The Skinny on Essential Oils
People are talking about essential oils daily. You walk into a coffee shop or have lunch with a friend and you start talking about how you have a hard time falling asleep. Your friend or coffee shop pal starts talking about how they use or heard about how lavender essential oil is supposed to help you sleep. Awesome, but do we know how to use it, what brand to get, or even how much to use?
Essential oils are in just about everything and in every household. Essential oils are added to cosmetics and household cleaners, as well as, water and air. Essential oils have now become a hot commodity in the natural healthcare world mostly because of clever marketing and multi-level marketing companies. There are a lot of companies that have made essential oils a popular thing of the daily household because they are putting these products in the hands of moms, wives, women, men, and teens and able to sell them as health and beauty products. I mean, who doesn’t want to be healthy and beautiful?!? Now the issue comes down to that most of these people that are selling these products are not trained herbalists or doctors and have no idea what the science means behind it. They may have the science and spit out the information but do they really know what it means? Not at all. It is exciting to have people try natural alternatives before pharmaceuticals but we still need to be safe and informed about what we are using. Just like a prescription drug, we need to know about the brand, the source, the quality, and the dosage of the product. Some companies out there will advertise 100% essential oil when it may be a mix of the advertised oil with an additive to make a larger profit off of you.
Do I use essential oils? Absolutely! I use them on a regular basis at home on my family, at my office, and for my patients. I use essential oils as one of the many treatment modalities for my patients when they are warranted. Let’s start with what an essential oil is and the facts. Essential oils are volatile compounds extracted from aromatic plants and trees. The word essence is used to emphasize that it is the oil of the fragrant part of the plant or tree.
- Essential oils are natural but that does not always equal safe: Depending on the way you use the essential oil; you can do more harm than good with an essential oil.
- Essential oils are potent: they are concentrated fragrances; this is why they are used in drop dosages.
- Not all essential oils are created equal: Some companies dilute their product with other hidden oils. Know your brands and their quality standards.
- Allergies to essential oils exist: topical and internal allergies or allergic reactions are common so do not start consuming or using more than 3 drops in any method before using a small amount on your skin or in the air to make sure you do not have an allergic response to the oil.
The When and The How to Use Essential Oils
Essential oils are very therapeutic for many conditions. When you feel sick with a cold or flu, experience a headache, have poor sleep or even get indigestion essential oils can be very helpful. Though do take note that some people are more sensitive to medications and supplements and the same caution should be warranted around essential oils. I have seen it happen where an essential oil is meant to treat a headache when it actually propagates a headache rather than resolve it. If you experience worsening symptoms, it is best to discontinue treatment. If you attempt treatment again, be sure to decrease the dose, try another oil, or seek alternatives with your healthcare provider.
- Topical: The best essential oil practice is to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil when applying topically if you are using more than 1-2 drops. A carrier oil is any nut oil that helps dilute the potent essential oil. Oils such as olive, coconut, sweet almond, jojoba and many others are commonly used as carrier oils. When you experience a cold, the best places to apply the diluted oils are to the chest and bottom of the feet. For muscle tension or a headache, you can apply oils to the back of the neck or behind the ears. If you are using an oil for a blemish or rash, be cautious around the eyes and any opening in the skin as the oils can cause discomfort or adverse effects.
Dilution ratios: These are important ratios to follow with infants and small children. These are for topical use only. Do not use essential oils topically for children under 6 months unless prescribed otherwise by a healthcare provider.
- Internal: I very rarely recommend essential oils internally as they are very harsh on our digestion and never meant to be consumed in that high of a concentration. Example: For most lemon essential oils, 1 drop equates to 2 lemons, peel and all, in 1 glass of water. Does that sound normal? Try eating 2 whole lemons with the peel with one glass of water in front of you. That is a whole lot of acidity at one time. If you suffer from indigestion or need something to spice up your water, this should not be your first treatment approach. With that being said, I still use a select few essential oils internally knowing that they are safe and effective for the medical condition at hand but we always proceed with caution and at safe dosages.
- Diffuser Inhalation:This is one of the best ways to use essential oils to treat congestion, allergies, colds, indigestion, and a number of other ailments. If you choose to use this for a child, be sure to use an ultrasonic diffuser as these do not heat up for child safety reasons. 3-5 drops maximum per 300mL diffusion water is appropriate for a medium sized bedroom. You may choose to do fewer drops if you are using more potent oils such as peppermint or eucalyptus.
- Other: I do recommend essential oil necklaces or wearable devices as long as the oils are not sitting directly on your skin to prevent irritation. Most of them are made of clay or glass therefore inert materials so the oils can evaporate over time.
When You Can Get Into Trouble with Essential Oils: As already mentioned, not all oils are created equally. Please be aware of which oils are safe for internal use as MOST oils are not meant to be ingested for internal use. Oils that are not intended for internal use are not food grade and can cause burning, vomit, diarrhea, nausea, and other symptoms so please do not start taking an essential oil internally unless it specifically states otherwise.
Top Brands Dr. Meg Recommends: I have no affiliation with these brands and offer their brands willingly because I find their products to be superior in the market and have used them personally and professionally. There are other great brands available, but these are the ones I have personal experiences with. Brands listed in alphabetical order: Amrita Aromatherapy, DoTerra, Snow Lotus, and Wise Woman Herbals.
Bottom Line: Essential oils are a very powerful treatment modality and should be explored and used but we should be following good practices to avoid the adverse effects we can come across with such a strong treatment modality. Dilute when necessary and always make sure the brand you choose is organic and a reputable brand with safe 3rd party testing. If you are not sure if the brand is reputable, just ask!
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Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements.