Cover We break down everything you need to know about essential oils and their health benefits (Photo: @aromatherapyassociatesasia/Instagram)

Curious about essential oils? Here’s a complete guide to using them properly to reap maximum therapeutic benefits

Essential oils have been getting a lot of buzzes lately and the wellness trend hasn’t shown signs of slowing down since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with many people using them as a mood-booster during these stressful times. 

Loved for its unique healing properties and amazing aroma—in particular by those who wish to improve their overall wellbeing—the application of essential oils can be traced back to ancient times, when people used them to produce medicines or perfumes for meditation and other spiritual practices.

Stress relief, reducing signs of ageing, improving sleep quality and mood, the benefits of these natural elixirs are claimed to be plenty. But how exactly do essential oils work? How to find the best ones and use them safely as a part of a healthy lifestyle? We turned to Suki Ng, Aromatherapy Associates Asia International Trainer, to learn the basics about essential oils and all the ways we can incorporate them into our daily routines. 

See also: Essential Oils To Help You Destress

What are essential oils?

Unlike the name suggests, essential oils are not oils that are essential—though some people do find them an inseparable part of their everyday skincare and sleeping routine. Not to be mistaken with perfumes, these oils are fragrant compounds extracted and from different types of aromatic plants, such as flowers, herbs and woods, which are most commonly used in aromatherapy to provide users with a range of therapeutic benefits.  

How are essential oils used? What are the benefits of them?

Inhalation: Essential oils have long been valued for their beneficial effect on the respiratory system. When inhaled, essential oil particles are absorbed through the mucous membranes lining the respiratory structure, entering the bloodstream to produce full-body effects. Oils that carry anti-bacterial and antiviral properties are especially ideal for this method of use, as they can help support the respiratory system and provide symptomatic relief for allergies and infections, unclogging sinuses and soothing a scratchy throat. 

Topical applications: Essential oils can also be used effectively via skin application, in the form of body massages, baths or showers for ultimate relaxation. All essential oils are believed to have non-pathogenic, anti-bacterial properties, with some being antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. They also contain antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage caused by oxidisation and the buildup of toxic waste in skin cells, thereby easing sore, tired muscles and soothing skin conditions—including dark spots, eczema, inflammation or other sensitivities.  

How to use essential oils properly?

As essential oils are highly concentrated, it’s not recommended to apply them directly to the skin. The best practice is to use the oils in diffusers or blend them with a few drops of carrier oil before applying them to the body for massages. 

What are the major types of essential oils? What are their properties and health benefits?

Lavender oil: Sourced from flowering parts or stems of lavender, lavender oil is one of the most common types of oil used in aromatherapy to help reduce stress and improve sleep quality. It’s also anti-bacterial, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory, which is great for skin cell renewal, soothing itchy skin and treating sunburn. 

Rose oil: Extracted from the petals of the rose, rose oil is characterised by its uplifting aroma and renowned for its ability to stimulate blood circulation and improve skin texture. It’s lightweight and can be absorbed easily, which is also a great moisturiser for dry skin.

Frankincense oil: Frankincense oil is sourced from the resinous sap of Boswellia trees. In addition to relieving anxiety, it also helps regenerate new skin cells, encourages deep breathing and prepares the body and mind for a good night's sleep. 

Geranium oil: Geranium oil is derived by steam distillation of the leaves and small pink flowers of Pelargonium graveolens—a plant species native to the Cape Provinces in South Africa. It’s known for its antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which is ideal for improving skin problems such as acne breakouts and irritations, as well as encouraging lymphatic drainage.  

Bergamot oil: Bergamot is a great essential oil to boost mood and energy levels. Obtained from the rind of small citrus fruit, this oil features an uplifting scent to alleviate anxiety and properties can help stimulate blood circulation and aid digestion.

Chamomile oil: Chamomile oil is produced from small, daisy-like flowers, which is often touted as a promising sleep elixir featuring calming and stress-reducing properties to help you sleep better and wake up more refreshed. It helps relieve pain as well. 

Rosemary oil: Rosemary is a rich source of anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants. As well as helping to improve overall skin texture and treat scalp conditions, it’s also analgesic and contains properties to boost alertness and memory, as well as alleviating muscle pain. 

Sandalwood oil: Sandalwood oils are a highly effective remedy for inflamed skin, stress, troubled mind, and more. Distilled from the wood and roots of Santalum album, or the East Indian sandalwood tree, this oil can protect your skin from rash and irritation, which is also great for promoting mental clarity and enhancing confidence.  

Vetiver oil: Vetiver oil is known for its calming, grounding aroma. It boasts a multitude of health benefits including calming an overactive mind for a restful sleep and relieving feelings of depression.  

Ylang Ylang: Carrying a sensual, flowery scent, Ylang Ylang is a popular oil in many perfume and skincare formulas. Not only it helps to regulate sebaceous gland activity, but it also promises to boost mood, stimulate the skin’s natural glow and promote hair health

How to select high-quality essential oils?

The only essential oils that should be used are the ones that guarantee safety and high quality offered by reputable brands. You should pay attention to the labels on the bottles and identify the country of origin when choosing the oils, as environmental factors, including climate and altitude, would affect the chemical profiles and qualities of the essential oils produced. The behind cultivation and extraction methods should not be overlooked as well.  

See also: Skincare Secrets With It-Girl Bianca Bradner

Can essential oils be used if I have a medical condition?

If you are on medication or pregnant, it’s recommended to consult a doctor prior to using essential oils. For people with asthma, they should inhale the aromas a few times to check their breathing isn’t affected before applying the oils. Lastly, for those with epilepsy, it’s suggested to avoid stimulating formulas that feature ingredients such as rosemary, camphor, fennel and eucalyptus. 

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