Essential oils are unique aromatic chemical compounds that are extracted from plants. The plant raw material — flowers, leaves, seeds, and/or other parts — is usually distilled, and the “essence” or fragrance of the plant is separated in the form of a volatile liquid. Essential oils are the primary aromatic component of aromatherapy; the practice of inhaling or applying natural plant extracts for enhancing physical and mental well-being.
Though essential oils have been popularly used for centuries, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there’s no agreed-upon definition of a “therapeutic grade” essential oil. Hence, there are certain precautions you need to take when dealing with these oils. For instance, it’s generally not safe to ingest an essential oil.
Ingesting essential oils or applying them internally can have different side effects depending on the specific oil. Some mild side effects include a sense of cold, skin rash, excess salivation, restlessness, nausea, irritation of the mouth, throat, lungs and/or stomach.
A high concentration of some essential oils can cause vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, kidney or liver damage, or coma in rare cases. Swallowing essential oil is often non-fatally poisonous for children and pregnant women.
Hence, you should see a doctor immediately if you have ingested a concentrated essential oil. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and safe ways you can use essential oils and harness their potential benefits.
1. Using a Diffuser
Essential oil diffusers emit a fine mist of fragrant oil particles into the surrounding air. The air is gradually saturated with aroma, so you can naturally inhale the essential oil. There are different kinds of diffusers that break down the oil. A nebulizing diffuser uses pressurized air, an ultrasonic diffuser uses waves in water, and a ceramic diffuser uses heat to dissipate the essential oil. You should keep in mind that heat-based diffusers might degrade the oil’s natural chemical properties.
There are also other kinds of diffusers like electric, candle, and evaporative diffusers. Though diffusers are a convenient way to utilize essential oils, care should be taken that there are no children, pregnant or nursing women, pets, or people allergic to essential oils in the effective vicinity.
2. Using an Inhaler
Inhaling an essential oil is another popular practice of aromatherapy. You can use an aromatherapy inhaler or make one yourself using a standard inhaler. You can also simply open an essential oil bottle and directly inhale the scent. However, don’t let the liquid touch your nostrils as it can cause irritation.
Another way to inhale EOs is to mix them in a bowl of boiling water and breathe in the steam. To make sure the steam doesn’t escape, place a towel over your head and inhale in a slow and deep rhythm.
3. Applying to the Skin
Essential oils in their pure form may be too concentrated to be safe for direct skin application and may cause skin rash or irritation. Therefore, they are often diluted before applying them to the skin. Dilution is done using a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, olive oil, and grapeseed oil. You can choose any carrier oil depending on which smell or texture you prefer.
You can apply diluted EOs to any part of the skin that is feeling tight. Common areas include the wrists, feet, temple, around your nose or at the back of the ears. You can also choose an aromatherapy massage for a full-body application.
4. In Bath
Essential oils can be mixed into a hot bath and effectively absorbed by the body. However, they don’t dissolve very well in plain water unless you use a dispersant like soap or shampoo or any other dispersing agent. The purpose of the dispersant is to break down the oil into tiny particles and dissolve them evenly. Before taking a bath, simply mix a few drops of the essential oil of your choice with the dispersant and add them into the water.
You can also inhale the steam of your essential oil bath for extra efficiency. However, be careful to avoid swallowing the water since many EOs aren’t suitable for internal body application.