And What They Can Actually Do For You
As essential oils become more and more mainstream, it’s important to consider some dos and don’ts. Because there aren’t enough clinical studies conducted on many holistic products, and because they affect each of us differently, it’s crucial that we do our research before using them. There are some studied benefits of certain essential oils, particularly in the way of calming the mind, body, and spirit. And of course, therapeutic effects may exist beyond what’s been researched, as their widespread adoption into wellness modalities may provide some evidence for. New studies continue to uncover their benefits and when used correctly, they can improve your wellbeing with few side effects. (We speak more about their wonderful uses at the end of this article.) However, it’s important to know how to be safe when using them for yourself or your wellness practice, as adverse effects have also been reported. Below, we give you a quick guide on 5 major things you need to know about using essential oils safely and what they can actually do for you.
1. Check Your Source and Your Aromatherapist’s Qualifications
There is a growing concern about essential oil company practices and their claims of selling “food-grade” or “medical-grade” essential oils. No matter the claims, it’s important to check to make sure the company and your aromatherapist follow standards approved by accrediting organizations, like the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Technically, there are several oils, including basil, oregano, thyme, and others, that are technically “food-grade.” But that term can be misleading, as pure essential oils are highly concentrated, and this makes them dangerous to the lining of the digestive tract when undiluted.
The truth is we ingest essential oils, which are herb and plant essences, all the time. However, their natural presence in most food is in minute quantities . NAHA does not promote the ingestion of essential oils due to the possibility for overdosing if not handled with professional care. Amrita, a company that adheres to the standards of NAHA, has taken extra care in preventing accidental overdosing with their Tri-Essence Blend of oils, designed to be suitable for ingestion. According to the company, “One would have to consume a full bottle of Tri-Essence per day, every day over a long period to reach a point of overdose.” Still, they recommend the ingestion of oils only under the supervision of a certified aromatherapy professional or healthcare provider well-versed in the properties of the essential oils you are taking.
Other considerations to look into before you choose your favorite essential oil brands include: how oils are harvested, whether they are organic, and whether or not they are pure or diluted with other substances.
2. When inhaling…
One way to reap the therapeutic effects of essential oils is to inhale them, and there are different ways to do this. One way is to diffuse them with an aromatherapy diffuser that uses water or heat to carry the scent through a room. When choosing your preferred method, take care not to directly burn the oil (as when heated with a flame, or if the heat is high enough that you see a trail of dark vapor coming out). Besides the toxicity of breathing in smoke, the structure of the essential oil can be dramatically altered with heat.
Another way to inhale is using an aromatherapy inhaler. If adhering to wellness standards, these are safe to inhale as directed. You can also simply dab essential oils onto a cottonball for diffusing the aroma in a pinch. However, when looking to inhale for immediate effect, use the protocol of wafting the scent to your nostrils until you reach the desired effect. Do not inhale directly, as this can be harsh to your nostrils and airways when in strong doses as pure essential oils are.
Yet another method of inhaling is through the use of steaming. This process involves dropping essential oil into a bowl of steaming water, placing a towel over your head and the bowl, and then, breathing in deeply (this is recommended particularly with eucalyptus essential oil which has often been claimed to help symptoms of sinus and respiratory infections). When steaming, do not use more than 1-2 drops, and make sure that your eyes are closed. (It is recommended to not use this potent and direct method for children under 7 years of age.)
Remember that some oils are not appropriate for ingesting and can cause serious side effects or damage, so please adhere to advice and consult with a professional before ingestion.
Another great way of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes is to allow them to be absorbed through the skin. When using oils topically, however, make sure that they are always diluted in appropriate, organic carrier substance. Popular choices include vegetable or nut oils like jojoba, sweet almond, or fractionated coconut oil. You may also use water to dilute your oils, but when using water, be sure to shake and mix the solution thoroughly before applying. When using carrier oils, make sure the essential oil is no greater than a 3-5% concentration for applying on only a portion of the body. This means that for every teaspoon of carrier, use no more than 3 drops of essential oil. For application in greater portions (as in massage), make sure the concentration is only 1%, this would mean 1 drop in 1 teaspoon of carrier.
Certain oils are simply unsafe to put on the skin. Cumin, for example, can cause blisters when applied topically. Do not use edible oils (like citrus oils) on your skin, as they can cause skin irritation or damage, especially when exposed to sunlight.
4. Take care when using essential oils with your small children.
Of course, when it comes to children, you should always consult a professional. Certain oils, like peppermint, can cause restlessness and agitation in babies and toddlers. Additionally, birch and wintergreen essential oils should be avoided with kids younger than six, as they could have a serious reaction with the methyl salicylate the oils contain. Because of their high sensitivity, essential oils should be used with extra care when used around or for young children and the elderly.
5. Consult with your doctor if you are taking prescription medication.
Because they can interact with medication, it’s important to let your healthcare provider know if you use essential oils when you are taking a prescription. This also will help rule out possible side effects.
The Wonderful Benefits of Essential Oils
So, with all this talk about precautions, why are they used so prevalently, even showing up in hospital surgical units? Well, besides the myriad of current testimonials and traditional use across many cultures, more and more studies are now being done on essential oils. One major documented effect present confirmed in many studies is the abilities for certain oils, like lavender, ylang-ylang, and chamomile in triggering the body’s relaxation response, decreasing anxiety, and improving sleep. Bergamot has been found to reduce stress, at least in this study’s participants. Another relaxing oil, vanilla, has been found to have sedative effects and decrease restlessness and hyperactivity.
Peppermint oil has been found to decrease the severity of nausea in pregnant women. Cineole, a component of eucalyptus oil, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory attributes, as well as help reduce exacerbation of respiratory infections. Breathing in rosemary, has been shown to reduce inflammation and thus relieve headaches and even muscle pains and arthritis, among other studied benefits. Other headache relievers are menthol and camphor oils, which have also been shown to reduce migraine and headache symptoms.
We invite you to explore the world of aromatherapy further, by reading literature from trusted and certified professionals. Among the other books and guides we carry at the OM Shoppe, we recommend Dr. Streicher’s book: Aromatherapy for Every Day. Find out more about Dr. Streicher’s background and qualifications here.
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