Essential oils have been around for quite some time, but only recently have they gained popularity within the health and wellness space. From immune boosters, allergy relief, and stress busters to simply general well-being, learn how to use essential oils to your benefit.
While massaging the oil onto the skin and reaping the benefits seems simple enough, what is the actual mechanism by which a plant extract works in the body?
How essential oils work
Essential oils are organic compounds; in general, they are comprised of carbon and hydrogen atoms that form monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes and provide each oil’s characteristic aroma and flavor. These compounds are found in different regions within the plant. Some are found in the root, such as vetiver grass; in the leaves, like eucalyptus, citronella, and lemongrass; in the flowers, like lavender; or in the fruit, like lemon, orange, and grapefruit.
There are certain constituents of essential oils that are for specific purposes, for example, oxygenation. Because the molecules are so small, these have the capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier, which helps to supply oxygen to the brain. Another compound, sesquiterpene, is used to help increase focus and is great for helping kids to study. Monoterpenes are great for inhibiting the growth of bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the body, thereby helping to strengthen the immune system. These are just some of the many compounds in essential oils that benefit the body.
What are essential oils good for?
Essential oils span a very broad health benefit spectrum. Ranging from immunity and digestion to anti-stress and anti-anxiety. We’ve outlined below a few of the benefits that oils can provide:
1. Immune boosters
Boosting the immune system is one of the things that essential oils are great for. Lemon oil is a great option for immune support, but it’s not limited to just that. Orange oil is also great and has been well-studied for its ability to decrease tumor growth. Oregano oil is a very strong essential oil that is high in phenolics and monoterpenoids and is highly effective in its ability to protect against microbes and the respiratory system by breaking up mucus.
Any strong essential oils that tend to make your eyes water when you smell them are generally good immune-modulating oils.
2. Cognitive enhancement
Peppermint is a great choice for people looking to help enhance cognitive function. In addition to lavender, peppermint has been shown to help improve memory recall, accuracy, speed, and processing. As an example of how oil may help, findings show that if you are studying for a test and you smell a specific oil when you take the test and smell the same oil, the brain’s ability to recall the information is increased.
The mechanism behind how these oils work is through the compounds they contain, many of them sesquiterpene and oxygenating compounds, which by inhaling, help to decrease stress and increase the flow of oxygen to the brain. It calms the body, modulates inflammation, and overall improves how you feel.
3. Weight loss
It’s no question that our five senses are related, especially taste and smell. The taste receptors in our tongues are sensitive to different tastes — sweet, salty, bitter, etc. Research has shown that the compounds present in bitter-tasting herbs, like leafy greens, can actually help induce the feeling of fullness. So with oils, when we taste some of the bitter herbal oils like peppermint, it also induces that feeling of fullness. Sense of smell also plays a role in appetite suppression. A study conducted by Dr. Alan Hirsch on over 3,000 participants on the effectiveness of peppermint as a weight loss aid concluded that simply by inhaling peppermint oil daily for six months, average weight loss exceeded 30 pounds.
With weight loss, however, may also come stretch marks and skin issues. Essential oils, when used topically, can help to minimize the appearance of skin imperfections. Studies have shown lavender to be great for helping to heal burns, for example. Oils help improve skin appearance by aiding in the detox process, decreasing inflammation, increasing skin elasticity, oxygenating the skin, and modulating processes related to weight control.
While this list isn’t inclusive of all the benefits essential oils offer, it is a few of the amazing properties they possess. Below, we’ve outlined a few other conditions that essential oils are great for.
Digestive discomfort is something we all experience from time to time. Essential oils are a great option for supporting optimal gastrointestinal function without any nasty side effects. They can help to calm an upset stomach, reduce spasms, normalize motility, alleviate nausea, and even eliminate gas and bloating. Here are a few great oil combinations for digestion:
- Fennel, ginger, and cardamom (laxative support)
- Tarragon and patchouli (anti-spasmodic)
- Lemon and peppermint (pH balance)
- Peppermint, ginger, lavender, basil, and anise (upset stomach)
- Ginger, peppermint, and fennel (gas)
There are a number of quick fixes when we experience bouts of stress, and essential oils are one of them. They help to calm the body and mind, reduce inflammation, and increase happiness. Some great choices include:
- Lavender (calming)
- Bergamot (increase well-being)
- Sage (anti-inflammatory)
- Ylang-ylang (sedating)
- Lemon (uplifting)
- Chamomile (calming)
- Frankincense (uplifting)
We all have days where our energy just isn’t quite there. Rather than reaching for a cup of coffee or an energy drink, why not consider topically applying an essential oil blend? They can help to invigorate and awaken the senses, energize us, and increase productivity. Here are our suggestions:
- Orange (uplifting)
- Lemon (uplifting)
- Grapefruit (stress reduction)
- Rosemary (antioxidant)
- Eucalyptus (brain stimulation)
- Frankincense (balances the nervous system)
How to use essential oils
There is no correct answer to this. Whether you use them topically, orally, or in a diffuser — they’re all great and highly effective. It’s important that when buying oils, you purchase ones that are 100% pure with no additives or synthetics.
Used topically, essential oils can be very powerful and have amazing healing benefits. Since the skin is our largest organ, applying directly to the skin means direct transport into the bloodstream. However, certain areas of the body can be more sensitive than others, so it’s best to test out small amounts first. The feet, for example, have tougher skin, which means a reaction is less likely to occur. If you are going to put oils in other places, it’s best to dilute them with carrier oil to reduce the risk of causing a reaction. Carrier oils contain phenylpropanoids that actually help to clean the receptor sites. When looking for carriers, always opt for organic ones like almond, olive, or coconut oil to reduce the risk of an interaction between the carrier oil and the essential oil.
Diffusers are also a great option. Ultrasonic diffusers add the benefits of essential oils to every breath you take, improving air quality and your health and state of mind. You can use any oil that you would put onto your skin in a diffuser or one of the pre-made diffuser blends that most essential oil companies produce.
Whatever your health concern, whether it’s digestive, immune, stress, or simply low energy, essential oils can help to alleviate symptoms and boost body function. When you purchase pure oils, you’re also not getting any nasty additives and synthetic chemicals that may leave you feeling crappy and run down. So next time you have a mild health concern like a cold or flu, bring out your roll-ons or diffuser and see how essential oils and be used to your benefit!