Essential Oils: Understanding the Hype
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on January 11, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in General Wellbeing
Some of the hottest products on the market right now are designed to aid in both mental and physical wellness naturally. Essential oils, in particular, are all the rage—people swear by them and their powerful healing abilities. But what are essential oils, and do they actually do what they’re supposed to do?
In essence, essential oils are natural extracts used in alternative medicine. When used properly, they may be able to have effects on your mood, stress level, inflammation, headaches and more.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are natural compounds extracted from different plants. The scent and flavor of the compounds are distilled or pressed out of the plants, then mixed with a carrier oil and bottled in liquid form.
Essential oils have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. They are a staple in modern-day alternative medicine, particularly aromatherapy—the practice of healing through the inhalation of certain aromatic herbs.
Aromatherapy isn’t the only application for essential oils, though. They can also be diluted and applied topically to the skin, as well as mixed with other products for application in massages, baths and personal care.
How essential oils can help you
It is believed that using essential oils can activate parts of your brain called the limbic system, which can influence your mood, emotions, stress and behaviors. The limbic system may also be able to control your heart rate, breathing, hormone balance and blood pressure.
Here are some specific health and wellness benefits of essential oils:
- Reduce stress: Some studies have shown that people using essential oils known for stress relief, such as lavender and chamomile, experienced better moods and lower stress levels.
- Ease anxiety: People with anxiety often use essential oils to promote feelings of calm, reduce stress and prevent anxiety or panic attacks.
- Improve sleep: Inhalation of a relaxing essential oil like lavender may help improve the quality of your sleep and reduce symptoms of insomnia.
- Reduce headaches: Application of diluted essential oils has been shown to relieve chronic headache and migraine symptoms.
- Lower inflammation: Many essential oils have anti-inflammatory compounds, which can aid in reducing inflammation throughout the body. Some are well-known for reducing inflammation in arthritis patients, while others can be used topically to reduce the inflammation of acne or other skin issues.
Popular essential oils and their benefits
There are more than 90 different essential oils. Some essential oils are more well-known for their effects than others. You may have heard of many of these oils being put into your everyday products like lotions, pillow sprays and bath products.
- Tea tree: Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory properties that make it great for easing skin imperfections and acne. It’s also well-known for bolstering immunity and fighting infections.
- Lavender: Lavender essential oil is one of the most well-known oils and is supposed to bring about feelings of calm and reduce stress and anxiety. It is also known for its pain relief properties.
- Peppermint: Peppermint oil is known to help reduce headaches, migraines and fevers, as well as fight fatigue.
- Ylang-Ylang: Ylang-Ylang is another oil that is well-known for its headache-reducing properties. It is also beneficial for reducing nausea.
- Chamomile: You’ve probably seen Roman chamomile in a number of your relaxing bath products because it is known for its relaxing and stress-reducing properties.
- Ginger: Ginger essential oil is helpful for relieving nausea and can also help reduce inflammation.
Do essential oils actually work?
There have been a variety of studies on essential oils that have produced mixed results. Some studies show that certain essential oils are effective when used in certain ways, while other studies have been inconclusive.
Overall, it’s not completely proven that essential oils can have major benefits for your health. However, they are unlikely to hurt you if used as directed (such as through aromatherapy inhalation) and may provide some relief from certain symptoms. Many people use essential oils as an additional form of therapy, not as a sole treatment for a health problem.
If you are interested in purchasing essential oils, make sure you choose high-quality, pure essential oils that don’t have additives or synthetic chemical compounds. Pure essential oils are the safest and most effective forms.
Additionally, it’s important to do research and learn about the benefits and effects of each particular oil and which form of use is most appropriate. You should also consult with your doctor about using essential oils, because some oils may have adverse effects with prescription medication or may be unsafe to use depending on your health conditions.
Finally, always make sure to test essential oils on the back of your hand before using them to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions. Do not ingest essential oils, as most are not considered safe to be added to food or drink.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan