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21 Things You Should Know About Essential Oils

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• Essential oils are not really oils. They do not contain the fatty acids that constitute what we would consider an actual oil. Valerie Gennari Cooksley, author of Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate and Heal defines essential oils as “highly concentrated plant constituents possessing potent medicinal and cosmetic qualities.” However, I think Stephanie Tourles nailed it in Organic Body Care recipes when she said, “I consider essential oils the life force or the soul of the plant.”

• Most essential oils are high in antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties: This makes them an excellent addition to your homemade cleaning preparations. Oils that are best for cleaning are: Lemon, grapefruit, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, lavender, and rosemary.

• Essential oils are miniscule in molecular size, which means they are absorbed well by the skin – making them perfect ingredients in personal care items intended to heal, soften, and nourish. However, they do not accumulate in the body over time – they simply offer up their healing properties and then pass on through.

• Scientific studies have shown that rosemary essential oil helps your brain perform.Specifically, smelling rosemary essential oil helps memory recall and performance on tests. Interestingly, this study also showed that groups that inhaled either rosemary or lavender essential oil felt much more relaxed than those who inhaled no odor at all.

• Fragrance oils and essential oils are NOT the same thing. As a rule of thumb, if you see the word “fragrance” or “fragrance oil” or even “perfume” on anything, you can assume this is synthetic and NOT natural. (Even if it says natural fragrance.)

• Essential oils are wholly natural and cannot be patented; which means that you’ll never see an essential oil in a pharmaceutical drug. As such, you can expect that the vast majority of mainstream healthcare practitioners will never recommend essential oils as therapeutic alternatives to drugs. More importantly, because essential oils cannot be patented, drug companies will not waste money studying them. This limits our scientific knowledge of essential oils GREATLY, and the majority of what we know about them are things that have been passed down through thousands of years of personal use and experimentation.

• Enormous amounts of plants are needed to produce essential oil. In fact, on the extreme end, it takes 4000 pounds of Bulgarian roses to produce 1 pound of essential oil. Other plants like lavender only take 100 pounds of plant material to produce a pound of essential oil. Still, can you imagine how concentrated essential oils must be, in light of how many plants are used to produce them?

• Most essential oils should never be used undiluted on the skin. Instead, they should be combined with “real” oils (called carrier oils), waxes, butters, alcohols, or other diluting measures. Because they’re so concentrated, if you don’t dilute, you may end up with an unfortunate reaction (and unhappy skin).

• There are a few essential oils that are generally recognized as safe to use undiluted. Of course, there has to be a few exceptions to the rule. Again, in Organic Body Care Recipes, the author points out that the only essential oils that are widely acknowledged as safe to use undiluted (sparingly) are: lavender, German chamomile, tea tree, sandalwood, and rose geranium.

• Never use an undiluted essential oil on a baby or child. Children have much thinner, more delicate skin than adults have, and tend to be very sensitive to the potency of essential oils. In fact, even if you do use essential oil in a recipe for children, only use half of the essential oil recommended in the recipe. That’s all they’ll need, anyway. (Here is a list of 19 essential oils that are safe for babies and children.)

• Avoid the following essential oils while pregnant or nursing (and skip EOs completely in your first trimester): Aniseed, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, ginger, jasmine, lemon, nutmeg, rosemary, sage (this is only a partial list of some of the more common essential oils – view the full one here).

• To test if you’re sensitive to an essential oil (which is probably best to do before using it in a skincare preparation): Combine one drop of essential oil with 1/2 tsp carrier oil (like olive, jojoba, or sweet almond). Rub this on the inside, upper portion of your arm and wait a few hours. If no redness or itching develops, you’re most likely not sensitive to that essential oil.

• Keep all essential oils out of the reach of children – and avoid contact with your eyes.This is just standard safety precautions, but must be mentioned.

• Do not take essential oils internally, especially oils like wintergreen and eucalyptus. While some essential oils may be used well-diluted in something like toothpaste with safety, it’s generally recognized that there’s no need to take essential oils internally. In fact, there are several toxic essential oils that should be avoided even through skin contact. Luckily, these are NOT common essential oils, and most of them you’ll never find in the store.

• Not all essential oils are created equally, nor does more expensive necessarily mean “better.” There are certain brands I will use in a less therapeutic fashion (like for cleaning), because they’re far less expensive than their counterparts. When you see a wide fluctuation in price between, say, lavender essential oils, you can bet that the far less expensive one is likely lower in quality. However, a small variation in price differences on the higher end will NOT mean a better essential oil. It will just mean a higher price. (A little birdie also told me that there are also only a handful of essential oil distilleries in the world, which means that most essential oils come from the exact same places – thus there is little difference in quality between the more “typically priced” EOs.) What I’m saying here is: Understand that you DO have to pay for quality, but that if you’re just using essential oils in non-therapeutic fashions, it’s okay to use less expensive oils (like theBeeyoutiful ones pictured at the top of this post, or NOW brand essential oils). But if you want high quality, I suggest using Mountain Rose Herbs or another ethical supplier that offers organic essential oils (grown without pesticides or toxic fertilizers).

• To test your essential oil to see how “pure” it is, put a single drop of it on a piece of construction paper. If it evaporates quickly and leaves no noticeable ring, it is pure. If you have a ring left, then it is likely diluted by the manufacturer with an oil of some sort (this test will not work for myrrh, patchouli, and absolutes).

• Essential oils will last for at least 5 years (if not 10), so one bottle could literally last you a decade. Hopefully that thought will help mitigate the cost involved in purchasing some essential oils. Because they are SO concentrated and only a tiny amount is needed in anything you do, they’ll last you a very, very long time. The only exception to this rule is citrus oils, which will see a reduction in potency after a year or two.

• Store your essential oils in dark glass bottles (which they were probably packaged in) and out of direct sunlight. This is simply to help preserve their potency.

• Remember that what you’re allergic to in food, you will be allergic to in essential oils. So if, for some reason, you can’t eat sage without breaking out in a rash, steer clear of sage essential oil (or any product containing it).

• USE ESSENTIAL OILS TO HELP YOUR MOOD. Lavender, peppermint, grapefruit, chamomile, lemon, ylang-ylang all help produce happy, joyous moods. Clary sage helps with PMS (although there have been reports that overuse of clary sage can lead to intoxication). Rosemary increases focus and concentration. Don’t forget the mood benefits of essential oils. Here’s an information packed aromatherapy reference chart to refer to.

• The recommended usage of many essential oils is hotly contested throughout the aromatherapy profession. The majority of oils you find in the supermarket are absolutely safe (though you should research them before using them); however, once you start digging into the world of essential oils, you’ll find that professionals – even within the same organization – debate extensively over the use of certain oils. If you’re ever unsure about an oil or its use, do the research you can, and if you still cannot make up your mind as to its safety – avoid it. But, by all means, do NOT be afraid of essential oils. Just use them with care and respect, and all will be fine.