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Essential Oils – Benefits – Physical Considerations

Physical Considerations

Disclaimer: 
This information is not a substitute for medical advice. It is best to consult with a health care provider before initiating any new form of treatment. Those taking medications should be especially prudent, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding must always discuss new treatments with their health care provider to ensure their safety.

Essential oils are one of the earliest forms of medicine. And while often overlooked, they remain a potent modality with great potential to help heal modern illnesses. Each oil is incredibly unique, containing hundreds of distinct compounds. This complexity yields powerful and broad reaching effects, addressing all facets of health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

Essential oils are intensely concentrated, often requiring an entire plant to produce a single drop of oil. As a result, therapeutic oils can be somewhat costly. To create cheaper products some manufacturers will use oils extracted from a second or third distillation – which yields a far less concentrated oil. It is important to purchase oils from a company that upholds high standards regarding how it sources raw plant material and what techniques it employs during the extraction process. The best way to ensure you are getting a quality oil that is not diluted or adulterated is to look for an oil that meets the European AFNOR/ISO Standards (Association French Normalization Organization Regulation or International Standards Organization).

Once you have selected a few quality oils, the next decision will be determining how to use them.  There are many ways to incorporate essential oils into a treatment plan or general daily living. Most uses of oil center around inhalation, topical application, or ingestion. 

Inhalation is an incredibly effective way of using essential oils because of the aromatic compounds they contain. These aromatic constituents have a direct effect on the brain, particularly the hypothalamus, which regulates many systems throughout the body. Many essential oils also help to purify the air and provide a pleasant aroma which can positively affect mood as well as physical health. Using a diffuser helps improve air quality and allows for daily incorporation of essential oils in your home or office. Cold air diffusers are preferable as excessive heat will cause chemical changes that can make the oils toxic. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can simply mix an essential oil in a spray bottle with some water and spritz the air. A steam inhalation provides a more concentrated exposure and can easily be done at home. Start by heating water and placing it in a bowl with 5-10 drops of an essential oil. Then create a tent by draping a towel over your head as you lean in and position your face above the bowl. Inhale and exhale slowly through your nose for 10-15 minutes.

The topical application of oils is another common form of use that provides aromatic effects with the added benefit of physical absorption via the skin. Topical application is particularly helpful when addressing musculoskeletal concerns as well as helping the immune system fight off infections. Many oils can be applied directly to the skin without irritating. However, it is often helpful to dilute a few drops of an essential oil into a carrier oil (like grape seed or coconut oil) and then massage into the skin. By doing this, it helps apply the concentrated essential oil across a larger surface area. If you wish to use multiple oils, they can be combined and used together or applied in a layering fashion where each oil is massaged into the skin and once fully absorbed, the next oil is applied. Oils can be rubbed into the skin over specifically targeted regions (i.e. sore muscles, sinuses, chest, etc.)  or used in conjunction with acupressure or reflexology to enhance the benefits of each modality synergistically.

Finally, the ingestion of essential oils is another way of harnessing their benefits.  A growing number of supplement formulations are incorporating essential oils as ingredients. And some single oils are gaining recognition. In recent years, oil of oregano becoming increasingly known and utilized by many to combat the first signs of infection. As mentioned previously, essential oils are incredibly concentrated, and it is important to keep in mind that the mucosal membranes are sensitive tissues. If ingesting oils, it is prudent to add a few drops to some honey* or another oil to help minimize possible irritation. Extra caution must be observed with internal use as some oils are toxic and should not be used in this manner. Please consult with a trusted practitioner or resource to determine if this form of use is safe for you. Also, it is important to re-emphasize that only medical grade oils should ever be used, especially when use is internal. Lesser quality oils are typically not well screened for contaminants that can harm your health.

The astounding diversity of plants found here on Earth provides an oil to benefit every imbalance or condition. However, that being said it is important to emphasize that not every oil is safe or suitable for every person.  Some oils are contraindicated with certain conditions – for example, people with high blood pressure should avoid using rosemary or sage. In addition, there are certain demographics that must exert extra caution, such as babies, young children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Individuals in these categories should always consult with their health care provider before using an essential oil.

A few basic safety tips when using essential oils…
– Keep a bottle of vegetable oil handy, as it can be used to dilute an essential oil if it starts to cause discomfort or irritation after use.

– Ensure to avoid contact with eyes and skin in the surrounding as it is particularly sensitive. Do not put directly in the ear either.

– Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should never use essential oils without consulting a health care provider first. People with epilepsy or hypertension would also be wise to consult with a practitioner before initiating use.

– The first time using a new oil, it is always prudent to test it by applying a small amount on the inside of the upper arm. Leave it for 30 minutes and watch for a reaction. This precaution is especially important for people with allergies.

– Angelica, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, tangerine and other citrus oils can cause increased sensitivity to light for a few days following their use. This can result in a rash or darkened pigmentation on skin exposed to direct sunlight.

For further guidance, consult The Essential Oils Pocket Reference compiled by Essential Science Publishing. It is a comprehensive resource that outlines specific protocols for a vast number of conditions. It is an invaluable tool for anyone who would like to incorporate essential oils into their medicine cabinets, or daily life to promote overall well being.

*Raw honey has many health benefits, but should never be used in children under the age of two years old due to the risk of botulism.