The belief that scents have a powerful effect on our overall well-being dates back to thousands of years ago. In fact, they were even used by famous ancient physicians, such as Hippocrates, Galen, and Crito. Over the years, essential oils have been used by various cultures around the world to help improve both mental and physical health. Today, researchers are taking a closer look at their effectiveness and learning even more about their powerful therapeutic benefits. Some of them might surprise you!
What Are Essential Oils?
If you’ve ever walked through your local health food store, you may have noticed an aisle filled with tiny bottles that pack a large aroma. Look a little closer and you’ll find each bottle has a name written on it, such as lavender, tea tree, jasmine, peppermint, etc. Those are essential oils.
Inside the tiny essential oil bottles are highly concentrated compounds that were extracted from either plants, flowers, roots, bark, wood, or seeds. The aromatic compounds are extracted in one of two ways: through distillation or cold pressing. In the end, the oils capture a strong scent and flavor.
Before you use these popular oils, there are a few things you should know:
- While essential oils can occasionally be ingested, it’s not recommended. Rather, you should rub the oil on your skin, put a few drops into a relaxing detox bath, or add the oils to a diffuser.
- Before you apply essential oils to your body, make sure to dilute them with a carrier oil (like almond oil) or water. They should never be applied to your skin without diluting first or they could cause a reaction or irritation.
- Only use pure, therapeutic grade essential oils that are derived from plants or natural ingredients. You want to avoid oils that are made from synthetic fragrance oils. Synthetic oils are often toxic and typically contain allergenic compounds. I’ll talk more about how to choose the best grade of essential oils below.
Top Essential Oil Health Benefits
There are upwards of 100 different essential oils and each one has its own unique health benefits. Some of the most popular oils, such as lavender oil, offer a wide range of benefits.
Relieves Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million adults and one in eight children. That’s according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Additionally, many people who suffer from anxiety also suffer from depression. While it can be hard to pick yourself back up, there are a number of natural ways a person can beat dark times. For example, studies show the smell of certain essential oils can offer relief. This is referred to as aromatherapy.
In one study, researchers had 40 men inhale a couple drops of either orange essential oil, tea tree essential oil, or water. Then, the men were exposed to a stressful test to see if they experienced signs of anxiety. Researchers found the men who had inhaled the essential oils had less of a reaction.
Another study that involved 88 hospital staff members showed similar results. Participants were given an “SOS stress roll-on” that contained 12 essential oils. The roll-on was applied at least 3 times a day for one month on the pulse zones on the wrists. At the end of the study, participants saw a remarkable reduction in their stress level.
According to the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ online database:
“The effects of aromatherapy are theorized to result from the binding of chemical components in the essential oil to receptors in the olfactory bulb, impacting the brain’s emotional center, the limbic system.”
Some essential oils that have been known to effectively ease stress, anxiety, and depression include:
- Ylang Ylang
- Wild Orange
Eases Headaches and Migraine
We’ve all experienced the intense throbbing pain of a headache. You may have also experienced that nauseous feeling you get when a migraine strikes (someone turn off the lights, please!). If you suffer from frequent headaches and don’t like turning to pain medicine then try essential oils.
Essential oils are considered a safe alternative to medicine because they don’t have the same dangerous side effects (like liver and kidney damage) and they get to the root of the problem. For example, many people suffer from stress headaches. As you just read, essential oils can help you beat stress. Unbearable headaches can also be caused by hormone imbalance, allergies, and sinus pressure. Essential oils can help with all of these issues.
Studies have shown applying a mixture of peppermint oil and ethanol onto the forehead and temples can help relieve headaches. Some other oils that are commonly used to treat head pain include:
- Green Apple
Early pregnancy, motion sickness, digestive problems, migraines, anxiety, and viral infections are all reasons someone could be nauseous. It’s a common condition that starts with a queasy feeling in the pit of the stomach. Not fun. To help relieve nausea and vomiting, some researchers recommend aromatherapy.
In one study that looked at 100 pregnant women who were experiencing nausea and vomiting, researchers found those who inhaled lemon essential oil experienced a “significant” improvement. There have been other similar studies that reached the same conclusion.
Along with lemon, some other essential oils that have been shown effective at relieving nausea include:
- Clary Sage
Promotes a Better Night’s Sleep
We should all be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Getting a good, quality sleep can help balance hormones, reduce stress, improve immunity, support heart health, and improve productivity level. Let’s be real, though, most people are getting way less than 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you aren’t catching enough zzzz’s because you struggle to fall asleep then start incorporating essential oils into your nightly routine.
In one review that examined 15 different studies on essential oils and sleep, reviewers found the majority of the studies suggested a positive effect. Lavender essential oil was the most frequently studied essential oil and has been shown to have the best sleep-aid effect.
Along with lavender, some other essential oils that promote a better night’s sleep include:
- Ylang Ylang
Take a big whiff of essential oils to open up those sinuses! In case you don’t already know, sinuses are hollow cavities within the skull bone and are connected to the nasal passages. When a person’s sinuses are irritated by allergies or a cold they block the nasal passages and can fill up with mucus. This creates a lot of pressure and pain. Here’s some good news for you — if your sinuses are irritated, essential oils may be able to offer you some relief.
A few essential oils that can help open up your sinuses include:
May Reduce Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis is a painful condition that’s caused by inflammation in the joints. It’s so common that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates a whopping 52.5 million American adults suffer from it. One natural treatment that may ease arthritis pain is rubbing the area with essential oils. They work by quickly absorbing into the skin and fighting the harmful inflammation. For severe pain, try taking a bath with essential oils. Doctors recommend adding anywhere from 2 to 12 drops (depending on essential oil) along with vegetable oil into bath water. Then, sit and soak.
Some essentials that are commonly used to ease arthritis pain include:
Tingling, numbness, and throbbing in the limbs are all warning signs of poor circulation. This happens when blood flow is reduced to certain parts of the body. Poor circulation can be caused by a number of different health problems and is not something that should be ignored. Luckily, there are several things you can do on your own to improve your blood flow. One tip is to rub essential oils onto your skin. Remember – what you put on your skin winds up absorbing into your bloodstream. In this case, essential oils affect the circulatory system by dilating the blood vessels and allowing blood to flow. Some essential oils that are commonly used to improve circulation include:
Can Relieve Pain and Muscle Spasms
Speaking of rubbing essential oils onto your skin, researchers say you can also use them topically to relieve body aches and pains. If, for example, you are suffering from joint pain then using essential oils to relieve area inflammation can help to provide some relief. Additionally, if you are suffering from muscle pain, essential oils can help to relax the muscles and control spasms. There have been various studies done of various essential oils and the results are promising. Experts say certain oils actually work as mild sedatives.
If you are experiencing pain and want to use an essential oil for relief, try the following:
- Clary Sage
Relieves PMS Symptoms
Cramps, cramps, and more cramps. Around that time of the month, some women experience debilitating stomach cramps that make them want to curl up in a ball and eat chocolate! But that’s not all. Many women (more than 75 percent of menstruating women) also experience breast tenderness, bloating, mood swings, and fatigue. To help beat painful PMS symptoms, try using essential oils. They can help by relieving muscle cramps, improving your circulation, and naturally balancing out your hormones.
Since different oils have unique benefits, when it comes to finding which oil to use, you may want to try making a blend. Scroll through this article to find oils that relax muscles, improve circulation, balance hormones, and improve mood. For example:
- Clary Sage – for hormones
- Cypress – for circulation
- Lavender – for mood
Do you eat a poor diet filled with refined carbs? Do you often feel run down? Are you constantly getting sick? If so, then chances are you have a weak immune system. Your immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect your body from “foreign invaders” and illness. It’s important to keep these cells, tissues, and organs in tip-top shape. Essential oils can help do that for a few reasons.
- Essential oils have antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help to destroy harmful microorganisms.
- Essentials oils can reduce your stress level. Did you know chronic stress wreaks havoc on your immune system?
- Essential oils stimulate various important organs, helping them function properly.
Whether you’re a student preparing for an important test or employee getting ready for a big work presentation, using essential oils may help set you up for success. That’s because certain essential oils have been known to stimulate the mind, improve concentration, and improve memory. Some of the best brain-boosting essential oils include:
Numerous research studies have also found essential oils to improve focus for people with ADD and ADHD. One study, in particular, done by Dr. Terry Friedman found that vetiver oil was beneficial for children with ADHD. When children inhaled the oil three times a day for 30 days they had shown an improvement in brain wave patterns and school performance. Friedman noticed similar improvements with cedarwood oil.
The Benefits Don’t Stop There
Essential oils can help improve your skin in a variety of ways. They can soften and soothe skin, help dry out pimples, improve skin tone, speed up wound healing, and reduce the appearance of scars.
Natural House Cleaner
Store-bought house cleaners are loaded with toxic chemicals that are dangerous to you, your pets, and the environment. Rather than wiping your countertops and floors with toxins, make your own natural house cleaners with essential oils. Here are a few recipes:
While dryer sheets can make your laundry smell fresh, they are loaded with chemicals. Next time you do a load of laundry, simply put a few drops of your favorite smelling essential oil on an old sock!
Natural Bug Repellant
You can easily replace chemical-laden DEET with the following essential oils:
- Lemon eucalyptus
Just soak a cotton ball in the essential oil of your choice and rub it on yourself for protection. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, don’t forget to dilute the oil with a carrier oil (like almond oil) before applying it to your skin to avoid an unwanted reaction.
How To Choose The Best Essential Oils
When it comes to essential oils, you have to be very careful which grade you buy and use. Many of the essential oils on the market today have been diluted or altered in some way. They may have even been mixed with another ingredient. That’s why it’s important to look for a statement of purity. It should say the product is 100% essential oil, assuring you the oil hasn’t been altered from its original state. Along with reading labels carefully, take notice to the price. The lower the price, the more likely the oil isn’t pure.