Essential oils: benefits, uses and side effects

Essential oils: benefits, uses and side effects

Team ErbologyErbology

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 utilize 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!

January 27, 2023 4:09 pm

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are a type of plant extract. All plants have natural compounds that give them their characteristic scent and flavor. 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.

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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, energize 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.

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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 flavor 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.

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"Essential oils can be a wonderful way to boost your mood, level up your skincare, or relax after a long day."

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What are the benefits of using essential oils?

There are many different essential oils out there, each with its own potential benefits to offer. As such, it can be a bit confusing to figure out what essential oils are for what! To help clear things up, let’s explore some of the most popular reasons for using them. We’ll also cover the best essential oils for each purpose. Their versatility might surprise you!

Essential oils for mood and mental health

First of all, essential oils can be hugely positive for our mental health. For instance, studies indicate that improved mood is one of the many lemon essential oil benefits.(2) Citrus oils and peppermint in particular can help us to feel more energised and refreshed.

Similarly, many essential oils could work to lower stress and anxiety.(3) This is particularly true when combined with other relaxing activities, such as taking a bath or having a massage. Chamomile, lavender, ylang ylang, neroli and jasmine are all great choices of calming essential oils.

There’s also some evidence to suggest that essential oils such as spearmint can improve our concentration. Meanwhile, one of the more interesting rosemary essential oil benefits is that it could boost your cognitive performance.(4) So these are both ideal for popping in the diffuser while working!


Improving your sleep with essential oils

The fact that essential oils can help us relax and unwind also means they could make it easier for you to drift off at night. This is an especially important advantage because sleep is so vital to our overall wellbeing.

When it comes to lavender essential oil benefits, improved quality of sleep is perhaps the most well-known. It can help people with sleep disturbances like insomnia, as well as those who simply want a more restful slumber.(5) For the best results, try inhaling some lavender oil before bed or putting a couple of drops on your pillow at night.

Essential oils for skincare

Adding essential oils to your skincare routine can be a fantastic way to boost your complexion. For example, one of the many bergamot essential oil benefits is that it’s naturally antibacterial. As such, it can cleanse the skin and reduce symptoms of acne. Tea tree is another oil that’s antiseptic and antimicrobial, making it an ideal choice for use in skincare.

Similarly, several essential oils act as antioxidants, helping to protect us from free radical damage and oxidative stress. This means they can fight against skin ageing and may help to minimize the appearance of wrinkles. Remember, for skincare benefits, you’ll need to dilute your chosen essential oil and apply it topically.

skin health

Other benefits of essential oils

There are a number of other issues that essential oils may be able to assist with. As an example, lavender, basil and peppermint could help to relieve headaches and migraines.(6) Meanwhile, ginger, peppermint and spearmint may all work to alleviate nausea. On the other hand, if you’re feeling congested, peppermint and eucalyptus can enable you to breathe more easily. To enjoy these benefits on the go, keep a bottle in your bag and inhale the scent at any time.

In a rather different vein, essential oils like tea tree and citronella can also act as a natural insect repellent. It’s even possible to utilize some oils when cleaning. Lastly, the simple fact that essential oils smell nice is a benefit in itself! You’re able to use a diffuser as a handy way to scent your home with an aroma you love.

Are there any side effects of using essential oils?

The fact that a substance is natural doesn’t automatically mean that it’s safe. Many plants can be toxic to humans, and the same is true of the essential oils they contain. As such, you have to be careful how you use them to avoid any unwanted side effects.

Be sure to always follow the usage guidelines carefully. Essential oils are very potent, therefore you shouldn’t apply them directly to your skin without diluting them first. If you do, it may result in irritation such as redness or a burning sensation. By mixing your essential oil with a carrier or base such as almond oil, you reduce the concentration. You can then safely apply the blend to your skin for more effective results.

Another key point to remember is that many essential oils made from citrus fruits are photosensitive or phototoxic. This means they contain compounds that react to ultraviolet light. When applied to the skin, even in a diluted form, they can increase its sensitivity to sunlight and UV rays. This raises the risk of sunburn and discoloration of the skin. Therefore, if you’re using a photosensitive essential oil as part of your skincare, be sure to apply it at night.

When it comes to consuming essential oils, you should never swallow them neat. Instead, mix a couple of drops into your food or drink. When doing so, make sure that you only use essential oils certified as food grade quality. Similarly, whenever you purchase essential oils, you want to be confident they are of a high standard. Avoid those with chemical additives, and always choose a brand you can trust.

Finally, seek medical advice before using essential oils if you’re pregnant, taking medication, or have an existing health condition.