What is an Essential Oil?
Here is a brief explanation of what is an essential oil.
Essential oils are concentrated extracts of various plants. Many plants contain some potentially helpful compounds. Manufacturing processes can extract the useful compounds from these beneficial plants.
Essential oils mostly have a much more robust scent than the plants they come from and contain greater levels of active ingredients. This is attributed to the amount of plant material required to make an essential oil. The oils capture the plant’s aroma and flavour, or ‘essence’.
Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence.
Essential oils are obtained through distillation using steam and/or water or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.
Here is a brief explanation of these:
- Steam or water distillation. During this process water or hot steam passes through the plant material, pulling the essential compounds away from the plant matter.
- Cold pressing. Here the plant matter is mechanically pressed or squeezed to cause it to release the essential oils. For example: when you squeeze, or zest lemon peel the lemon releases its fresh scent through the oil in the skin.
The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.
Once extracted the aromatic chemicals may be combined with a carrier oil to create a product that is safe to apply to your body and can be used widely.
Manufacturers use essential oils to create and enhance a range of products. For example: the cosmetic and makeup industry use essential oils in perfumes, add them to creams and body washes for fragrance and the health benefits to the skin, and as sources of natural antioxidants in some beauty care products.
Natural medicinal practitioners, such as aromatherapists, use essential oils. Aromatherapy includes diffusing these essential oils into the air. This may be done by using an essential oil diffuser. Aromatherapists believe the potentially helpful compounds of the essential oil may benefit the body by breathing in the essential oil dispersed into the air, allowing it to enter the lungs and blood stream.
If you have used a mentholated vapor rub to help clear your nose and sinuses you have used a form of aromatherapy. A study reported in the Canadian Respiratory Journal (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3628651/) in 2013 noted, inhaling menthol in this way can reduce feelings of congestion and shortness of breath.
Essential oils should be diluted in a carrier oil before applying them to your skin. After adding essential oils to a carrier oil and massaging them into the skin, the skin may also dispense the active compounds from the essential oil to the body.
Also, as essential oils are concentrated it is not advised to take them orally unless under the guidance of a doctor or experienced physician. Some people might take oral capsules containing essential oils under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Essential oils have many uses. Some of the common uses are to help alleviate every day, non-serious ailments. There are essential oils for sleep, essential oils for anxiety and essential oils for headaches to name a few. You can make your own essential oil blends too to adjust the aroma of benefits you are seeking from the oils you use.
Watch out for our post next week to see some of the useful ways to use your essential oils.