Considering aromatherapy? A beginner's guide to essential oils

Oils can be used to improve mood, health, studies show

By Brianna Volz - Web producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - Essential oils seem to be all the rage lately.

Perhaps you’ve wanted to give aromatherapy a try, but you don’t know where to start. 

The popular form of alternative medicine is being used by many people to treat a countless number of issues.

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If you’re looking to explore the world of aromatherapy, follow the beginner’s guide to essential oils below.

What are essential oils?

According to WebMD, they’re made from parts of plants that makers concentrate into oils, which can be added to other oils, creams or gels, smelled or rubbed onto one’s skin or used in a bath. There are dozens of types of essential oils that have unique smells and potential benefits associated with them.

How can they help?

According to DrAxe.com, essential oils have been used for medicinal and health purposes for thousands of years, but are recently becoming popular because of their natural, safe and cost-effective approach to treating certain issues.

A number of studies show that certain oils have successfully been used to balance hormones, boost immunity and energy levels, support digestion, improve brain function, reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate aches and pains, fight headaches and more, according to DrAxe.com.

So, which should I try?

Well, that depends on what issues you’re dealing with, or whether you’re just looking to improve your mood or overall environment. Below is a list of 10 popular essential oils and the benefits associated with them, courtesy of Healthline.com:

  • Peppermint: Used to boost energy and help with digestion.
  • Lavender: Used for stress relief.
  • Sandalwood: Used to calm nerves and help with focus.
  • Bergamot: Used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema.
  • Rose: Used to improve mood and reduce anxiety.
  • Chamomile: Used for improving mood and relaxation.
  • Ylang-Ylang: Used to treat headaches, nausea and skin conditions.
  • Tea Tree: Used to fight infections and boost immunity.
  • Jasmine: Used to help with depression, childbirth and libido.
  • Lemon: Used to aid digestion, mood, headaches and more.

WebMD also said ginger vapors can be used to treat nausea from chemotherapy cancer treatment.

That’s just scratching the surface when it comes to the variety of essential oils you can explore, but experts say aromatherapy can be especially beneficial for anyone suffering from anxiety.

According to WebMD.com, smelling simple scents like lavender, chamomile and rosewater can send chemical messages to the brain that affect mood and emotion. They may not rid you of stress completely, but can certainly help you relax.

How do I use them?

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(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Young Living)

Oils can simply be smelled or rubbed on the skin, but experts warn just because they’re natural, doesn’t mean they’re always safe.

WebMD.com recommends diluting the oils with vegetable oils, creams or bath gels, because undiluted forms can be irritating or toxic, and could cause allergic reactions. If you’re rubbing it on your skin, try testing it out on a small area first, much like you would with a lotion or gel or you’re considering buying.

Of course, don’t continue using the oil if your skin negatively reacts to it. You should also be sure not to overdo it. As the saying goes, too much of anything isn’t good. 

It's also important to note that just because something is safe on your arms or legs, doesn't mean it's safe to put on your face or other sensitive spots. 

Shopping for oils

There are a few things WebMD recommends you keep in mind while shopping the market for essential oils, including quality. According to the website, finding a trusted brand known for producing pure oils is likely going to be your best bet.

Added ingredients aren't always bad, but can increase the risk of an allergic reaction. For some brands, though, added vegetable oil may be normal, so do your research beforehand.

According to the American College of Healthcare, essential oils are much like fine wines in the sense that their quality is determined by a number of factors. Browse the list of those factors and what you should consider here

Oh, and remember this: if you're getting a deal on an oil that seems too good to be true, it probably is, and you likely aren't getting the best quality of oil. On the contrary, just because an oil has a hefty price tag, doesn't mean it's the best there is. Bottom line: research, research, research.

Caring for oils

Once you do decide on some oils, it's important that you take care of them so they can maintain their quality.

Over time, oils can become exposed to oxygen, which eventually leads to spoiling. If they're spoiled, they're probably not going to work as well and are more likely to irritate you. 

WebMD recommends not keeping oils more than three years. If you notice big changes in how they look, smell or feel, just go ahead and trash them, as they're probably spoiled.

Ask your doctor

Of course, since it can be considered a form of alternative medicine, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before working any oils into your regular routine. Always read the labels, know what added ingredients, if any, are in them and know that they may not be for everyone. 

Oh, and be sure to keep them in a safe place, away from little hands.

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