Everything You Need to Know About Essential Oils

Plus, the combinations you can make at home right now.

If you’ve scrolled through social media lately, more than likely, you’ve seen videos or read posts about aromatherapy and, more specifically, essential oils. While many people think that essential oils are just potent scents, they’re actually a means for creating mental and physical balance in your life. Of course, though, they come with their cautions.

To learn whether or not essential oils are right for you, keep reading for everything there is to know about the topic, including what they’re made of, how they work, and what to be aware of before using them.

What are essential oils made of?

According to Nicola Elliott, the founder and creative director of NEOM, an aromatherapy company specializing in 100 percent natural fragrances created to boost your wellbeing, essential oils are compounds extracted from plants. “They are oils that capture the plant’s scent and essence,” she explains. “They are often used in aromatherapy, which is the therapeutic use of essential oils from plants, flowers, herbs, or trees.”

What’s most shocking is the sheer quantity of plants it requires to distill essential oils. According to essential oil expert and founder of Lake & Skye, Courtney Somer, it takes a large amount of plant material to produce small amounts of distilled oil. “For example, one drop of rose oil is made from fifty rose flowers,” she exclaims. No wonder essential oils can be pricey!

Are essential oils safe?

Since essential oils are the most volatile, concentrated aspects of aromatic plants, modern alchemist Adora Winquist, who is an expert in aromatherapy and vibrational medicine, points out that just because something is natural, doesn’t always mean it’s safe. With this in mind, she points out a few major considerations to keep in mind.

“Keep out of reach of children and pets,” she begins. “Consult a trained practitioner before using with children under three, if pregnant, or under the care of a physician for epilepsy.” Additionally, she says not to use essential oils internally, and to always dilute them with a carrier oil before applying them to the skin.

While following all these tips can help ensure that your experience with essential oils is safe and beneficial, Winquist says another way to do so is to pay special attention to the source (aka where you buy your oils). Since essential oils are growing in popularity, more and more retailers are hopping on the trend and, in the process, Winquist says that the oils can become adulterated.

“I am an enormous advocate for organic, biodynamic, and ethically wild-crafted aromatics, as well as their reverent usage,” she shares.

What are essential oils used for?

Essential oils are a cornerstone of aromatherapy. “Aromatherapy is the art of utilizing the life force of plants in the form of essential oils, also thought of as nature’s medicine, to enhance one’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being,” explains Somer. So, while essential oils can smell quite good, their benefits actually go much deeper than scent alone.

“The right essential oils (quality as well as variety) in the correct formulation have the ability to literally shift our mood, our thoughts, our conscious awareness, and therefore, our overall physiological response,” Winquist adds. “This makes essential oils perhaps one of the most effective ways to balance stress response and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”

Given mood-shifting effects, keep reading for the most popular essential oils for each mindstate, according to Somer and Winquist.

Best essential oils for sleep: chamomile, lavender, sandalwood, and bergamot

Best essential oils for anxiety: peppermint, jasmine, ylang ylang, rose, patchouli, and vetiver

Best essential oils for awakening: peppermint, lemon, ginger, and blood orange

Best essential oils for energy cleansing: frankincense

what are essential oils

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What are essential Oils

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How do essential oils work?

Essentially, essential oils can be inhaled, diffused into the air, or applied to the skin.

“Essential oils work in a multitude of ways, but the most immediate and sustainable way is inhalation,” Winquist says. “This is because of the proximity of the nose to the brain, specifically the limbic system, which regulates so much of our physiology, including mood, memory, and emotion.” Thanks to their molecular size, Winquist says that essential oils can pass through the blood-brain barrier, providing important phytonutrients throughout the body. “This aspect, along with their vibrational nature, allows us to clear old, dysfunctional patterns and re-program healthier new ones,” she says, noting that it’s a “complete game-changer” in the world of wellness.

While you can directly inhale essential oils, you can also inhale them in everyday breathing with essential oil sprays and oil diffusers.

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If you’re not comfortable inhaling them, you can also apply them to the skin. Whether you apply them directly or soak in a diluted bath filled with them, you’ll still enjoy the effects.

Essential oils are also absorbed through the dermal layer of the skin,” Winquist explains, noting that the effects will vary based on the oil and the person. “I love to use essential oils in the mind-body practice of tapping on meridian points to clear and balance our emotion.”

To get in the practice of doing the same, try applying essential oils to your wrists, temples, ears, feet, and more. (Psst: There are a bunch of charts on Google. Simply search “Essential oil meridian points.”)

Essential oil combinations to try:

The beauty of essential oils is that they can be blended for your desired effect. Below, find a few of Winquist’s go-to mixes.

Get your best mood on room mist:

  • Six drops of blood orange essential oil (Citrus aurantium)
  • Four drops of geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens)
  • Five drops of patchouli essential oil (Pogostemon cablin)

Blend into a spritzer bottle with 30 ml of distilled water.

Activate your energy massage oil:

  • Four drops of ginger essential oil (Zingiber officinale)
  • Six drops of lemon essential oil (Citrus limonum)
  • Five drops of tulsi essential oil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Blend into a bottle with 30 ml of your favorite carrier (think: coconut, jojoba, and olive oils).

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Get in the mood boudoir and linen mist:

  • Seven drops of ylang-ylang essential oil (Cananga odorata superior extra)
  • Two drops of cinnamon essential oil (Cinnamomum cassia)
  • Six drops of geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens)

Blend into a spritzer bottle with 30 ml of distilled water.

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Get your calm on massage oil:

  • Three drops of Roman chamomile essential oil (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Five drops of geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens)
  • Six drops of lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia)

Blend into a bottle with 30 ml of your favorite carrier.

Strengthen your vitality diffuser blends for cold and flu season:

  • 1.5 ml drops of Ginger essential oil (Zingiber officinale)
  • 1.5 ml drops of cinnamon essential oil (Cinnamomum cassia)
  • Two ml drops of lemon essential oil (Citrus limonum)

Blend into a 5 ml glass bottle with an integral dropper top.

Peace and calm hydrotherapy bath:

  • Three drops of lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Four drops of geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens)
  • Two drops of patchouli essential oil (Pogostemon cablin)

Blend essential oils in a carrier, add three cups of Epsom salts, and soak for at least 20 minutes.

Remember: Essential oils affect everyone differently. Because of this, Somer says that you should always test them prior to use. Whether that means starting off with the low setting of a diffuser or only applying a drop to your wrist, easing into the practice will help you monitor your body and mind’s response to the oils.