What are Essential Oils? – The Definitive Guide

We’ve heard about the health benefits of essential oils, and have seen them becoming more and more popular, but what are essential oils?

This article is here to serve as your introduction to essential oils.

We go through a basic definition, how essential oils are made, a few examples of popular essential oils, some uses and benefits, as well as important safety considerations.

So we hope you enjoy this article, and you’ll be an essential oil expert in no time.

Definition – What are essential oils?

Essentials oils are extracted from plants, and are known as ‘essential’ as they capture the ‘essence of’ the plant’s fragrance.

In other words, they are concentrated plant extracts.

Essential oils aren’t just used in aromatherapy, they are also used in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, for flavoring in food and drink, and also for adding scent to various products.

Essential oils are usually sold to individuals in very small bottles. They can vary significantly in quality and price, and different factors come into play here determining how much an essential oil will cost.

These include:

  • The rarity of the plant/botanical
  • Country of origin
  • Growing/climate conditions
  • Quality standards
  • How much oil the plant/botanical produces

Production of essential oils

Essential oils are produced in different ways that can depend on the plant being used or what works best for purpose.

We’ll now go through a few more common ways essential oils can be produced:

Distillation

The most common essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, and eucalyptus, are obtained by distillation.

The raw plants are put into distillation apparatus over water. As the water is heated, steam passes through and vaporizes the volatile compounds. These vapors then flow through a coil, where they condense back to liquid, and voila, you have your essential oil.

Expression

This is common for oils derived from citrus peel, where the oils are cold-pressed. Due to large oil quantities in citrus peel and low growing costs, these oils tend to be cheaper than most other essential oils.

This method was also the more traditional method of extracting essential oils, before distillation was discovered.

Solvent extraction

For plants that are too delicate for the heat of distillation, or contain too little oil for expression, sometimes a solvent can be used to extract the oils.

Popular types of essential oils

There are LOTS of different types of essential oils, including blends of different essential oils.

A row of essential oils bottles

But for this article, we’ve listed a few examples of common essential oils below:

Bergamot Essential Oil

One of the most popular essential oils is Bergamot essential oil. Bergamot is distilled from the peel of the bergamot orange, which is a citrus fruit the size of an orange but with a yellow/green color more similar to a lime.

Bergamot extract (not oil) is famous for being used in Earl Grey tea and Turkish delight. The Bergamot essential oil is recognizable for having similar aromas.

Lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oil is popular among many, and is a favorite essential oil in our household.

A bottle of lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oil is great for relaxation, calming, and aiding with sleep. Not to mention it has a great fragrance too.

We often use lavender essential oil in our diffuser at home in the evenings.

Lemon essential oil

As touched on earlier, lemon essential oil is very popular and comes in at the more affordable end for essential oils because it is cheaper to produce and source.

It’s extremely common in lots of different household products, and is probably the most commonly used essential oil worldwide.

You’ll most likely have come across lemon essential oil in products such as air fresheners, and household cleaning products.

Peppermint essential oil

Peppermint is another essential oil you will have likely come across, and is known for it’s many uses in natural health and beauty.

Peppermint essential oil also has an impressive list of benefits to boot, including cold and flu prevention, alleviating headaches, and helping with skin conditions.

Tea Tree

With it’s powerful aroma, tea tree essential oil is also commonly used and is lauded for it’s multi use medicinal properties.

Tea tree can provide benefits such as cleansing wounds, improving skin, and reducing inflammation.

Uses & Benefits of Essential Oils

Essential oils are often used as they can provide physiological and physical therapeutic benefits. This is because there are naturally occurring chemicals/constituents in essential oils.

Other than featuring in many products, essential oils are also commonly used in people’s homes via an essential oil diffuser.

A simple essential oil diffuser

Essential oil diffusers disperse the essential oils into the air to be absorbed by the body.

When choosing your essential oil diffuser, you want to make sure that you pick a diffuser that has the right capacity and output for your needs.

The larger the capacity, the less you have to refill your diffuser. The larger the output, the more your diffuser will diffuse into the air and the bigger space your diffuser can cover.

We’ve written a seperate article on the best essential oil diffuser for large space, if your smaller diffusers just aren’t cutting it.

So now we know how essential oils can be used,  let’s look at some of the benefits of essential oils in more detail:

Aiding restful sleep and helping insomnia

As touched on above, essential oils such as lavender are shown to help enhance relaxation and positively affect sleep quality.

You’ll commonly find lavender in many products that serve this purpose, and the essential oil works in a similar way.

Reducing stress, anxiety and depression

It’s more common than you would think, that people who have stress and anxiety may use alternative therapy such as aromatherapy to help their condition.

Lemon essential oil for example, is known to help relieve some of the symptoms of stress and depression.

Antibiotic & Antimicrobial

As touched on above, tea tree essential oil is a good example as it’s known for having antimicrobial, antiseptic, and disinfectant qualities.

Peppermint essential oil is also known for its antimicrobial effects.

Reducing headaches and migraines

Following on from the above, peppermint oil when applied to the skin has been known to relieve headache pains.

Alongside this, other essential oils which can have similar effects are lavender and basil essential oils.

Helping with skin conditions

Some essential oils are known for being able to help with various skin conditions.

Chamomile essential oil for example, can help treat eczema.

Bergamot essential oil, when combined with eucalyptus oil may help to relieve skin problems, including those caused by stress.

Another example is geranium essential oil, which can be used for skin problems, as well as a mosquito repellent.

Other benefits & uses

We’ve listed a few common benefits and uses of essential oils above, but there are plenty more benefits and uses for essential oils.

Some of these include:

  • To reduce pain
  • To improve brain function
  • To support digestion
  • To boost immunity
  • To boost hormones
  • To boost energy levels
  • To alleviate aches and pains
  • To reduce inflammation
  • To improve hair health and growth
  • As an insect repellent
  • As an aphrodisiac
  • To improve mood

So you can see, there are lots of wide ranging uses and benefits of essential oils.

Safety, Side effects & Considerations

When using essential oils, it’s important to consider that each essential oil has its own chemical makeup so expert advice should be taken before using them.

Some people may have allergies to certain essential oils, or use them in the wrong ways which can cause serious harm to themselves.

Existing conditions

If you have existing conditions or allergies, you should seek advice before using essential oils. Alongside this, it is not recommended pregnant women use essential oils, as it can pose risks.

Pets

It’s also really important to be aware that many essential oils can be harmful to pets, so you should make sure the essential oil you’re using won’t harm your pet.

Existing medications

If you’re using existing medications, some essential oils can also interfere with these. So you should check with your doctor before using essential oils.

Visiting an aromatherapist

Aromatherapists are experts in essential oils, and provide this form of alternative medicine.

When visiting an aromatherapist, they should take a thorough medical history, and also assess your overall lifestyle, diet and health.

Aromatherapy is tailored to each individuals needs, so an aromatherapist may recommend different essential oils or a blend for different people.

Considerations/Disclaimer

It’s important to state here, that often essential oils have been heralded for their different benefits. However, scientifically the jury is still out in lots of cases as to exactly how beneficial they are for treating different conditions.

For any serious illness or ailments, you should always see your doctor.

Summary – What are essential oils?

Essential oils can have wide ranging benefits, and enhance people’s lives in different ways.

There are plenty of essential oils to choose from, and you can tailor your choice to your particular need or preference.

We love using essential oils in our diffuser at home, and it always makes for a more relaxing environment for us.

So enjoy experimenting with different essential oils, and don’t forget to consider safety too.

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