While not all self-care involves getting massages and mani-pedis, what you put in, on, and around your body is an essential part of your overall health and wellness. And speaking of essential parts of self-care, essential oils can be a relatively easy and cost-effective way to step up your self-care game. The use of essentials oils is most closely associated with aromatherapy, but the oils can also be applied topically; both offer a holistic way to promote and improve your sense of well-being.
“Many essential oils are made by a method called distillation. Plant matter is steamed until the oil is extracted and separated. Some oils are cold-pressed, but this mostly applies to citrus oils, and it is pretty self-explanatory—the fresh plant matter is pressed and the oil is collected,” said Gabrielle Gray, who is a certified health coach and reiki practitioner, and the Studio Manager at Maha Rose, a New York-based wellness center.
And because it takes such large quantities of plant matter to produce even one tiny bottle of essential oil, it’s important to “pick your oils wisely in order to honor Mother Earth,” said Gray.
Gray suggests that the safest way to use essential oils is to diffuse them, but that “certain essential oils, like helichrysum, could be combined with a carrier oil for some moisturizing, natural skin care.” Carrier oils are natural vegetable oils, like almond or jojoba oil, that are relatively fragrance-free and help to dilute the strength of natural oils, which are often too intense to apply to the skin by themselves.
Now that you know how they’re made, how do you know which essential oils are for you and how to use them? Ahead are 10 common and not-so-common essentials oils and their uses. Consider adding any one of them to your routine for some extra calm or a wellness pick-me-up as it turns colder.
When you think of a calming essential oil, lavender is probably the first thing that comes to mind. It can be used to reduce stress, as a natural sleep aid, and may even offer pain relief for people who suffer from migraines.
This oil is good for more than just providing a cooling sensation. When applied topically, it may ease the symptoms of tension headaches and can soothe cracked nipples from breastfeeding. Peppermint can also be used during massages to alleviate muscle pain, and can help you to breathe easier during cold season.
While many of us like the citrus scent of lemon in everything from our cleaning to body products, lemon oil may also offer relief from anxiety by reducing the stress hormone corticosterone, according to a 2004 study. Inhaling its scent may also help to boost your mood.
Bergamot essential oil is derived from the peels of the citrus fruit produced by the bergamot plant. “It’s very popular for boosting one’s mood, but can also be calming, depending on what type of issues you’re facing that day,” said Gray. Some people use it to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, and it can even be used as a natural insecticide.
Helichrysum oil is also known as immortelle and is derived from a plant within the sunflower family. The oil may help with skin conditions like eczema, and promote the healing of wounds and burns because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Rosemary’s scent is considered to be a cognitive enhancer. And research has found that the use of the essential oil can offer some improvement in mood and memory.
The potential uses of clary effects include stress relief, anti-depressant effects, and improved circulation. A 2013 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that women who inhaled clary sage essential oil were more relaxed, which in turn helped to lower blood pressure.
When it is blended with other oils, ginger oil can aid in circulation and be used for massage to ease arthritis and muscle pain. If you have a diffuser, the oil can be used for things like nausea or motion sickness.
Derived from the roots of a grass that is popular on the Indian subcontinent, vetiver essential oil has both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities. It has a wide range of uses that include reducing the appearance of scars and enhancing the libido.
Marjoram essential oil is said to be useful for relief from aches and pain, stress, and anxiety. It blends well with other oils, such as lavender and clary sage.