What Are Essential Oils?
Before we can get into the benefits of Pre essential oils, let’s duscuss what essential oils are. They are highly-concentrated essences derived from different parts of aromatic plants, including bark, leaves and flowers. Essential oils have been in use for thousands of years, dating as far back as Egyptian times where they were used in mummification. Frankincense and Myrrh are but a few examples.
A number of methods are used to concentrate the plant’s potent compounds into an essential oil. There is the cold-process method, which invlives applying high amounts of pressure to the plant material and collecting it (much like cold pressing olives). Other methods include steam distillation, CO2 extraction, solvent extraction, and others. The first two involve the least amount of manipulation and do not involve the addition of solvents.
Benefits of Using Essential Oils
Today, essential oils are used in the beauty, spa and perfume industries for their aromatherapeutic properties and to impart natural scents to products. They have been found useful and effective as insect repellents and are included in everything from pain relief ointments to cleaning agents to toothpaste. Many herbalists and holistic practitioners find essential oils useful to their clients. Properties of specific essential oils are listed below.
Precautions with Using Essential Oils
While truly natural, pure essential oils are very potent, concentrated oils with hundreds of bio-active compounds. As such, they should never be applied directly to skin in their undiluted form. They are usually combined with a carrier oil before being sold for personal use. It is also important to do a patch test to determine whether or not one is allergic to a particular essential oils. Many oils can cause sun-sensitivity, or are inappropriate to use if one is pregnant or nursing. Finally, check the labels to see what the standardized concentrations are and what carrier oil is used, in order to avoid allergic reactions. If any oil causes redness or irritation, it should be discontinued. Essential oils are also expensive due to the work required to gather huge amounts of plant material for distillation. As a result, synthetic oils have been developed that do not contain the many active ingredients found in pure essential oils. Moreover, pure essential oil composition can vary depending on many factors, so standardized and synthetic versions are created to maintain consistency.
Phytoestrogens vs Xenoestrogens
There’s been some talk about the “estrogenic” activity of plants vs that of synthetic compounds. Many roots, seeds and grains contain what’s known as “phytoestrogenic” compounds – plant-based compounds that serve to reduce the amount of estrogen in the bloodstream. This can result in a reduction in menopausal symptoms in women, for example. “Xenoestrogens”, on the other hand, are synthetic compounds (like BPA) which can increase the body’s store of estrogen, with deleterious effects. If you have any doubts about using an essential oil, consult an herbal practitioner, particularly if you wish to use essential oils on young children.
Favorite Essential Oils
- Eucalyptus Oil – A native of Australia, it contains the compound eucalyptol, a menthol found in rubs, inhalers, liniments, rash creams and mouthwashes.
- Lavender Oil – There are a few varieties, with Lavendula Angustifolia being the most often used in aromatherapy. Its sweet, floral and herbaceous scent has been found to relax, sooth and refresh. It is very highly regarded in the beauty and perfume industries. It is also a wonderful culinary herb that likes sunchine and well-drained soil. It is the main essential oil in our best-selling “Relax” Botanical Handmade Bar Soap with Lavender and Rosemary Oils.
- Lemongrass Oil – Cymbopogon Flexuosus has a light, fresh citrus aroma with earthy undertones. Rejuvenating, stimulating and balancing, it has been shown to improve mental clarity. It is also a popular culinary herb in Thai cuisine. It is the main essential oil in our “Purify” Botanical Bar Soap with Lemongrass Oil.
- Sweet Orange Oil – Citrus Sinensis is naturally cold-pressed from fresh orange peels. It has a rich citrus scent that can be uplifting. It is high in the powerful antioxidant d-limonene and other antioxidants. It is the main essential oil in our “Indulge” Botanical Bar Soap with Orange Oil and Cocoa Powder and our “Awaken” Body Smoother Sugar Scrub.
- Peppermint Oil – Mentha Piperita has a strong, clean, fresh minty aroma. Renowned for soothing digestion, it is popular in toothpaste and breath mints. It is one of the essential oils in our All Purpose Body Balm with Eucalyptus and Peppermint Oils. Avoid using on infants and young children.
- Tea Tree Oil – Melaleuca Alternifolia is indigenous to Australia. It has been shown to contain compounds that can help soothe bites and other irritations, and has a wide range of uses. No medicine cabinet should be without it! It is one of the essential oils in our All Purpose Body Balm with Lavender and Tea Tree Oils and in our popular “Heal” Botanical Bar Soap with Tea Tree and Oatmeal.
Organic Facts website
Essential Oils in the Ancient World, Part 1
Planta Medica paper on essential oils and estrogenic activity
Disclaimer: Statements made here are not intended to diagnose or treat diseases or medical conditions. Please consult a medical practitioner for assistance with these issues.