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When it comes to alternative therapies, essential oils are top of many people’s lists. Different oils are used for different ailments; some to relax you and others to improve your mood or even your sleep patterns.
While there have been some studies on whether or not essential oils actually work, it is probably sensible to take all the various claims with a pinch of salt, especially since high-quality oils are often rather expensive.
Still, there’s no reason not to at least try essential oils, at the very least they will relax you and make your home or office smell amazing!
What are essential oils?
Basically essential oils are the oily extracts of various plants that contain the ‘essence’, or the flavour and scent, of the plants. The oils are made either by distillation using steam or water or by cold pressing. The same process as the scents of perfumes are produced, or products like rosewater. Once you have the plant’s oil, you then combine it with a non-scented oil so that the product can be used. To truly be an ‘essential’ oil, however, it can’t be made using chemicals to release the oils.
Most popular types of essential oils
There are over 90 different essential oils but these are the most commonly used.
Bergamot is a citrus fruit, and is believed to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema. It’s also used to give Earl Grey tea its special smell and flavour; the scent is acidic, tart and a bit spicy.
Chamomile is thought to improve your mood and help you relax. Most people will know how drinking Chamomile tea is said to help you relax and sleep better, and using the essential oil is similar. Chamomile smells a bit like apples, grassy, and a little sweet.
Jasmine is a very popular scent for perfumes, but it is also one of the essential oils. It is said to be helpful with depression, and also for childbirth. The smell of Jasmine is a little bit controversial - some people think it smells like poop! But those who love the rich, floral scent find it relaxing.
Lavender is another popular scent that has been used for centuries, even today people grow Lavender plants, dry them, and then use them around the home. Lavender is often described as having a ‘purple’ scent - a link between the colour of the plant and its smell. Lavender is also believed to help relieve stress.
Yes, Lemon is also an Essential Oil. Like Bergamot, it is another citrus fruit, and like Chamomile it is also used in teas or tisanes. Lots of us drink Lemon infused water with or without honey. Lemon Essential Oil is said to help with digestion, stomach upsets, and even headaches.
Again, like many of these Essential Oils, Peppermint has been used for centuries as a cure when eaten or drunk as a tea. Peppermint is also said to improve your digestion and help with stomach troubles. Some people also believe that it can boost your energy levels too especially when used as an essential oil in a diffuser.
Like Jasmine, Roses have been used for centuries as the base of perfumes and various scented products like skincare creams and the famous Rosewater. As an essential oil, however, Rose is believed to help reduce anxiety and also to improve your mood.
The musky, smoky scent of Sandalwood is another ancient perfume that is still used today. Its distinctive smell is believed to help you to focus, as well as to calm your nerves.
A relatively new essential oil compared to some of the others, Tea Tree oil comes from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree. Its traditional uses are believed to cover a huge range of ailments, everything from bruises, eczema, and insect bites, to even bone infections and Melanoma! However Tea Tree oil is mostly used topically to reduce bad smells, and it’s semi-effective in keeping away mosquitos - although the smell is worse, Citronella Essential Oil is more effective - and dealing with their bites. Tea Tree oil is poisonous if taken orally however, so you do need to be careful with it, especially around children and pets.
You might not recognise the name, but you will definitely recognise the scent of Ylang-Ylang as it’s the base note of many famous perfumes like Chanel No. 5 and Joy. In aromatherapy, Ylang-Ylang is believed to improve memory and help you to think more effectively. It’s also believed to help you relax, lower your blood pressure, and even kill bacteria.
Do essential oils actually work?
While many people believe in the various claims and properties of essential oils, there are few clinical studies that actually prove the efficacy of these products.
However, some research has shown that when used with traditional therapy they can help reduce stress and anxiety. Another study found that Peppermint Essential Oil does relieve headaches, and a traditional Persian headache remedy of Chamomile Essential Oil and sesame oil also works when massaged into the temples.
When it comes to helping you sleep, Lavender Essential Oil has been shown to improve the quality of sleep for patients with heart disease and women after childbirth. There have also been studies on mice that have shown that using Thyme and Oregano Essential Oils can reduce colitis, and inflammatory condition. And a number of test-tube studies have found that Peppermint and Tea Tree Essential Oils do have antimicrobial effects.
Choosing the right Essential Oil
As with everything, you get what you pay for when buying essential oils. Essential oils are not regulated, therefore you can never be entirely sure how much of the ‘essential’ oil is really in the product you buy.
The best way to ensure you are getting what you pay for is to look at the ingredients - look for purity, products with only the plant compounds and no synthetic oils; look for the scientific name of the plant on the description list; make as sure as you can that the oil was produced without chemicals; and, read the reviews. If people have had adverse reactions like rashes etc from using a product, stay away.
And remember; just because essential oils are ‘natural’, doesn’t mean they are completely safe. Most essential oils are safe when inhaled via a diffuser or when rubbed on your skin, but if you see a rash, have a headache, have breathing difficulty, or any other allergic reaction then stop using it immediately.
The ones to watch out for are Lavender, Tea Tree, Peppermint, and Ylang-Ylang. You should also be careful with Cinnamon in its essential oil version, as well as some of the citrus-based oils that can react to sunlight and cause burns.
At the end of the day, whether they work or not, essential oils are a beautifully scented, relaxing addition to your life.
Shop for these essential oils at iHerb.
The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek advice from a qualified healthcare provider on queries regarding a medical condition. Any action taken by you in reliance on or in connection with this content is solely at your own risk.