Just the Essentials on Essential Oils

Quite a few of my upcoming natural beauty recipes contain essential oils, and I wanted to write up a quick introduction to buying and using essential oils as a reference for anyone who is unfamiliar. Please note that this is just a basic introduction to essential oils and should not be taken as law. If you have a medical condition, are taking medication, or are pregnant, please consult a doctor before using essential oils. Also keep in mind that this information is for using diluted essential oils topically on hair, skin, etc not for ingestion, inhalation, or holistic medical applications. Without further ado, here are the basics of essential oils and their use in homemade beauty recipes.

Essential oils are “Volatile, rapidly evaporating oils [which] are obtained from the leaves, stem, flower, seed or root of a plant, and usually carry the odor characteristic of the plant. Essential oils are used in cosmetics, aromatherapy, medicine, perfumery and flavoring. They add fragrance to natural skin care products, as well as contribute to their healthful and beautifying qualities through their various abilities to tone, balance, relax, cleanse and invigorate. Although all essential oils are ‘fragrant’, not all ‘fragrances’ are essential oils. True essential oils are plant-derived. (Source)

It is important to understand that although essential oil’s are “natural” it doesn’t mean they are harmless, they require special handling. All essential oils must be diluted with a carrier to be used safely. Examples of carriers are olive oil, almond oil, and jojoba oil. It is also possible to use water although most recipes will call for a carrier oil to be added.

Essential oils can cause irritation to the skin/eyes/nose especially when undiluted. They should be used with extreme caution in children, if not avoided all together. It is also advisable to avoid essential oils during pregnancy because they “…can cross the placental barrier and there is little clinical research in this area.” (Source) It is also possible to have an allergic reaction to essential oils and when trying a new oil it is advisable to try a patch test to determine compatibility.

The biggest way you can insure a favorable experience with essential oils is to purchase quality oils which are 100% pure. It can be hard to research and verify quality oils, especially online. There are minimal regulations on essential oils, and any company can claim “therapeutic grade.” For more information on this check out diyaromatherapy’s post on the Myth of Therapeutic Grade.

The company I bought from is Mountain Rose Herbs (check out their website here) which offers certified organic oils. They also use sustainable farming practices, and earth-conscience recycled packaging. It’s important to do your own research on sources and decide for yourself if a company is legitimate, however here are some guidelines for purchasing quality oils:

  • Check that the website/store has information on the country of origin, method of distillation, and specific species of plant, because all of this information is an indication the source is serious about providing consumers with a quality product.
  • Check what type of bottle the oil is packaged in. Essential oils are light sensitive and can degrade plastic, so they should be sold in tinted, glass bottles.
  • Check the price of the oil compared to other dealers, if it’s cheaper than anything else around it’s most likely not pure.
  • Another word of caution there are several multi-level marketing companies that sell oils. Check to make sure that the website you are on for information, isn’t written by a representative. It is impossible to be unbiased if you have a financial stake in a particular brand. I would also like to mention that although I have never tested Young Living’s oils, there has been much written on the dubious background of the organization. Check out these links for more information: quackwatch.org and scumtasticly.com

Now that you have researched and selected a quality brand of oil it’s time to decide which ones to purchase. Remember that not all species of plants have therapeutic properties, for instant lavender (Lavandula augustifola or Lavandula officinalis) which can smell different with each bottle has the aromatherapy properties associated with lavender. However, lavender 40/42 which is a blend of many types of lavender, smells consistent from bottle to bottle and is less expensive, but doesn’t have any of the aromatherapy benefits of true lavender oil. (Source) For natural beauty recipes, it’s important to consider whether the oil is an active ingredient or a fragrance. Some good beginner essential oils are lavender, rosemary, lemon, eucalyptus and geranium.

For more information I would recommend the University of Minnesota’s page on aromatherapy, and organicfacts.net index on the uses of specific oils. Also check out “The A-to-Z of Essential Oils” by Joy Bowles and “Health and Beauty the Natural Way” by Nerys Purchon.

I am still new to essential oils, but I would be delighted to help anyone with questions, just leave a comment.

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