26 Jan 2023

Essential oils: benefits, uses and side effects

author Ashley Owen
Essential oils are becoming an increasingly popular part of many people’s self-care routines. Whether in baths, diffusers, skincare or recipes, there are plenty of ways to utilise these potent potions. But to the uninitiated, it’s sometimes tricky to know where to begin. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of what essential oils are, and some of the different ways that you can use them. We’ll also look at the sort of benefits they could offer you, as well as the main safety considerations. So, let’s get started!

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are a type of plant extract. All plants have natural compounds that give them their characteristic scent and flavour. From the zesty citrus taste of lemon to the delicate floral aroma of lavender, each has its own unique essence. The process of extracting essential oils is designed to capture that essence in a concentrated form.

The main extraction methods are distillation and cold pressing. You can obtain essential oils from almost every part of a plant, including the leaves, flowers, fruit, bark and roots. Because they’re so potent, it takes a large amount of plant material to produce just one bottle of essential oil. While it is possible to create similar oils through chemical processes, experts don’t consider these to be true essential oils.

Evidence indicates that people have been using essential oils for thousands of years.(1) We can see references to them in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and they feature in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. Numerous cultures valued essential oils for both their pleasant fragrance and their therapeutic benefits.

Over time, people developed more refined extraction techniques, eventually resulting in the type of essential oils we use today. Likewise, as the understanding of essential oils grew, practitioners came up with more effective ways of harnessing their benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the best methods.

How do you use essential oils?

So, on to the fun part! There are actually several different ways in which you can use essential oils. You could stick to just one, or mix and match your methods. The most appropriate technique will vary depending on which essential oil you’re using and the benefit you’re hoping to get.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate essential oils into your lifestyle is by using them in your bath. Simply pop a couple of drops into the hot water before you step in to invoke those blissful spa vibes. You’ll be able to both absorb some of the essential oil through your skin and inhale the beautiful scent.

Another convenient option is to get yourself an oil diffuser. That way, you can enjoy the pleasant aroma and associated benefits regardless of what you’re doing. You just fill the diffuser with water and mix in a few drops of your chosen essential oil. The diffuser will emit a mist, dispersing the essential oil into the air. Leave it on for about 15 minutes to suffuse the room with fragrance.

The above methods are best when you want to use essential oils for mood benefits. For example, this could be to boost concentration, energise the mind and body, or relax before bed. However, if you want to include essential oils as part of your skincare routine, it’s preferable to apply it topically.

Before using essential oils on your skin, you need to dilute them with a carrier oil like almond oil. This is because they’re too potent on their own. Once you’ve done so, gently rub the blended oil into your skin. Certain essential oils are great for cleansing the face and brightening your complexion. Alternatively, massage them into tired muscles to help you relax.

Can you ingest essential oils?

The question of whether essential oils are safe to ingest is a bit of a controversial one. That’s because there isn’t a simple yes or no answer.

As essential oils are so potent, it’s dangerous to drink them straight out of the bottle. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no safe method of consuming them. In fact, essential oils can be a fantastic way to add a delicious burst of flavour and fragrance to a dish. You simply have to do it conscientiously.

Just as you dilute essential oils when using them on your skin, you can mix them into food and drink. Be sure to only use a small amount of essential oil in your recipes. Depending on the size of the drink or dish, one or two drops is usually plenty. Unsure where to start? It’s best to follow a tried and tested recipe, like our pumpkin muffins with red mandarin essential oil. Once you’re more confident, you could branch out a little.

If you want to use essential oils in the kitchen, make sure to only purchase high quality bottles. Choose oils which are marked as food grade and have no chemical additives in them. It’s important to note that there are some essential oils which are never safe to ingest, even in tiny amounts. These include tea tree, eucalyptus, cedarwood and wintergreen. Finally, it’s not recommended to give young children essential oils of any kind.

Related reading