More than likely you’ve been approached by at least one friend who swears by their essential oils. The business of incorporating essential oils into your health routine is all the rage. From calming your senses for a good night’s rest to pain management for arthritis, the claims about what essential oils can do for you range wide and border on near-magic. And, when you’re looking for alternatives to harsh, western medicine chemicals, they can sound almost too good to be true. So, what can they actually do, and are they more than simply a nice-smelling alternative to candles? We dug deep to find out.
What are Essential Oils?
First of all, what exactly is an essential oil, and how does it differ from a bottle of fragrance? In simple terms, a fragrance is less concentrated than an essential oil, which derives its name from “essence,” as in, the essence of a plant. The oils are created from highly concentrated extraction processes involving everything from leaves, flowers, roots, barks, and peels of plants. The extraction process can take anywhere from 500-2,000 pounds of plants to produce just a single pound of essential oil, explaining why the price for a 10ML bottle can be expensive! Depending on the use or health benefits they claim to have, essential oils come in several forms and can be applied topically, inhaled, or ingested.
Do They Live Up to the Hype?
Despite their trendiness, the definitive answer about the effectiveness of essential oils remains to be seen. Though research is limited, studies have been done to test whether the homeopathic claims about them ring true. In each of these studies, the resounding point is always this: more research must be done. There are a resounding number of reasons for this, but the main seems to be a difficulty in creating proper placebo groups that mimic the scents of essential oils without being essential oils.
Another real disadvantage to understanding the true effects of these oils is the power of suggestion. Researchers at Marywood University found that, when people were told they were being exposed to a stimulating scent, their heart rate and skin conductance indicated physiological arousal, whereas when told they were smelling a relaxing scent, their physiological arousal decreased – no matter what scent they were smelling.
The placebo effect is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to essential oils, however. If you enjoy the soothing effect of a good smell, who’s to say it’s not adding something beneficial to your everyday wellness? Their ability to be a true medicinal “pill” to heal ailments may yet stand unproven, but in the same way that meditation, yoga, or massage may get you out of your head and focused on your body, perhaps they still have their place in helping those who enjoy their scent diffusers soothe their everyday stress.
The limited evidence on essential oils as a whole isn’t to say there aren’t established examples of essential oil use being used medicinally in ways that many – even within the medical community – find helpful. The most familiar of these being Vicks VapoRub, which is made up of peppermint, camphor, and eucalyptus. Anyone who uses Vicks regularly to ease the side effects of colds has experienced first-hand how the rub’s strong, minty scent breaks down mucus and helps suppress coughing.
This isn’t to say that they can be used as an alternative to well-researched, doctor-recommended, mainstream medicine. In fact, many essential oil companies like Young Living have been called into question by the FDA for claims that their products can heal or prevent serious illnesses and chronic diseases. These types of claims can be dangerous; without proper research-backed results and study-proven medicinal properties, replacing your doctor-recommended medical treatment with essential oils could result in serious harm.
How to Make the Most Out of the Mystery
- Despite the lack of strong evidence proving the effectiveness of essential oils, they haven’t been completely written off within the medical community, and some still hold out hope that newer, better research will come to light in upcoming years. As a matter of benefiting your health and well-being, the best conclusion is this: if you enjoy the use of your essential oils, keep using them. If you’re looking to cut back on your prescription pills and replace them with a regime of essential oils, don’t.
- If you are an essential oil user, or you’re curious about trying them out, here are some things to keep in mind to ensure that you remain safe and healthy:
- Quality: As with all supplements and herbs, it’s important that you do your research about where you’re buying your essential oils. Like vitamins, essential oils are unregulated, so making sure to purchase therapeutic-grade oils is important.
- Use Caution: Not every brand is extracted and processed the same way. Only some can actually be ingested safely. Make sure to read the label carefully and, if needed, consult your doctor.
- Keep Away from Pets: Several very popular and common essential oils are actually poisonous to dogs. Keep your pet safe and don’t use your essential oils around them.
- Be realistic: Used properly from high-quality brands and trusted sources, they are generally safe to use and test. As with anything, make sure to test for allergic reactions before using regularly. But be mindful about how much essential oil can benefit you; you might feel more energetic after getting a good night’s rest from using one, but it’s not going to cure your cancer.
- For chronic conditions, ailments, and illnesses consult your doctor and seek out conventional treatment, whether or not you decide to use essential oils as well.
Simple Scents to Try
If you do decide to test them out for yourself, you might become overwhelmed with the innumerous options out there. To help make your test trial easier, here are a few popular and well-loved options:
A very popular scent used in lotions, perfumes, and bed sprays, lavender is said to have strong stress-reducing, relaxing, and antibacterial properties.
A powerful antiseptic, tea tree is used in many beauty and skin products to help tame mild to moderate acne. Thanks to its ability to kill many strains of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, it’s great for flushing out toxins in your skin that are caused by oil-clogged pores.
Much like the tea, chamomile is used as a sedative to relax users who might suffer from anxiety or have difficulty relaxing enough to sleep.
When it comes to the power of essential oils true healing properties, the jury is still out. However, as an element to your health and wellness routine, they can make a nice addition – even if only for the lovely scents and true power of suggestion. Just remember: essential oils cannot replace prescriptive medicine.