Essential oils seem to be nearly everywhere nowadays. From supermarket shelves to craft market stalls, high-end cosmetics to home-made soaps, essential oils occupy a prized position in many a beauty regime and ingredient list. But what exactly are they, and why are they so highly regarded? At a media event for North American essential oil company Young Living, we learnt what you really need to know about essential oils.
1. What are essential oils?
Essential oils are compounds extracted from plant matter – like leaves, roots, or stems and so on – that are prized most highly for their therapeutic benefits and deep aromas. Essential oils aren’t oily in the traditional sense; they are called ‘oils’ because they contain the oil-soluble compounds in the plant that gives essential oils their distinctive aromatic and beneficial properties.
2. How should you use essential oils?
Essential oils can be inhaled, which can have profound positive effects on mood, emotions and the ability to concentrate, or used on the skin for the active compounds in essential oils to achieve a localised effect. For their skincare benefits, apply them topically–that is, applied directly on skin. For aromatherapy purposes, you can inhale them directly from your palms or from the bottle, or diffuse them like a room scent in a dedicated diffuser. Ultrasonic heat-free water diffusers are preferred over heated diffusers to prevent altering the essential oil too much.
Essential oils can be used as a single oil or as a blend of complementary oils to produce the combined effect you’re looking for.
3. Wait, you can use essential oils straight on skin?
Some essential oils can be irritating, and others may trigger allergic reactions depending on the individual. Always test your essential oils on a small patch of skin before going all in. Due to the potency and concentration of essential oils, it is recommended that some essential oils should be diluted in a carrier substance, usually pure vegetable oil, before massaging on the desired area.
But be careful. Dr Peter Minke, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Young Living Essential Oils, warns that citrus oils can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and menthol-containing oils like peppermint and spearmint shouldn’t be used on children under the age of 3.
4. What does it mean for an essential oil to be 100% pure and natural?
Not all essential oils are created equal. In fact, some may have been created synthetically, instead of by a plant. While plants naturally produce the volatile compounds essential oils are valued for, the same compounds can be duplicated in a lab. Think real vanilla extract, versus vanilla-flavoured extract.
5. How do you tell if an essential oil is genuine or synthetic?
Unless you know what the real deal smells like, it can be hard using smell alone to gauge the authenticity of an oil, advises Dr Minke. In that case, do your research and make sure you’re buying from a reputable, responsible company with the right credentials and certification.
6. Can you eat essential oils?
While essential oils are certified as food-grade in other countries, they aren’t in Malaysia. And without proper guidelines, it’s difficult to know what’s a safe dosage for you or whether that little bottle of oil in front of you is really edible or not. So until there’s proper certification, we don’t recommend ingesting anything that isn’t labelled as food.
7. What else can I do with essential oils?
Your imagination’s the limit! Essential oils are a great and easy way to add fragrance and goodness to anything. Add a drop of your favourite essential oil to unscented products for your own personalised lotion or haircare, or try a few beauty DIY’s to really pamper yourself. Why not try your hand at blending your own custom perfume oil or massage oil as well? All you need is a carrier oil (a plain vegetable oil) to dilute your essential oils in and an empty glass bottle. Here’s a recipe to get you started!
Now that you’re all briefed on what essential oils can and can’t do, go wild! Pick your favourite scents – sniff everything and see what speaks to you – or choose oils to help with what you need help with.