I talk about them quite a bit here, but I realized I never took the time to actually talk about what essential oils are or how to use them. There’s a saying in the essential oil world, “I didn’t know how to use essential oils, but then I opened the bottle!” While it is that easy to get started, there’s a little more to than that.
Bear with me friends, this is a little bit of a longer post – but crammed full of info!
First, what are essential oils? They are the aromatic compounds that are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. As you may guess, they give plants their distinctive smells, but they also work to protect the plants. And probably the most interesting thing about the oils are the chemical constituents that make up the oil – they are what give each oil its unique benefits. The nature of an essential oil varies from plant to plant, within botanical families, and from species to species, so plants are very carefully chosen and harvested to produce the best quality product. What’s most important to know is that it’s the chemical constituents in the oils that create the emotional and physical wellness properties sought after.
So then how are they used? There’s three ways – aromatically, topically and internally.
Aromatically means inhalation of the oil, either via an electric diffuser, or by a ‘diffuser’ you make with your hands. An electric diffuser uses cold water, and you place just a couple drops of oil in the water. There’s a disc in the bottom of the diffuser that vibrates at a rate that it atomizes the water and oil and carries it into the air in what looks like steam or mist – however, it’s not hot. Heat can negatively affect the chemical make up of the oil, so heat isn’t recommended if you want to obtain the medical benefits of the oil. If you don’t have a cold water diffuser, you can make a different (but just as effective) ‘diffuser’ by placing just one drop of oil in the palm of your hand, rubbing the oil between your hands, then cupping your hands around your nose and mouth and breathing in deep. The molecules of the oil actually bounce around on the surface of your skin, changing from liquid to gas as you rub, making it possible to inhale.
When inhaling essential oils, with either type of diffuser, the oil molecules interact with your olfactory system, which has a direct link to your limbic system. Your limbic system is in part, responsible for the connection between smell and memory. It is because of this connection that essential oils can be so effective in altering your mood.
Next, topically. Topically means applying the oil to your skin on the area affected to receive the benefits of the oil. Essential oils have low molecular weights and are lipid soluble, so they easily penetrate the skin. You can use a carrier oil, like fractionated coconut oil (liquid at room temperature) to aid in absorption and massage the area. Typically you only need one drop of oil, so a carrier oil will make it easier to spread the oil across an application site. Also, it’s recommended, especially on sensitive skin, young children and older adults, to dilute the oils with a carrier oil. As I said before, a little goes a long way. The oils I use are very strong, so one drop is enough – less is more! Of course, doses will vary, so start small. You can use the oils topically by adding a few drops of oil to a warm bath, or by making a hot or cold compress by soaking a towel or cloth in water, adding essential oils, and then applying to the desired area. And of course, most commonly, you can add a drop of oil to a lotion or moisturizer and then apply to skin. Sensitive areas should be avoided, like eyes, inner ears, genitals, or broken skin.
Finally, you can use oils internally. You should only ingest oils if they are marked certified pure for internal use – to learn more about the oils I use, see the note below. When ingested, essential oils directly enter the blood stream via the gastrointestinal tract, where they are transported throughout the rest of the body. Of course, like all things we consume, when ingested, the essential oils are metabolized by the liver and other organs and are then excreted. Just as before, less is more. Proper dosing according to labeling recommendations and other professional guidelines should be strictly followed to avoid toxicity. Not only can oils be used for their medicinal benefits internally, you can even use them as a replacement for herbs and spices when cooking and baking! I’ve made delicious granola with just a couple drops of cinnamon essential oil,
So when should you use oils in which ways? It depends, but you can use them in either of the ways for the same benefits. For example, if you are experiencing stomach discomfort, you can either rub ginger or peppermint oil on your stomach topically, or could take a one drop of either oil in a shot glass with water. In this case specifically, I usually ingest the oil, as it will get exactly where it needs to go to do the work it needs to do!
This is just a brief overview of using essential oils – I have resources that can explain in even more detail the science behind it, if you’re interested. It really is fascinating and I can read about it for hours!
Who are my friends out there who use oils? Tell me your favorite oil to use and why!