Essential oils are plant extracts and have been used for many years in over-the-counter medications like Vick’s VapoRub, in cleaning supplies, and in personal products like bath salts. In addition, plant extracts have been used for thousands of years in a variety of healing practices. There has been a lot of interest in essential oils over the past few years with a variety of companies cropping up that sell oils and related products. Some of the companies make claims that so far have been difficult to prove.
Most of the data available on the effectiveness of essential oils is anecdotal. There haven’t been many large scale studies done by reputable organizations. Because oils aren’t standardized, it is difficult to do scientific studies. In addition, many medical studies are undertaken by drug companies and they aren’t interested in finding out that essential oils could replace drugs for some conditions and in some circumstances. Some of the studies done have shown positive effects for a variety of health issues including infection, pain, anxiety. nausea, and sinus.
In general, oils are diluted in a carrier oil or diffused in the air by a nebulizer. Most common essential oils are distilled using water or steam. Some oils, most notably citrus oils, are cold pressed using a process similar to the that used in the production of olive oil. Essential oils are typically used by mixing with an oil and rubbing onto the skin, smelled (aromatherapy) or swallowed in a capsule. Different grades of oils are sold and used for different reasons, oils acceptable for ingesting aren’t necessarily the same oil you’d use in an incense that is burned. It’s important to remember that just because oils are natural doesn’t mean they are safe for ingestion or putting on the skin. Some oils are highly toxic and some will cause burns when rubbed into the skin.
If you’re interested in checking out essential oils, you may want to start with:
Lavender: Lavender has been studied more extensively than most oils and there is some support for its effectiveness in helping people get to sleep and in reducing anxiety.
Tea Tree: Tea Tree oil can be used as an antibiotic. One study posted on PubMed showed “tea tree treatment to be more effective than chlorhexidine or silver sulfadiazine at clearing superficial skin sites and skin lesions. The tea tree preparations were effective, safe and well tolerated and could be considered in regimens for eradication of MRSA carriage.”
Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus is widely used in chest rubs to help with colds and congestion. It’s important not to use it undiluted near the face.
Lemon: Lemon is a natural insect repellant and is used in many cleaning products. It’s also an energizing scent for use in bath products especially when combine with other citrus scents.
There’s no need to buy an expensive kit of products or a wide variety. Pick up a small body of lavender or tea tree and start with that. A few drops of lavender dropped into epsom salts makes a fragrant and inexpensive bath salt blend. The tea tree oil can be added to lotion or shampoo to add an antibiotic effect. If you decide you’d like to dive in a little deeper, pick up a highly rated book on essential oils so you are educated on both what to buy and how to use it. Even if there are no scientific studies to prove it, steeping in a long, hot oil-scented bath certainly feels great and that’s really the important thing.