Posted: Jun 13, 2014 8:00 AM
 
Essential oils are emerging as the latest craze in the healthy living community. Learn what they are, how they work and why you may want to introduce them to your home and family.
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What are essential oils?

Despite the name, essential oils aren’t exactly essential, though it’s said they can promote health and well-being. What makes an oil “essential” is its distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant from which it was derived. Essential oils are extracts from various plants, including flowers, trees and herbs. Depending on the type of plant, oils are extracted using distillation, expression or solvent extraction.

Essential oils can be found in perfumes, cosmetics and soaps, used for scents in incense and even for flavor in food and drinks. While they do not form a distinctive category for medical, pharmacological or culinary purposes, essential oils have been known to provide health and mood benefits. Due to the rising interest in aromatherapy in recent years, essential oils have grown in popularity, with many touting their curative and mood boosting effects.

How does it work?

Essential oils can be applied either topically or through inhalation. There is usually no need to ingest essential oils internally. Some essential oils can cause adverse reactions and are even toxic when ingested.

Topical application

In topical application, the essential oil is diluted in a carrier oil, then applied to the skin. Common carrier oils include grapeseed oil, avocado oil, sweet almond oil or even olive oil. After diluting, the oil can be used in the following ways:

  • Compress - Usually for a wound or an injury, the oil is diluted, then applied to a specific area of the body. Some essential oil guides also recommend application to various application points to aid in illness or improve mood.
  • Gargle - To aid in a sore throat or cold, diluted oils may be gargled, but never swallowed.
  • Bath - In a bath, essential oils are absorbed through the skin, as well as through inhalation. Disperse oils into bath water using bath salts or full cream milk, to avoid coming in contact with full strength oils.
  • Massage - Oils can be diluted with a carrier oil, then applied to various parts of the body in a relaxing massage.

Inhalation

Essential oils can be inhaled through several techniques:

  • Diffuser - A diffuser uses either water or heat to evaporate the oils.
  • Dry evaporation - Drops of oil are placed on a cotton ball or tissue and evaporated into the air.
  • Steam - For a more potent and direct inhalation, place a few drops of essential oil into a bowl of steaming water, place a towel over your head and bowl and breathe deeply. This often helps with upper respiratory infections.
  • Spray - Drops of essential oils are mixed with a water-based solution and sprayed into the air to freshen up a room.

Uses for essential oils

There’s an essential oil for pretty much any ailment out there. For example, did you know that a dab of lemon oil behind the ears can help soothe an ear infection? Or that patchouli can lessen the effects of eczema? Here are a few more oils and the benefits they can provide:

  • Rosemary can help ease a headache, smooth cellulite, decrease dandruff and improve memory.
  • Clove can reduce fever, ease muscle aches, reduce blood clots and act as a bug repellent.
  • Cinnamon can soothe whooping cough.
  • Use peppermint, thieves and nutmeg oils to eradicate bad breath.
  • Cure a hangover by inhaling lemon or grapefruit oil.
  • Reduce symptoms of PMS by applying a warm compress of diluted tarragon, clary sage or fennel oils on the abdomen.

In order to use essential oils safely, it’s important to consult with an experienced aromatherapist for dilution guidelines and safe use practices. Most oils are not to be applied directly to the skin without diluting through a carrier oil, and most essential oils should never be ingested. But when used correctly, essential oils carry many positive health benefits, and look to be the next wave of the alternative health future.

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