The beginner’s guide to essential oils

Updated on January 10 2018

You might encounter them at your weekly spa sessions, or in your body care products, but essential oils do so much more than make you smell good. Less commonly known as aromatic oils, the history of essential oils date back to thousands of years ago, with their uses varying between healing the sick and for religious purposes.

In Egypt, recorded history has shown that they were used as early as 4,500 B.C.E, where priests were the only authorities deemed worthy enough to use aromatic oils in order to be at one with the gods. Sail across the Arabian Sea, and you’ll find that aromatics are equally treasured in India thanks to Ayurveda, an ancient form of traditional Indian medicine that incorporates them into healing potions.

Today, the demand for organic wellness has drawn the spotlight back to essential oils as a way of life. Like ancient times, they remain one of the most important aspects of aromatherapy, treating skin conditions and even soothing muscle inflammation. The tiny vials of potent oils are primarily extracted through steam distillation, but cold press has revolutionised the game by ensuring only the purest oils are extracted.

If you think your wellness journey begins and ends by simply sniffing out of the bottle, you’re wrong. The world of essential oils is immense, intriguing, and can be confusing. Here’s a guide on how to make the most out of these soul-soothing extracts.

Know your objective

If you find yourself counting sheep on a nightly basis, you probably don’t want to be anywhere near the refreshing notes of lemon or peppermint. The same essential oils that induce sleep will surely not invigorate you when the 4pm slump strikes, nor will it alleviate stress at the workplace. Knowing your desired outcome is extremely useful in determining the specific types of essential oils you want to work with.

Sleep-inducing oils

Lavender, chamomile, and neroli are just some of the essential oils that will give you the quality sleep your eye bags have been begging for. Lavender in particular is notoriously known for inducing drowsiness and increasing slow-wave sleep, particularly in women. Other scents that aid in a proper shut-eye include frankincense, marjoram, vetiver and patchouli.

De-stressing oils

Before you lose it in the office, find calmness in rose, sandalwood or orange scents, though these can be replaced with a personal preference that you associate tranquility with. Other options include clary sage, bergamot, ylang-ylang and geranium.

Energising oils

Replacing that fourth cup of coffee with uplifting essential oils may be more beneficial in the long run, especially when they also help alleviate fatigue-inducing anxiety. Peppermint oil leads the cause with its invigorating scent, followed by citruses, eucalyptus, ginger and rosemary. Apply these scents before a workout to boost performance.

Natural remedy

Many plants are natural antiseptics, antivirals and anti-inflammatories, so they can double up as effective panaceas for skin problems such as acne (tea tree oil), and other physical ailments such as post-workout muscle soreness (peppermint). Lavender and rose — both mixed in water — provide can provide relief to skin sensitivities or inflamed skin.

Dilute your oils

As highly concentrated and volatile plant extracts, it’s easy to assume that they’re gentle and unreactive because they’re all-natural. On the flipside, they’re extremely potent and up to 75 times more powerful than their dried herb counterparts. A few drops go a long way, and should always be diluted before applying directly on the skin. Besides, the molecules of pure essential oils tend to evaporate quickly when exposed to air alone, so a carrier substance (neutral oils such as sweet almond oil) or water would better facilitate the absorption.

Methods

Essential oils are just about the most versatile wellness product you could use. Mix a few to create your own personal concoction, or create a pillow spray for sleeplessness. You can also add them to DIY candles or scent the room via a reed diffuser or tea-light diffuser.