What are essential oils?
The essential oils are the aromatic, natural chemical compounds extracted from various parts of a plant: leaves, flowers, stems, roots, bark, etc. They are in such a potent form that a single drop of essential oil can equal multiple teaspoons of the dried herb (for instance, 1 drop of peppermint oil equals more than 25 cups of peppermint tea and oils can be up to 70x more potent than their dried herbal form). This means less is more.
With all the amazing benefits it’s not surprising that aromatherapy is one of the most popular uses for essential oils! Here’s the science: when you take a deep breath in, the oils stimulate smell receptors in the nose that send chemical messages through nerves to the brain. These nerves affect mood, emotions, and can have physiological effects on the body. Bring on the good vibes!
How to Use Essential Oils Aromatically
The aromatic application is the most widely known and used. Most of us understand that essential oils smell good and can be used as deodorizer or to freshen up the home.
But there is more to aromatic applications than just smelling good.
In the same way that harmful compounds, such as chemical cleaners or gases can be absorbed into our blood stream through inhalation, so can the positive properties of essential oils. Essential oils are also processed by the olfactory bulb and the limbic system, the same system that processes thoughts, memories, and emotions, which can help us feel calm, encouraged, and so on.
Aromatic application can:
- Be nurturing to the respiratory system, including the sinuses.
- Have a supportive affect on moods, the hormonal system, tension, etc.
- Increase indoor air quality or help protect against environmental threats.
- And the positive compounds and their properties, once within our blood stream, can encourage our immune system response or promote well-being in a multitude of ways.
This is because the "aroma" you breathe is actually a fine mist or vapor of the oil, containing all the same properties of the oil itself. And it is due to the fact that the olfactory system is closely connected to the limbic system of the brain that essential oils have such a positive affect on the physical and psychological systems of the body.
Here's how to use essential oils with aromatic applications:
- Diffusing: A good diffuser should use cool or room temperature air or ultrasonic vibrations to diffuse the oil into the air, which help the oil molecules remain air-bound for several more hours and do not affect the structure of the oil through heat, which can diminish the quality of the oil.
- Direct Inhalation: Directly inhaling the oil can be done by holding the bottle of essential oil a few inches from the nose and breathing in the aroma, or by adding a drop the the hands and cupping them over the mouth and nose. (For example, using this technique can be used with grounding or calming oils.) It is important to note that constantly opening and closing your bottle does exposure it to air and increase the oxidation rate, so diffusing is not only better for your bottle of oil, but you would likely use less throughout the day too.
- Indirect Inhalation: Adding a drop to a handkerchief, cotton ball, small square of fabric, shirt collar, hair, pillow case, etc can all be beneficial.
- Hot Water Vapor/Steam Tent: Heat a pot of water (not boiling), add 1-3 drops of essential oil, place a towel over your head while leaning over the water, and inhale the steam. (For example, try this with Eucalyptus for respiratory health.)
- Humidifier: Just like a diffuser, cool air humidifiers are best. Be aware that essential oils can damage plastic components over time, so choosing one made for essential oils is best. (Try a purifying oil to clean the air.)
- Fan, Vent, Etc: Just like with the indirect inhalation, you can add the oil to cloth and place it in a vent or even in front of a fan. (A good use for this is Peppermint or Ginger in the car to calm motion sickness.)
- Perfume or Cologne Smells good and is safer and healthier for your body (unlike normal chemical-based perfumes or antiperspirants). For perfume or cologne, add a 1 drop or a small dab to the wrists, behind the ears, or add 10 drops to 1-3 tsp of distilled water or alcohol to mist on the body or clothing.
- Natural Room Deodorizer: Instead of harsh chemicals to cover up odors you can add essential oils to your odor removing efforts. For instance, you can create a room deodorizer by mixing a half cup of alcohol (such as vodka) with a half cup of distilled water, and 20-40 drops of your favorite essential oils in a decorative jar. Then add 10 or so bamboo skewers (like the ones you use for kebobs) to the mixture so that they are sticking out of the bottle. They will soak up the aroma and spread it throughout a bathroom easily. You can also create a spray.
Even though learning how to use essential oils aromatically is probably the easiest and safest, it's still important to know your body, and pay attention to how it responds to the oils. Aromatic is still a potent use of essential oils. Too much can overwhelm your system, give you a headache, or even cause a reaction if you're sensitive or allergic to the oil.
How to Use Essential Oils Topically
Know your skin type! Do you tend to have sensitive skin? Then always dilute, no matter the oil. Are you not sure? Do a patch test an area of your inner arm first. Start with one diluted drop, then increase an undiluted drop if the oil is generally safe for undiluted use in most people. And always use one oil at a time, so that if you have a negative reaction, you know what you reacted to.
Diluting is very helpful. It doesn't decrease the effectiveness of the oil (if your ratios are accurate), can help you spread the oil over a wider area, and may help to increase absorption by preventing evaporation (thus increasing absorption), as well as decreasing the likelihood of a skin reaction, so unless you have reasons not to, it's a good idea to do so.
All the essential oils I talk about include a simple visual guide to help you know how to use essential oils:
- NEAT - NEAT means you can generally apply the oil in question directly to the skin without any dilution. HOWEVER, it's still a good idea to patch test your own skin first, just in case, or follow sensitivity guidelines above if you know you have sensitive skin. Also, because dilution can't hurt and can help, it's a good idea to do it anyway.
- Sensitive - "Sensitive" means that although some can apply the oil without any dilution, directly to the skin, those with sensitive skin, as well as children and the elderly, should do a patch test or dilute before use. Use a guideline of 1 drop per 1-4 oz of carrier oil, such as coconut oil, or at minimum a 1:3 ratio (1 drop of essential oil to every 3 drops of carrier).
- DILUTE - These oils are very potent. It's important that you dilute these at least 1:3 and more depending on age and skin sensitivity, as they can cause irritation to any skin type when applied directly. If you're pregnant or nursing, use more caution or talk to your naturopathic doctor. I would personally avoid for children, although a high dilution rate may be okay in small amounts for a limited period of time.
Here are some other topical precautions to consider:
- Citrus oils, and a few others, can cause a sensitivity to the sun. It's usually recommended to avoid sunlight for at least 12 hours of applying topically, but Bergamot in particular can cause issues for up to 3 days. We usually will apply these in the evening, or to an area of the body that won't be exposed to the sun, or we avoid topical use altogether.
- Everyone is different and even the most gentle oils can still cause a reaction. If you know you're prone to sensitive skin or skin reactions, always test the oils highly diluted first, then with a lighter dilution, before trying undiluted if it's an oil that is generally recognize as one you can use "neat". Like I said above, dilution never hurts, so if in doubt, dilute.
- Even if you've used an oil before without problems or don't consider yourself to have sensitive skin, you can still develop a reaction to it with excessive use over the same area of the body. Try to mix it up when possible (alternating application locations AND the oils you're using) and dilute as necessary. Again, diluting never hurts. Because you may not know you have a sensitivity, this is why many say you should ALWAYS dilute. You may feel comfortable not diluting some "neat" oils, but when in doubt, dilute.
- It's usually better to "layer" oils than to blend them. What this means is that if you're using 2 or more oils topically, apply one, then wait between 5-30 minutes and apply the other over it (instead of mixing a drop of each in your hand and then rubbing this into the skin). Mixing the oils is as much an art as it is a science, which is why we tend to stick to the blends a company has already created, since we know they are safe and effective.
Here's how to use essential oils in some of the most popular topical applications:
- In a Massage: Massage is one of the most enjoyable ways to use essential oils topically. Massaging the oils into joints, muscles, and tissues is relaxing and beneficial. Always move toward the heart when working on the arms and legs and avoid a heavy hand, or moving over the spine or other sensitive areas, with too much pressure.
- Over the Area of Concern: The next option is to apply the oils to the chest, the abdomen, back of the neck, or directly over the area of concern (diluted as indicated). You can also apply to the energy centers of the body.
- Over the Reflex Points: But probably the best, most effective, and yet gentlest option for how to use essential oils, especially for sensitive skin, children, or elderly, is to apply the oils to the reflex points of the feet, hands, and even ears (still dilute as needed). The feet especially are beneficial because they still quickly the oil into the blood stream, but they are tough enough to make the likelihood of irritation much less if your skin is prone to reactions, and they are easy to cover if you don't like the aroma or if you're applying to a child and don't want them touching it (cover their feet with socks). The reflex points of the hands and feet also correspond to the different areas of the body by way of the nervous system. Learning how to use essential oils is made easier with visual guides to reflexology to understand which reflex points to massage the oil into based on the area of the body you wish to support. Follow these guides below:
- How to Use Essential Oils with Four Applications Methods
|Angelica root||Dull skin, gout, psoriasis, toxin build-up, water retention||Exhaustion, nervousness and stress|
|Anise||Bronchitis, colds, coughs, flatulence, flu, muscle aches, rheumatism||Depression|
|Basil||Bronchitis, colds, coughs, exhaustion, flatulence, flu, gout, insect bites, insect repellent, muscle aches, rheumatism and sinusitis.||Fatigue, exhaustion, burnout, memory and concentration|
|Bay||Dandruff, hair care, neuralgia, oily skin, poor circulation, sprains and strains.||Emotional exhaustion and fatigue|
|Bay laurel||Amenorrhea, colds, flu, loss of appetite, tonsillitis.||Confidence, mental confusion|
|Benzoin||Arthritis, bronchitis, chapped skin, coughing, laryngitis||Insecurity|
|Bergamot||Acne, abscesses, anxiety, boils, cold sores, cystitis, halitosis, itching, loss of appetite, oily skin, psoriasis||Anger, anxiety, confidence, depression, stress, fatigue, fear, peace, happiness, insecurity and loneliness.|
|Bois de rose (Rosewood)||Acne, colds, dry skin, dull skin, fever, flu, frigidity, headache, oily skin, scars, sensitive skin, stress, stretch marks||Depression, emotional imbalance|
|Cajeput||Asthma, bronchitis, coughs, muscle aches, oily skin, rheumatism, sinusitis, sore throat and spots.||Fatigue, mental confusion|
|Cardamom||Appetite loss of, colic, halitosis.||Fatigue, stress, shame, guilt|
|Carrot seed||Eczema, gout, mature skin, toxin build-up, water retention||Anxiety, confusion, exhaustion, mood swings and stress|
|Cedarwood Atlas||Acne, arthritis, bronchitis, coughing, cystitis, dandruff and dermatitis.||Anxiety, fear, insecurity and stress.|
|Cedarwood||Acne, arthritis, bronchitis, coughs, cystitis, dandruff, dermatitis, insect repellent, stress||Anxiety, fear and insecurity|
|German chamomile||Abscesses, allergies, arthritis, boils, colic, cuts, cystitis, dermatitis, dysmenorrhea, earache, flatulence, hair, headache, inflamed skin, insect bites, insomnia, nausea, neuralgia, rheumatism, sores, sprains, strains, wounds.||Anger, anxiety, depression, fear, irritability, loneliness, PMS and stress.|
|Roman Chamomile||Abscesses, allergies, arthritis, boils, colic, cuts, cystitis, dermatitis, dysmenorrhea, earache, flatulence, hair, headache, inflamed skin, insect bites, nausea, neuralgia, PMS, rheumatism, sores, sprains, strains, wounds.||Anger, anxiety, depression, fear, irritability, loneliness, insomnia and stress.|
|Cinnamon||Constipation, exhaustion, flatulence, lice, low blood pressure, rheumatism, scabies.||Concentration, emotional and mental fatigue|
|Citronella||Excessive perspiration, fatigue, headache, insect repellent, oily skin||Mind fog, tension|
|Clary sage||Amenorrhea, asthma, coughing, gas, labour pains, sore throat.||Anxiety, fatigue, exhaustion, fear, loneliness and stress|
|Clove bud||Arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, immune system, rheumatism, sprains, toothache||Memory and concentration, fatigue, depression|
|Coriander||Aches, arthritis, colic, gout, indigestion, nausea, rheumatism||Fatigue, irritation|
|Cypress||Excessive perspiration, haemorrhoids, oily skin, rheumatism, varicose veins.||Confidence, grief, memory and concentration|
|Elemi||Bronchitis, catarrh, extreme coughing, mature skin, scars, stress, wounds.||Agitation, grief|
|Eucalyptus Globulous||Arthritis, bronchitis, catarrh, cold sores, colds, coughing, fever, flu, poor circulation, sinusitis.||Concentration, memory|
|Fennel||Bruises, cellulite, flatulence, gums, halitosis, mouth, nausea, obesity, toxin build-up, water retention||Fatigue, emotional imbalance|
|Frankincense||Anxiety, asthma, bronchitis, extreme coughing, scars and stretch marks||Anxiety, depression, fatigue exhaustion and burnout, fear, grief, happiness and peace, insecurity, loneliness, panic and panic attacks and stress|
|Galbanum||Immune system abscesses, acne, boils, bronchitis, cuts, lice, mature skin, muscle aches, poor circulation, rheumatism, scars, sores, stretch marks, wounds||Emotional rigidity, mood swings, nervousness and stress|
|Geranium||Acne, cellulite, dull skin, lice, menopause, oily skin.||Anxiety, depression, happiness, mood imbalance and stress|
|Ginger||Aching muscles, arthritis, nausea, poor circulation||fatigue exhaustion and burnout|
|Grapefruit||Cellulite, dull skin, toxin build-up, water retention.||Confidence, fear depression, happiness and peace, and stress|
|Helichrysum||Abscesses, acne, boils, burns, cuts, dermatitis, eczema, irritated skin, wounds||Grief, loneliness, panic and panic attacks, shock|
|Hyssop||Bruises, coughing, sore throat, respiratory system||Concentration, nervousness|
|Jasmine||Dry skin, labour pains, sensitive skin.||Stress, depression, fear, fatigue exhaustion and burnout, confidence and anger|
|Juniper berry||Cellulite, gout, haemorrhoids, obesity, rheumatism, toxin build-up, urinary system||Agitation, negative energy|
|Lavender||Acne, allergies, anxiety, asthma, athlete's foot, bruises, burns, chicken pox, colic, cuts, cystitis, depression, dermatitis, earache, flatulence, headache, hypertension, insect bites, insect repellent, itching, labour pains, migraine, oily skin, rheumatism, scabies, scars, sores, sprains, strains, stress, stretch marks, vertigo, whooping cough||Anxiety, depression, irritability, panic attacks and stress|
|Lemon||Athlete's foot, colds, corns, dull skin, flu, oily skin, spots, varicose veins, warts||Fear happiness and peace, memory and concentration|
|Lemongrass||Acne, athlete's foot, digestion, excessive perspiration, flatulence, insect repellent, muscle aches, oily skin, scabies, stress||Fatigue and mental confusion|
|Linden blossom||Headache, migraine, Acne, dull skin, oily skin, scars, spots, wrinkles.||Insomnia, stress, tension|
|Marjoram||Aching muscles, arthritis, cramps, migraine, neuralgia, rheumatism, spasm, sprains||Mood swings, PMS symptoms, stress|
|Melissa||Flu, indigestion, herpes, nausea, shingles and cold sores||Agitation, anxiety, dementia, nervous tension|
|Myrrh||Amenorrhea, athlete's foot, bronchitis, chapped skin, gums, halitosis, itching, ringworm||Emotional imbalance, creativity|
|Myrtle||Acne, asthma, coughs, haemorrhoids, irritated skin||Addiction and self destructive behaviour, depression|
|Neroli||Mature skin, oily skin, scars, stretch marks||Anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, panic attacks and stress|
|Niaouli||Acne, bronchitis, colds, coughs, dull skin, oily skin, sore throat, whooping cough||Concentration and mental fog|
|Nutmeg||Arthritis, constipation, muscle aches, nausea, neuralgia, poor circulation, rheumatism and slow digestion.||Mental fatigue|
|Bitter orange||Colds, constipation, dull skin, flatulence, flu, gums, mouth, slow digestion,||Anger, confidence, depression, fear, happiness, peace and stress|
|Oregano||Coughs, digestion, respiration||Insecurity|
|Parsley||Congestion, digestion, diuretic, immune system, kidney infections and stones||Frigidity|
|Patchouli||Acne, cellulite, chapped skin, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, mature skin, oily skin.||Fatigue, frigidity exhaustion and stress|
|Black pepper||Aching muscles, arthritis, detox, constipation, muscle cramps, poor circulation, sluggish digestion.||Anxiety, fatigue, concentration|
|Peppermint||Asthma, colic, exhaustion, fever, flatulence, headache, nausea, scabies, sinusitis, vertigo||fatigue exhaustion and burnout, memory and concentration|
|Petitgrain||Rapid heartbeat, insomnia||Anxiety, panic|
|Pine||Colds, congestion, cough, flu, lungs sinusitis||Depression, fatigue, nervous exhaustion|
|Rose||Eczema, mature skin||Anger, anxiety, , frigidity, depression grief, menopause, happiness and peace, loneliness, panic and panic attacks and stress|
|Rosemary||Aching muscles, arthritis, dandruff, dull skin, exhaustion, gout, hair care, muscle cramping, neuralgia, poor circulation= and rheumatism.||fatigue exhaustion and burnout, confidence, memory and concentration|
|Sandalwood||Bronchitis, chapped and dry skin, laryngitis, oily skin, strep throat, urinary tract problems||Anxiety, depression, exhaustion and burnout, fear, grief, irritability and stress|
|Spearmint||Asthma, exhaustion, flatulence, headache, nausea, scabies.||Depression, mental fatigue|
|Thyme||Arthritis, bronchitis, candida, cuts, dermatitis, gastritis, laryngitis||Concentration and memory|
|Vetiver||Acne, arthritis, muscular aches, oily skin, rheumatism||Anger, anxiety, exhaustion, insomnia, fear, grief, insecurity and stress|
|Violet leaf||Bronchitis, insomnia, liver congestion, sluggish circulation, problem skin||Fear, nostalgia, obsession, shyness|
|Yarrow||Acne, arthritis, inflammation, hair care, hypertension, insomnia||Insomnia, stress and tension|
|Ylang Ylang||Hypertension, menopause and PMS symptoms, palpitations||Anger, depression, frigidity, mood swings, PMS, stress|