A Beginner’s Guide To The World Of Essential Oils

Essential Oils

If you haven’t discovered the many therapeutic and healing properties of essential oils, it is never too late to start. If your goal is to live minimally and sustainably, essential oils may be the life hack that you need. Over the decades, it has been used for both scientific and spiritual purposes and has proven to have positive effects on the mind and body. Plus, it is 100% plant-based and sustainable. 

Essential oils are considered a myth in our modern society. In the present, it is linked to spirituality and new age healing more than it is with medicine. But where did it all begin? 

Aromatherapy is a term highly associated with essential oils. In most books and studies, they go hand in hand. The term was coined by René-Maurice Gattefossé in the early 20th century after he treated discovered for the first time that lavender oil can treat burns. But further research shows that he is not the first one to use these. The discovery and use of these oils date back way before the 20th century.

There have been theories that the first traces of essential oil usage began in Egypt back in 3,500 BC. It is believed that they used these oils for three things: perfume, religious offerings and preserving the dead. In fact, in the early 20th century, a tomb was accidentally found upon digging, and faint traces of cedarwood, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and myrrh were evidently present alongside human remains which remained intact. The smell of each herb may have faded over time, but it was still very much apparent.

The Chinese, Indians, Romans, and Greeks evidently used essential oils in the early days. To infuse incense for burning, ayurvedic medicine, and topically to reduce inflammation and heal wounds. During the renaissance period, people began to change the way they see essential oils through the rise of apothecaries. They were considered pharmacies who sold plant-based extracts to heal physical ailments, as well as to grant the mind and body wellness and protection from negative energies.

Today, there are thousands of brands to choose from. As natural oils tend to cost more, essential oil blends have also been created- these are mixtures of essential oils and carrier oils created to serve different purposes. 

The age of social media has oversaturated the market with skincare trends and celebrity-owned brands all over the world. On the bright side, both brands and buyers are continuously evolving, learning and  shifting, raising awareness on sustainability, environmental impact and responsibility. This results to more eco-conscious brands and communities all over the world.

People have mixed reviews on essential oils. Some brands use them only for fragrance purposes, while others cure minor skin conditions and irritations, but the true believers go as far as using these oils to lift their overall mood, immunity, and even spirituality. Nevertheless, essential oils are a popular addition to these sustainable products, thanks to these age-old beliefs.

What exactly are essential oils?

As the name suggests, essential oils are the essence of the plant. By definition, they should be pure and unadulterated- containing no other elements, not even water. In fact, essential oils are so potent that they could cause reactions. This is what carrier oils, notes, and absolutes come into play. 

How are essential oils extracted from plant to bottle?

This is done through the process of steam distillation – separating organic compounds from plant parts. This is a clean process that only involves three things: water, heat, and the plant itself. This releases the plant’s aromatics and reduces it to its essence or purest form. 

Extracting your own oil is possible as well through expression or cold pressing, but only advisable for smaller quantities. The part of the plant used to make the oil can vary from plant to plant. Some plants can have several parts turned into different oils for different purposes. 

Classifications of essential oils and what they mean

Food Grade Oils- This title’s existence is debatable. Some claim that the term “food grade” is invalid despite it being shown in several online shops and marketing materials. However, there is indeed a list of food-safe essential oils and absolutes certified by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that can be added to make tea, you can even put a few drops on your food, especially when baking to improve the aroma of your baked goods. These should only be used if proven safe. Some essential oils when ingested are toxic to our bodies despite being plant-based. Even if the oil is edible, it is still extremely potent, so use them sparingly. Certified Therapeutic Grade- Brands often use big terms such as  “certified therapeutic grade” There is actually no real basis for this and used mainly for marketing. Do not ingest these oils unless they are named edible by the brand themselves. 

Carrier Oils: what they are and some common examples

If you have been using quality essential oils for a while now, you know for a fact that they come with a hefty price tag. If the use of these oils isn’t maximized, it would be difficult to sustain. This is where carrier oils come in. 

Fact: Oil and water do not mix. Carriers are simply mild and sweet oils extracted from fatty and nutty plants such as sweet almond, jojoba, avocado, and coconut oil used to act as a base and dilute the highly potent plant extracts. Know that quality essential oils are pure and potent. Using them on their own can cause strong skin and body reactions, not to mention wasteful. 

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Oils that boost immunity

These essential oils help boost the immune system with their antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Although they don’t have approved therapeutic claims and are not considered medication, they promote cell growth which is also a form of healing. Some swear by their power and even prefer essential oils over other over the counter medications. 

If it’s an immunity booster you’re looking for. You may find them in the following: Ginger, Frankincense, Lemon, Turmeric, Lemongrass, Cedarwood, Garlic, and Tea Tree. 

Oils for acne-prone and sensitive skin

We already know that antibacterial and antifungal and anti-inflammatory oils can boost our immunity against infections, but these amazing qualities are as good for our skin as they are for our insides. The majority of commercial products in the market today tend to be harsh and laden with artificial chemicals. When we are exposed to pollutants such as dust or smog, these products could trigger reactions that cause more harm than good. 

Acne, eczema, and minor skin irritations can usually be soothed by the following essential oils: Tea Tree, Lavender, Oregano, Bergamot, Rosemary, Helichrysum, Ylang Ylang and Geranium, when used as an active ingredient in your soaps, body butter or moisturizers can soothe skin irritations and improve its overall glow. If irritation persists or worsens, it is best to contact your dermatologist or other health professionals.

Oils for pain relief and relaxation

If you are an athlete, dancer, yogi, surfer, or someone who lives an active lifestyle, chances are you have a love-hate relationship and muscle and joint pain. Some people also experience migraines and chronic body pain and inflammation due to stress and hormonal imbalances. A common example of this PMS and dysmenorrhea for women, as well as muscle and bone conditions common to those over the age of 60. While endorphins are generally great for boosting your physical, mental, and emotional health, we still need to rest our tired and sore muscles after a hard day’s work – The following oils provide fast and relaxing relief from pain. 

Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Wintergreen, Chamomile, Rosemary, Majoram, Thyme, and Frankincense can soothe aches and pains almost instantly. Peppermint and Wintergreen contain menthol that will make you feel an instant cold sensation that soothes and relaxes the body. 

Oils for clarity, creativity, and concentration

 It’s a sad fact and no secret that brain function deteriorates with age. The following essential oils have been linked to slowing down the aggravating symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and  Alzheimer’s, common to people over age 60. Therefore, consider the use of these oils as a preventive measure and tools to improve your mental health and wellbeing along with your memory, concentration, and focus. Look for products that contain Basil, Rosemary, Lemon, Pine, Peppermint, and Juniper.

Oils for energy and vigor

Citrus is like the coffee of essential oils. Diffusing and filling the room with citrus’ zesty aroma can easily give us an energy boost and improve our mood, much like a cup of joe. Applying it topically can produce the same effect as well. Common citrus oils are Orange, Lemon, and Grapefruit.

Peppermint, Spearmint, and Eucalyptus, either through a diffuser, inhaled and applied topically can generate instant boost and better breathing, which pumps fresh oxygenated blood all over the body, keeping us alert and energized. 

How are essential oils usually applied oils for home and cleaning?

Instructions may vary with the brands but the best way is to mix it with a carrier oil and apply topically to affected areas or to breathe them in using a diffuser. Do not ingest unless proven safe by a health expert.

Brands who produce essential oils or add them to most of their products

Lush Cosmetics Company (Vegan Personal Care)

Lush Cosmetics is a sustainable skincare powerhouse swear by essential oils, they even created a website dedicated to it. Aside from their witty product names and visually stimulating soaps and bath bombs, they are also transparent about their product’s ingredients and pledge to be vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable. 

Plant Apothecary (Clean and Vegan Skincare)

A brand that practices minimalism in their packaging as well as ingredients. In fact, they may have some of the shortest ingredient lists we have ever seen. A majority of them are made from essential oils. They are very transparent with their products that they even give disclaimers on how certain products may change it’s consistency when exposed to certain temperatures. In skincare, that proves that their products have less synthetic ingredients and fillers.

doTERRA (literally translates to "gift of the earth")

Everything you want to know about essential oils, you can learn from this brand. Not only are they selling every essential oil ever imagined, they also share heaps of information the oils and teach consumers how to use them. They have also started making products for the body, hair, and skin starring no other than their essential oils. They pledge to sustainable living and all their content is backed with scientific research.