September 9, 2019 | Abby Caviness
Perhaps you have heard about essential oils, or you have made a joke about the people who use them religiously. Either way, these little bottles of fragrant oils are making waves you may want to know more about.
Essential oils have been around for centuries but have just crawled their way up the trending list in the past several years. In fact, they have become so popular that U.S. retail sales rose 14 percent to $133 million between 2018 and 2015, which witnessed sales of $55 million.1 This number does not even include the product’s most popular method of sale, which is through individual distributers in multi-level marketing organizations.
Essential oil advocates say they are “natural” remedies free of the side effects that come from prescription drugs. This form of alternative medicine is surging in popularity across the world. However, the serious claims distributors are making have us wondering: What are essential oils, and do they work the way they are marketed? Well, you have come to the right place, because USHEALTH Group® has the scoop.
What are Essential Oils?
According to Young Living®, a popular essential oil brand, they are highly concentrated, natural oils produced from plant material by steam distillation, extraction, cold pressing, or resin distillation.2 Just think of your favorite fruit or herb, and there is probably an essential oil made from it. In fact, there are more than 90 types of essential oils. Some popular oils include:3
- Tea tree
These oils are more powerful than your typical dried herbs because they are so concentrated. Essential oils are often used as alternative medicine because they are so potent, but can they accomplish what marketers claim?
Do They Actually Work?
Each essential oil boasts unique benefits, and many individuals have claimed using essential oils has helped with a variety of issues. For example, fans of essential oils say they can help with issues like stress and anxiety, headaches and migraines, sleep and insomnia, inflammation, as well as an antibiotic and antimicrobial. However, scientific research shows little evidence of the oils healing any of these ailments.3
Biases in Testing
Though many studies have been conducted to prove the benefits of essential oils, the exact effects of the oils are difficult to pin down. For example, in one study, researches sought to prove the positive effects of lotion containing lemon balm on dementia patients. Even though the study concluded with positive results, researchers noted that the decrease of agitation among patients could be attributed to an increase in social and physical contact between patients and the caregivers applying the lemon balm.4
Scientists also say studies are difficult to conduct due to what scientists call “expectancy.” This phenomenon is also referred to as the “placebo effect,” which involves participants in the study being told the oil will have a certain effect on them, so they have that exact reaction because they have that expectation. However, many researchers disagree with this argument, due to suggestions that some oils have the power to activate your central nervous system and therefore increase attention, sharpen thinking, and improve sleep.4
Nevertheless, whatever claims marketers make, the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of essential oils is inconclusive. Though individuals may see certain changes in their mood and overall wellbeing by using them, the effects are certainly not widespread or typical. However, the one common attribute of essential oils is that many individuals say they smell good.
Essential oils can be used in two ways: topically or aromatically. Though some brands market otherwise, doctors and healthcare professionals advise against ingesting or swallowing them, because they can cause damage to the liver and kidneys.5 Additionally, though using the oils topically and aromatically is widely practiced, individuals should exercise caution when trying them for the first time. For example, administer an allergy test on yourself before fully using your oils to avoid serious reactions.
- Just dilute the oil in a carrier oil, like almond oil or coconut oil—about four drops to an ounce of carrier oil, or twice the concentration you plan to use
- Rub the mixture onto an area the size of a quarter on the inside of the forearm
- Watch the area for 24-48 hours. If your skin does not react, you are safe to proceed
Essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil before applying directly to the skin. For example, two drops of essential oil to every ounce of carrier oil is recommended for the safest results. In fact, even without an allergy, pure oils on the skin can cause burns and rashes.1One user even built up a sensitivity toward them after several months of daily use, which ultimately landed her in the hospital with a severe toxic reaction.1In these cases, individuals will continue to be allergic to essential oils even after their symptoms subside. So, it is also important not to use too many oils to avoid this issue.
Pay Attention to Quality
Because the FDA does not regulate essential oils, it can be very easy to receive products that are not actually pure products. It is important that you read labels and only buy from trusted brands, such as Young Living and doTERRA®, which only make pure oils through non-chemical processes.4
Additionally, individuals who have high blood pressure, epilepsy, asthma, are pregnant, children, infants, and elderly should avoid certain oils or avoid them altogether until they have consulted their doctor.5
Essential Oil Uses
If you have administered an allergy test with your oil of choice and have researched and determined you are not at risk, you may proceed. When applied to the skin, essential oils and the plant chemicals contained in them are absorbed into the skin and into the bloodstream. When inhaled, the chemicals are carried through the air into your nose. Inhalation of essential oils are said to stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is the part of your brain that deals with emotions, behavior, sense of smell, and long-term memory.3
For the top nine essential oils, here are the marketed claims of their individual benefits and uses:6
- Peppermint relieves IBS symptoms, muscle pain, sunburns, and itchy skin
- Lavender relieves headaches, reduces itching a swelling from bug bites
- Sandalwood calms nerves and helps with focus
- Bergamot reduces stress and improves skin conditions like eczema
- Rose reduces anxiety, is an antioxidant, and can treat acne
- Chamomile is calming and can treat inflammation
- Ylang-ylang is relaxing, repels insects, and promotes hair growth
- Tea tree (or Melaleuca) is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and can treat skin conditions
- Lemon can reduce inflammation, fight against anemia, boost energy levels, and relieve nausea
There are many ways to incorporate essential oils into your daily routine. For example, add a few drops to some carrier oil like coconut oil and apply it to your skin. Additionally, you can add a few drops to your laundry detergent, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, or lotion.
Though the claimed benefits may happen for some people, it is important to understand and research your essential oils before using them. In addition, essential oils should not take the place of consultation with your healthcare provider. If anything, you can use them in the place of a candle, but making sure you will not have an allergic reaction should always be your first step and main concern!
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
- Nazario, Brunilda, “Essential Oils Promise Help, But Beware the Risks,” WebMD.com, published August 13, 2018, https://www.webmd.com/beauty/news/20180813/essential-oils-promise-help-but-beware-the-risks
- Young Living, “Essential Oils 101,” YoungLiving.com, published January 17, 2019, https://www.youngliving.com/blog/essential-oils-101/
- West, Helen, “What Are Essential Oils, and Do They Work?” Healthline.com, published May 20, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-are-essential-oils#section3
- Heid, Markham, “You Asked: Does Aromatherapy Really Work?” Time.com, published July 20, 2016, https://time.com/4413812/aromatherapy-essential-oils-tea-tree/
- Nordqvist, Christian, “Aromatherapy: What you need to know,” MedicalNewsToday.com, last modified March 20, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10884.php
- Rekstis, Emily, “Essential Oils 101: Finding the Right One for You,” Healthline.com, published July 3, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/essential-oils-find-the-right-one-for-you#16