Essential oils are oils extracted from plants, flowers, and herbs by methods such as steam distillation, and are often used as a form of alternative medicine to promote health and well-being.
Even though there are swaths of information on the web about essential oils as alternative medicine, we’re going to focus on the scientifically-proven medicinal properties of each oil.
There are a number of scientific studies that demonstrate the medicinal properties of certain oils using a scientific, fact-based experimental approach to make these determinations. One such example is a published review showing that aromatherapy with essential oils reduces anxiety. Another study showed that peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil had a muscle-relaxing and mentally relaxing effect, including a reduction in sensitivity to headache pain.
These are just a few of the many medicinal effects attributed to essential oils.
Table of Contents
Types of Essential Oils
Out of approximately 400 essential oils currently in use, only about 100 oils are used regularly for aromatherapy.
Some popular essential oils include:
|Lavender Oil||Tea Tree Oil|
|Peppermint Oil||Eucalyptus Oil|
|Lemon Oil||Citrus Oil|
|Bergamot Oil||Rosemary Oil|
|Frankincense Oil||Thyme Essential Oil|
|Ravensara Oil||Coriander Oil|
|Roman Chamomile Oil||Birch Essential Oil|
|Sweet Marjoram Oil||Elemi Essential Oil|
|Manuka Essential Oil||Cardamom Oil|
|Melissa Essential Oil||Pine Essential Oil|
|Geranium Essential Oil||Sage Essential Oil|
|Basil Essential Oil||Juniper Berry Oil|
|Copaiba Oil||Jasmine Essential Oil|
|Cedarwood Oil||Carrot Seed Oil|
|Vanilla Essential Oil||Sandalwood Oil|
|Turmeric Essential Oil||Rose Essential Oil|
|Lemongrass Oil||Lime Essential Oil|
Each oil has its characteristic uses, benefits, and cautions. If an undiluted essential oil is topically applied to the skin, there may be an adverse reaction in some individuals with sensitive skin or allergies to the oil. This raises the very important point of always verifying whether or not using a carrier oil is warranted. If the essential oil in question is high in phenols, undiluted use may cause skin irritation.
Carrier oils are plant-based oils that dilute an essential oil concentrate for safer aromatherapy usage and topical applications.
Examples of carrier oils include:
|Jojoba Oil||Coconut Oil|
|Sweet Almond Oil||Apricot Kernel Oil|
|Olive Oil||Black Seed Oil|
|Argan Oil||Rosehip Oil|
|Avocado Oil||Sunflower Oil|
Using an essential oil blend of concentrated base oil combined with a carrier oil is the best way to ensure safety and limit adverse reactions.
Health Benefits of Essential Oils
Even though essential oils are widely used, there are still a limited number of studies showing their ability to treat health conditions in place of original medicine.
Nevertheless, there is significant evidence showing that essential oils and aromatherapy (i.e. diffuser use) can positively impact health and well-being.
Headaches & Migraines
A study in the early ’90s examined the effect of peppermint and eucalyptus oil on headaches and found there was a significant effect. Combining eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, and ethanol and placing the mixture on the subject’s temples & foreheads had a mentally relaxing and muscle-relaxing sedative effect. It was found to reduce headache pain and increase cognitive performance, but there was very little effect on pain sensitivity.
What causes this headache-reducing effect? A study examining essential plant oils and headache mechanisms hypothesized the effects from peppermint oil were due to a combination of factors:
- Peppermint oil generates a cooling effect on the skin that may be long-lasting
- Peppermint oil induces an increase in blood flow to the skin
- An analgesic (pain reducing) effect specific to headache pain occurs with a combination of peppermint oil and ethanol
Further studies are needed to definitively establish the effect of these essential oils on headaches & migraines, but a benefit from peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil does exist.
Stress Relief & Anxiety
Studies have shown a positive effect in using essential oils and aromatherapy for stress & anxiety relief. Even more so, combining a conventional treatment plan with aromatherapy can yield even better results.
A recent study looked at children undergoing dental procedures with an anesthetic, and whether or not the use of lavender essential oil or sweet orange essential oil would decrease their dental stress and anxiety levels. The study showed positive results, concluding that the distribution of these oils through either an inhaler or nebulizer/diffuser reduced dental anxiety in children.
Another recent study examined the effect of lavender oil on anxiety, depression, and physiologic factors. Results showed that lavender was superior to no treatment or placebo, and substantially reduced anxiety as well as blood pressure. Further studies are required for conclusive results on the physiological effects of lavender oil and its effect on depression (results in this study were scarce).
Sleep & Insomnia
Do essential oils and aromatherapy have any measurable positive effects on sleep quality?
A recent literature review that extracted aromatherapy data from 30 studies says yes. Results were statistically significant and showed that aromatherapy improves sleep quality as well as reduces stress, anxiety, pain, and depression in both adults and the elderly. Most of the studies in this review (26/30) used lavender essential oil, and it was found that aroma massage therapy actually produced a more significant effect than aroma inhalation through a diffuser.
A review of multiple preclinical studies examined whether or not the major compounds found within essential oils could treat chronic inflammation. The results were intriguing, indicating that the major compounds of essential oils did show anti-inflammatory potential, particularly with regard to chronic inflammation.
Antibiotic & Antimicrobial Effects
Essential oils have been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, but how effective are EOs against bacteria, and in what ways could they be applied to everyday uses?
In the field of food preservation, there has been an increasing interest in using natural antimicrobials rather than chemical preservatives in food products. A recent literature review examined the antibacterial and antifungal effects of essential oils and concluded that when used in the proper proportions, essential oils don’t disturb the aroma and taste of food and do increase its shelf life. At the same time, the cons of using essential oils in food preservation have to do with their instability when exposed to environmental stressors such as light and temperature.
Tea tree oil and peppermint oil specifically have had a wide range of studies conducted on their antimicrobial effects that showed positive results.
In addition to specific applications for health and well-being through both topical application and aromatherapy, there are common alternative uses for essential oils.
A few examples include:
- Essential Oils for Product Scent (i.e. skincare, lotions, cosmetics)
- Essential Oils for Laundry Aroma
- Essential Oil Sprays
Some inventive alternative applications for essential oils include:
- Essential Oils for Itching
- Essential Oils for Bug Bites & Mosquitos
- Essential Oils for Bronchitis
- Essential Oils for Sinus Infection Symptoms
- Essential Oils for an Upset Stomach
- Essential Oils for Cramps
- Essential Oils for Sore Feet
- Essential Oils for Inflammation & Pain
Choosing Quality Essential Oils
The quality of the essential oils bought and used makes all the difference.
Pure essential oil with 100% organic ingredients must be used for maximum effect and a minimally-diminished health benefit.
Buying from the best essential oil brands, based on a number of ranking factors, is a way to minimize the risk of purchasing low-quality oil.
The use of synthetic fragrance, unwanted chemical compounds, and non-organic extracts in the production and manufacture of essential oils is what leads to poor quality and reduced effectiveness.
Are Essential Oils Safe?
Just like any plant-based product containing a bioactive compound, essential oils may cause reactions in some people.
Overall, they are considered safe when used in aromatherapy or diluted with a carrier oil before topical application to the skin.
Some side effects essential oils may cause include:
- asthma attack
- allergic reaction
The most common side effect is rash, although there have been instances where individuals experienced a more serious reaction.
Ingesting essential oils is not recommended, and may cause harmful effects.
Commonly Asked Questions
What are essential oils good for?
Essential oils are good for a variety of household uses (laundry aromas, fresh sprays), product scents (skincare, lotions, cosmetics), and may provide a variety of health benefits including relief from headaches & migraines, stress & anxiety, sleep & insomnia, inflammation reduction & pain, and are known to provide antibiotic & antimicrobial effects.
How do you use essential oils?
Essential oils are often used through two common methods — the first is by diffusing the oil into the air using a nebulizer or essential oil diffuser, and the second is by topical application to the skin.
For topical application to the skin, using a carrier oil to dilute the essential oil is recommended to avoid any adverse events such as rashes.
Which essential oils are best?
Out of 400 essential oils currently in use, there are only about 100 oils used regularly. Out of those hundred, some of the best oils to begin with include: lavender, tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon, bergamot, frankincense, and thyme.
How can you use essential oils safely?
Essential oils can be used safely by always diluting them in a carrier oil first before applying them to the skin. For diffusion into the air, follow your diffuser’s instructions. Finally, ingesting essential oils is NOT recommended and may be dangerous.
What are the best essential oils to start with?
Some of the best essential oils to start with are some of the most popular, including: tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, bergamot, lemon, frankincense, and thyme.
What carrier oil should I use?
When choosing a carrier oil to dilute your concentrated essential oils in, stick with some of the most commonly used carrier oils which include: jojoba, coconut, sweet almond, olive, argan, rosehip, avocado, or sunflower oil.
Which essential oils are best for headaches?
There have been multiple studies that showed peppermint and eucalyptus oil have a significant positive effect on headaches & migraines. When a mixture of these oils was placed on the participant’s temples and foreheads, it was found to reduce headache pain.