Last Updated October 16th, 2019
What are essential oils?
The leaf, seed, or the flower containing unique medicinal characteristics are extracted in the form of oil. This oil is power packed with all the important benefits. The process of extracting these oils includes distillation with the use of steam or water or by mechanical methods, such as cold pressing. Once the essential ingredients are extracted, it is mixed with a carrier oil to create the end product. These essential oils are also obtained through the chemical process, which is not considered to be pure since it may also include harmful chemicals in it.
Facts about essential oils
- Essential oils that are safe on the skin do not mean that they are safe to consume.
- Oils extracted through the chemical process are not considered to be true essential oils.
- All essential oils are not safe to apply on your skin as they may cause blisters.
- Old age people and infants can be sensitive to essential oils.
- Essential oils should always be used on the skin after diluting them with a carrier
Health benefits of essential oils
Balance hormone levels
Several important hormones such as testosterone, thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, as well as cortisol levels, can be managed with the ingestion of essential oils. Certain oils such as clary sage, geranium and thyme can manage estrogen and progesterone levels. Managing these hormones can help conditions such as infertility and PCOS. Women suffering from declining levels of estrogen may use geranium and rose oil to manage these menopausal symptoms. These oils can reduce cortisol levels, which helps to improve depression symptoms. They also can manage libido by increasing testosterone levels.
Numerous essential oils have important properties such as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-fungal. These properties of essential oils can improve the immune system and fight infections. Oregano, ginger, lemon, eucalyptus, peppermint, frankincense, and cinnamon are considered to be the best essential oils that can improve the immune system.
Since it has become very common to depend on antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal drugs, the side effects associated with these drugs are highly dangerous. Choosing an alternative and natural ingredient that can treat these conditions become essential. Using these oils independently or as a combination therapy can help treat these medical conditions better. Carvacrol and thymol present in oregano oil have antibacterial effects that can treat several bacterial infections.
Certain laboratory studies have tested the effectiveness of Frankincense oil for anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects. These tests have shown promising results in fighting specific types of cancer cells. It has been concluded that a particular chemical called AKBA that is present in Frankincense oil has the ability to kill cancer cells that are resistant to even chemotherapy.
Another important property of essential oils comes in the form of improving digestion. Stomach related problems such as indigestion, diarrhea, stomach spasms, and upset stomach can be cured with the help of essential oils. These oils work by stimulating digestive enzymes that break down and absorb the nutrients, fats, and protein. A suitable example of this is ginger oil.
Ginger has been in use since ancient times due to its medicinal properties. It is also been used in several culinary dishes to enhance the aroma and taste of the dish. Studies have claimed that ginger oil is able to relieve gas, reduce nausea symptoms, help with indigestion, as well as reduce abdominal pain.
Peppermint oil is suitable to provide relief for symptoms related to IBS. Regular use of peppermint oil for four weeks can reduce IBS symptoms up to 40%. Other oils such as lemongrass, fennel, black pepper, marjoram, and juniper berry improve digestion and reduce gastrointestinal related problems.
Improve energy levels
Energy levels need to be maintained at a higher level in individuals such as athletes. Energy levels are increased when high levels of oxygen are transported to the brain. This provides a refreshed feeling that helps you to focus and perform better. Studies have claimed that peppermint oil can improve the oxygen supply to the brain, as well as improve exercise performance and reduce exhaustion. Other essential oils that help improve energy levels include lemongrass, grapefruit, eucalyptus, and rosemary.
Improve Brain Function
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer disease and dementia can reduce the neuroprotective effects and cognitive performance. The powerful antioxidant effects present in the essential oils help fight free radicals and reduce oxidative stress exerted on the brain. This reduces inflammation in the brain, which is considered to be the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer disease.
Reduction in free radicals and oxidative stress improves the brain function such as improving memory and ability to focus. Peppermint oil leads the list by improving attention span. Lavender oil can help people undergoing tough situations. Agitation, which is a common symptom associated with dementia can be controlled with the use of essential oils. This is achieved because of the calming and sedative effects that they generate.
Reduce stress and anxiety
As discussed in the previous section, the sedative effects of the essential oils can reduce stress and anxiety. Lavender, bergamot, ylang-ylang, Roman chamomile, orange, rose, and vetiver is the oils that provide the calming and sedative effects that can treat stress and anxiety. Studies have claimed that traits of anxiety related to hemodialysis treatment can be reduced by inhaling rose water.
Studies have also claimed that aromatherapy can reduce anxiety and depression in postpartum women. A blend of rose water and lavender oils used as aromatherapy for four weeks can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Aromatherapy has also played an important role in reducing negative emotions including stress and depression among elderly people with chronic pain and anxiety symptoms.
Alleviate Aches and Pains
Aches and pains are common factors affecting every individual. Aches and pains may affect a person from performing normal day to day chores. We usually depend on pain killers to get us out of this situation. The drugs are generally accompanied several side effects and hence an alternative treatment would be necessary to manage these problems. Essential oils come to the rescue by providing pain relief. Topical application of essential oils, as well as aromatherapy, can reduce body aches and pains.
Studies have proved that a combination of marjoram, black pepper, lavender, and peppermint oil application for four weeks can reduce chronic pains such as back and neck pain. Lavender, eucalyptus, chamomile, peppermint, rosemary, frankincense, turmeric, marjoram, thyme, ginger, and myrrh are considered to be the best oils to treat body aches and pain.
Boost skin and hair health
A natural and effective way to maintain your personal care can be achieved with the use of essential oils. Beauty products generally contain chemicals and hydrogenated oils that are harmful to the hair and skin. Studies have claimed that skin conditions such as irritated skin, wrinkles, acne, as well as age-related spots can be reduced with the use of essential oils. They can also provide strength and shine to the hair. These oils have the ability to fight pathogens affecting the skin and the hair.
They can also reduce inflammation associated with dermatitis, eczema, and lupus. All of these factors play an important role in maintaining healthy skin. It has also been proved that using rosemary oil for six months can improve symptoms of alopecia and also cure baldness. The best essential oil for skin and hair health include rosemary, Roman chamomile, frankincense, lavender, tea tree, geranium, helichrysum, myrrh, and clary sage.
Toxicity can be caused due to chemicals and environmental toxins. These toxins can cause several side effects. Essential oils are also known to act as mild diuretics that can increase urine production and aid in detoxification. Grapefruit, lemongrass, ginger, lemon, fennel, and peppermint oil can promote internal detoxification. Other oils such as eucalyptus, cinnamon, and tea tree can be used externally to detoxify the surroundings.
There is no clear understanding as to what causes migraines, but it is believed that certain triggers play an important role in causing migraines. Essential oils can effectively treat the triggers causing migraines and address the root cause of migraines instead of masking them as done by several pain killers. Lavender oil and peppermint oil are effective in promoting cooling effect as well as stimulate blood flow. Eucalyptus oil can relieve sinus pressure whereas rosemary can reduce inflammation and improve circulation. A combination of these oils can effectively treat migraines.
Certain health conditions such as depression and stress can affect the sleeping pattern and even cause insomnia. As discussed earlier lavender oil provides a calming effect, which can promote sleep. Other oils such as vetiver, roman chamomile, ylang-ylang, and bergamot too can promote sleep.
Side effects of essential oils
Essential oils are generally safe when used appropriately. You should have a clear understanding as to when and where they should be used. All the side effects discussed below are usually associated with overuse. Let us discuss a few commonly used essential oils and the side effects associated with it.
- Bergamot: Causes skin sensitivity when subjected to sunlight exposure.
- Cassia: Lactating women may develop a reduction in milk supply.
- Cinnamon Bark: People with sensitive skin should avoid this oil as there are high chances of sensitivity and irritation.
- Clove: Can cause irritation to the skin as well the sinuses. May even irritate the stomach when used internally.
- Coriander: Rarely causes skin sensitivity.
- Cumin: Stimulates blood flow in the uterus and hence should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Fennel: People suffering from seizures and epilepsy should avoid this as it may cause convulsion and mental imbalance.
- Frankincense: People who are already consuming blood thinners should avoid this, as it causes further thinning of the blood.
- Geranium: Should be avoided during pregnancy as it can influence estrogen secretion.
- Ginger: Causes skin sensitivity.
- Grapefruit: May interact with several medications.
- Holy basil: People suffering from liver problems should avoid this.
- Lemon: Direct sun exposure should be avoided after external application.
- Lemongrass: Children, nursing mothers, and pregnant women should avoid it.
- Marjoram: Has the ability to increase menstrual flow and hence should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Myrrh: It is considered to be poisonous to the fetus. May also cause an upset stomach and also can lower blood sugar levels.
- Oregano: Considered unsafe during pregnancy as well as for infants and children.
- Patchouli: May cause drug interaction and cause blood clotting.
- Peppermint: High chances of interaction with various medications. Highly advised to be used only sparingly.
- Roman Chamomile: Do not exceed internal use for more than two weeks and should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Rosemary: May cause menstrual bleeding, seizures, and can also lead to miscarriage.
- Spikenard: Has the ability to stimulate the uterus and hence should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Turmeric: May cause permanent stain when applied on fabrics.
Safety Tips When Using Essential Oil Externally
- Perform a patch test on the skin at least 24 hours prior to using it. This will determine if you are allergic to the essential oil.
- People suffering from eczema or rosacea should avoid application of essential oils that can trigger the symptoms.
- Certain essential oils may cause sensitivity when exposed to sunlight. It is important to use these oils with caution. Some of the examples include oregano, lemon, lemongrass, cumin, clove, cinnamon bark, etc.
- It is highly recommended to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before applying to the skin.
- Use these oils sparingly on the skin and do not overuse it, as it may cause dryness of the skin.
- Never use them on wounds or burns. This may exacerbate your symptoms and even cause infection.
- It should never be applied around the eyes. If they get into the eyes by mistake, make sure to rinse the eye thoroughly until all the oil is flushed out.
Safety Tips When Using Essential Oil Internally
- It is important to read the labels carefully before buying them. It should be noted that essential oils that are safe on the skin may not be safe to consume. Choose essential oils that are certified by USDA Organic as dietary supplements.
- Internal use of oils should be done sparingly as all the side effects are usually associated with using them in large amounts or due to long-term use.
- Adulterated essential oils can double the chances of an adverse response.
- Always dilute the oil with any other liquid such as honey or applesauce be consuming it. Do not ingest them on empty stomach.
- These oils may interact with several medications. It is important to consult with your doctor before adding them to your diet.
- Certain oils such as eucalyptus, ginger, rosemary, clary sage, and thyme can dilute the blood. It is important to avoid them if you are already on blood thinning medications.
- Lavender, clary sage, tea tree, sandalwood, and chamomile can alter the hormonal levels and should be avoided when dealing with hormonal problems.
- Keep them away from children and infants as they can cause serious and life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical help from the nearest emergency room if it is ingested mistakenly by any child or infant.
How to choose an essential oil
Pure or medical grade are the terms generally used on labels indicating the quality of essential oils. However, you cannot completely believe this as this industry is unregulated and there are chances that the quality and composition can be varying. Few tips can be followed when choosing essential oils.
- Purity – Avoid oils that contain additives. Pure oils generally contain the botanical name of the plant from which the oil is extracted.
- Quality- The quality of the oil can be determined when it is extracted through distillation or mechanical cold pressing. Other means of extraction generally includes the addition of chemicals as well as heating. This reduces the effectiveness of the oil.
- Reputation: Choose a brand that you trust.
Essential oils are the concentrated form of all the goodness a plant can provide. Using it in the right way is completely in our hands. Educating yourself well in advance about the benefits and side effects of these oils can give you a clear understanding as to when and where to use this oil. The various benefits associated with it are widely researched.
There are also certain red flags regarding the safety of these oils. It should be noted that all side effects are related to overuse. On a precautionary note, never keep essential oils within the reach of children and infants, as their ingestion can lead to life-threatening complications. Consult your doctor if you are interested in adding any essential oil to your diet. Use it wisely to reap the benefits.
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