Posted on March 30, 2016
Wellness Wednesday: Essential Oils 101
In the last few years, essential oils have become an increasingly huge part of my health, beauty, and overall wellness routine. Their potency combined with the fact that they’re (ideally and usually) 100% natural are what appeal most to me. Plus – they’re hugely cost-effective. So what’s the deal with essential oils? Let’s chat.
I recently connected with Heather Gibson – a clinical aromatherapist based out of Salt Lake City – over our mutual passion for essential oils and all the amazing things they can do. She and I collaborated on this post and I’m excited to share more about how essential oils have become an integrated part of both our lives. Seriously. I totally nerd-out over essential oils.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of essential oils. There’s is a growing interest in them across the world, Vancouver being no exception. What I love about them is that essential oils work with the body to address issues and root causes at a cellular level, supporting the body in meeting its needs so the body can heal itself. That’s what our amazing bodies were designed to do!
Let’s start with the basics:
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are naturally-occurring aromatic compounds found in plants – including roots, fruits, flowers, leaves, and resin. They are incredibly potent: about 50 -70 times more potent than herbs!
If you’re like me, you’ll steep yourself some tummy tea when you’ve got an upset stomach. Peppermint is almost always the main ingredient. One drop of peppermint essential oil is the rough equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea and only costs about 8 cents, which makes it super affordable too. Because they are so potent, only 1 or 2 drops is enough. More is not necessarily better.
Using essential oils more frequently instead of in sporadic, large doses is normally far more effective. Also avoid putting them anywhere sensitive like the eyes, ears, or (I can’t believe I have to say this) up your nose.
How Can You Use Essential Oils?
There are three ways to use essential oils: topically, aromatically, and internally. Topically is great for targeting a specific need that is localized – like a sore muscle or a cut on your skin. Heather makes an “Owie Spray” for when her kids take a fall and need a little wound care. Even her 13-year-old asks for it by name if he thinks there is something that warrants a little extra attention.
Using a “carrier oil” when using essential oils topically is key. Carrier oils stretch essential oils further, helping them to not evaporate as quickly, as well as reduce the risk of skin irritation from oils that are “hot” like oregano. Examples of carrier oils are almond, jojoba, grapeseed, apricot, and even olive oil.
There are many more options, including my favourite, fractionated coconut oil (FCO). Fractionated just means that the fat has been eliminated and the oil remains liquid at room temperature. I like FCO because it has no smell so it doesn’t dilute the scent of my essential oils. If you apply an oil to your skin and it feels like it’s burning, always put a carrier oil on it instead of washing it with water. Water will actually drive the essential oil deeper and intensify the feeling!
Aromatically is the best way to use essential oils if you want them to affect your moods. Without getting too “science-geeky,” it is the only way to directly affect your limbic system (that fight-or-flight portion of your brain). Heather and I both know a lot of people who struggle with mood, mind, and sleep issues, so finding new ways to use essential oils aromatically has become important to each of us.
Diffusing an oil or putting a few drops of oil in your hands and inhaling it can uplift your mood and energize you almost instantly. A little oil at bedtime can promote a restful sleep. Some oils when studying, working, or reading can also be supportive in keeping you alert and focused. Personally, I love using essential oils in my diffuser to purify the air.
Using essential oils Internally is contested by some. I don’t have a lot of experience with internal use, but Heather finds it to be very supportive for certain issues like mouth, throat, digestive support, and overall wellness. However, she cautions against using anything but a high-quality essential oil when using them internally. Most essential oils on the market are not of high quality. (I’ll address quality in a minute.)
Some easy ways to use essential oils internally are to put a drop under your tongue, in a glass of water, or in a gel capsule. Using a drop or two of grapefruit or lemon oil can help gently detox the body by drinking them in a glass of water. (Make sure you use only a glass or a glass-made bottle to avoid nasty BPAs.)
Finding a High Quality Essential Oil
This is trickier then you might think. Some studies claim that up to 80% of all essential oils have something added to them even if it says “100% pure” on the bottle. Crazy, right?
Sometimes manufacturers do this to save money, but sometimes it is done by accident without any dishonest intent. After confirming that the oil you’re using is pure, you also have to consider a few more factors: the soil conditions, geographic location, time of harvest, and the quality of the extraction process all play a part into having an oil that has the benefits you want. Did you know there is an actual chemical difference between lavender grown in France and lavender grown elsewhere.
You can also take this a step further and consider the farmers who grew the plants that are being harvested to create the essential oil you’re using. Are they receiving a fair price for their crop? Are they being treated fairly by the manufacturer?
With all the oils out there, how can you personally tell if you have a good oil? It’s hard to do but both Heather and I have done a ton of research.
What Are Essential Oils Good For?
Truthfully, the question should be “what aren’t essential oils good for?” They have both physical and emotional properties that make them a very versatile tool in my household.
When I first started using essential oils, my husband was hugely resistant. He pretty much despises artificial scents as well as anything chemical-based. When I explained to him a bit more about oils and their purity – and helped him get over a fierce cold with essential oils – he quickly got on board with them.
Here are a few ways Heather and I use some basic oils daily:
Disclaimer: Heather Gibson is a certified clinical aromatherapist. The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Use of essential oils is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.