Essential oils have been used in cultures around the world for millennia. After having fallen out of use in many western households and clinics, emerging research continues to confirm many of the therapeutic benefits for which homeopathic practices had long utilized them. These essential oils are more easily obtained than ever; the myriad of online retailers relieve the need to go rummaging through the forest looking for tree bark. What specifically are they used for though?
Aromatherapy and its sub contents
The most common association of essential oils is with aromatherapy, a method for using the oils’ fragrances to treat various physiological and psychological ailments. These treatment practices, some dating back to ancient China, India, and Egypt, are used to provide therapeutic, cosmetic, aromatic, and spiritual benefits.
Cosmetic aromatherapy utilizes certain essential oils for skin, body, face, and hair products. The oils not only give a pleasant smell to the product, but they also can have antibacterial or even rejuvenating benefits.
Products (store-bought or homemade) containing lavender, peppermint, rosemary, cedarwood, thyme, and tea tree essential oils are used to promote hair health and growth.
A few drops of lemongrass essential oil mixed into your daily shampoo or conditioner was found to significantly reduce scalp dandruff.
A 2014 study found that hemp seed oil’s high level of fatty acids makes the oil useful as a topical cosmetic cream used to improve the skin’s resistance to infection and other conditions that arise from microdermabrasion (small cuts on the skin). Hemp seeds, especially those that will produce CBD-dominant plants, such as those from Cope CBD, are legal to order in most parts of the United States.
An essential oil from Ylang-ylang, a tree found in India and Southeast Asia, promotes sebum production for individuals suffering from an overly dry scalp. Increasing dry skin’s oil production can improve hair texture and reduce split ends.
Massage aromatherapy, in which grape seed, almond, or jojoba oils are mixed into a massage salve, has been shown to provide topical as well as aromatic benefits to users.
Potential adverse effects
It is important to keep in mind that not all of these fragrant essential oils are beneficial for skin health. These oils are reduced to their primarily constituent compounds, meaning they are very concentrated in one chemical or another.
The antioxidants caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid, in addition to improving skin health in some ways (mentioned above), can cause skin irritation as well. Be careful to control the amount of any one essential oil you put on your skin, and know that some of them might not prove suitable to your body chemistry.
A psychic alternative
A less invasive form of essential oil therapy is olfactory aromatherapy. Olfactory (smell-derived) sensations are thought to trigger various emotional and psychical states such as relaxation, alertness, and stress relief. The smells of various essential oils are used to trigger feelings connected to our olfactory memories.
Smell senses are one of the strongest imprinters of memory, and certain people, places, or events in our past can often prove to bring up memories that aren’t accessible through other sense-memories.
In the practice of psycho-aromatherapy essential oils are used to induce specific emotional states, to provide relief from various psychiatric disorders. The oils in this practice, as well as in aromacology, are prescribed in much more detail than just smelling something and remembering something new.
Where to begin?
Each essential oil has a distinct scent profile, but many share chemicals that give away their relations to each other. Using essential oils can be a fun, interesting, and rewarding way to understand the smells and connections of the plant world.
Essential oils derived from fruit peels include bergamot, lemon, tangerine, and many other citrus fruits.
Citronella, lemongrass, patchouli, petitgrain, and palmarosa are derived from the leaves of their respective plants.
Ginger and vetiver are found in the roots of the plant, while jasmine, neroli, rose, and ylang ylang oils are derived from the flowers.
Whether for treatment or out of curiosity (or both) you might want to consider picking up some essential oils for yourself.