From ingestion to inhalation, a primer on how and why you should be using essential oils in your wellness routine
Essential oils are one of the oldest wellness methods around. In ancient Egypt, for example, people extracted essential oils from plants to use in homespun cosmetics, for medicinal purposes and even as a part of their religious practices. Fast forward to today: essential oils have a powerful presence, whether they come in an everyday diffuser in your office or whether it’s Gucci releasing oil based fragrances as part of its latest perfume launch. There are more ways than ever before to use them, and even if they don’t appear to be beauty or wellness related, the fact that essential oils are more organic and naturally derived than most everyday ingredients we encounter mean they are also safer and more sustainable for us and the planet.
On the most basic level, there are three ways to take in essential oils: by inhaling them, by applying on the skin or, the least common method, by ingestion, which must be overseen by a medical doctor. They can come in a number of forms too: diluted, undiluted and in products that include them, such as candles, hand creams, cough suppressants and cosmetics. The oils come from natural plants, fruits and other organic matter, such as black pepper, for instance. The process by which the oils are extracted is ages old: by steam distillation, the botanical matter is placed in a still where pressurised steam is forced through until the oil, which is lighter than the water, floats to the top. In terms of where exactly they come from, it differs for each unique one. Oregano oil typically comes from the Mediterranean and Turkey, Ylang-Ylang, from China, Geranium from South Africa. Lemon Oil is a popular Italian export, and so on.
Here, a primer on how and why you should be using essential oils in your wellness routine.
“Essential oils can enhance our wellbeing by positively impacting both our physiological and emotional states,” explains Kate Ross LeBlanc, co-founder of Saje Natural Wellness line of essential oil products. “One of the ways our bodies can receive these benefits is by smelling essential oils; your brain responds by releasing endorphins, which make your body feel good, as well as by releasing serotonin, which boosts your mood. Essential oils can even release noradrenaline, which stimulates your body and gives you a burst of energy.”
Smelling essential oils is the fastest way to get essential oils into your body, as the chemicals enter your brain and lungs. It’s also a form of aromatherapy. Some essential oils such as lavender will have the same soothing effect, for example. You can buy them in pre-diluted forms, such as this lavender essential oil option. Be mindful of the product’s specific directions, but many times it is advised that you apply the diluted oil to wrists, chests or feet and breathe in. Different oils can be smelled to achieve a different aromatherapy effect: peppermint and tea tree can be stimulating, citrus-based oils can be energizing, chamomile can be calming and so on.
Use them as holistic health methods
As a more natural alternative to using traditional medicines, essential oils can be used to aid certain ailments, such as pain or incessant coughing. For example, rather than use a chemical-heavy cream or medication from your local pharmacy when you have aches and pains, eucalyptus oil can be diluted and applied to the skin to soothe aches because it is both anti-inflammatory and analgesic-- it helps to soothe the inflammation and pain. “Saje succeeded in having one of the first-ever, 100% natural essential oil blends to be recognized by the FDA as an over-the-counter medicine,” says LeBlac. “Essential oils are more than just aromatic oils – they can actually help your body heal and there is science to support that.”
Among two of Saje’s FDA healing products are Fortify and Sweet Comfort, both cough suppressants with nearly 97% blends of essential oils -- and a little bit of menthol to aid sore throats. The Sweet Comfort, for example, contains benzoin, lavender oil, lemon oil, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil, peppermint oil, pine needle oil and prunus armeniaca (apricot) kernel oil while the Fortify is full of cinnamon oil, eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus), tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia) leaf oil, geranium (pelargonium graveolens), peppermint (mentha piperita), pine needle (pinus sylvestris), rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) and grapeseed oil (vitis vinifera (grape) seed oil).
Use them in your beauty routine
You can also use essential oils on extremely dry, cracked skin on elbows or the bottoms of your feet in moderation. “An important thing to note: Essential oils should typically not be applied directly to the skin (in undilated forms they can be too harsh on skin and cause reactions such as burns or irritation), but with less sensitive skin, like that on your feet, a few drops won’t harm,” explains Jon Bresler, CEO and founder of luxury line LAFCO, which specializes in candles and personal care products such as soaps and hand creams made using high-grade essential oils.
You can easily find essential oil-friendly beauty products such as moisturizers and take comfort in knowing what the ingredients are likely a lot more natural and organic that the usual ingredients occurring in most beauty products. Take, for example, the luxury line Buly 1803’s body oils, which contain essential oils that are “naturally derived organic ingredients with anti-inflammatory and nourishing properties” such as apricot and coconut essential oils. There are also a plethora of DIY tutorials on how to make your own personal fragrances from essential oils online. Or, you can opt to keep it simple and replace your normal body lotion with essential oil. “Three or four drops of lemon oil massaged into dry heels will help soften skin and prevent cracks,” explains Bresler.
Clean with them
One of the most unexpected ways to harness the power of essential oils has a lot to do with replacing harsh, chemical-filled household cleaning products with essential oils. “Tea tree oil can be used to create an effective multi-purpose cleaning spray,” says Bresler, for example. “Mix 10-12 drops of the oil with a half cup of white wine vinegar and two cups of hot water. Use it to disinfect bathrooms, floor and countertops. Don’t use vinegar on marble and granite, though, as the acid in the vinegar can eat away at the stone.”
The same essential oil can also be used to rid spaces or clothes of bacteria, especially synthetic fabrics that may hold onto odours. Bresler suggests mixing in a few drops with regular laundry detergent. As the online essential oil community grows, there are more and more tutorials and helpful pieces of advice online, such as this article which recommends ten different essential oils to use for greener cleaning, such as lemon oi for purging stains and orange oil for cutting grease on dishes.
Bathe in them
Possibly one of the most enjoyable ways to use essential oils in your wellness routine is to utilize them for a self-care spa day. They can easily be integrated into a bath, or massage, for example and you get the aromatherapy effects of smelling the oils as well as the health benefits, if you use a soothing eucalyptus oil, for either a bath or massage since it has a distinct scent and the ability to soothe sore muscles. Ylang Ylang, on the other hand, has a floral aroma that many consider to be relaxing and, an aphrodisiac in massages.
“One of the best ways to enjoy essential oils is in a hot bath,” explains Bresler. “Adding five or six drops of your favourite scent or scents into the bath water will do two things. It will scent the entire room as the steam fills the room. A few deep inhalations will provide a more complete aromatherapy experience. If you meditate, try it in the bath with your favorite essential oil. I like the scent of lavender when I unwind. A mix of peppermint and eucalyptus oils will leave your skin feeling extra soft. And avoid using wintergreen, cinnamon, lemongrass, cassia and oregano essential oils in baths as they can be irritating to the skin.”