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I’ve already posted in depth about some of the major problems with modern use of essential oils (in one of my most controversial posts to date), but essential oils do have many benefits, so I wanted to cover the positive side as well.
Benefits of Essential Oils
Though essential oils do have a dark side if used incorrectly, they have been safely used by many people to:
- Improve immunity and speed illness recovery
- Deal with infection (under the care of a professional)
- Balance hormones
- Make homemade cleaning or beauty products
- For diffusing and natural air cleansing
- Topically (when diluted)
- In recipes like homemade bug spray to avoid outdoor pests naturally
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated non-water soluble phytochemicals that are distilled from different parts of plants. They can be distilled from leaves, roots, flowers and other parts of plants and are very potent because of their concentration of phytochemicals.
Herbs and plants have been used for thousands of years and modern society has lost some of the wisdom of past generations and the ability to address illness with these natural solutions.
Essential oils have gained incredible popularity in recent years, but they are really an age-old remedy that have become popular again (though it is important to note that many modern essential oils are more concentrated than the oils used historically because of better distillation techniques).
More is not always better…
Essential oils are extremely potent and it is important to use as little as needed, not as much as possible. When a few drops of an oil used topically or aromatically will work, using more or consuming it internally is not only unnecessary, but may actually be harmful.
Another concern with modern essential oil use (especially the overconsumption that often accompanies regular internal use) is the long term sustainability of essential oils. Since a tremendous amount of plant material is needed to extract the oils, their long-term and widespread use could potentially create a negative, world-wide environmental effect.
Differences in Quality
The quality of essential oils on the market varies greatly. Essential oils can be quite expensive, but a high quality essential oil takes a large amount of plant material to produce and is highly concentrated. Many inexpensive essential oils are available commercially, but are altered with other oils or do not pass third party testing because of their inferior quality.
High quality oils should be produced without chemicals and come from organic plants that grow in their natural environment and growing region.
Safe Use of Essential Oils
Essential oils are very powerful plant compounds and should be used carefully and in the correct way. I’ve seen a lot of information promoting the regular internal use of essential oils and while there can absolutely be a place for this, I think it is important to be careful and check with a qualified professional when consuming them internally since they are so strong.
My two favorite ways to use essential oils are diffusing and topical use. The body can still utilize the beneficial parts of the oil and this is a much gentler (yet still effective) approach.
Essential oils contain tiny molecules that are much more easily absorbed into the body than other types of oils, so when an oil is used on the skin, the body rapidly obtains the benefit of the oil. This is why it is also important to follow safe usage guidelines, even for topical use.
I highly recommend diluting any oils that are used on skin with a safe carrier oil and consulting with a qualified aromatherapist or functional medicine doctor before using topically, especially on children.
Essential oils can also be diffused into the air. This process is known as aromatherapy and provides the benefits of the oils as they are inhaled. There is evidence that the oils are absorbed into the blood stream when inhaled.
Some research has shown that aromatic use is actually more effective that internal use, and it is certainly much safer.
My Favorite Essential Oils
I’ve written before about my favorite oils, but in summary, these are excellent ones to use for daily activities:
- Peppermint– We use it on feet for nausea or fever, in homemade cleaners and soaps, and in the diffuser. For congestion, I add a few drops of Peppermint and other oils to a pot of steaming water and breathe in the steam to help open the sinuses.
- Lavender– I use it in skin care recipes and as a calming oil when needed. It is naturally antibacterial and I often add it to homemade cleaners. I also add Lavender to bath water to help me relax at night.
- Lemon, Lime and Orange– These citrus essential oils are astringent and antiseptic and are thought to stimulate the immune system. They are uplifting and considered cleansing. We avoid these in the sun since they do make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. In some studies they are shown to have antimicrobial properties.
- Frankincense– I use topically on my thyroid and it seems to have helped shrink the nodules that were forming (along with dietary changes).
- Rosemary– I add a drop to my shampoo to increase hair growth and improve scalp health.
- Tea Tree/Melaleuca – I add this to natural cleaning products as it is naturally antibacterial and smells great when mixed with a citrus oil or lavender.
Saving Money Using Essential Oils?
One benefit of essential oil usage is that you can save money in other areas of the budget, such as using them in DIY beauty products and homemade cleaning products that no longer have to be purchased at retail from the store.
Where I Get Essential Oils
I purchase essential oils from multiple companies and sources, depending on the blend and usage. There can be a substantial difference in quality between brands, so I always make sure the source is certified organic and available in various sizes (including bulk sizes at a discount) whenever possible. However, the vast majority of oils I use are purchased here.
A Note of Caution
Wherever you buy essential oils, you should always ensure they are:
- Organic- as pesticides can be more concentrated in essential oils.
- Sourced from the native region for each plant
- Not altered or adulterated in any way
- List any precautions and contraindications (pregnancy, medications, etc) for each of their oils
Please also take a moment to read this article with important risks and cautions before using essential oils.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Sands, ND. She is double board certified in Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine and is also a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and competitive endurance athlete. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you use essential oils? What is your favorite blend of oil and how do you use it?