a display of pure essential oils in small bottles

Essential oils are almost everywhere now, from natural health stores to beauty shops. Part of the reason essential oils have become so popular is that more and more research is being done on the positive effects of these naturally occurring oils.

Whether it’s for aromatherapy to help relax the body and mind, or medicinal uses like pain management or nausea, essential oils can have a powerful effect on our senses.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are made up of the scented liquid that’s withdrawn from certain plants through the use of steam or pressure. The reason they’re called “essential” oils is that they contain the natural chemicals that make up the odor and flavor, or essence, of the plant.

Essential oils are extremely concentrated. For instance, it would take 220 lbs. of lavender flowers to make 1 pound of essential oil. They’re also very volatile, meaning they evaporate very quickly when exposed to air.

How to Use Essential Oils

Essential oils can mainly be used 3 different ways:

a diffuser using essential oils

1. Aromatically

Using essential oils aromatically could be as simple as using a diffuser in your home to disperse the essential oil, or dabbing some oil onto your palm and cupping your nose to breathe it in. Our smell receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls smell, emotions, behavior, and memory. Taking in the aroma of the essential oil can be incredibly effective in this regard.

applying essential oil onto hand using dropper

2. Topically

Essential oils penetrate the skin very easily, making topical application extremely effective. You can choose to apply the essential oil to a specific area of your body and keep the effect localized, or you can massage the oil into your body to increase blood flow to the area and distribute the oil throughout a larger area.

a cup of tea made with essential oils

3. Internally

Essential oils can be consumed internally. If you’ve ever had peppermint tea, for example, then you’ve consumed essential oil compounds before. It’s important that you’re very careful when you use essential oils internally. You don’t want to consume essential oils straight out of the bottle without proper dosage instructions.

As mentioned, essential oils are extremely concentrated, and consuming too much of an essential oil can be toxic. For instance, really potent essential oils sometimes need to be administered by dipping the end of a clean toothpick into the oil and then into your food rather than adding the oil by drops. It’s best to consult a medical professional before trying this method of using essential oils.

What Essential Oils Have Been Used For

Fragrant plants have been used for medicinal and healing purposes for thousands of years across many different cultures. It’s only recently that scientists have actually begun research on what the exact effects, whether positive or negative, have been from using essential oils.

In 2007, researchers conducted a study that concluded surgical patients who were treated with lavender oil (applied through an oxygen mask) needed half as much postoperative pain medication as patients who received unscented oil.

pharmacist mixing essential oils

Essential oils are often used in hospitals and at home as a way of providing some relief for:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Preventing bed sores
  • Fungus
  • Dandruff

The use of essential oils, however, has mostly been limited to symptom management rather than as a main form of treatment. For example, aromatherapy is often used in conjunction with massage and acupuncture to make the treatment more effective in regard to symptom management.

The fact that pure essential oils are considered natural and are not drugs is especially appealing to those who are seeking relief without the use of OTC drugs.

Are Essential Oils Safe?

For the most part, essential oils have been found to have very few side effects when they’re properly used as directed. That said, there is a lot of misinformation about essential oils, which can result in misuse of them.

Of the side effects reported, there have been instances where allergic reactions and skin irritation have occurred. Studies have also found that lavender and tea tree oils, in particular, have some hormone-like effects, similar to estrogen. It is typically recommended that patients who have estrogen-dependent tumors avoid using lavender and tea tree essential oils just to be safe.

Overall, using essential oils is best under the supervision of a medical professional. Most professionals agree that it is best for people at home not to consume essential oils internally because most people do not know how to do this safely using proper dosage.

Instead, if you are thinking of incorporating essential oils into your routine or using it to manage symptoms of a particular illness, consult your physician beforehand to see if it is a safe and appropriate option for you.


Integrative, P., A., & Board, A. C. (2007, March 09). Aromatherapy and Essential Oils (PDQ®). Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032518/
Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). In Brief: Aromatherapy’s benefits limited to mood improvement. Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/In_Brief_Aromatherapys_benefits_limited_to_mood_improvement
Essential Oils: Natural Doesn’t Mean Risk-Free. (n.d.). Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20170809/essential-oils-natural-doesnt-mean-risk-free
Born and raised in Southern California, Beeta has embraced a healthy lifestyle focused on farm-to-table cooking, natural products, and wellness routines. When she's not writing up recipes or discussing the latest natural living trends, Beeta enjoys spending time trying new restaurants, traveling with family and friends, and relaxing at home with her furry companion.