Article written by Patrick Bailey.
This year has been a stressful one, with COVID-19, lockdowns, and other uncertainties.
Some might be running a hot bath and hoping Calgon can take them away, and others might be eyeing those amber-glassed vials housing essential oils and wondering if a few drops of lavender and a shake of orange oil can lift spirits or restore calm.
Considering there are literally dozens of essential oils — and infinitely more blends — it’s a tempting prospect and one that’s not without merit.
Essential Oils 101
Essential oils are made when parts of a plant are steamed or pressed to collect the fragrance compounds — basically the essence of a plant.
Sometimes they’re just used for aromatherapy — breathe in some flower scents and enjoy some springtime smells or blend a few for fragrant effect.
Others like essential oils because they offer antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial qualities. Tea tree oil has been shown to have antifungal properties, for example.
Often essential oils get added to soaps, candles, perfumes, air freshener sprays or diffusers, or cleaning concoctions. They’re also diluted into carrier or base oils (like coconut, almond, or avocado) for various health benefits (both from the base and the add-ins). Essentials oils also tend to be diluted into sprays and lotions because it’s not always a good idea to apply them in pure form directly to the skin. (At least not without doing a little bit of homework.) Some can cause rashes. Others can be poisonous when swallowed.
Then, as Poison.org points out, “anyone can be allergic to anything.” Enough said.
Pregnant women, children and pets — or anyone with allergies or other health concerns — are not ideal candidates for essential oils either.
Oils for Calm
Essential oils tend to stir up a bit of debate. Those who are wholeheartedly in favor of these fragrant oils swear they can ease migraines, erase anxiety, and much more. Then there is the anti-oils camp. They say it’s a bunch of hooey.
They remain popular, however, and many do love their essential oils, especially for calming purposes. Here are a few to consider which have withheld the tests of time and soared above the hype.
There are two main types of daisy-like chamomile — Roman and German — and it’s long held a place in people’s hearts as a soothing herb. Some sip the tea for comfort. Others put it into lotions (especially in Europe) to help stressed skin. And still others like the herbal and earthy scent (of the German variety) or slightly sweet and fruity (the Roman variety) for a soothing sniff.
Citrusy extracts make for very popular essential oils. Many people enjoy the invigorating and uplifting scent, and some find orange and its zingy kin are great at reducing tension and anxiety. Other citrusy oils are commonly used to soothe frayed nerves, including bergamot and lemon. Lemon balm, which comes from the mint family, has an uplifting, lemony aroma that has long been used to induce calm. It may be mostly anecdotal, but its popularity persists.
This herb comes from the salvia family, and boasts a woody, sweet, clean scent. It gets used both in perfumes and to help flavor liqueurs and vermouths. It’s also said to be especially good for the ladies, relaxing crampy muscles and calming hormones.
Lavender is one of the most popular oils used in aromatherapy, particularly for anxiety. A lot of people find its scent soothing, so it’s found its way into many lotions, bath bombs, and other pampering products. There is some small evidence it can help people sleep better, too.
Peppermint is a beloved calming oil. It can help irritable bowel syndrome (calming the tummy) and easing digestion overall. Some people find it’s a great way to help tension headaches, especially when dabbed on temples.
Get the Real Deal
If you do go shopping for essential oils, be sure you’re getting the real stuff. Things to look for include:
- Labels. Make sure it has the Latin name of the plant, tells you where the plant was grown, and if other ingredients have been added besides the oils.
- Dark, glass containers. Pure oils are concentrated and they can wear down plastic bottles or leach chemicals from them. Clear glass vials are more prone to lose potency or get altered if exposed to bright sunlight.
- No to “fragrance.” Fragrance or perfume oils are not pure. Usually they’re a mix of real and chemical additives, or just chemicals posing as the real thing. A lavender perfume oil might smell something like lavender, but it will not have the same soothing chemical compounds or effects.
- Research the seller. This includes looking at prices. Some oils are more rare, like jasmine or rose absolute, so they’ll be more pricey — sometimes much moreso. Other oils, like lemon or orange, are easier to produce, so they’ll cost considerably less. Also, research the company. If it’s well known and reputable, that’s a good start. If it’s a new spot with few reviews, you may want to pass on purchasing, or at least wait and see.
One thing’s for certain: If you love the scent of lavender and it makes you happy, that’s enough. There’s not a lot of research, and there aren’t a lot of human studies, so there are many unknowns when it comes to essential oils. Just be sure to read the label first before you try this type of treatment, especially if you’re considering applying it to your skin or ingesting it.
Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. If you want to find more articles by Patrick, you can find them on his personal blog or in Sunshine Behavioral Health.