What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are extracts of different plant materials that derive from herbs, flowers, trees and other plants. The essential oils are extracted using different methods to suit the user.  Essential oils have been around for thousands of years and many healers through history have used them in their healing practice. Essential oils differ from other plant oils since they possess certain therapeutic properties and are volatile in nature. 

Safety in using essential oils

Some essential oils are considered toxic and you should be very cautious when using them. Be aware of safety precautions to adhere to when using essential oils. By law, manufacturers of essential oils must label all the safety guidelines in the container. Make sure you read them before experimenting with them.

Uses of essential oils

Essential oils are used in a variety of ways, and include aromatherapy massage - where the oil is absorbed through the skin and vaporization where the essential oil molecules enter the bloodstream via the lungs. Essential oils are also used medicinally and taken internally, but this must NOT be undertaken by the layperson, but should only be done under the treatment and direction of a qualified medical practitioner. If you have never used essential oils on your skin, it is advisable to perform a skin-patch test to check for any allergic reaction.

Using Essential Oils for Health and Healing

•        Inhalations

This is the use of essential oils on hot compress, using diffusers, or onto hot water for inhalation. Standard dose is 10 drops. Best for respiratory and sinus, headaches. Caution: prolonged inhalation of concentrated essential oils can cause headaches, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, and lethargy.

•        Baths

Essential oils have been used in baths for many years.  A typical bath dose is between 6 to 12 drops of diluted oil. Pour the oil in the water before taking the bath making sure is equally dispersed.  You may  mix it with half to one cup of milk or sesame oil.  Then add 2-3 non-toxic essential oils using up to 5 to 7 drops.  Aromatic baths with essential are good for circulatory problems, respiratory symptoms, stress,  skin problems, insomnia, and muscular discomfort. Be aware, thou, that overuse of essential oils in the bath can lead to skin irritation. Make sure to only use only mild and diluted oils.

•        Compresses

Use 8 to 10 drops of oil together with 4 ounces of hot water. Then, soak cloth and wrap. The copress is great for small bruises, wounds, muscular aches and pains, and minor skin problems.

•        Facial steam

Use 1 t0 5 drops of mild oil on hot water in a pot and then cover your head with a towel to slowly provide steam to your face. A facial steam is good for opening sinuses, take away headaches, and treat some facial skin problems.

•        Massage

For massages, make sure your oil is properly diluted before using on your skin. Pure essential oils are about 70-80 times more concentrated than the plant it derived from. Dilutions are normally 3% to 10%. For adults, about 2-3% dilution is ideal. For children under 12, a 1% dilution should be used. Here’s a quick dilution guide:

1% = 6 drops
2% = 12 drops
3% = 18 drops
5% = 30 drops

•        Direct Palm Inhalation

This is a great method for a quick and easy exposure to the anti-microbial and other therapeutic uses of essential oils. Caution: The direct palm inhalation method should only be used with oils that are safe for the skin. Apply 1 to 2 drops of oil to the palms, rub hands gently and inhale aroma a few times. 

•        Diffusers

Types of diffusers you can use with essential oils: 
Candle diffusers
Electric heat diffusers
Cool air nebulizing diffusers
Room humidifiers
Essential oil light bulb rings

Effects of Essential Oils

•        Glandular

Essential oils have the best effects via the blood supply to the brain. They also have an indirect effect via the olfactory nerve pathways (the nose) into the brain. Essential oils are carried through blood circulation and nerve pathways from the sinuses into the central glands of the brain, which control emotional, neurological, and immunological functions.

•        Skin

Essential oils are absorbed very quickly through your skin. 

•        Respiratory

Inhaled essential oils have a direct effect of the sinuses, throat, and lungs. Some essential oils are used in treatment for respiratory conditions.

•        Circulation

Many essential oils have beneficial effects on circulatory problems, both through dermal and respiratory absorption. These oils enhance the circulation stimulating effects of massage.


Fragrance Oil Terminology

- Synthetic Fragrances
Certain oils do not exist in a natural state, and are only available as synthetic fragrances or “bouqueted” fragrances (combination of essential oils, absolutes, and synthetics). These include honeysuckle, linden, gardenia, frangipani.
- Adulteration
The more expensive an oil, the more risk of adulteration.
Some oils are highly adulterated, such as melissa (lemon balm), rose, and sandalwood.
- Supply Chain
The fragrance industry has many levels of buyers and suppliers. The more levels that are involved, the more there is risk of adulteration. Large volumes of oils are sold as “genuine” and “pure,” which are not. False advertising is rampant in the aromatherapy world. It is best to get oils directly from the distiller.
- Pesticides
Some pesticides are carried over in the extracting process, some are not.
Expressed citrus oils contain pesticide residues.
- Grades
Lower grades of oils are frequently sold as higher. A good example is ylang ylang.
- Extenders
Many oils are “extended” using synthetic or natural solvents. Expensive oils are frequently extended with jojoba. Some oils are extended to make them more pourable, like benzoin; the solvent is frequently questionable.
- Bulking
Bulking is the post-distillation combining of oils from one or more species, or loading plants of the same species from different harvests into the still together. Dried plant material from different years may be bulked with fresh. Bulking is done to make the product cheaper and/or to make it conform to some standard desirable to the fragrance or flavoring industries.
- Rectified or Redistilled:
Oils that have had natural components removed from them: terpene-less oils, furocoumarin-free oils.
- Folded
Oils, (usually citrus) that have been redistilled a number of times to remove more of the monoterpenes (usually) to make the oil more desirable for the flavoring industry.
- Reconstituted
Oils that have had natural or synthetic chemical components added to them after distillation.

The Safe Use of Essential Oils

In general, when used properly essential oils are quite safe and highly beneficial. However, because their uses are still relatively unknown, people can and do hurt themselves by using these highly concentrated botanical substances improperly.

• Toxicology and Safety

• Do not use essential oils internally.

• Do not apply directly to skin; always dilute with carrier oil.

• Keep out of reach of children.

• Avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes.

• Do not use citrus oils before exposure to UV light.

• Use only pure essential oils; avoid synthetic fragrances.

• Do not use essential oils on infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with serious health problems, without advanced medical study.

• Avoid prolonged exposure without ventilation.

• Store essential oils and carrier oils properly to avoid degradation and rancidity.

• Do not use essential oils internally.

There are two exceptions to this rule.

• The first is properly administered dosages of essential oil medications prescribed by a licensed physician. This is now occurring in certain European clinics, but is rarely available in the US. People should avoid using essential oils internally if prescribed by a lay practitioner, especially if the practitioner’s education is primarily from the marketing perspective rather than clinical.

• The second exception is bio-compatible levels of essential oil ingestion when taken as part of the diet. A good example of this is oregano oil. Oregano oil is widely marketed for internal consumption, with numerous claims made about its therapeutic efficacy. In actual practice, the internal consumption of this oil frequently causes the typical symptoms associated with the ingestion of essential oils, such as extreme gastric hyper acidity. On the other hand, the use of oregano as a fresh herb, steamed at the end of food preparation, provides all the benefits of oregano oil at a bio-compatible level, with none of the gastric dangers.

• Should accidental ingestion of any significant amount of an essential oil occur, immediately call your local Poison Control Center. Do not induce vomiting. Do not give water if breathing or swallowing is difficult.

• Do not apply directly to skin; always dilute with carrier oil.

Essential oils are very concentrated. Dilute all essential oils before applying to the skin, either in a fatty oil, or in water as when used on a compress.

• A general rule is to never apply more than one to two drops of undiluted oil to the skin. Patch testing is always advisable. For people with sensitive skin, always test a small area with a diluted oil before applying over a larger area. For general non-medical use, avoid essential oils with highly sensitive skin and with any instances of skin allergies, severe inflammation and dermatitis. Pure essential oils are much less dangerous than synthetic aroma chemicals.

• Skin Reactions

Skin reactions are dependent on the type of oil, the concentration of the oil, and the condition of the skin. It is best to check with clients to determine any prior history of skin reactions before using oils, either for dermal or respiratory applications.

Old and oxidized oils are more prone to cause reactions, especially rashes. Refrigerate fatty carrier oils to prevent rancidity. Essential oils generally have a shelf life of one to three years. Some get better with age, such as sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli. The citrus oils are most prone to degradation, and should be used within one year.

• Skin reactions to essential oils can take three forms:

• Irritation:

A small number of oils are strongly or severely irritant. These include horseradish, mustard, garlic, and onion (which are rarely used in aromatherapy practice). Some oils used in massage practice can be moderately irritant, such as cinnamon, clove, fennel, and verbena. These oils should be used cautiously or avoided in cases of skin sensitivity.

• Sensitization:

Skin sensitization means an allergic skin reaction; this usually manifests as a rash. There are relatively few oils used in a typical massage practice that will produce sensitization under normal applications in a carrier oil. However, there are a number of reports on Pubmed of allergic reactions to essential oils. These include contact dermatitis, eczema, asthma, and pruritic erythematous eruptions. These cases were predominantly among those who used essential oils professionally for long periods of time, such as massage therapists and estheticians. The cases frequently involved exposure to numerous essential oils, and it is also likely that the quality of the oils was poor.

• Phototoxicity:

Some essential oils can strongly increase sensitivity to sunlight when applied to the skin. This is especially dangerous when applied undiluted to the skin, but even low concentrations in a carrier oil can cause problems if followed by exposure to sun or tanning lamps. Phototoxicity will be much stronger directly after application of the oil, and will gradually decrease over an eight to twelve hour period; if higher than normal concentrations are used it can be longer. Most of the phototoxic oils are also photocarcinogenic. The most common oils which cause phototoxicity are the citruses; bergamot is the most reactive. Some citruses are phototoxic if expressed, but not if distilled, such as lemon and lime. Other oils include marigold (tagetes), verbena, and angelica. The best practice is to use proper dilutions, avoid direct exposure to UV rays after application, and avoid the use of citrus oils if exposure will be occurring after treatment.

The best treatment for skin irritation from essential oils is to apply a fatty oil, such as coconut, which will dilute the impact of the essential oils.

• Avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes

If an essential oil gets into the eye, do not rub it. Saturate a cotton ball with milk or vegetable oil and wipe over the area affected. In severe instances flood the eye area with lukewarm water for fifteen minutes.

• Take precautions with applications near delicate skin areas.

• Use only pure essential oils; avoid synthetic fragrances.

• Avoid prolonged exposure to essential oils without ventilation. Overexposure to essential oils in confined areas, can cause dizziness, nausea, light headedness, headache, blood sugar imbalances, irritability, euphoria. When exposed to high levels of essential oils make sure to keep the room well ventilated.

• Safely store essential oils and carrier oils properly to avoid degradation and rancidity.

Air, heat and light degrade essential oils. Store essential oils in a cool, dark room and always keep your oils tightly sealed.

• Don’t use essential oils on infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with serious health problems, without advanced medical study.

General Advice

Before experimenting with an oil, become familiar with its properties, dose, and precautions. When in doubt about a condition or an oil, consult a qualified medical specialist. If in doubt use safe, non-irritating essential oils and dilute them with a carrier oil before using.

Alternative Healing Using Essential Oils

The treatments listed below relies on alternative healing with essential oils. Be aware that no medical, clinical trials or results are available.  If you are suffering from any medical condition please contact your licensed medical practitioner.

Abdominal pain
Anal fissures
Athlete's foot
Bad breath
Bleeding gums
Breathing difficulty
Chapped lips
Cold sores
Ear infections

Disclaimer: Before using essential oils you should be totally aware of the precautions and proper usage of essential oils. The above information only serves as a general informative document and should not be used as an official guideline on the use of essential oils.