Essential Oils: Do They Really Work?

Essential oils are all the rage right now. From helping anxiety to treating infections, they claim to be a natural cure for a multitude of health conditions. But how do you know they actually work? Wouldn't you like a sales-free look into essential oils? That's exactly what we're here to do, give you an unbiased fact-based perspective on essential oils and aromatherapy.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are compounds that are extracted from plants. The "essence" is captured from the plant's fragrance and aroma also known as its chemical compound. Essential oils are created by crushing and distilling the plant, then combined with a carrier oil to make the final product.

Each type of essential oil has a unique composition that affects how it's absorbed, smells, and how it affects us.

Popular essential oil fragrances and health claims include:

  • Peppermint - boost energy, help digestion
  • Lavender - stress relief
  • Tea tree - fight infections, boost immunity, help acne
  • Lemon - digestion, mood, memory, and more
  • Rose - improve mood, reduce anxiety
  • Chamomile - relaxation
  • Sandalwood - calms nerves, helps focus
  • Bergamot - improve skin condition, reduce stress

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the act of using essential oils for the purpose of healing.

By inhaling vapors through a diffuser or massaging them directly onto the skin, aromatherapy is one of the most popular ways of using essential oils. Both ways allow the plant compound to cross into the bloodstream and be absorbed to reap all the benefits.

They can also be ingested, but this approach isn't always safe and is not recommended.

Do Essential Oils Work?

There is no quick and easy answer to this question. Some essential oils work very well for some things, and others do not. Some smell great and provide benefits, and others stop at the fragrance benefit. Research is lacking in scientific research, but we do know there are many positive benefits based on studies and consumer use.

According to the National Institute of Health, smell plays a big role in how essential oils affect the body. When inhaled, this stimulates smell receptors which send chemical messages from the nose straight to the brain's limbic system. The limbic system is a part of your brain that plays a huge role in emotions, moods, long-term memory, sense of smell, and may even have psychological effects.

Are There Any Risks to Essential Oils?

Allergic Reactions - A small number of people experience allergic reactions from essential oils used in aromatherapy. People who suffer from spring or fall allergies have an increased reaction and should use caution. The allergic reactions experienced are typically mild.

Increase Sun Sensitivity - Certain essential oils may make you more sensitive to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. This causes you to become photosensitive which causes you to develop sunburns faster than the average person. Citrus based essential oils are most likely to cause this reaction. Avoiding sun exposure after using the oils and applying sunscreen SPF 30 will help with this.

Storing in Plastic - Essential oils can literally eat through plastic containers. If you're making a homemade cleaner using oils, only use glass containers to safely store them.

Though there are some warnings regarding safe use, there are many wonderful and natural health benefits of using essential oils:

Relieving Headaches

Suffer from chronic headaches? Tired of taking over-the-counter pain meds? Give essential oils a try.

Dabbing a bit of peppermint oil on foreheads and temples have been shown to relieve headache pain. Recent studies have also shown positive results when applying peppermint oil and lavender oil to the skin to prevent headaches and migraines. Plus it works in as little as 15 minutes.

Chamomile and sesame oil have also been shown to effectively treat headaches and migraines.

Nausea Relief

You know that unsettling feeling of being nauseous all too well. Whether you get seasick easily or need quick relief from the last rollercoaster you rode, essential oils can help. Current research has shown that inhaling lemon essential oil as soon as nausea hits can provide instant relief.

After surgeries, peppermint essential oils showed to reduce the amount of anti-nausea medication used post-surgery.

Acne Benefits

Acne sufferers know just how embarrassing and obnoxious stubborn spells can be. It affects 80-90% of teenagers, and follow many into their adulthoods.

Acne Placebo Study: Tea Tree Oil

In the study, 60 patients with mild to moderate acne were monitored over a 45 day period. Half of the patients received 5% tea tree oil gel while the other half were given a placebo gel with no active ingredients.

The tea tree oil group was proven to be effective in reducing both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne versus the placebo group. This is thanks to the anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties found in tea tree oil.

Improves Sleep & Insomnia

Sleep. It's one of the most important parts of our daily lives. It helps our minds stay sharp and our organs function, yet many of us aren't getting enough of it.

The lavender oil scent has been shown to have all positive effects on sleeping habits. Resulting in better sleep quality, longer sleep patterns, and a decrease in insomnia. The scent is very relaxing and has strong, yet natural sedative effects.

Next time you've had it with counting sheep, try inhaling some high-quality lavender essential oil. It can't hurt to try!

Reduces Inflammation

Test tube studies have shown that essential oils have anti-inflammatory effects. One mouse study found that ingesting a combination of oregano and thyme essential oils helped induce the remission of colitis. A similar study using rosemary oil found similar results. Few human studies on inflammatory diseases have been examined as of yet, but the studies on mice are quite impressive. (We don't support animal testing, however, these are the only studies available at the moment.)

Laser Focus

Sometimes kids need help paying attention in class or doing their homework after school. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, patients experienced an increased sense of alert and higher memory after inhaling sage essential oil. 

Another great essential oil to provide focus is rosemary. Just a few drops in your diffuser has been shown to improve cognitive task performance.

Eases Stress

There have been many positive studies shown on essential oils and stress. Majority of users who use essential oils in a diffuser have reported it as a great tool to beat anxiety and reduce stress in their lives.

An interesting fact to point out, is that essential oils are often used during massages. Clearly, they play a key part in helping during the relaxation process.

Other Great Uses

  • Freshening up laundry
  • Scenting the home
  • Making homemade cleaning products
  • Creating homemade cosmetics
  • Safe mosquito repellant
  • Extending food's shelf life

Buying The Right Essential Oils

Essential oils are unregulated, which means the composition and quality can greatly differ.

Keep these tips in mind when buying essential oils:

  • Quality - The best essential oils are changed very little during the extraction process. Choose chemical free, and one that's been extracted through distillation or cold pressing.
  • Purity - Choose oils that only contain aromatic plant compounds. Ensure they don't contain synthetic oils or additives.
  • Reputation - Research and choose a brand that produces high-quality products.

Bottom Line

There's no doubt, essential oils provide many incredible benefits.

They're completely safe to inhale or apply directly to the skin. As long as you're using a high-quality product that's been combined with a base oil and extracted properly, you won't run into any trouble.

Evidence, health claims, and studies done on humans are certainly lacking and we hope to see a rise in this information soon. However, based on consumer reports many of the essential oil health claims do seem to be effective and are entirely safe for you to try out for yourself.

Each essential oil is different than the next, experiment and research each oil to find what you like and what works best for you. 

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