Essential oils have been exploding in popularity in recent years. We're constantly hearing about their benefits and all the creative ways to use them in our daily lives. But what are they, exactly? Can they really help improve our day? And, how the heck do you use them? Read on to find out some easy ways to start with essential oils — and get ready to enjoy some truly heavenly scents.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts — each one contains a unique blend of chemicals — that retain the natural smell and flavor of their source. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, they are typically obtained through mechanical pressing or distillation.
Because they are so concentrated — to make a very small amount of essential oil requires a large amount of plants — anyone who's accidentally taken a big whiff of one can attest to just how overpowering the scent can be. Just one pound of lavender essential oil calls for a whopping 220 pounds of lavender flowers. Phew, no wonder why the smell is so strong!
Today, essential oils are most often used in diluted form for aromatherapy via a diffuser or for topical massages using a carrier oil. Some folks also use beauty products infused with essential oils in their skincare routine or in a soothing bath. But the history of essential oils actually has a pretty grim start. It can be traced back all the way to ancient Egypt — for mummification purposes.
Ancient Egyptians typically used botanicals like cinnamon and frankincense to prepare the bodies of the deceased for burial. Yeesh. In Ancient Rome, they began being used for massage — on people who were still alive! Sounds a lot more relaxing doesn't it? As time went on, people began to explore putting their essential oils to good use in their homes, and thankfully many of them are easy to replicate today.
How to Use Essential Oils in a Diffuser
Considering how concentrated essential oils are, they usually have to be diluted in order to use them safely. This is probably why aromatherapy is so common. If you use an at-home diffuser, you will reap the benefits by inhaling them indirectly, and never have to get them on your skin. While the instructions for diffusers vary, most require you to fill the container with water and add a few drops of essential oil and turn it on. So simple!
The Benefits of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating certain receptors in the nose, which then send messages through your nervous system to the part of your brain that controls emotions. According to Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that aromatherapy might help improve sleep and offer relief from anxiety and depression. It may also improve a person's overall quality of life, especially if he or she suffers from chronic health conditions. Smaller studies suggest that aromatherapy, with lavender essential oil in particular, may be helpful for reducing pain in people who have osteoarthritis of the knee or kidney stones. It may even help improve the quality of life for folks who have dementia. Each essential oil has its own benefits, so be sure to do you research first.
Other Ways to Use Essential Oils
While most folks enjoy essential oils by simply diffusing them, you can also apply them on your skin. If you choose to go this route, it's super important to dilute them in a solution of water or carrier oils, such as almond or coconut oil. Otherwise, you can risk skin irritation or an allergic reaction.
First be sure your essential oil is safe to apply, then follow any directions on the bottle or box to create your skin-friendly solution. Psst: Here are a few of our favorite essential oil solutions for a massage. To make topical aromatherapy even easier, you might consider purchasing a product that already has diluted the oil for you, such as these soothing lavender beauty products or these essential oil skincare products. As always, it's best to test a small patch of skin when using any new product.
Considering how lovely essential oils smell when they’re infused in a beauty product, it’s no surprise why many folks also like to use essential oils while cleaning. Although some cleaning supplies already come equipped with an essential oil scent as part of their formula, you can also make your own DIY all-purpose cleaner with essential oil and vodka, of all things. How funny is that?
Although less common, some essential oils are actually specifically formulated to be consumed. Nutmeg, orange, and grapefruit are just a few examples of edible essential oils meant for your meals. They can add a big burst of flavor to your dishes without needing to obsess over spicing and seasoning. The downside is that since these oils tend to be rare, there's much less research on any benefits of consumption. Remember: Always double-check to make sure an oil is safe to consume before doing so.