Before you start your aromatherapy journey, you should keep the following points in mind: essential oils are not intended as cures but as supplementary treatments. They are not approved to treat any medical condition. But they can be used safely to relieve symptoms, improve health, and promote wellbeing.
We are here to help you explore the wonderful world of aromatherapy. We understand that there are plenty of quack sites selling snake oil, so we made sure not to include exaggerated claims in this guide. Let’s talk about essential oils and their benefits, evidence-based clinical uses, and how you can safely use them for various medical concerns.
The U.S. FDA does not regulate essential oil like other pharmaceutical products. For consumers like you, it means all the products being sold, whether from physical stores or online shops, can vary in quality, purity, and strength.
Essential oils are regulated based on their intended use or claims in the labeling, ads, or the product’s website. Cosmetic products can be marketed without FDA approval. But if a product is classified as a drug, then it must earn an FDA approval through rigorous clinical testing.
For example, if an essential oil blend claims to treat headaches, the FDA will regulate the product as a drug. A product with therapeutic claims that have not been evaluated by the FDA must include a disclosure:
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”
Essential oils are basically concentrated plant extracts. They can be absorbed via inhalation, topical application, ingestion, and through the lining of a body orifice such as the mouth, vagina, and anus. Essential oils contain various compounds with different properties, and it is these components that are absorbed by the body.
For example, after lavender oil inhalation, you won’t find lavender in the bloodstream. What you will find is linalool and linalyl acetate–two of the major compounds in lavender essential oil.
Antibacterial – essential oils can penetrate the bacterial cell membrane and disrupt the cytoplasmic membrane, causing the cellular molecules of the bacterial cell to leak which can lead to cell death. Thyme and clove are examples of essential oil with antimicrobial properties.
Antioxidant – essential oils from nutmeg, cinnamon, mint, basil, oregano, and thyme were found to contain compounds that fight free radicals.
Anti-inflammatory – many essential oils are used as anti-inflammation agents for treating inflammatory diseases like allergies, rheumatism, and arthritis. Essential oils with anti-inflammatory effects include turmeric, eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, and frankincense.
Antifungal – 25 essential oils were found to exhibit antifungal activities. Clove was the most active. Cardamom and Boswellia have synergistic effects when combined with the fungicidal drug fluconazole.
Antiviral – some essential oils have shown mild to moderate antiviral activities including eucalyptus (mumps), tea tree oil (labial herpes), and oregano (some DNA and RNA viruses).
Analgesic– useful essential oils for pain relief include basil, peppermint, thyme, sage, clove, wintergreen, and lemongrass.
Mood altering – essential oils were found to relieve stress and anxiety together with traditional therapy. Chamomile, lavender, bergamot, and sandalwood are used to calm nerves, improve mood and relaxation, and reduce anxiety.
Essential oils have quickly become a wellness trend and most manufacturers take advantage of this by marketing products as miracle oils that can cure almost anything, from hemorrhoids to skin cancer.
Aromatherapy is a multi-billion industry and with the rising number of essential oil suppliers in the market, finding high-quality products is now incredibly challenging.
To make an informed purchasing decision, let’s start by discussing common essential oil terms and differentiate truth from clever marketing.
This term doesn’t really mean anything when it comes to essential oils. To advertise something as “therapeutic grade” means there are non-therapeutic grade essential oils–perhaps grade A, B, or C–which are of lower quality. But we are yet to see a company that admits to selling lower-grade products. So while you probably think that the therapeutic grade label is equivalent to authentic or highest grade essential oil, it is actually no different from the “we are the best essential oil” claim.
The CPTG seal is not an authentication but a trademark registered by DoTERRA company. They don’t own exclusive rights to the actual words, but they paid a fee to register the seal, which is nothing more than a commercial trademark. A new buyer may be led to believe that these products are approved by the FDA or a government agency mandates the use of this seal, which is far from the truth.
The GRAS label is sometimes used by essential oil suppliers to imply that their products are of therapeutic quality or safe to be ingested. While there are many essential oils that possess GRAS status, this is not an indication of their efficacy or risk-free oral intake. Synthetic or adulterated essential oil may also be given a GRAS status.
This commonly abused essential oil marketing term claims that the product contains pure undiluted essential oil. But since there are no official guidelines for the use of the label “100% pure,” anyone can claim that their products are made of 100% pure essential oil–no additives, no fillers, no carriers whatsoever.
We are not saying that the companies who are using these terms are intentionally misleading their buyers. But hey, the current market is fragmented and retail-driven; we know how hard it is to stand out in an industry with not much space for innovation.
It is safe to assume that everyone is looking for the best product possible, preferably in its purest form, free of fillers, synthetic additives, and other cost-reducing ingredients. With that in mind, consider the following tips.
Look for essential oils in dark glass bottles
Essential oils are sensitive to light and heat. They should be sold in blue or dark amber glass bottles. Plastic bottles are usually not recommended, as there are some oils that can damage the plastic container.
Check the labels of commercially available essential oils
The labels must contain the common name and Latin name (scientific name), country of origin, type of extraction, how it was grown, and the part of the plant that was processed. They must also include basic safety precautions.
If the price is too good to be true, the product could be diluted or adulterated. Essential oil prices are generally very similar across the board. The type of extraction used could drive the price lower or higher.
Avoid fragrance oil or perfume oil
These are not pure essential oils. Perfume oils are made from synthetic ingredients while fragrance oils are oils combined with other chemicals.
Q: Can I use essential oil if I have sensitive skin?
A: Do a patch test to know how your skin will react to the oil. Apply 1 drop of essential oil on the underside of your arm and observe for redness or irritation. If skin irritation occurs, apply pure carrier oil (not water) to the affected area.
Q: What are the dangers of using essential oils?
A: It’s important to be extra cautious when using essential oils in children. Ingesting some essential oils even in a small amount can be extremely toxic. They can also interact with some medications. Immunocompromised patients and those with kidney or liver disease must consult their GP before using essential oils.
Q: Can I use essential oils on my pets?
A: A number of essential oils are toxic to cats, dogs, and other animals. Consult a veterinarian if you want to use essential oils to treat your pets. Some essential oils that can be toxic to cats and dogs include clove, peppermint, citrus oils, tea tree oil, oil of wintergreen, and oils with phenols.
Q: Are essential oils safe for pregnant women?
A: There are no substantial studies performed to know the effects of essential oil in pregnant or lactating women. However, some essential oils when properly diluted can be used during pregnancy. You should ask your obstetrician or nurse if you can use essential oils.
Q: What is the best carrier oil for essential oils?
A: Carrier oils are added to essential oils to facilitate absorption and lower the risk of skin irritation. Carrier oils have beneficial properties on their own, so choose one that will suit your needs. Almond oil, jojoba, grapeseed, coconut, avocado, and olive are popular carrier oils.
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