What is An Essential Oil?
Being very complex, essential oils are often called the “Life Force” of the plant. Essential Oils are stored in special cells, ducts, or glandular hairs that are distributed among the roots, leaves, bark, stems, and flowers of the plant.
Uplifting, protective, calming, and regenerating essential oils are unique gift from the plant world.
A single oil may contain hundreds of constituents that are molecularly aligned in exactly the right manner to trigger a number of responses in the human body. Very concentrated and very powerful, a drop or two of distilled therapeutic grade essential oil produces quick and significant results.
Essential oils protect the plant from insects and other herbivores, from bacteria, molds, fungi, and other microorganisms, and also help to heal inflicted wounds. These unique characteristics make essential oils highly beneficial to humankind.
A Summary of the Benefits of Therapeutic-Grade Essential Oils
- Essential oils are small enough in molecular size that they can quickly penetrate the tissues of the skin.
- Essential oils are lipid-soluble and are capable of penetrating cell membranes, even if the membranes have hardened because of an oxygen deficiency. According to Jean Valnet, MD, essential oils can affect every cell of the body within 20 minutes and are then metabolized like other nutrients.
- Essential oils, according to researchers at the University of Vienna, stimulate blood flow, which increases oxygen and nutrient delivery.
- Essential oils are some of the most powerful known antioxidants as determined by the ORAC test developed at Tufts University.
- Essential oils are antibacterial, antifungal, anti-infectious, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, antiviral, and antiseptic. Some essential oils have been shown to destroy all tested bacteria and viruses.
- Essential oils may detoxify the cells and blood in the body.
- Essential oils containing sesquiterpenes have the ability to pass the blood-brain barrier.
- Essential oils are aromatic, and when diffused, may provide air purification by:
- Increasing ozone and negative ions in the area.
- Eliminating odors from cooking, bacteria, mold, animals, and other sources.
- Filling the air with a fresh, aromatic scent.
- Essential oils promote emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Basic Guidelines for Safe Use
- Always keep a bottle of a pure vegetable oil handy when using essential oils. Vegetable oils dilute essential oils if they cause discomfort or skin irritation.
- Keep bottles of essential oils tightly closed and store them in a cool location away from light. If stored properly, essential oils will maintain their potency for many years.
- Keep essential oils out of reach of children. Treat them as you would any product for therapeutic use.
- Essential oils rich in menthol (such as peppermint) should not be used on the throat or neck area of children under 30 months of age.
- Angelica, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, tangerine, and other citrus oils are photosensitive and may cause a rash or dark pigmentation on skin exposed to direct sunlight or UV rays within 3-4 days after application.
- Keep essential oils well away from the eye area and never put them directly into ears. Do not handle contact lenses or rub eyes with essential oils on your fingers. Even in minute amounts, oils with high phenol content, such as oregano, cinnamon, thyme, clove, lemongrass, and bergamot, may damage contacts and will irritate eyes.
- Pregnant women should always consult a health care professional when starting any type of health program.
- Epileptics and those with high blood pressure should consult their health care professional before using essential oils. Use caution with hyssop, fennel, basil, wintergreen/birch, nutmeg, rosemary, peppermint, sage, tarragon, and tansy oils.
- People with high blood pressure should avoid using sage and rosemary.
- People with allergies should test a small amount of oil on an area of sensitive skin, such as the inside of the upper arm, for 30 minutes, before applying the oil on other areas. The bottom of the feet is one of the safest, most effective places to use essential oils.
- Before taking GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe), essential oils internally, test your reactions by diluting one drop of essential oil in one teaspoon of an oil-soluble liquid like agave, olive oil, or rice milk. Never consume more than a few drops of diluted essential oil per day without the advice of a physician.
- Do not add undiluted essential oils directly to bath water. Using Epsom salts or a bath gel base for all oils applied to your bath is an excellent way to disperse the oils into the bath water. When essential oils are put directly into bath water without a dispersing agent, they can cause serious discomfort on sensitive skin because the essential oils float, undiluted, on top of the water.
- Keep essential oils away from open flames, sparks, or electricity. Some essential oils, including orange, fir, pine, and peppermint are potentially flammable
Many oils are safe to apply directly to the skin, Lavender is safe to use on children without dilution. However, you must be sure what you are using is NOT lavandin labeled as lavender or genetically-altered lavender. When applying most other essential oils on children, dilute the oils with carrier oil.
For dilution, add 15-30 drops of essential oil to 1 oz of a quality carrier oil as mentioned previously.
Carrier oils, such as a vegetable mixing oil, extend essential oils and provide more efficient use. When massaging, the vegetable oil helps lubricate the skin. Some excellent carrier oils include cold-pressed grape seed, olive, wheat germ, and sweet almond oils, or a blend of any of these.
When starting an essential oil application, always apply the oil first to the bottom of the feet. This allows the body to become acclimated to the oil, minimizing the chance of a reaction. Vita Flex foot charts can help to identify areas for best application. Start by applying 3-6 drops of a single or blended oil, spreading it over the bottom of each foot.
When applying essential oils to yourself, use 1-2 drops of oil on 2-3 locations twice a day. Increase to four times a day if needed. Apply the oil and allow it to absorb for 2-3 minutes before applying another oil or getting dressed (to avoid staining clothing.)
As a general rule, when applying oils to yourself or another person for the first time, do not apply more than two single oils or blends at one time.
When mixing essential oils blends or diluting essential oils in a carrier oil, it is best to use containers made of glass or earthenware, rather than plastic. Plastic particles can leach into the oil and then into the skin once it is applied.
Before applying oils, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Start by applying 2 drops of a single oil or blend on the skin and massaging it in. If you are working on a large area, such as the back, mix 1-3 drops of the selected essential oil into 1 tsp. of pure carrier oil
Keep in mind that many massage oils such as olive, almond, or wheat germ oil may stain some fabrics.
Licensed acupuncturists can dramatically increase the effectiveness of acupuncture by using essential oils. To start, place several drops of essential oil into the palm of your hand. Dip the acupuncture needle tip into the oil before inserting it. You can pre-mix several oils in your hand if you wish to use more than oil.
When performing acupressure treatment, apply 1-3 drops of essential oil to the acupressure point with a finger. Using an auricular probe with a slender point to dispense oil can enhance the application. Start by pressing firmly and then releasing. Avoid applying pressure to any particular pressure point too long. You may continue along the acupressure points and meridians or use the reflexology or Vita Flex points as well. Once you have completed small point stimulation, massage the general area with the oil.
For Deeper penetration of an essential oil, use warm packs after applying oils. dip a cloth in comfortably warm water. Wring the cloth out and place it on the location. Then cover the cloth loosely with a dry towel or blanket to seal in the heat. Allow the cloth to stand for 15-30 minutes. Remove the cloth immediately if there is any discomfort.
Apply essential oils on the location, followed by cold water or ice packs when treating inflamed or swollen tissues. Frozen packages of peas or corn make excellent ice packs that will mold to the contours of the body part and will not leak. Keep the cold pack on until the swelling diminishes. For neurological problems, always use cold packs, never hot ones.
This technique consists of applying multiple oils one at a time. For example, place Marjoram over a sore muscle, massage it into the tissue gently until the area is dry, and then apply a second oil, such as peppermint, until the oil is absorbed and the skin is dry. The layer on the third oil, such as basil and continue massaging.
Creating a compress
- Rub 1-3 drops on the location, diluted or neat, depending on the oil used and the skin sensitivity at that location.
- Cover the location with a hot, damp towel
- Cover the moist towel with a dry towel for 1-30 minutes, depending on individual need.
As the oil penetrates the skin, you may experience a warming or even a burning sensation, especially in areas where the greatest benefit occur. If burning becomes uncomfortable, apply a massage oil, vegetable mixing oil, or any pure vegetable oil such as olive or almond to the location
A second type of application is very mild and is suitable for children, or those with sensitive skin.
- Place 5-15 drops of essential oil into a basin filled with warm water.
- Water temperature should be approximately 100°F (38°C), unless the patient suffers neurological conditions; in this case, use cool water.
- Vigorously agitate the water and let it stand for 1 minute
- Place a dry face cloth on top of the water to soak up oils that have floated to the surface.
- Wring out the water and apply the cloth on the location. To seal in the warmth, cover the location with a thick towel for 15-30 minutes.
Adding Essential oils to bath water is challenging because oil does not mix with water. For even dispersion, mix 5-10 drops of essential oil in 1/4 cup of Epsom salts or bath gel base and then add this mixture under a running faucet. This method will help the oils disperse evenly and prevent stronger oils from stinging sensitive areas.
You can also use premixed bath gels and shampoos containing essential oils as a liquid soap in the shower or bath. Lather up with the bath gel, let it soak in, and then rinse. To maximize benefits, leave the soap or shampoo on the skin or scalp for several minutes to allow the essential oils to penetrate. You can create your own aromatic bath gels by placing 5-15 drops of essential oil in 1/2 oz of an unscented bath gel base and then add to the bath water as described above.
Essential oils can be added to Epsom salts and used in the shower. There are special shower heads containing an attached receptacle that is filled with the essential oil/salts mixture. This allows essential oils to not only make contact with the skin, but also diffuses the fragrance of the oils into the air. The showerhead receptacle can hold 1/4 to 1/2 cup of bath salts.
Start by adding 5-10 drops of essential oil to 1/4 cup bath salt. Fill the Showerhead receptacle with the oil and salt mixture. Make sure neither oils nor salts come in contact with the plastic seal on top of the receptacle. This should provide enough salt material for about 2-3 showers. Some shower heads have a bypass feature that allows the user to switch from aromatic salt water to regular tap water.
How to Enhance the Benefits of Topical Application
The longer essential oils stay in contact with the skin, the more likely they are to be absorbed. A high-quality lotion may be layered on top of the essential oils to reduce evaporation of the oils and enhance penetration. This may also help seal and protect cuts and wounds. Do not use ointments on burns until they are at least three days old.
Compiled by Sarah Judith Cole
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