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Essential Oils - What They Are, Health Benefits and Uses

What are essential oils?

They aren't actually oils since they don't contain fatty acids. Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts, sometimes made from thousands of pounds of plant material. For example, one drop of peppermint oil contains the same amount of the essential component as 25 cups worth of peppermint tea. Because of this high concentration, essential oils are used in a diluted form. Various parts of plants are used, depending on the essential oil, including stems, roots, leaves, flowers and bark.

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How do you use them?

Each oil is used differently because some essential oils are for use only on the skin or as aromatherapy. Other types can be taken internally, and it's important to know the differences between them. Essential oils are generally used aromatically, topically, internally and/or in the home, depending on the type of oil. Many essential oils require dilution, and the two most common substances used to dilute them are water and carrier oils.

Dilution with Water

Essential oils are often diluted with water for aromatherapy. You can use a diffuser or humidifier to disperse the essential oil into the air with a fan. A humidifier adds water vapor to the air as well, and you'll need one specially made for essential oils. (Over time, the oils can degrade components in a regular humidifier.) Heat isn't recommended except in rare cases. For example, hot water is used when creating a steam tent with eucalyptus for clearing the respiratory passages. Indirect inhalation can be achieved by placing one drop of an essential oil on a pillowcase or handkerchief. You can also put a couple of drops on a cloth and attach it to a blowing fan to disperse the scent throughout a room.

Dilution with Carrier Oil

Carrier oils are true oils derived from plants. They usually have a mild scent and are good for your body, making them the perfect medium for "carrying" essential oils to your skin. When choosing your carrier oil, find one that's the right type for your skin and has good absorption properties for delivering the essential oil. Look for oil that's 100 percent pure, cold-pressed, and has no additives or preservatives.

Carrier Oils

Argan Oil

Made from the kernels inside the fruit of Moroccan argan trees, this oil is edible and has a nutty aroma. It's good for massage because it contains fatty acids and vitamins A and E.

Coconut Oil

Unrefined coconut oil has the smell and taste of coconuts and is also edible. It's good for massage and skin care because it contains antioxidants and fatty acids.

Grape Seed Oil

A byproduct of winemaking, grape seed oil is lightweight and unscented, making it an effective carrier oil. It's easily absorbed by the skin and useful as an emollient.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is actually a wax that's good for the skin because it doesn't clog pores. It can keep facial skin from producing excess oil, and it also helps hair retain moisture.

Sweet Almond Oil

This oil has a nutty aroma and is edible. It's lightweight and easily absorbed by the skin, making it an excellent moisturizer for dry skin. It also makes a good bath and massage oil.

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Applications

Aromatherapy

This is the most widely-known use of essential oils. They create a pleasant aroma and leave a fresh scent in the home, but there's much more to aromatherapy. The helpful properties of essential oils can be absorbed into your bloodstream through inhalation, and scents have the ability to calm emotions and promote relaxation. Certain essential oils are believed to improve your natural immune response, and others benefit your respiratory system. Other essential oils can clear contaminants from the air.

Skin Care and Massage

Combined with carrier oils, essential oils can improve the condition of your skin and add to the relaxation and health benefits of a massage.

In the Home

Essential oils can give your home a pleasing scent, deliver the oils to your body through inhalation, and purify the air indoors.

Common Essential Oils

  • Calendula (Marigold)

  • Chamomile

  • Eucalyptus

  • Frankincense

  • Grapefruit

  • Lavender

  • Lemon

  • Oregano

  • Peppermint

  • Tea Tree

Essential Oils for Health and Beauty

When you're ready to try essential oils, start with high-quality oils that don't contain any added ingredients or preservatives. Cold-pressing the oils doesn't destroy any of the helpful properties like heat processing can. Make sure that you research the proper way to dilute essential oils, and use them as directed. Remember that they're highly concentrated and can burn the skin if not diluted properly. Essential oils have been used for digestive support, hormone balance, stress relief and other ailments for generations. Their benefits are still being discovered and, used wisely, they can have a positive impact on your health.

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