You’ve probably heard about several brands of essential oils in the market. You know a lot of people are using essential oils for a variety of health concerns. But you don’t want to simply jump on the bandwagon and spend your money on a tiny bottle that promises to take your stress away.
Learning about essential oils can be overwhelming, even for those who have already bought a bunch of them. Some essential oil kits cost over a hundred dollars, and many people spend without questioning the price as they equate high price with quality.
Of course, you want only the purest and safest oils for your family, but what if we tell you that even the purest form of essential oil can be harmful if not used properly?
To start you off on your journey with essential oils, we've compiled a summary of what you should know, both good and the bad, about four of the most-loved essential oils:
Lavender, which comes from a shrub called Lavandula angustifolia, is one of the most well-known and best-loved essential oils in aromatherapy due to its calming properties.
The fragrant blue-violet flowers of lavender are native to the Arabian Peninsula, Russia, and the Mediterranean region. Egyptians in the ancient times also used lavender to scent the fabrics used in the mummification process. In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, lavender was used to deodorize and disinfect their castle floors.
Lavender’s aroma promotes restful sleep and reduces agitation for those who are suffering from dementia. Beyond its wonderful scent that for many is a mood-booster and anxiety-reliever, lavender is also found useful in reducing skin inflammation, acting as an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial oil, improving appetite, and relieving gastrointestinal problems. It can also be used as an insect repellent. Today, lavender is also used with other essential oils to help prevent hair loss.
A study conducted in 2013 found promising results that using lavender essential oil could help in protecting the body from the symptoms of diabetes, liver and kidney problems, high blood sugar levels, and weight gain.
But despite the versatility of lavender, there is still little scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness in some health issues. For instance, a study on its uses to relieve anxiety still showed mixed results. Researchers from Ohio University in 2008 found lavender to have no effect on mood at all. Perhaps it differs from person to person, how does the scent of lavender make you feel?
Lavender has more than 200 varieties depending on where it’s grown. In 2014, an article in Chemical & Engineering News reported about the need to label lavender-oil-based products after one company reported that the oil can cause allergic reactions to the European Chemical’s Agency.
We know that putting a slice of lemon (Citrus limon) in a bottle of water has benefits for effective digestion as it helps maintain the balance of pH levels. Lemon oil is high in vitamin C and calcium and helps the kidneys flush out toxins. But the benefits of lemon fruit can also be extracted from the peel by cold-pressing it to get the essential oil.
Ancient people knew about the benefits of lemon for protecting them from diseases. During the time of the conquest, Englishmen would use lemon to fight off bacterial infections while on the sea. Because it’s antimicrobial, lemon oil is known to boost the immune system to help ward off the flu and colds.
In a study, the scent of lemon was found effective for boosting the mood. It is also believed to be effective in enhancing concentration, so people suffering from dementia are encouraged to try aromatherapy with lemon essential oil.
Lemon oil is known for its antibacterial properties, which is the reason why it is usually used as a household cleanser and air freshener.
But aside from being the master cleanser, lemon is also used to relieve pain, fight fungus, and support weight loss. Lemon oil has also been found to help alleviate severe nausea that pregnant women can experience in the morning.
However, lemon can be found to have side effects on people with sensitive skin, probably those who fall under Fitzpatrick skin type 1, 2, and 3. Lemon oil is considered a photosensitizing oil and could burn the skin if applied to the skin that is directly exposed to the sun.
Digesting the highly-concentrated oil could also lead to the irritation of the stomach linings. And while it is used to freshen breath and whiten teeth, lemon oil can also cause tooth erosion due to the acid present in it.
We grew up knowing peppermint as the flavor of both candies and toothpaste. It is even the familiar scent of shampoos and teas. Use of peppermint oil dates back to ancient Japanese and Chinese traditional medicines. In Greek mythology, mint was mentioned in the story of a nymph named Mentha who was transformed into the sweet-smelling herb. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is an herb found in the Mediterranean and is now cultivated in Europe and North America.
The oil from peppermint is extracted by cold extraction of the aerial (above-ground) parts of the plant like the leaves and stems. Like lemon, peppermint is found to be antimicrobial. Peppermint has menthone which is known to be analgesic and antiseptic.
Meanwhile, its chemical substance, menthol, is also found to be effective in reducing pain from headaches, muscle aches, and inflammation. It is also used to reduce fever and to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
In shampoos, peppermint is an ingredient found to be effective in reducing dandruff. It can also promote relief from skin irritations. Diffusing peppermint oil can also boost the mood and relieve stress. The most familiar uses of peppermint oil are relieving nasal congestion and clearing the respiratory airways.
However, one should still exercise caution when using peppermint essential oil. While you can add a drop of the pure oil to your cup of tea or coffee, excessive amounts of consumption may cause heartburn, flushing, inflammation of the mouth, and headaches.
Peppermint oil should not be used on sensitive skin without proper dilution (one drop of essential oil to a teaspoon of carrier oil). Its side effects can include skin rashes and irritation. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also suggested that peppermint oil should not be applied to the face or chest of an infant or young child as it poses serious risks due to the menthol in the oil.
The aboriginal people of Australia were responsible for discovering the beneficial effects of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree (pictured above) for treating cuts and wounds. The oil, which is extracted through distillation, is often referred to as a “medicine cabinet in a bottle” because of its vast uses.
Tea Tree oil has anti-microbial properties, which is why the indigenous people find it effective to disinfect wounds and treat fungal problems. Similar to peppermint, tea tree has also been used to treat coughs and colds. Its leaves were soaked in water to treat sore throats.
We know tea tree is one of the main ingredients of skin cleansers and shampoos to help in deep-cleaning the pores and scalp. Tea tree oil is also effective in reducing the inflammation and itching caused by insect bites. It also treats nail fungus, athlete’s foot, and head lice. It is also one of the go-to oils for a cough and other respiratory issues.
In a study published in 2000, tea tree oil was found to effectively kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and to prevent the spread of gram-positive and gram-negative epidemic organisms. The killing time of the bacteria was found to be less than 60 minutes.
However, the National Poison Center has warned that tea tree oil should not be ingested. If you use tea tree oil to treat bad breath, you should spit it out after rinsing with it to avoid digestive issues or dizziness. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also noted that taking it orally could cause confusion and ataxia (loss of muscle coordination).
It’s good to be more conscious of your health and adopt a healthier lifestyle. But shifting towards a more nature-based treatment, like using essential oils, requires you to exercise a bit of caution.
There is still a limited amount of research on the possible side effects of the four most-loved oils. When applying essential oils on the skin, it is best to thoroughly dilute (1-3 drops essential oil to 30-100 of drops carrier oil) them with the carrier oils of your preference. Good carrier oils include: jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, almond oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil.
Another way to get the benefits of essential oils is in skincare products containing them. The concentrations of essential oils in professionally-developed skincare is likely to be below the thresholds of irritation for most people. You can also find formulas with synergistic ingredients that can enhance the benefits you're seeking.
Be sure to perform a skin patch test first; a good place to test for any possible allergic reactions is the inside of the forearm. If you do have a reaction, then you know that this specific oil is not for you. It is also best to make sure to always read all of the cautions on the labels.