Essential Oils: What They Are & How They’re Used

Have you heard all of the buzz about essential oils lately?  I certainly have! I’ve also met about three business leaders over the past month representing varying essential oil companies.  Their growth in popularity is unsurprising, given the evolution of healthcare and our increased level of weariness for prescription medications.  I think using these oils can be a great part of your healthcare repertoire as long as they are used with care.  While opinions vary as to whether or not essential oils should be taken internally, I think I’d be most comfortable with that method of use under the guidance of a Registered Aromatherapist or a trusted Naturopathic Doctor.

Many brands have labeled themselves as ‘certified pure’ or ‘certified pure therapeutic grade.’  Please note that aside from the “Certified Organic” label given by the USDA, there is no certification process for these oils.  Any grade noted on your oil bottles are given by the oils’ brands themselves.  It’s also important to note that while some brands may market their oils as safe for internal use, these oils have not been tested by an outside party and there is uncertainty as to what kind of effect they could have. And lastly, note that some oils (cinnamon, clove, & lemon) need to be diluted before applying to the skin. Be sure to check on with the oils you’re about to use; some oils can burn sensitive skin.

I have a few bottles of some popular oils at home, including lavender, eucalyptus, sweet orange, and lemon.  I used the lavender to create a sugar scrub for the bath.  A couple of months ago, I had sinusitis and one of our Nurse Practitioners (Heidi Sequiera, FNP- she’s fantastic!)  recommended that had my particular case not been left so long, that I could have used Eucalyptus globulus vaporized to ease the congestion.  I thought that was pretty interesting.  Most of the time, doctors are quick to push the antibiotics, but according to Heidi, had I used the Eucalyptus early on, it would have been effective.  With the overuse of antibiotics these days creating superbugs that can’t be killed, I was appreciative to be informed of an option that didn’t involve them.  Our own Naturopathic Doctor, Sarah Giardenelli, says that several other essential oils have demonstrated antimicrobial effects when vaporized, including aromas such as cinnamon, perilla, peppermint, and lemongrass.  If you’re exploring the use of oils in your home remedy arsenal, I’d suggest making an appointment with Sarah at some point to make sure you’re using them to the fullest extent that you can.

Essential oils are a volatile, highly concentrated extract which are derived from leaves, bark, roots, seeds resins and flowers of various plant species. Depending on where you get them from, yours may even contain some of these leftover bits.  Despite their wonderful scents, they should not be confused with fragrances or perfume oils.  Perfumes are often made from chemicals, and therefore lack the therapeutic properties of essential oils.  A good way to check for their purity is to drop a drop or two onto a piece of construction paper.  A pure oil should evaporate without leaving a noticeable ring on the paper.  Here are some common oils and their uses:

  • Lavender. This oil is incredibly calming to the nervous system.  Used with a carrier oil such as grapeseed, it’s proven it’s use with healing burns, scarring and eczema.  Having trouble winding down for sleep?  Try diffusing it at night.  As a warning, regular, daily topical usage of lavender should be avoided in women with breast cancer or any history of breast cancer and even in pre-pubertal boys due to its known estrogen promoting effects.
  • Sweet Orange. Diffuse Sweet Orange to freshen up the air, or use in a bath to ease stress.  Add it to a cleaning product or straight to a spot to de-grease.  Historically, Sweet Orange has been used as an antidepressant, deodorant, digestive aid, stimulant and as an antiseptic.  It can also help lessen the severity of colds & flu, ease constipation, and brighten dull skin.
  • Tea Tree.  Tea tree helps fight bacteria, fungi and viruses.  When used as an inhalant, it helps with colds, measles, sinusitis and other viral infections.  Applied directly, it can be used to treat athlete’s foot, eczema and psoriasis.  Add a few drops to your shampoo, conditioner, and facial wash to treat acne, lice, dandruff and oily skin.
  • Peppermint. As you already probably know, peppermint has a cooling effect.  It is this property that makes it refreshing and useful as a mental stimulant and energizer.  Diffuse peppermint into the air to ease headaches, congestion, nausea & asthma, and it is also known to treat fevers, muscle and nerve pain.
  • Lemon. Lemon essential oil makes a great cleanser, as you’ve most likely seen many commercial products touting it as an ingredient.  It works by separating the dirt or oil from the item you’re trying to clean – not necessarily as an antiseptic – which makes it useful for removing oil, gum, adhesives or crayon, for example, from most surfaces.  This can also make it as good as using regular soap for cleaning your skin or hair.  I’d also recommend that people who have trouble concentrating use it in their diffuser.
  • Eucalyptus Globulus.  This essential oil was once used by doctors in 19th century England as an antiseptic to heal surgical wounds. As I mentioned above, it is very good for respiratory infections.  I put a few drops into boiling water and deeply inhaled to help with congestion, sneezing and general head pain. Add it to a carrier oil to massage aching muscles and clear acne-prone skin.  A few drops in a bath can help ease pain associated with arthritis.

Those are only a few, but hopefully it’s enough to get your started!  These (and many other high-quality oils) can be picked up at our spa.  As they are so concentrated, most oils should be diluted before use, and a diffuser can be picked up for home use.  Many of those plug-ins and scented candles we use at home are not only toxic with all the chemicals that make them up, but are also prematurely aging our skin!  Say goodbye to the toxins, and take a diffuser home with you.

Interested in a new sugar scrub for the bath?  Try my recipe – I thought it was awesome and hope you like it too!  I use it when my skin is dry during the winter.  Don’t forget to moisturize after bathing!

Ingredients:  ½ cup sweet almond or grapeseed oil, 1 cup sugar (or sea salt, but sugar is better for sensitive skin) 10 drops lavender + 5 drops peppermint + ½ tsp of vanilla extract.

Directions: Put the sugar in a small bowl.  Add the oil and mix it well with a wooden spoon or spatula. The texture should be moist enough to hold together, but you don’t want too much oil.  Gently tap in the drops of essential oil and combine well. The one above I really like, but you can customize your scrub using other oils if you like depending on what you’re in the mood for.

What are your favorite uses for essential oils?  Share them in the comments below!