Essential Oils: A Beginner's Guide to Aromatherapy – Everyday Health

Share Article

Here, we explain what essential oils are, how they work, their potential health benefits, safety considerations, and how to find quality oils.

When inhaled, the molecules in essential oils travel up the nose and interact with scent receptors, which stimulates the olfactory nerve that connects to the brain.
“The oil itself doesn’t go up into the brain, but it stimulates a response that typically affects different aspects of the brain and the central nervous system, specifically in regions called the limbic system. This system has a lot to do with arousal, memory, and processing emotions,” says Michelle Davila, ND, a naturopathic doctor with the integrative medicine department of Beaumont Health in Grosse Pointe and Royal Oak, Michigan.

Essential oils also create certain effects when applied to the skin. “Because of their low molecular weight and the fact that they’re fat-soluble, essential oils can get into the bloodstream and affect different aspects of our overall health,” Dr. Davila explains.
“But whether you use aromatherapy through the olfactory nerve [or the lungs], or through absorption [via] the skin, the effects are fairly similar,” she adds.

They’re also used by doctors, nurses, chiropractors, acupuncturists, holistic healthcare providers, and dentists, notes Shanti Dechen, a certified clinical aromatherapy practitioner and licensed massage therapist, who is director of Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy in Crestone, Colorado.

However, many organizations offer education and certification programs. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) is an educational nonprofit organization that has created guidelines for aromatherapy certification programs. Check that your aromatherapist has received training from a NAHA-approved aromatherapy school.

Another common method of using essential oils is to apply them directly to the skin through a massage, bath, or skincare product. However, it’s important to note that most essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin without being diluted first.
Typically, topical essential oils are mixed with a carrier oil like jojoba, castor, or avocado oil to aid absorption, provide additional vitamins, and safeguard your skin against allergic reactions.
“Carrier oils make essential oils a lot safer, because what they’ve found over years of research is that if you apply an essential oil [that’s] undiluted, it will create allergic reactions in many people over time,” Dechen says.

Essential oils can also theoretically be ingested or vaped, but experts warn that these approaches can be very dangerous, and to steer clear.
“Ingesting essential oils in water or capsules is something that requires advanced knowledge and training to do,” Davila says. Typically, the drink or capsule has to be specially formulated and diluted to the proper degree. What’s more, you have to know how much to ingest and for how long, and which ones are safe. Ingesting essential oils the wrong way can irritate your esophagus and stomach, or worse, be toxic, Davila warns.
According to Dechen, drinking essential oils in a glass of that water will send the molecules right into the membranes of your mouth. “Over time, it [can] create scar tissue and irritation,” she says.
Vaping — inhaling and exhaling a vapor via a vape pen, similar to an e-cigarette device — is also a potentially dangerous approach to using essential oils. “Currently there’s no real research available on the effects of vaping essential oils,” Dechen says. And while essential oils are generally considered safe for inhalation, heating them with the metal coil inside the vape pen has the potential to change their chemistry and become toxic when inhaled into the mouth, throat, and lungs, she says. Bottom line, do not vape essential oils.
Essential oils have the ability to affect the brain and travel throughout the body via the bloodstream. Here are a few of the potential benefits, when applied or inhaled safely:
Dechen says many people gravitate toward aromatherapy as a means of calming anxiety.

Given essential oils’ apparent relaxing effects, it’s unsurprising they may have the potential to help people sleep better.

Keep in mind that these studies were done in a short period of time, with small groups of people. Long-term studies using larger population sizes are needed to determine whether lavender can really assist with falling, and staying, asleep.
Essential oils like peppermint and ginger have unique characteristics that may make them ideal for soothing nausea.

Just because essential oils come from plants doesn’t mean they’re totally safe.
“There are definitely safety concerns,” Davila says. “Essential oils are so concentrated that, sometimes, one drop of an essential oil is like an ounce or more of the plant material.”

Take caution with applying essential oils if you have allergies or sensitive skin. (And remember to always dilute them with a carrier oil.)

Davila recommends avoiding direct sunlight for 12 to 24 hours after using one of these oils on your skin.
While research on the effects of essential oils on children is thin, and the ethics of which is widely debated in the alternative and complementary healthcare community, two small studies have shown some oils may be potentially harmful to hormone production in youth. For example:

More recent case studies found similar effects in three prepubertal girls and one boy who used fragrances containing lavender essential oil.
While more research is needed to determine how lavender and tea tree oil may affect hormones, Davila recommends approaching both with caution. Avoid using them daily at high doses. Occasional use (once or twice a week) for short period of time (several weeks) may be fine, for adults.
Essential oils show promise as a therapeutic modality for a wide range of health concerns, including anxiety, sleep issues, nausea, and pain.

“Typically, it’s recommended not to use them during the first trimester. If you use them in the second or third trimesters, limit yourself to the floral or citrus oils and use them for aromatherapy versus topical use,” Davila says.
And while essential oils aren’t off-limits for people with allergies and sensitive skin, these folks should approach them with caution when it comes to physical application, Davila warns.
Dechen doesn’t recommend using essential oils on infants or children younger than 5 years old, and being careful when using them with a chronic condition or medication. “There has been a lot of research over the last 10 to 15 years about how people taking medications can get reactions from different essential oils,” she says.

That said, choosing an essential oil is highly individual, so you may benefit from consulting a qualified aromatherapist.

Once you’ve landed on the oils you want to try — and checked that there are no safety issues — head online or visit a holistic healthcare store. (Essential oils are available at aromatherapy shops, grocery stores, and supplement stores.)
The quality of essential oils vary widely, and there are a number of factors that affect it, including the plants used, processing methods, packaging and handling, and storage. Therefore, you should research to ensure the oils you choose are of quality, as advertised.
Here are a few things to look for when shopping for an essential oil:

By subscribing you agree to the and .
Essential oils are extracts from plants and may help temper anxiety, improve sleep, reduce nausea, and even ease pain. Here’s what the research and experts…
DailyOM course creator and coach Edward Vilga gives new meaning to 'personal wealth.'
A DailyOM course creator is a role model for older women by keeping it 'strong and fierce and real.'
Meet the functional nutritionist, who teaches some of the most popular courses on the mindfulness website DailyOM.
The website offers classes on everything from relationships and healthy living to meditation.
Here are 10 expert-backed tips for alleviating ‘tech neck,’ including stretches to immediately ease pain and discomfort.
By subscribing you agree to the and .


You might also like

Surviving 2nd wave of corona

Surviving The 2nd Wave of Corona

‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort