Thursday, September 4, 2014

Essential Oils: Essential Information

I know this post is not my typical type of post... please disregard it if this is not a topic that interests you.

Since seemingly everyone is hosting essential oil parties these days, I've been doing some research on them to find out what all the hype is. My dad is a massage therapist, so the fact that essential oils exist and are useful is not news to me. I have recently learned more specifics about the benefits of essential oils, but have already for years been using lavender oil to relax, tea tree oil spray during cold season, and citronella for homemade bug spray.

Do I think that essential oils are totally useless? No. Do I think that essential oils can fix any ailment and eliminate our need for ever going to the doctor? No. Essential oils have their place, and modern medicine has its place. I believe essential oils are worth trying for improving various conditions such as migraines, insomnia, eczema, sinus congestion, ADHD, and digestive issues. I also believe we can't use them as our only solution for many medical issues.

Mainly, I want to share some information that I've found in my research. I hope this is useful for you as you consider whether to try essential oils and/or what brands to use. I am in no way an expert on the subject, so please do your own research and don't just take my word for it.
  • Phrases such as “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade” mean nothing. There is no actual classification in the aromatherapy world for “therapeutic grade”. There is no governing body that certifies essential oils. Phrases such as “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade” are trademarked phrases by their corresponding essential oil company. The reason each of these companies can claim that “no other company can say….” is because their company has trademarked the words. (I do not doubt the quality of the products from companies that use phrases like this. I am simply pointing out that these phrases are meaningless, so look at other factors to determine the quality of any oils you purchase.)
  • Enormous amounts of plants are needed to produce essential oil. It takes anywhere from 100 pounds to literally tons of plant material to produce a pound of essential oil. Consider, then, how concentrated essential oils must be in light of how many plants are used to produce them.
  • Most essential oils should never be used undiluted on the skin. Instead, they should be combined with carrier oils, waxes, butters, alcohols, or other diluting measures. Because they’re so concentrated, if you don’t dilute, you may end up with an unfortunate reaction (and unhappy skin). Besides, the oils will go a much longer way when diluted. There are a few essential oils that are generally recognized as safe to use undiluted (sparingly), such as lavender, German chamomile, tea tree, sandalwood, and rose geranium.
  • You should never use an undiluted essential oil on a baby or child. Children have much thinner, more delicate skin than adults have and tend to be very sensitive to the potency of essential oils. In fact, even if you do use essential oil in a recipe for children, only use half of the essential oil recommended in the recipe. That’s all they’ll need, anyway. Be sure to find a reliable list of essential oils that are safe for babies and children before using them.
  • You really shouldn't take essential oils internally, especially oils like wintergreen and eucalyptus. While some essential oils may be used well-diluted in something like toothpaste with safety, it’s generally recognized that there’s no need to take essential oils internally. 
  • Certain essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding (and skip essential oils completely in your first trimester). These lists often include aniseed, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, ginger, jasmine, lemon, nutmeg, rosemary, sage, wintergreen, vetiver, and more.
  • Essential oils cannot be patented, which means that you don't see essential oils in pharmaceutical drugs. You can expect that the vast majority of mainstream healthcare practitioners will not recommend essential oils as therapeutic alternatives to drugs. Because essential oils cannot be patented, drug companies will not waste money studying them. This limits our scientific knowledge of essential oils greatly.
  • Essential oils will last for at least 5 years (if not 10), so one bottle could literally last you a decade. Hopefully that thought will help mitigate the cost involved in purchasing some essential oils. Because they are so concentrated and only a tiny amount is needed in anything you do, they’ll last you a very, very long time. The only exception to this rule is citrus oils, which will see a reduction in potency after a year or two.
  • Most essential oils are high in antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. This makes them an excellent addition to your homemade cleaning preparations. Oils that work well for cleaning include lemon, grapefruit, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, lavender, and rosemary.
  • Essential oils are miniscule in molecular size, which means they are absorbed well by the skin – making them perfect ingredients in personal care items intended to heal, soften, and nourish. However, they do not accumulate in the body over time – they simply offer up their healing properties and then pass on through.
  • Fragrance oils and essential oils are not the same thing. As a rule of thumb, if you see the word “fragrance” or “fragrance oil” or even “perfume” on anything, you can assume this is synthetic, not natural, even if it says natural fragrance. Look for oils that are labeled as 100% essential oil and do your research to make sure they are not diluted or mixed with synthetic substances.
I am not suggesting we should be afraid to use essential oils. They are very useful for health, cleaning, and aromatherapy. Just use them properly and it should be fine. I hope this post is helpful as you determine how and when and which essential oils to use.

NOTE: Many of the above bits of information were copied from here (but I've also seen them all elsewhere).

9/6 UPDATE: Here is a note my dad wrote about the second-to-last point:

“Minuscule” is a relative term and a poor one to use. Why not just say that they are absorbed well and leave it at that? I do see their implied point: the oils can be assimilated transdermally (through the skin just like a nicotine patch) for use in the body. Essential oils are NOT molecules; they are complex combinations of MANY molecules—sometimes hundreds of distinct molecules—many of which are terpenes. Terpenes, in turn are made of isoprene units, and can have anywhere from one to dozens of them (think of ladders with different numbers of rungs). See for more info on this.