we'd like to offer them in a context, which is that they're the aromatic oil form of plant based medicine. Like most other choices for healing support, it's unlikely they'll be your cure all. However, Aromatherapy certainly isn't newfangled nonsense either! It's a supportive option which absolutely could improve your quality of life. Perhaps dramatically, as it has our own. It can also really be a lot of fun.
Scientific evidence is continually being found for the efficacy of plant based medicine, which is the worlds oldest primary form of medicine. This does include studies emerging showing benefits from the branch which uses plant extracts in the form of essential oils, known as Aromatherapy. For a great many people, all over the world, medicines derived from plants continue to serve as a vital means for finding and maintaining wellness. The use of essential oils has more conventional backing in many places outside the U.S., including Europe, and is growing support in this country too. Essential oils are now part of the care offered by some doctors and hospitals, including Mayo Clinic.
What's all the buzz about?
How are they made?
Essential oils are produced by steam or water distillation (or less commonly mechanical compression or solvent process) of botanical materials such as the petals, buds, leaves, seeds, fruit rinds, wood, needles, bark and/or roots of plants.
How can they be used?
Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways including inhalation and topical application. They can be...
Smelled directly from the bottle or used with "diffusers" (devices and products that hold or diffuse the oil into the air.)
Applied topically after being diluted in lotions or "carrier oils" (vegetable oils used to dilute essential oils before they are applied to skin.)
Used in baths or mixed with water to create sprays.
Used in personal care and cleaning products you make yourself.
Added to some unscented products you already use.
What are considerations when purchasing essential oils?
To purchase quality oils, look for companies that include botanical name, a country of origin and also test for purity/authenticity.
Check for a botanical name. For example, what is commonly referred to as "Lavender" essential oil is only one type of lavender and comes from the plant Lavandula angustifolia. An authentic essential oil should always include the Latin botanical name on the bottle.
Country of origin should also be present, choose companies that clearly state where their plant material was grown. For example: Grown in Bulgaria
Do they test their oils? Check that the company tests for purity to ensure they're unadulterated true botanical essential oils, using the methods of Gas chromatography/Mass spectrometry (also known as GC/MS) testing. They should be able to provide proof if asked to.
Avoid oils with words like "fragrance" or "perfume" in the description. There are no regulations on essential oils and these words may be signs that the oils have been adulterated with other ingredients.
Be cautious of terms such as "therapeutic" or "therapeutic grade" and "clinical grade." There is no certification process for essential oil grade and these terms are marketing techniques, not accurate indicators of quality.
Some oils are much more expensive to produce than others, due to growing conditions and the amount of plant needed, so it's actually a good sign to see a large price range on different oils within the brand.
Look for sustainably sourced oils. It takes a tremendous amount of plant material to create these oils, so sustainability is critical if you wish to continue enjoying them!
What are some considerations when using essential oils?
Essential oils are very concentrated and should always be used with proper dilution. They should be viewed like medicine and their strength respected. In addition, not all botanicals and essential oils are always safe to be used in the same ways and under all conditions (for example during pregnancy or when other health concerns are present) or for use with children or pets. Please refer to the links below for specific information. Finally, like anything, one can be allergic to a plant or plant family. If you're allergic to a specific plant, avoid its essential oil and others in its plant family! Always do a proper dilution patch test if you are using a new oil topically. If a particular oil ever seems to bother you, we encourage you to trust your experience, and discontinue use.