Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become more and more popular over the past few decades, and essential oils have played a big part.
But what exactly are essential oils? How are they used and why should you use them? I will dissect the answers to these questions in this article, but first, let’s go over a brief history lesson of essential oils.
Essential Oils History
For thousands of years, essential oils have been used across many ancient cultures for health and medicinal purposes. In fact, the use and effectiveness of essential oils are well-documented in ancient texts, archeology, and literature across the globe. Many of these sources describe the medicinal benefits of various plant extracts and its effect on countless people over time.
However, it wasn’t until recently that the wealth of information from these plant extracts was translated and formalized by scientists, doctors, and chemists. Many pioneers, such as René-Maurice Gattefossé, Jean Valnet, and Paul Belaiche were involved in bringing to life more mainstream attention toward essential oils and helped coin their use into what is known as “aromatherapy” (also sometimes referred to as essential oil therapy) – a holistic healing treatment using natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being.
What Exactly Are Essential Oils? Why Should You Use Essential Oils?
In a nutshell, essential oils are plant based extracts that capture flavors, scents, and overall beneficial properties. Common sources of essential oils include flowers, trees, grasses, and shrubs.
There are many reasons why you may want to consider incorporating essential oils into your daily life. One big reason why is because our livers and kidneys are repeatedly being exposed to a large number of toxins on a daily basis. And this repeated exposure to harmful chemicals in conventional products can lead to dangerous toxic levels of these substances in our bodies. This process is referred to as bioaccumulation.
Removing toxic ingredients and artificial scents from our home and work environments can create a monumental shift in overall wellness. And many companies are starting to take note, which is why you can now see essential oils being incorporated in many household products, such as lotions, nutritional supplements, baby products, hygienic products, and cleaners.
Essential oils can also provide an array of other benefits as well. This can include:
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Immune enhancement
- Inflammation and pain relief
- Balancing hormones and homeostasis
- Boost skin and hair health
- Relieve headaches and migraines
- Support digestion
- Improve sleep
- Boost energy levels
- Improve brain function
A few of the popular essential oils are:
- Lavender essential oil: Lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety and emotional stress, improve brain function and overall sleep, relieve pain and alleviate headaches, and can even help heal burns and wounds.
- Lemon essential oil: Lemon is widely known for its ability to cleanse toxins from the body, boost energy, fight bacteria, and purify skin. It can also help promote weight loss and boost oral health.
- Peppermint essential oil: peppermint can relieve muscle and joint pain, increase energy, provide respiratory benefits and seasonal allergy relief, improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, freshen breath, and increase energy and improve exercise performance.
Essential oils can be inhaled or applied topically. Common inhaling techniques include using diffusers, dry evaporation, steam, and spray. I like to use essential oils during PT sessions as it can help patients reduce anxiety, stress, and muscle and joint pain.
If you are planning to use essential oils at home, one thing to note is that you want to be careful on how to apply essential oils. You also want to be careful of the essential oils you are purchasing.
In terms of how to apply essential oils for personal use, this is a good article to reference from The University of Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of essential oils in the marketplace are synthetic and adulterated with fillers or toxic chemicals. These oils have little to no therapeutic value and can be dangerous to use. Therefore, it is crucial to know where your essential oils come from, and this is something I can help you with in terms of recommendations.
In summary, the use of essential oils can provide a host of benefits to help improve overall wellness. And knowing which essential oils to purchase and use, and how to apply them is key.
Marge Kalfon is the founder of PT by Marge and is a licensed physical therapist in Virginia. She graduated with her Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in 1992. Since then, she has practiced in a wide variety of settings ranging from large hospitals to small private practices. She has extensive training and experience with a wide variety of manual therapy techniques as well as orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation.