For thousands of years, essential oils have been used in various cultures for medicinal and health purposes. Their uses range from personal beauty care, in the household, as natural medicine, aromatherapy among others.
Most essential oils are high in antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties which makes them an excellent addition to your household. As the world is starting to revert to more natural solutions, essential oils are growing in popularity since they act as natural medicine without side effects. They are not really ‘oils’ as we regularly know them, but contain highly concentrated properties of the herb or plant they are derived from. For example it takes roughly 250kg of peppermint leaf to make a kg of peppermint oil.
Because of this, essential oils are extremely concentrated and should not be used undiluted on the skin. Undiluted use can cause irritation or an allergic reaction, and in extreme cases change how your body reacts to that oil permanently. Essential oils can be applied to the skin through a variety of methods. They can be diluted with water, or added to carrier oils, preferably organic cold pressed oils such as avocado oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, coconut oil or grapeseed oil. These oils do not have a strong smell on their own and therefore will not overpower the scent of the oil you choose. Essential oils should be diluted at no greater concentration of 3-5%. This means that for each teaspoon of carrier (be it water or oil) you should add no more than 5 drops of pure essential oil. Essential oils can also be inhaled. You can add a few drops of your favourite smelling oil to a cotton ball and allow it to diffuse through the air or sniff it for a more intense dose.
Essential oils are miniscule in molecular size which makes them easier to be absorbed by the skin. This makes them excellent for use in skin and hair care products as they will be able to heal and repair damage as well as nourish it. However due to the easy absorption you should not use essential oils on babies and young children. They have thinner and more sensitive skin which makes them extremely sensitive. You should avoid essential oils during pregnancy as well, unless they have been recommended by a trained specialist.
If you are allergic to any herb or plant, you are definitely allergic to its essential oils. To check if you’re allergic or otherwise hypersensitive to an oil, combine 1 drop of essential oil with half a teaspoon of carrier oil and rub it on the inside of your upper arm. If no redness or itching comes up after a few hours, you are in the clear.
Since they are highly concentrated and are only required in tiny amounts, essential oils can last for upto 10 years, if stored properly. They should be kept in dark glass bottles and out of direct sunlight, so as to maintain the potency. Do not store them in plastic containers as many of them eat through plastics when undiluted. The same goes for products that contain the oils, as they will be degraded over time.
Make sure you research each oil and its proper use before you purchase it. If you are unsure you can consult a professional aromatherapist or a trained herbalist. In our follow up article we will list a few natural oils, their health benefits and their various uses around the home.
(image courtesy of colourbox.com)