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(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
About a couple years back, there started online this essential oils craze. It was all I would see on Pinterest on any given day. It seemed every blogger was suddenly selling essential oils on their blog. It fascinated me, as someone who has been using essential oils regularly since 2001 in both massage therapy and esthetics. It was exciting to see so much interest, but at the same time, I’m not sure people really understood the purpose or even how to use them. It just seemed like a trendy thing, and as it goes with every other trend out there, the excitement seems to be dying down.
But not for those of us who have been using essential oils for several years and can attest to its tangible benefits that we have experienced for ourselves.
I’m going to share with you several different ways you can use essential oils that would make them a no-brainer in your home.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the oils derived from plants, flowers, shrubs, roots, bushes, and seeds. If you squeeze an orange peel, you can see the essential oils begin to ooze out. Essential oils are volatile, meaning that the molecules rise up into the air, making it easier for you to inhale them. They do tend to be pricey because of the fact that it takes a lot of plants to make just a few drops of oil. One of the most expensive oils, rose, requires 22 pounds of rose petals just to make one tiny 5 ml bottle of rose essential oil. Unlike vegetable oils, they do not go rancid, and will not clog the pores of your skin. They are antimicrobial, and just like human blood, they contain hormone-like compounds that initiate regeneration.
All throughout the Bible, there are many references to the use of precious essential oils. The most famous one you have surely heard of was the gift baby Jesus received of frankincense and myrrh. Why would Jesus’ family need these two aromatic oils? Could it be that just prior to Jesus’ time, myrrh had been widely used in ancient Egypt to embalm their dead because of its incredible skin regenerating properties and its ability to kill off bacteria? Or that frankincense has great healing properties especially for inflammation such as arthritis? Yes, myrrh and frankincense are thought of as nice perfumes, but they have such medicinal properties, it is no surprise that myrrh was referred to throughout Jesus’ life during rituals of anointing, and for his own burial.
The first story I heard regarding the healing properties of essential oils is one that is famous among aromatherapists. In 1910, Dr. Gattefosse, known as the father of aromatherapy, was involved in a laboratory explosion. He rolled in the grass to put out the flames. He recalled in his writings that the burns were so severe that he began to develop gangrene gas, a very serious infection. Dr. Gattefosse wrote, “Just one rinse with lavender essence stopped the gasification of the tissue. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating and healing which began the next day.” Because of this story, doctors in World War II began experimenting with therapeutic grade essential oils, using it to treat soldiers wounded in war. They found great success with the antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties of the oils.
Even today, essential oils are used in our every day lives and we may not even realize it. Have you ever noticed that your dentist uses clove oil for its numbing and antibacterial properties?
How Do Essential Oils Work?
And I’m sure you’re wondering, do essential oils really work at all? Well, there is scientific evidence of real physiological responses our bodies undergo when we breathe in aromas.
Here is how it works…
When you breathe in an aroma molecule, it is immediately picked up by your olfactory receptors (sense of smell). The nerves of your olfactory nerve cells then send an electrical impulse to your olfactory bulb in the brain. The impulses then travel to the gustatory center (where taste is perceived), the amygdala (where memories are stored), and other parts of the limbic system of the brain. Within the limbic system is where emotions and memories live. When it is stimulated by an aroma, we might have a positive or negative affiliation with the smell. The sense of smell is the only one of our five senses that is directly linked to the emotional center of our limbic system.
Smells might trigger a very happy or very unhappy memory. Does the smell of freshly baked cookies, or the smell of roses, bring back memories of your grandmother’s house?
Have you ever noticed how some places use aromas to manipulate us, such as Disneyland pumping aromas into the air to persuade the guests of the park to purchase treats? They know that they are triggering an emotional response; it is no coincidence!
When we perceive an aroma in our limbic system, good or bad, a message is then sent to the hypothalamus, the hormone control center of the brain. Hormones are released based on this response. You might feel a sense of calm, or a lift in energy, depending on the aroma. You might experience a decrease in appetite after breathing in peppermint. Ylang ylang might be arousing, while patchouli, sandalwood, and frankincense bring an alertness to your mind.
How Do We Use Essential Oils Today?
There are three different methods for using essential oils.
The most common way to use essential oils is to put them into the air, using a diffuser. This is nice because the whole household can benefit from the oils, including your pets! A nice lavender is great for winding down before bedtime. I love a mix of grapefruit, lemon, and orange in the mornings when I need to be my most productive. I am NOT a morning person, and they really help pep me up!
I really love this aroma diffuser from Mountain Rose Herbs.
2. Apply to Skin
We must never use pure essential oils directly on our skin. Many of them can cause very serious rashes and chemical burns. Therefore, you will need to make sure they are properly diluted in a carrier oil.
If you were to purchase a bottle of essential oils at the health food store, chances are really good that they already come in a carrier oil, but if not, you can purchase a cold-pressed vegetable oil such as coconut oil, avocado oil, grape seed oil, and almond oil. These are all oils that I personally choose to add essential oils for the purposes of applying directly to the skin for therapeutic massage. Personally, I don’t use oils to treat any specific conditions on the skin, only for the purpose of being able to smell them.
The exception to this is using a muscle relief cream such as Biotone Polar Oil with plant oils proven to bring relief to general aches and pains. Or I will use tea tree oil to cleanse the skin after extracting blackheads.
Here is a list of great carrier oils from Mountain Rose Herbs.
I personally do not ingest oils, but I know many people who swear by it. I won’t be writing about it, because only one year ago, during the peak of the essential oils craze, the government cracked down on claims about treating medical ailments with oils. Now that I think about it, perhaps that is why some of the trendiness of the oils died out. Nonetheless, you don’t need to ingest oils to receive benefit from them. Suppose you used peppermint for indigestion, or ginger for nausea, both are still just as effective when breathed in, versus having to drink the oils. Or you can take the whole plant and use it in the kitchen as you might normally do. I do not recommend ingesting oils unless you are a trained aromatherapist and know very, very well what you are doing.
Creative Ways to Use Essential Oils in the Home:
- Acupressure Points:
You can apply a little dab of essential oil to any acupressure point on the body. A popular idea is to rub some peppermint essential oil onto your temples, being careful not to get too close to your eyes.
Add a few drops of spearmint and frankincense to some massage oil (almond oil) and rub into sore areas on the body.
Add a few drops of lavender and chamomile to epsom salts before adding to the bath water. Never put oil in a hot bath as it may float on the surface and heat up from the water, and may burn you if too hot.
Add some drops of eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint to your shower by sprinkling it on the floor of the shower, but not where the water will wash it away. This will help open up your nasal passageways when you are sick and help alleviate those symptoms.
Add about 25 drops of eucalyptus to your load of laundry to help kill dust mites in your bedding.
Add lemon, eucalyptus, and tea tree to distilled white vinegar diluted in water to use as a natural cleaning agent for your floors and counter tops.
- Repel Mosquitos:
Add some citronella to a burning candle outside to help disperse the fragrance keeping unwanted pests away.
What Oils do I Use and What are the Desired Effects?
I mentioned a few already that I know have benefited me and my family, but here is a list of oils that I personally always have on hand.
At any time, you can click on the links or images to be taken to Mountain Rose Herbs, and wonderful aromatherapy distributor who takes great care in offering the highest quality oils, using sustainable–and many organic–sources. It is so important to only purchase high-quality aromas; avoid cheap aromas that are artificially created in a lab. (Note: Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children.)
Blue, or German, chamomile is widely known for its calming properties.
Cinnamon bark has a long history of culinary and medicinal uses. Its high aldehyde content makes it a useful antimicrobial and antiseptic. I use cinnamon bark for warming the home, and creating a fall or Christmas atmosphere.
Citronella is used in perfumery and is widely known as an insect repellent. Fun fact: bugs do not like citronella because it tickles their feet!
Eucalyptus is one of the oldest native medicines used in Australia. It is known now for its use in inhalants and vapor rubs, and as a household disinfectant and cleaner. This is a must have for when you are sick. You can sprinkle some into your shower and create a therapeutic steam bath to help open your nasal passageways. Or you can add it with lavender and peppermint to keep on a tissue near your pillow while you sleep. I always feel so much better in the morning after having breathed in this combination all night!
Frankincense has a long history as incense. It was burned by the Egyptians and is used in many religious ceremonies. Traditionally it has also been used for skin ailments. I use frankincense for warming the home; especially nice at Christmastime or just winter in general.
Throughout history geranium has been known as a powerful wound healer. It has been utilized medicinally and in the fragrance industry. I use geranium for a calming effect, and grounding. For example, if something is really bothering me and I can’t get over it, this really helps bring me back to the present moment.
Ginger is widely used in the food industry. It also has a history in the perfume industry, and is considered to have an oriental note to it. I use ginger for nausea or other digestive problems. It is also very warming.
Like many citrus fruits grapefruit is high in Vitamin C, and is used throughout the food and beverage industry. The oil is used in the fragrance industry. Grapefruit is energizing and is often used as an appetite suppressant.
Lavender oil is known for its skin healing properties and its use as a sedative. The herb has been used for strewing, and the flowers are used as an aromatic.
All parts of the lemon have used around the house and medicinally. The oil has been used around the house as a cleaning agent, and medicinally it has an affinity with the digestive system. Lemon is very invigorating.
Neroli (Orange Flower)
My personal favorite! In perfumery neroli is used as both a base note and a top note depending on the oils that it is blended with. It is also known for its calming effects. Just a side note: Recently, my husband and I attended a blog conference in Cancun and when our transport from the airport pulled into the resort, we were greeted with towels rolled with neroli oil. It was the perfect first impression and introduction to the resort! It does not have a citrus smell, in fact, I can only describe it as smelling like a very sweet flower.
Known as an uplifting oil. Orange oil is often found in household cleaners.
Best known for its aid in memory and hair loss. Rosemary is also considered a symbol of love, and the sprigs have been traditionally used in wedding ceremonies.
Sandalwood is calming and cooling. It is very grounding. It is so important to know where your sandalwood essential oil is being sourced. It is very common to find sandalwood being sourced for non-sustainable farms. Mountain Rose Herbs is one of the few companies using Eastern Australian sandalwood farms, where it is being farmed sustainably and responsibly.
Used throughout the culinary and pharmaceutical industries. Medicinally, spearmint is known for its effects on the digestive system, and for relieving aches and pains.
(My 2nd favorite, behind neroli.) Tangerine oil does contain limonene, which may suggest its use in household cleaners. Very invigorating and energizing.
Tea Tree is widely known for its healing properties for the skin. I use it as an esthetician to soothe the skin after waxing, and to sanitize the skin after extractions of blackheads and acne.
Vanilla is grounding, calming, and soothing.
Ylang ylang is used for both a sedating effect, as well as an aphrodisiac.
This article is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Images via Mountain Rose Herbs