Essential oils are mostly used in aromatherapy, a form of holistic healing. Aromatic essential oils are often used to improve the health of the body, mind and spirit to improve physical and emotional health.
However, there is controversy in some of the health claims associated with essential oils. Today’s article explores more about essential oils and their effects on health.
What are essential oils made of?
Pure essential oils are compounds extracted from plants, i.e., they are from a natural source and not chemically produced.
The essence, meaning the scent and flavour of the particular plant, are extracted through distillation or from cold pressing. The concentrated essence is then combined with a carrier oil or base oil to create an essential oil.
Carrier oils are also made from plants, but serve a different purpose. They are either unscented or very lightly scented, so they do not mask or interfere with the properties of an essential oil’s essence.
Essential oil essences must be diluted with carrier oils before application onto the skin, because essential oil essences on their own are potent and likely to cause irritation on the skin if applied directly.
Application of essential oils
While essential oils should not be directly swallowed, there are other ways the body can absorb them.
Some people find their skin better absorbs the properties of essential oils that have been gently warmed up, but this method is lacking in scientific research.
Another common method is to inhale the aroma from the essential oil. This method is believed to stimulate areas of your limbic system, the section of the brain that controls behaviour, smell, emotions and long-term memory. This could be why some aromas can trigger flashbacks to certain memories, emotions or incidents.
The limbic system also controls other functions such as blood pressure, breathing and heart rate, leading some holistic practitioners to claim that essential oils can have a physical calming effect on your body, although there is no medical study to confirm this claim.
Popular essential oils and their health claims
There are nearly 100 types of essential oils, and here are ten well-known types and the roles they claim to play in aiding medical conditions:
- Bergamot: reduces stress, improves skin conditions, e.g., eczema
- Chamomile: improves mood and helps with relaxation
- Jasmine: assists with childbirth, depression, and libido
- Lavender: stress reliever
- Lemon: aids digestion, reduces headaches, improves mood
- Peppermint: aids digestion, boosts energy
- Rose: reduces anxiety and improves mood
- Sandalwood: calms the nerves, helps with focus
- Tea Tree: boosts immunity, fights infections
- Ylang-Ylang: to treat headaches, nausea, skin conditions
Health benefits of essential oils
Though usage of essential oils is gaining popularity, there is not much known scientifically to back up claims of their health benefits.
Many reviews on essential oils relieving stress have been inconclusive. An article published in the National Library of Medicine titled “Aromatherapy for healthcare” in 2012 reported “the evidence is not sufficiently convincing that aromatherapy is an effective therapy for any condition”.
Essential oils can also be used as natural mosquito repellents. Citronella essential oil has been found to repel certain mosquitoes, but the effect lasts for around two hours only.
Side effects of essential oils
Though plant based, essential oils contain some bioactive compounds that may harm your health, especially to those with respiratory conditions (asthma), those on medication (allergic reactions), or those with sensitive skin (burns or rashes).
Essential oils are generally safe to inhale or applied to the skin if they have been mixed with a carrier oil. Essential oils should never be ingested.
Always buy high-quality essential oils from reputable distributors. It is important to read product labels to ensure the products do not contain chemicals or synthetic fragrances. Pure essential oils usually describe the plant’s botanical name, e.g., “Cymbopogon genus”, rather than “essential oil of citronella”.
There is a lack of scientific backing to support most of the health claims and effectiveness associated to the use of essential oils.
This article is to highlight the general usage of essential oils, and should not be taken as medical advice. If any of our readers are on medication for any existing health condition/s, please seek prior medical advice on the usage of essential oils.
5th September 20:30 2020