Essential oils are perhaps one of the oldest forms of medicine, with documented use in Ancient Egypt, early China and beyond. Without question, the evidence does indicate that the benefits of essential oils are real. And with a growing trend toward natural and organic health alternatives, more and more people are using these compounds. But what exactly are these substances and how do they help us? Are they really effective in promoting better health and wellness?
Essential Oils 101
Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants that retain the essential elements of that plant. Therefore, these compounds contain the “essence” of the plant, which reflects its scent, flavors, and other properties. By using specific extraction methods, aromatic compounds that harbor a plant’s essence are collected. These are then combined with carrier oils to form the essential oils that are used in several different applications.
Over 90 different essential oils exist today. While most uses involve aromatherapy in health and wellness, other benefits also exist. For example, home scents, laundry fragrances, cosmetic adjuncts, and even mosquito repellants are common essential oil uses.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
The way these compounds work is primarily thought to involve their aromatic scents. Essential oils are usually inhaled or applied to the skin, and their scent stimulates our sense of smell and the region of our brains called the limbic system. The limbic system is involved in regulating emotions, memories, and even some unconscious physiologic functions like breathing and heart rate. Thus, presumably, essential oils can affect how we feel and react to our environment.
Essential oils may also work in other ways. Many can be applied to the skin, which in turn may be absorbed. This could result in direct chemical effects and is presumed to be one of the ways essential oils help skin conditions (and perhaps inflammation). However, this has yet to be scientifically proven.
What Are the Potential Health Benefits of Essential Oils?
A wide variety of essential oils have been used for various health purposes. Some of the most common oils include peppermint, lavender, chamomile, and tea tree, as well as sandalwood, rose, ylang-ylang, and lemon. Each provides specific benefits or tackle problems that range from stress and anxiety to headaches, to insomnia, to infections.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are areas where aromatherapy is often used, and lavender, bergamot, rose, chamomile, and jasmine are believed to help these conditions. Other benefits of essential oils include the treatment of headaches and insomnia. Studies have shown that peppermint and chamomile can help headaches while lavender can aid insomnia. Research also suggests that some benefits of essential oils involve anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects. Specifically, tea tree, thyme, oregano, and rosemary may be used for these purposes.
How to Choose Which Essential Oil Brands to Buy
When it comes to buying essential oils, three things matter—purity, quality, and brand. Those with the best purity contain only the botanical name of the plant. And those with the best quality use distillation or mechanical cold-pressing methods of extraction. With this in mind, the following have been rated among the best brands of essentials oils available today:
- Plant Therapy®
- Healing Solutions
- Edens Garden™
- Rocky Mountain Oils™
- Young Living™
- Now Foods®
- Art Naturals
- Aura Cacia®
- Mountain Rose Herbs®
Are Essential Oils Right for You?
While the benefits of essential oils are being increasingly recognized, much more research is still needed. However, as inhaled or topical skin applications, most seem to be safe while providing several health benefits. Having said this, side effects can occur including rashes, allergic reactions, asthma, and even headaches. Essential oils should never be ingested, and they should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding. But as an alternative, natural therapies, essential oils have significant potential for advancing wellness. Given the fact they’ve been used for centuries, their therapeutic benefits are nothing to scoff at.