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Essential Oils: All You Need to Know

Essential Oils: All You Need to Know

The use of essential oils is becoming a popular practice as people look for more alternatives to traditional medicine.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are made from pressing or distilling leaves, flowers, bark, or even fruit. These concentrated plant extracts are safe, natural treatments for various maladies.

Some of the most well-known oils and their health benefits include:

  • Lavender oil. Calms and relieves stress
  • Chamomile oil. Aids sleep
  • Tea tree oil. Antibacterial and treats skin conditions such as acne
  • Peppermint oil. Relieves headaches and indigestion
  • Lemon. Uplifts mood and improves energy

How to Use Essential Oils

True essential oils require a lot of material to produce, even for a small amount of oil. This results in a concentrated fragrance.

The natural scent of essential oils makes them ideal for use in aromatherapy, which is a centuries-old practice that uses fragrances to improve health and well-being. Smell triggers the limbic system, which controls functions like breathing and heart rate as well as the processing of emotions.

There are several ways to use essential oils for aromatherapy:

Aromatherapy accessories

Essential oils can be placed in a small pendant to be worn as a necklace or bracelet or carried on a keychain that makes it easily accessible to the user.

Diffusers

A diffuser is a simple appliance that uses an open flame to heat the oil and cause it to evaporate, which disperses the fragrance. Modern diffusers are electronic and safer to use. Some designs still use heat activation, but the more popular method is to dilute the essential oil in water and release fragrance via mist. Diffusers are useful for dispersing scent in a larger area.

Body oils

Because of their concentrated quality, essential oils cannot be applied directly to the skin. Full strength essential oils can cause irritations to the skin, ranging from rashes to chemical burns that require urgent medical attention.

To make them safe for topical application, essential oils must be diluted in carrier oils like jojoba, coconut, sweet almond, and avocado to reduce their potency.

Once diluted, the oil mixture may be massaged onto the skin. But first do a patch test by applying on a small area of skin to check for allergic reactions before using a more liberal dosage.

Are Essential Oils Safe for Use?

It is important to note that though essential oils come from natural sources, plant extracts still contain chemical components that may affect normal body functions. Remember to safely and properly use essential oils.

People with certain medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children should not use essential oils.

This is because:

  • Fragrances can trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Scents can have different effects on different people.
  • Essential oils can cause an adverse drug interaction in some prescription medication. In a single type of essential oil, they can be as many as 500 chemicals found.
  • Some essential oils may cause early labor and miscarriage. This link requires more studies and testing. In general, pregnant women should avoid using essential oils without medical supervision.
  • Some essential oils, like lavender oil and tea tree oil, have been found to affect human hormonal activity. One clinical study links this interaction to abnormal breast tissue development in prepubescent boys.

Because of the risk of negative effects in some groups, doctor advise against using a diffuser with essential oils in public areas.

Do not ingest essential oils. Just as they are too potent to apply to bare skin, ingesting essential oils can burn the mouth, esophagus, and other parts of the digestive system. Oral intake may also lead to poisoning and liver toxicity.

What are the risks?

Due to its wide range of applications, essential oils have long been studied for their potential to treat:

However, faulty study methodology and mixed results make for a poor case for aromatherapy as a reliable alternative to conventional or evidence-based medicine. More high-quality studies are needed.

One of the more promising studies focused on the use of essential oils to aid users with mild sleep disturbances. The results of 11 controlled trials showed that inhaling lavender essential oil had a positive effect on sleep. It showed that there were no adverse effects on the users. However, a larger sample size is required to better establish this finding.

Part of the challenge in establishing the viability of aromatherapy lies in how essential oils are created: as a natural product, plant extracts can result in some variation in its chemical composition as influenced by the plant’s growing conditions and the method of extraction used. This variable can create differences in user reactions. This makes it difficult to obtain replicable results that are necessary for establishing findings.

Though the efficacy of essential oils as treatment is still in question, essential oil products that make claims relating to the improvement of human health and well-being are required to meet safety standards and be registered with the Philippine Food and Drug Administration. Products with therapeutic indications are classified as drugs.

Key Takeaways

If you would like to use essential oils, it is best to first check with your doctor. Your physical can give your the clearance to safely use these extracts. It is important to check whether essential oils will not interact with any medication that you are taking. Remember, the use of these oils should be complementary to conventional medical therapy rather than its substitute.

Only purchase products that are approved by the Philippine FDA. Also, ensure that you use essential oils correctly to avoid harm.

Learn more about Herbals & Alternatives here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Aromatherapy, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/aromatherapy/faq-20058566, Accessed July 16, 2020

Essential Oils: What You Need to Know, https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/essential-oils-what-you-need-to-know.html, Accessed July 16, 2020

Essential Oils, Part III: Chemical Composition, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27427817/, Accessed July 16, 2020

Essential Oils, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/essential-oils/index.cfm, Accessed July 16, 2020

Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work?, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/aromatherapy-do-essential-oils-really-work, Accessed July 16, 2020

Aromatherapy for health care: an overview of systematic reviews, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22285469/, Accessed July 16, 2020

Essential Oils’ Chemical Characterization and Investigation of Some Biological Activities: A Critical Review, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5456241/, Accessed July 16, 2020

Aromatherapy, https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/aromatherapy, Accessed July 16, 2020

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Medically reviewed by Stephanie Nicole G. Nera, RPh, PharmD
Written by Den Alibudbud
Updated Jul 16, 2020
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