Essential Oils - Respecting Their Power
Over the last ten years, essential oils have become more popular in the alternative and personal care industry. Different companies and websites have recommendations for application and use of these products. Unfortunately, many limit safety information to a nominal disclaimer and avoid reporting information regarding the consequences of improper handling and use of essential oils.
Due to my training and education, I have general guidelines that direct my personal choices when using essential oils. This information has also given me a greater respect for the power of essential oils and the importance of proper use. There may be exceptions to some of the information provided; I err on the side of caution, as I want to be able to use essential oils for a long time. But here are the high points:
Essential oils are concentrated. Essential oils come from an isolated part of the plant requiring preparation (distillation, expelling, maceration) to collect the concentrated materials. Did you ever wonder why a two-milliliter bottle of Rose Otto essential oil costs $100.00 or more? It requires 60 roses to make one drop of Rose Otto. One drop of orange oil is made from 20 oranges.
Concentrated essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil (almond, grapeseed, jojoba, avocado etc.). Diluting an essential oil in a carrier oil will increase the absorption of the essential oil into the skin. Undiluted (also termed neat) essential oil applied to the skin may cause irritation, redness, burning or photosensitization (an increase in the skin’s sensitivity to UV light). Repeated use of undiluted essential oil may cause sensitization (an allergic skin response). This allergic response may be immediate or delayed and may result in an individual not being able to use that oil for the remainder of his or her life.
Dilution rates vary with the individual, the therapeutic need or the essential oil chosen. Various guidelines have been published when using essential oils for skin application.
*Certain oils should be avoided with children, during pregnancy or when treating an acute or chronic medical conditions. It is important to consult with a trained aromatherapy practitioner prior to using essential oils with these individuals or with certain medical conditions as the oils can diminish the effect of prescription medications.
As mentioned previously, different essential oils may lead to skin irritation, sensitization or photosensitization. When choosing a combination of oils for a blend, always use fewer drops of any oils that fall into these categories. Essential oils known to be skin irritants or skin sensitizers vary from mild to moderate. These oils include fir, spruce and cypress family oils, thyme thymol, ginger, oregano, peppermint, basil, citrus oils, lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus, clove bud and cinnamon oils. When using essential oils that are photosensitizers, it is recommended to avoid sunlight or UV light for 12 to 24 hours depending on the dilution amount used. Photosensitization oils include bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin petitgrain, bergamot, lime, and Angelica root.
Oil and water don’t mix. When a person first begins to use essential oils, it is not uncommon that the oils become a daily routine - in the bathwater, in soap or oral care products etc. But if water and oil don’t mix, what is occurring? The oil sits on top of the water and the individual’s skin is exposed first to the oil. This is similar to applying the oil neat or undiluted. Possible results with prolonged use: redness of skin, damage of tissue, or sensitization. The solution? Use an emulsifier. This may include (but not limited to) mixing the essential oils in castile soap or Epsom salt for a bath.
Proper storage will extend the oils shelf life. Each essential oil is comprised of many chemical compounds that give the oil its therapeutic properties and odor profile. Essential oils are volatile. Exposure of the oil to light, heat and air can cause it to lose some of the therapeutic properties or change the chemical makeup creating a possible environment for sensitization. Store essential oils in a cool, dry, dark location or in the refrigerator.
Essential oils are generally sold in dark bottles to prolong shelf life and protect from the sun. If you are making a special blend, use the same type of bottle. Essential oils can break down plastic containers or plastic droppers over time. As the volume in the bottle decreases, move the essential oil in a smaller bottle to avoid oxidation.
Most essential oils, if properly stored, have a one-year shelf life. Does that mean you should discard any oils over a year old? No, just realize the oil’s therapeutic properties may not be as potent. You can also use older oils in cleaning products for the home. Some oils do improve with age such as frankincense, patchouli and sandalwood. If uncertain regarding the effects or safety of the oil because of its age, use a test spot to determine if it is addressing the need or if it causes any irritation.
Choose areas and times for diffusion of essential oils carefully. One of the most powerful effects of essential oils is through the olfaction system in our body. Elevation of mood, quieting the internal noise, clearing a sinus headache are just a few of the benefits of diffusing essential oils in the environment. Understanding the therapeutic properties allows you to choose the most appropriate essential oils for diffusion. If you are needing to reach a project deadline or have your children focus on homework, diffuse rosemary and lemon for increased concentration! However, both of these oils are also stimulants, so avoid diffusing near bedtime. For relief from congestion and cold symptoms, diffuse eucalyptus and lavender or frankincense.
Make diffusion blends simple using one to two oils to understand their effects. Avoid using different blends throughout the house at the same time. Overstimulation of scents can reduce therapeutic effects, less is more. Use caution when diffusing in areas with small children or animals. Children under five years of age should not be exposed to strong essential oil vapors (Robert Tisserand). Animals have a much larger olfactory system than humans and tolerance to diffused oils vary with species and breed. Care should be taken when diffusing oils or when using essential oils in cleaning products when animals are present in the home. Many veterinarian websites include lists of essential oils toxic to animals.
Essential Oils can be Safe and Effective! Using simple cautionary steps when working with essential oils offers a safe approach to their long-term benefits for your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
At Broad Chiropractic, we offer an aromatherapy massage which includes a custom blend of essential oils to address your need for relaxation, pain-relief, support for women’s health issues, or chronic inflammatory conditions. Contact the office today to schedule an appointment.
Coming in June:
- Aromatherapy Basics Class
Broad Family Chiropractic
- Wednesday, June 19th 7:00 pm – 9:00 p.m.
- Learn safety techniques with blending
- Review therapeutic properties of 5 essential oils
- Create 2 blends for personal care
- Call to reserve your seat, space limited
- $10 per person, to cover the cost of supplies
Nancy Gibson, LMT
References for article:
- Holmes, Peter Lac, MH. Aromatica, A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. 2016
- Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla. The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual. 2000
- Shutes, Jade and Weaver, Christina. Aromatherapy for Bodyworkers. 2008
- Tisserand, Robert and Young, Rodney. Essential Oil Safety. 2014
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