Essential Oils for Beginners
The use of essential oils has been around for thousands of years. Many ancient cultures in China, Egypt, India, and others have included essential oil’s aromatic plant components in balms, oil, fragrances and medicine. Typically, essential oils are used through inhalation (smelling the essential oils) and/or by being applied topically (absorbed through the skin). When inhaled, it takes only seconds for the essential oil to affect the body’s nervous system, and when absorbed through the skin, it can take up to 90 minutes to fully absorb into the body.
The term aromatherapy was first used by the French perfumer and chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse in the 1930s, who used essential oils and Aromatherapy as a medical-based therapy. Aromatherapy is the science and art of using essential oils therapeutically. Many aspects and forms of Aromatherapy include medical, clinical and holistic approaches.
It is essential to discuss essential oils with a certified professional with the proper education and training, as essential oils can irritate and be unsafe if misused. This is true for everyone, especially for children, animals, those with medical/health conditions, and those who are pregnant and lactating.
How Are They Made?
Essential oils are typically created through distillation by using steam. This process separates the oil and water compounds of a plant. This method produces the essential oil and the floral water of the plant. The floral water is called a hydrosol or hydrolat. Hydrosols have many plant benefits and are much less concentrated than essential oils. Other methods of essential oil extraction from the plant include solvent extraction and the plant being cold-pressed.
Being highly concentrated, essential oils have a strong aroma. This aroma has resulted in some calling essential oils ‘volatile aromatic oils’ because they can easily evaporate when exposed to air and at average temperatures. Storing your essential oils in the refrigerator (out of the reach of children) sometimes helps extend their shelf life.
Many different parts of a plant can be used to make essential oils. Some include flowers, leaves, bark, roots and the peel of cities fruits. For example, one standard-sized 15ml bottle of rose essential oil requires 65 pounds of rose petals to fill, and one bottle of lemon essential oil requires 75 lemons. Therefore, when using essential oils, the less is more approach is the most appropriate.
How the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are often synthetic and not considered authentic.
One of the most important things to remember when using essential oils, either inhalation or topically, is their quality. Unfortunately, not all brands and essential oils are created equally. Many are diluted too heavily or are synthetic and will not affect your health. Thus, when looking to buy or use essential oils, they must be 100% pure, therapeutic grade and sustainably sourced.
Your essential oil label should always have the name of the oil, the Latin botanical name of the oil (for example, French Lavenders Latin name is Lavendula Angustifolia), the country of origin, expiration date, and must only have one ingredient being the essential oil itself. Having all this information ensures you have the right oil, as many chemotypes and variations of certain plants don’t have the same properties or safety information. Spike lavender, for example, is very different from French Lavender.
Essential Oil Chemistry
There are many factors in what gives an essential oil its therapeutic properties. Each essential oil has its very own chemical makeup. Chemistry is an integral part of Aromatherapy, and the science of the chemical components of each essential oil, carrier oil and hydrosol tells us the information we need about safety, best uses, proper application and the dilution rates for each essential oil’s specific use. For example, some essential oils are not safe for children/pregnancy or in combination with certain medications.
Best Carrier Oils
Essential oils are extremely small, so they can quickly pass through the skin and into the body. If you want to apply essential oils to your skin, diluting it into a carrier oil will ensure you don’t irritate the skin and that your essential oils are diluted enough for safe and effective use. These larger oils that come from the fatty part of the plant can increase the length of time the essential oils stay on your skin and prolong the aromatherapy effects. Some people think using carrier oils reduces the oil’s effectiveness, but it can be the opposite. Dilution increases the absorption surface area, and certain oils can prevent sensitivities.
Common carrier oils include:
- Almond oil • Avocado oil • Coconut oil
- Jojoba oil • Olive oil
Dilution Rate Chart
1 fluid ounce
Essential Oil Dilution and Safe Application
This handy chart above can help when blending essential oils at home into a carrier oil or lotion.
1% dilution is safe for children over 5, those with chronic health conditions, those who are pregnant/lactating and older adults. Please note this is regarding dilution; not all oils are safe for those mentioned above; always consult a certified Aromatherapist for the proper use and what essential oils are safe for use here.
2% for healthy adults and long-term use.
3% for specific illnesses or injuries and use up to 3-4 weeks.
Some citrus oils can be phototoxic, meaning exposure to the sun and UV light when essential oils are on your skin can cause burning, blistering and possible permanent skin damage. It’s best to avoid applying citrus (lemon, bergamot etc.) essential oil before sun exposure until you know what oils can cause this and all the facts and dilution rates to use safely.
There are many kinds of diffusers. Some use water and heat to disperse the essential oils into the air, and some use just cool air. Adding a few drops of essential oil deemed safe for the people around you is a great way to enjoy the aroma and benefit from essential oils. Using 5-7 drops for adults and 2-4 for children is a significant amount to get all the benefits and aroma of your essential oils without overdoing it. As for timing, 10-15 minutes for children over 5-10 and longer for adults, up to 30+minutes, is a great amount to start with. Taking breaks and using oils on and off through the day for shorter times is better than diffusing essential oils for hours on end. Please diffuse your oils away from pets and small children.
Alternatives for Children
Essential oils are potent for a healthy adult’s system, so knowing how delicate children’s systems are and how differently they can metabolise and process essential oils, we need to take extra care not to use too much essential oil or any that can be too hard for them to process. For children under 5 and older babies, we can use hydrosols as a wonderful alternative. These can be used directly on the skin for diaper rashes and to calm children down. Two hydrosols that are safe here are Lavender hydrosol and roman chamomile hydrosols. With any essential oil or hydrosol, please keep it out of your eyes, mucous membranes, and genitals. They are for external use only, and please keep them out of the reach of children. If ingested, please get in touch with your local poison control centre.
Some Essential Oils to Get You Started
Here are a few essential oils that, when used with the guidelines above, can be enjoyed by everyone.
- Calming and healing the nervous system can reduce stress, anxiety, panic and tension and can aid in restful sleep when using small amounts
- Anti-inflammatory and healing for the skin, including rashes, acne, burns and bites.
- Antispasmodic for muscular tightness, aches and pains, menstrual cramps and headaches.
Sweet Orange/Citrus Sinensis:
- A happy and bright oil can help uplift your mood and is calming and relaxing
- Can help relieve digestive upset, including reducing nausea, aiding digestion and relieving constipation
- Antibacterial and can help to inhibit the growth of viruses
- Use in a low dilution to prevent skin irritation*
Roman Chamomile/Anthemis Nobilis:
- A gentle and effective essential oil that is wonderful for children, a small amount goes a long (1 drop is sufficient!)
- Aids in digestion and sleep reduce stress and anxiety, uplift and calm irritability, and help alleviate headaches and PMS symptoms.
- It promotes skin healing and aids in reducing inflammation for irritated, sensitive, red or dry skin.