How They Work, How They Help and How To Get Started
If you’re tired of popping a pill every time you get a headache or looking for an alternative for that nightly glass of wine to help you unwind, or you’re tired of having a cabinet full of cleaning products that contain chemical ingredients you can’t even pronounce, essential oils might be something you’ll want to explore. While the science behind them is young, their use is not. We’ve come full circle to what our ancestors and indigenous people knew long ago. Essential oils are natural alternatives that promote health and healing, and we’re going to show you how they work, how they help and how to get started.
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What Are Essential Oils?
For anyone not familiar with essential oils, it’s easy to think of them as being fairly esoteric and mysterious. As Health Coach Christina Todaro explains though, they’re really not. They’re compounds that are extracted from plants and flowers and that capture the plant’s scent and flavor. “That’s known as its essence. It’s an oil that’s capturing the plant’s essence, so that led to the name essential oils.”
As a self-described “neuroscience nerd” who studied biological psychology in college and who has always been fascinated with how the brain works, Christina says that the science of aromatherapy, or using essential oils to boost both physical and emotional health, makes sense. “The basic concept behind neuroscience is that there are different sensory things that stimulate us. There are outside stimuli for each of our senses that trigger reactions in both our body and our mind.” Smelling the scents or fragrances of different flowers and plant compounds can stimulate different areas of our brain. Christina offers lemon as an example. “It’s a fresh and invigorating scent, so smelling lemon charges up your body, it gives you energy and because it’s clean, it gives you more of a sense of clarity and energy. Whereas, some of the softer floral scents are relaxing. They actually cause your muscles to relax. They cause your body to just slow down a little bit.”
“It’s important for us to think about how we can incorporate more natural solutions into our lives.” – Christina Todaro
Benefits of Essential Oils
The benefits of using essential oils as a natural solution are numerous in a world that relies on manufactured and artificial products for everything from cleaning products, to personal care, to skin care, to food, to remedies for health issues. Christina says, “We’re beginning to learn more and more that a lot of these products have side effects, and they introduce chemicals and toxins into our bodies that end up having detrimental long-term health effects.” Some of these effects include leading us down the path to disease, poor digestion, hormonal imbalance, and even some behavioral issues are linked to toxins in the environment.
That’s why Christina believes the primary benefit of essential oils is that “they provide us with natural alternatives to some of the more manufactured products that we’re used to incorporating into our daily routines.” She also says that compared to the amount that we spend on manufactured products and medications, they’re “actually relatively affordable solutions to address a lot of our health and wellness concerns.” While Christina primarily uses essential oils in her work to help people manage stress, to sleep better and to boost their mood, they can also be used to deal with acne and other skin issues, to boost immunity and even as household cleaners.
Ways of using Essential Oils
There are several different ways to use essential oils – all depending on your desired outcome. Christina explains what the most common of these are.
- Diffusing. A diffuser is like a vaporizer in that you put in some water and a certain number of drops of oil, and then the diffuser vaporizes the oil. They get into your blood stream by inhalation.
- Direct application. Tea Tree Oil is one of the few essential oils that you can apply directly to your skin without first diluting it. For other oils, it’s recommended that you dilute the oil first with a carrier oil, which is basically a neutral kind of oil. Coconut and avocado oils are two that are good for this. The ratio of the carrier oil and the essential oil will vary depending on which oil it is and where you’re putting it. For example, if you’re going to use essential oils to address a headache, and you’re putting it on your forehead, the skin on your face is pretty delicate, so you would need to definitely dilute those oils. In contrast, for immunity, one method for using oils is to put them on the soles of your feet at night. Because your soles are a thicker more resilient skin, you may not have to dilute it as much.
- Household cleaners. Essential oils can be combined with water or vinegar to make sprays that can be used as household cleaners. Breast Cancer Survivor Susan Leonard says this is one of the lifestyle changes she has made since her diagnosis. In trying to rid her home of as many potentially harmful chemicals as possible, this was a relatively simple switch to make.
- Personal care.Many people mix essential oils with lotions or bath salts to make or enhance a relaxing personal care routine. Christina likes to add them to a warm washcloth or compress to heal headaches or muscle pain, and they can also be inhaled directly by boiling water and adding some essential oils to it. After it cools down a little, you can hover your face over the pot of water with a towel over your head and inhale the steam. This is a great thing to do, especially in the winter, if you’re experiencing congestion or blockage in your nose or in your chest.
Uses of Specific Oils
Oils to boost mood and to promote relaxation, stress reduction and better sleep
- Cedar Wood
- Sandal Wood
Oils to boost immunity and for use as household cleaners (anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties)
- Wild orange
- Frankincense (can also be used to help with relaxation and stress)
Buying Essential Oils
Christina says that when buying essential oils, there are a couple of things to look for.
- Make sure that they’re sourced from organic plants because whatever is in the soil will make its way through the roots, to the plants and into your body.
- Therapeutic or clinical grade.Look for words on the label such as therapeutic or clinical grade or GC/MS tested. What that usually means is that the oil has been tested by an independent third-party lab, to make sure that it’s pure. If it has this rating, you can be sure that it’s devoid of toxins and residues like heavy metals or chemicals like pesticides that could have been in the environment.
According to Christina, cost is usually reflective of the purity of the oil. She says that cheap oils are usually either full of filler oils or they’re coming from plants that are mass-produced in a less than ideal setting or way for the plants to be grown. The price points of good quality oils vary tremendously based on the oil itself. If the plants are like lavender and easy to grow, they’re going to be less expensive. If the plant is harder to grow or it’s more difficult to extract the oil, the price is going to be higher. Given those variables, Christina puts the price range for quality oils between $20 a bottle to $70 a bottle depending on which plant or flower it comes from.
Tips for Getting Started with Essential Oils
Christina offers these tips for getting started with essential oils.
- Have a clear idea of what you want to use the oil for so that you can buy one that will serve that purpose.
- Have a good resource for knowing how different oils can and should be used. There are reference guides available that list the different oils and say what they can be used for and that list conditions and which oils would be appropriate for that condition. She recommends Essential Oils Natural Remedies: The Complete A-Z Reference of Essential Oils for Health and Healing. The Reference Guide for Essential Oils and Essential Oils Pocket Reference are other possible resources as well.
- If you buy essential oils, be sure and use them. Christina compares them to vegetables. Sometimes we buy them and then don’t use them. She suggests seeing how many different ways you can use them in your daily life because it will motivate you to see where they can replace more toxic products.
While there are many different ways that essential oils can be used, Christina warns against ingesting them. There are people who believe this is safe, but she cautions that there is a lot of conflicting research about whether that’s the case. For a beginner, she advises keeping with any of the ways mentioned here. If you do decide to look into ingesting them, be sure and speak with a health care professional or someone who has been certified and trained in aromatherapy to make sure you’re doing it in a safe manner.
Mindful Momentum CBD and Essential Oils (free download provided by Christina)
Mindful Momentum (to contact Christina or learn more about her work)