Let's oil up together.
Full disclosure, I know nothing about essential oils---I only know that I like the smell of them, as evidenced by my cousin's need to point out how I smell "herby" at every family function.
"Michelle, you smell like...H E R B S. You smells of herbs again."
I can't tell if it's a complement or criticism---so I'll just go with the former and call it a day. I use essential oils all the time, smearing concentrated formulas with names like, "robust", "relax" and "joy" all over myself. They smell good, but what do they actually accomplish besides their appealing scents and letting you go one more day without showering? Are there any health benefits? Let’s find out together…
Admit, this is what you think of when you hear the words, "essential oils."
A Very Brief History Lesson
Essential oils have been used by almost every ancient culture around, from the Greeks to the Romans to the Ancient Egyptians and Chinese. Even homeboy Jesus loved essential oils---frankincense and myrrh anyone?
It’s believed that the Egyptians are the ones who should take credit for inventing distillation equipment and creating oils infused with herbs for use in medicines, perfumes, rituals and cosmetics.
Fast forward in time and a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé created the now commonly used term Aromatherapy. While working in his lab, Gattefossé (Say that ten times fast) experienced a burn and quickly doused his hand in the nearest liquid (was that really smart?). Luckily, the nearest liquid was a vat of Lavender oil and he was amazed at how quickly his burn healed without scarring. Ohhh, très intéressant!
The healing benefits of the lavender oil piqued his interest and Gattefossé went on to become one of the pioneers in aromatherapy. In 1937 he published the book, Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones végétales (later translated into English as Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy), and is still in print today.
What exactly are essential oils?
Okay, so what exactly ARE essential oils? Well, they aren't oils at all---they don't have any fatty acid content. Instead they are extremely concentrated plant extracts ---and it can take a HUGE amount of one plant to make a small amount of the oil.
For example, it takes 4,000 pounds of Bulgarian roses to make 1 pound of oil.
You can take that information with you the next time you complain that they’re so expensive to the Whole Foods checkout person.
What can they do?
Essential oils claim to be useful for a variety of things, from helping with arthritis, relaxation, sleep, skin, digestion, anxiety, etc. And of course, each different plant and each different mixture will have different effects and purposes.
An interesting article in the Atlantic talks about the importance of essential oils and their potential to fight off bacterial infections (especially in the livestock industry):
"Numerous recent studies—including several done by the USDA—have shown great promise in using essential oils as an alternative to antibiotics in livestock. One of their studies, published in October 2014 in the journal Poultry Science, found that chickens who consumed feed with added oregano oil had a 59 percent lower mortality rate due to ascites, a common infection in poultry, than untreated chickens. Other research, from a 2011 issue of BMC Proceedings, showed that adding a combination of plant extracts—from oregano, cinnamon, and chili peppers—actually changed the gene expression of treated chickens, resulting in weight gain as well as protection against an injected intestinal infection. A 2010 study from Poultry Science produced similar findings with the use of extracts from turmeric, chili pepper, and shiitake mushrooms. A multi-year study is currently underway at the USDA that includes investigations into the use of citrus peels and essential oils as drug alternatives."
That's pretty impressive if you ask me. But wait, there's more:
"...rosemary and oregano oils resulted in the same amount of growth in chickens as the antibiotic avilamycin, and that the oils killed bacteria, too. Additional findings have shown that essential oils help reduce salmonella in chickens, and another study found that a blend of several oils can limit the spread of salmonella among animals. One of the co-authors of that study, Dr. Charles Hofacre, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says it’s such a new area of research that they don’t yet know exactly how the essential oils work, but “there is some strong evidence that they are functioning by both an antibacterial action in the intestine and also some have an effect to stimulate the intestinal cells ability to recover from disease more quickly–either by local immunity or helping keep the intestinal cells themselves healthier.”
The research on the potency and effectiveness of essential oils is growing. A Study in 2013 found promising results in wound healing using tea tree oil. Another study shows promise in the use of Ylang Ylang oil (Included in this post solely based on its name) as a antimicrobial, antibiofilm, anti-inflammatory, antivector, insect-repellent, antidiabetic, and antimelanogenesis substance. I don't know half those words either, but they all sound promising!
Not to be confused with:
Enough Already...What are your top 5 essential oils?
Well, how about I give you six?
Lavender: The grand daddy of essential oils and made famous by our French scientist Monseur Gattefossé, lavender is famously known to help you relax and sleep better with an ability to lower stress hormone levels. But we also know, thanks again señor frog, that lavender is great for bruising, cuts and skin irritation.
- Tea Tree: Think skin with this one. It's often used to reduce the appearance of blemishes and help the scalp. It has topical antiseptic and anti-fungal properties as well as antibiotic properties---so you're able to use this one on your nasty toe fungus, rashes and burns. It can also be used on your dandruff--- the natural supply of "snow" on your avant garde paintings.
3. Frankincense: This herb is often used in Chinese medicine to help with pain, spasms, traumatic injuries, swelling and to enhance skin healing. As an essential oil, many of its uses are the same; it strengthens gums and hair roots, stops wounds from bleeding, speed up the healing of cuts, acne, insect bites and boils.
4. Chamomile: Another favorite, you're probably familiar with chamomile as a tea, but the essential oil has similar properties. It's particularly well known for its relaxing effects, which is why the tea is popular to drink before bed. Have a similar effect with the essential oil by placing a few drops on your pillow before slumber.
5. Eucalyptus: Did you know that there are over 700 different types of eucalyptus in the world? Neither did I. Out of those 700, 500 are able to produce an oil. So how do you know what you're getting? You can go to a very handy website where they are able to explain the different types and uses. However, it's most commonly used as an antiseptic, insect repellent, and treatment option for wounds, burns, and ulcers. Taken orally these oils can be used for pain and inflammation of respiratory tract mucous membranes, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, sinus pain and inflammation, and respiratory infections **CAUTION--Don't take any essential oils orally without consulting a professional first!**
6. Patchouli: Finally, dear, dear Patchouli. Our favorite hippie scented stench reminding everyone of yesteryear and every Grateful Dead concert. Patchouli is a classic oil that dates back way before Woodstock. Another herb used in Chinese medicine, patchouli has long been employed in skin care for its ability to help alleviate such issues as acne-prone conditions, eczema, inflammation, and cracked, chapped, irritated skin. It is often found in anti-aging skin care for its cell-rejuvenating properties and its ability to lessen the look of scars. Patchouli's anti-fungal properties make it useful in treating athlete’s foot. And for hair, it helps alleviate signs of dandruff and balance oiliness.
Patchouli also helps reduce tension, insomnia and anxiety, while uplifting the mind. It is used today to scent textiles, help repel insects, and is used extensively in the flavoring industry. Don't judge a smell by its...smell. Give patchouli a chance and use it wisely!
how to use essential oils:
Now that we've discussed some of the more popular oils, how do we even use them?
Honestly you can use them any which way you want. Add as a fragrance to soaps, put them to use as cleaning products, create a kitchen scrub or just smell them. The sky's the limit, so be as creative as possible and find websites dedicated to their use. Use them in essential oil diffusers to fill your home with a pleasant scent---it's way better than those gross fake fragrances with names like, "cashmere woods" and "Hawaiian Breeze". What is a Hawaiian breeze supposed to even smell like? I have disdain for scents that make me dry heave for two days anyways. Ahem Glade!
You can find an example of the essential oil diffuser I like to use here. Other uses include, placing a few drops in your hand and applying over your skin. I'm not an expert when it comes to these oils, but I know I love being home when my diffuser is spreading literal "joy" throughout the house.
what are the best brands?
This is a tricky one, since there are so many companies that can provide you with good quality essential oils. Remember, essential oils can get pretty expensive---consider how much of a plant it takes to make the tiny bottle you buy. A little bit goes a long way. Quality over quantity, folks.
Do Terra: In my clinic, I tend to use Do Terra essential oils. They are middle of the road price range, and I'm extremely happy with the quality of product. They were also founded by a group of healthcare professionals who all personally use essential oils to help aid their health. You can buy the Do Terra starter kit here. A 3 pack costs around $22. That's a steal.
Young Living Essentials are a very high quality brand. Founded in 1993 with headquarters in Lehi, Utah, the company has all their own farms across the world. Their oils are extremely expensive and are considered an investment. However, the quality of their product is not found elsewhere. You can find their "Joy" mixture here.
Eden's Essentials: This company will probably get you the most bang for your buck. The essential oil products are also 100% pure, not containing any additional bases, fillers, or additives. While not all of their oils are certified organic, they do have some certified organic oils in their line-up. If organic is important to you, shop for those specific product and look out for the correct “certified organic” label. You can get a "Beginner's Best of the Best" set of their favorite 14 essential oils for $55. Considering that a bottle of Young Living Essential oil can run $75, this is a literal bargain. You can find Eden's Essentials here.
Essential oils: Yay or nay?
I say a big old YAY to essential oils. The only thing you have to lose is the lingering odor in your bathroom. Even if they don't provide the myriad of health benefits promoted on certain websites, the smell alone should make you feel like a more accomplished person---just think of yourself as Cleopatra rubbing frankincense all over your toe funk. Additionally, more and more research is coming out on the impressive benefits of certain oils---and remember, quality is key. So if you want to feel better, smell better and have better toes, go all out folks.
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I'm always taking suggestions on what to try out next, so if you've been itching to get an opinion on the many uses of lemons, or are wondering if flash freezing your body in Cryotherapy is a good idea---ask me! I'll try (almost) anything once!