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There are many ways to use essential oils in your daily life to improve your overall wellness and health. They are a great alternative to using synthetic chemicals in medications, household cleaning and personal care products. Initially, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start and how to use if you are new to the world of essential oils, but learning about and experiencing one essential oil at a time is an enjoyable process that is easy to build on.
Essential oils can be used in multiple ways aromatically (by breathing in and inhaling), internally* (by ingestion) or topically (applying to the skin). Within each of these methods of using essential oils there are numerous ways to use essential oils.
For much more on essential oils, be sure to see my Comprehensive Guide to Essential Oils.
How Do You Start Using Essential Oils?
Start with one or a couple of single essential oils to try using and learning about. Good ones to start with are lemon (citrus x limon), lavender (lavandula angustifolia), peppermint (mentha x piperita), tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia) and frankincense (Boswellia carteri, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia serrata or Boswellia sacra). As you use you will find what works for you, your home and your body. You can add additional essential oils to your essential oil medicine cabinet one by one as you explore other essential oil benefits or find recipes that call for different essential oils depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
Another way to get into the world of essential oils is to purchase a gift set or a starter kit, depending on the essential oil company you choose to start with. Some companies are traditional retail and you can purchase with no commitment or paperwork. And others use a multi-level marketing structure where there would be some, usually minimal, commitment to continue with the membership if you decide that is what you want.
How Do You Use Essential Oils Aromatically?
When used aromatically the essential oil can be inhaled straight from the bottle. Take a few whiffs from a distance using a hand to wave the scent towards your face. Keeping some distance is especially important if this is the first time you have experienced the oil. Because of the highly concentrated form of the plants aromatic natural compound you need to be conservative, not knowing how your body will respond. You can rub a drop or more in your hands and then cup over your mouth and nose, breathing in through your nose with deep breaths will allow you to experience the volatile compounds within the essential oil.
Placing a few drops of essential oils on a cloth, tissue or cotton ball that are placed around you is a way to experience aromatically. Also, personal inhalers are great for carrying with you so you can use whenever you feel the need or desire. There is even jewelry, such as a necklace pendant, that have a pad you can place drops of essential oil on to enjoy the essential oil benefits as you go about your day. More commonly, the essential oil(s) would be used in a room or portable diffuser to put into the environment for you and others to inhale through the air.
Essential oils should not be burned or heated due to being potentially flammable. The heat will alter the chemical composition and also causes a rapid rate of evaporation, which prevents being able to experience the essential oil fully and just wastes it.
When used aromatically, essential oils can reach the brain and impact your body within a few seconds. This can result in anything from relaxation to mood elevation to mental focus to assisting with digestion; depending on the essential oil. You can experience the therapeutic benefits of one essential oil at a time or use multiple essential oils to create a blend for enhanced benefits, depending on what you are trying to achieve. There are different recipes you can use or you can buy essential oil blends or synergies that are already combined and ready to use from many of the essential oil companies.
Different Types of Diffusers for Essential Oils
There many types of diffusers on the market today that can be used for diffusing essential oils. Most are diffusers that you plug in and add a certain amount of water and drops of an essential oil(s). These diffusers work like a cool humidifier that can be used for a short amount of time and then manually turned off or used for a few hours. Most of these will automatically shut off when the water and essential oils are gone.
There are some battery powered diffusers that can be taken on the go easily. Other interesting diffusers are specific for vehicles or even designed as jewelry you can wear.
What Should I Know About Diffusing Essential Oils
Be sure to refer to your essential oil brand for the specific essential oil you are planning to diffuse for instructions. Some essential oils can be diffused up to an hour at a time before you should turn off for a period of time. Other essential oils that contain stronger constituents should be diffused for a shorter amount of time such as 10 minutes a few times a day.
When diffusing essential oils you should do it intermittently, such as 30 minutes on and then 30 minutes off. If diffusing more than 30-60 minutes continuously while you are in the vicinity of the diffuser your body, and specifically nervous system, habituates to the essential oil. Continuous diffusing does not provide additional benefits and actually will put unnecessary stress on your body.
Using Essential Oils Internally
Some essential oils can be taken internally by ingestion. They can be taken in a glass of water, in food and in vegetable capsules as a supplement. These essential oils can easily be used in recipes that call for a specific extract, flavor or spice such as oregano (a small drop of oregano essential oil goes a long way). Another option is to season dishes such as chicken or fish with lemon essential oil instead of zesting or juicing a lemon. A basic brownie mix with 6-8 drops of peppermint essential oil is amazing! Or kick up a snack of tortilla chips and salsa by adding a drop or two of lime essential oil to the salsa. When using essential oils internally be sure to use a little and taste before adding more if needed, due to their high concentration. Even just a touch of the essential oil on a toothpick that is used to stir a dish can be enough.
Be sure to reference the essential oil label or the company’s instructions for that particular essential oil to ensure that it can be ingested.
Please note, this method of essential oil use has some level of controversy within the essential oil community. On one side there are many essential oil users who advise not ever using essential oils internally unless directed by a physician or certified aromatherapist who has full knowledge on the essential oil chemical constituents and how it can impact the organs and systems in the body. Especially if the essential oil is taken on a consistent basis at a high quantity, anything over 10-20 drops of essential oil at a time or through out the day, as this is crossing over into using the essential oil more as a pharmaceutical.
Others feel that essential oils that are produced at a higher quality and are therapeutic grade are safe to take internally, even on a daily basis as you would a supplement. And another group of essential oil users fall somewhere in between with being more comfortable using essential oils only for food flavoring and would only use a few drops of essential oil internally in a day, if at all. There are essential oils that have the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but this is regarding the use of the essential oil as a food additive not for medicinal purposes.
There are positive and negative experiences to support both sides of the debate. Also, there are some contrasting views regarding whether or not this is the most or least effective way to use essential oils. Please be sure to educate yourself in the specific essential oils that you are using and only ingest them if you are comfortable with the advice of the manufacturer and the potential implications.
Using Essential Oils Topically
When using the essential oil topically you can apply “neat”, which is directly to the skin, or diluted in a carrier oil. Using the neat application of an essential oil would be rarely used and should be for addressing a specific, short term symptom(s) or issue. If planning to use an essential oil on an ongoing or regular basis it should be diluted in a carrier oil prior to application on the skin to avoid sensitivity and sensitization.
Using Essential Oil with a Carrier Oil
A carrier oil should be a vegetable oil such as coconut oil, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, etc. The carrier oil is used to dilute the essential oil before placing on the skin or to help cover a large area of the body. This does not impact the potency of the oil, it helps to use less of an essential oil to cover a portion of the body that you are targeting with the therapeutic benefits of the essential oil.
The carrier oil helps to slows down the rate of evaporation and absorption, so that it is slowly introduced into the body versus all at once. You should never use butter, margarine, baby oil, or petroleum jelly as a carrier oil.
There are some essential oils that are considered to be “hot” oils, which means they can cause the feeling of warmth, burning or tingling when put straight on skin (“neat”). A few examples:
- Peppermint (mentha x piperita) essential oil applied to the skin can feel cool and/or tingle for some.
- Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum) essential oil or Clove bud (Syzygium aromaticum) essential oil could cause the feeling of warmth.
Essential oils can be used on most surfaces of the body as long as you do not experience sensitivity. For example, you might want to dilute peppermint (mentha x piperita) essential oil with a carrier oil and rub on your stomach to aid with digestion.
Often times an essential oil that is used on an ongoing basis would be used in a diluted state, with a carrier oil, to avoid developing skin sensitivity or a resistance. You would generally only apply an essential oil neat when working to address a specific issue on a temporary basis. For example using oregano on warts (this would be applied neat and only to the wart as an oregano falls into the “hot” oil category and can cause skin sensitivity).
Many of the DIY recipes for essential oils are for topical application. You can use essential oils with your current personal products or create your own. Here is a short list of examples you can use a few essential oils.
- Add lemon (citrus x limon) essential oil to face wash, moisturizer or create your own to brighten dull skin and address blackheads and zits (be sure to dilute appropriately as this is a phototoxic essential oil read more at my post All About Lemon Essential Oil)
- Add lemon (citrus x limon) essential oil to your shampoo or conditioner to add a healthy shine to your hair
- Add lavender (lavandula angustifolia) essential oil to your moisturizer or lotion to heal skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles
- Add frankincense (Boswellia carteri, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia serrata or Boswellia sacra) essential oil to your moisturizer or lotion to rejuvenate skin and heal scars and damaged skin
- Add rose (rosa x centifolia) absolute to your moisturizer or lotion to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and smooth the skin
- Create a toner using helichrysium (helichrysum italicum) essential oil, witch hazel and water to sooth inflammation, repair and reduce or prevent scarring
- Use lavender (lavandula angustifolia) essential oil to create a spray in a bottle to use when getting sunburn
- Use citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus) essential oil and/or tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil to create a natural bug spray
- Use lavender (lavandula angustifolia) essential oil diluted to address bug bites, minor burns or scrapes
- Use lemon (citrus x limon) essential oil to clean and disinfect fruits and vegetables
- Use peppermint (mentha x piperita) essential oil and/or eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus)to help aid respiratory function or address aches, pains and sore muscles aches
Essential oils are amazing natural products that really work to address a number of our normal daily needs. Not only can they help us with our physical needs, the therapeutic benefits that can be experience through their scents help to produce a positive environment and experience. They can help to provide focus, relieve stress, encourage an intimate experience and relaxation to help us get the sleep our bodies need to restore our wellness after the impacts we experience throughout the day.
*Please note, not all essential oils should be ingested and the specific essential oil brand labels and directions should be followed. Also, there is debate within the industry regarding ingestion of essential oils without following guidance from a physician or certified aromatherapist.
Disclaimer: For informational and educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a health concern, a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking any medication please consult your healthcare provider.