Essential oils are the primary colours of smell. They are powerful, easily recognisable and mix to make up many of the other smells around us. The good ones anyway.
In the quest for health and wellness, smells are often overlooked. Essential oils have amazing aromas and can be incredibly powerful tools to improve mood, enhance relaxation, build energy and increase focus.
They have the power to entrance you and to alter your mood, but their benefits are probably greater than you thought. By inhaling an essential oil or mixing it with a carrier oil and applying it to your skin, you can unlock further benefits for your body and mind.
What are essential oils?
An essential oil is an on oil made from concentrated plant extract and retains the smell of the plant. The smell, and some of the benefits, come from molecules called terpenes that are found in the oils.
Terpenes are natural chemicals created by plants that are often used in cosmetics. If you look in your bathroom you are guaranteed to find one or two products that contain terpenes. Check the ingredients and look out for names like linalool, limonene, pinene or myrcene.
True essential oils are distilled or cold pressed and are pure concentrates. When you smell them in this form the aroma is intense and over powering making them best for use when diluted or diffused.
How to use essential oils
Essential oils shouldn’t be eaten but can be inhaled or applied to the skin. Once you’ve chosen your oil you have a number of choices.
Cold diffusion – Add a drop to your pillow or clothes to inhale it. This is great if you are suffering from headaches or colds.
Add some drops to cotton wool and leave in a room to diffuse the aroma into the air. Reed diffusers can also be used.
Hot diffusion – Oils can be dropped on specially designed burners. This is great if you want to fill a room with an strong smell very quickly but in the long run it isn’t ideal. It uses a lot of oil in a short time and the smell can be too intense.
Electric diffusers – These are mains or battery powered diffusers that mix a small amount of oil with water and diffuse it into a room as vapour. This is the most effective and cost effective method that I have found. It uses a small amount of oil but gives you a big effect that lasts for hours.
Baths – Adding a few drops to a bath is a great way to relax. You can add the drops directly and disturb the water to mix them, or add other products like epsom salts to properly disperse the oil.
Topically – Adding essential oil to cosmetics or carrier oils is a great way to dilute them and improve their usability. They are often too strong to add to your skin neat and should be mixed and diluted first.
The benefits of essential oils
The benefits of these oils are as varied as the oils themselves, but there are some key themes.
Inhaling essential oils has been linked to reduces in stress, anxiety and depression as well as headaches, migraines and sleep disorders. Some have been found to sooth aches and pains, kill bacteria, reduce inflammation and sooth skin complaints. However, they are not side effect free so once you know which oils you want to use, it is important to find out its pros and cons.
Safety note– Essential oils are generally not safe to be ingested or used on skin in a neat form. When applied topically they may irritate or burn the skin unless properly diluted in a carrier oil or natural wax.
Our ‘must have’ essential oils
With so many oils to choose from, where do you start? This list will help you find an oil or two to suit your needs perfectly.
Distilled from the wood of cedar trees cedarwood oil has a delicate smell that takes you immediately to beautiful sunlit forests. It’s aroma can improve focus, reduce stress and is great for a good night’s sleep. It is a beautiful clean smell that is often used as a pleasant room odour.
Used in skin treatment, it is used to reduce wrinkles and event to treat acne. It is a natural antibiotic and can help with wound healing, sore muscles and joint pain.
- Stress reduction
- Improved focus
- Joint and muscle pain
Main active ingredients: Cedrene, thujopsene, cedrol and widdrol.
Distilled from a fragrant french grass often confused with lemongrass, citronella essential oil is a lemon scented antibacterial oil. It can reduce airborne bacteria and has an uplifting effect on mood as well as relaxing both body and mind. Good for headaches, body odours and lice it can also be use in hair to protect it from sun damage, boost volume and reduce tangles.
- Protects hair from sun damage
- Reduces the intensity of headaches
Main active ingredients: Citronellic acid, borneol, citronellol, geraniol, nerol, citral, citronellal, camphene, dipentene and limonene.
Often used for its subtle lemon flavour and fragrance in Thai dishes, lemongrass is also used to help treat stress, anxiety and depression. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties making it an excellent addition to treatment of skin infections, athletes foot and even ringworm.
- Anti-fungal and antibacterial
Main active ingredients: Myrcene, citral, citronellal, geranyl acetate, nerol, geraniol, and limonene.
A plant that grows in the Mediterranean region and is steam distilled to produce a beautifully floral scented oil. With powerful antibacterial properties it was also used in several studies to prevent the effects of mental exhaustion and burnout.
- Treats burnout
Main active ingredients: Pinene, camphene, myrcene, limonene, cineole, linalool, terpinen-4-ol, neryl acetate, nerol, geraniol, eugenol, italidone and other b-diketones.
Often found in cosmetics, topical medicines and cleaning products, tea tree oil is distilled from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia plant. It is thought to be antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-fungal making it a great addition to homemade soaps and bath products.
It is often used in acne treatments and has been used in several studies to find the best treatments for skin conditions.
Its antibacterial properties are used for contact dermatitis, dandruff and even lice. Tea tree oil diluted and used on your hair can keep it clean and dandruff free which increases the potential of more vigorous growth. It has also been found to be effective for cleaning eyelashes by killing eyelash mites and improving eyelash health.
- Used in acne treatment
- Used in hair and eyelash treatment
- Antibacterial and anti-fungal
- Reduces inflammation
Main active ingredients: Pinene and terpinene.
Rose essential oil is harvested from rose petals, is sweet and floral and full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The scent has been found to provide a host of positive effects for your mood and general well-being.
It has long been used as a staple ingredient in many perfumes, but more recently has been used in skin care. Studies have found it to be useful as a moisturiser and effectively reduce redness and swelling.
Because of the large numbers of rose petals needed to produce even small amounts of the oil, it is seen as valuabla and can fetch high prices. To make the most of its skincare properties it is best bought in a skincare product rather than using the neat oil.
- Reduces redness in skin
- Used in anti-ageing skin products
Main active ingredients: Citronellol, phenyl ethanol, geraniol, nerol, farnesol, stearpoten, nonanol, linalool, nonanal, phenyl acetaldehyde, citral, carvone, citronellyl acetate, 2-phenylmenthyl acetate, methyl eugenol, eugenol and rose oxide.
This is a multi-functional and well known essential oil. When placed in a diffuser it has been found to reduce stress and support the treatment of depression. It is also used to treat headaches, migraines and sleep disorder.
Along with its anti-fungal, antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties its no wonder that it has been the focus of so many studies . It is also linked to English history and tradition and is often seen as quintessentially English.
- Promotes good sleep
- Anti fungal and antiseptic
- Reduces the intensity of headaches
Main active ingredients: Ocimeme, linalyl acetate and linalool.
Packed full of menthol, this is another well loved essential oil with an easily recognisable fragrance. Great for clearing congestion, reducing sickness or settling the stomach. It works well to keep you focused and alert and can give you an energy boost. When mixed with a carrier oil and rubbed into your skin it can effectively soothe tired, overworked muscles.
- Reduces nausea
- Energy boosting
- Improves focus
- Relaxes tired muscles
- Relieves nasal congestion
Main active ingredients: Limonene, eucalyptol and menthol.
A great morning oil, lemon essential oil has been found to improve focus and keep you alert. It is revitalising and is great when used as part of a morning routine. It has been found useful by those suffering from depression and is often included in cleaning products and cosmetics for its fresh clean smell as well as its antibacterial properties. It has also been linked to stimulating the immune system, reducing pain and aiding weight loss.
Harvested from the zest of lemons it has a beautiful fragrance that is more fruity and sweet than you would expect from such a sour fruit.
- Improves focus
- Fights fatigue
Main active ingredients: Limonene, pinene, camphene, sabinene, myrcene, terpinene, linalool, bisabolene, trans-α-bergamotene, nerol, and neral.
While there are many benefits linked to ingesting chamomile extract the essential oil should not be eaten. When inhaled it is great for relaxation and low mood. Adding it to massage oil or using it in the bath is also a great way to utilise its relaxing properties.
- Reduces low mood and anxiety
- Promotes sleep
Main active ingredients: Pinene, camphene, sabinene, myrcene, 1,8-cineole, y-terpinene, caryophyllene, propyl angelate and butyl angelate.
This beautifully savoury plant is used in many dishes and flavour combinations offering a unique herby and delicately floral flavour. It has also been linked to some extraordinary benefits including boosting brain function for the duration of inhalation.
When diluted and rubbed into the scalp it has also been thought to increase hair thickness in men suffering with male pattern baldness. It is also great for focus, concentration and relaxation.
- Improved brain function
- May slow male pattern baldness
Main active ingredients: Pinene, camphor and cineol
An intensely sweet and earthy aroma Patchouili has an unusual history, as during the sixties and seventies it was used to cover up the pungent smell of cannabis. Its scent is grounding and calming and can be used effectively in an electric diffuser to create a calm daytime environment.
Like many essential oils it has antibacterial properties and can be found in many cosmetics and cleaning products. It is useful when made up into skin creams and balms to treat skin redness, irritation and ease conditions like acne, eczema and dandruff.
- Used in skin treatments
- Used in dandruff treatments
Main active ingredients: Patchoulol, Patchoulene, Bulnesene, Guaiene, Caryophyllene, Norpatchoulenol, Seychellene, and Pogostol.
The smells around us often appear as incidental details to our world. It isn’t often that we realise that they may offer a range of benefits of their own. The uses and benefits of essential oils when weighed against their price and availability make them great value health products.
Oil selection for beginners:
To get you started why not choose a straightforward electric oil diffuser and start with these four essential oils. They will give you a range of aromas and uses and begin to give you an insight into the power they can have.
Lemon oil- Try this in the diffuser first thing in the morning o get you ready for the day.
Rosemary oil- This is perfect while you are working, getting jobs done or just going about your day at home or in the office.
Cedarwood- Great to aid relaxation in the afternoon or evenings. Gets you ready for a good night’s sleep.
Lavender- Either for the evening or save this one for times of stress or when you have a headache. Can be used in the diffuser or put a couple of drops on your pillow to sooth you over night.