“Essential oil” has been a buzzy phrase in the beauty world for a while now. What exactly are essential oils? What are their benefits? And how can we use them right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to enrich our lives and support our health?
What are essential oils, exactly?
Essential oils are plant extracts, fragrant oil compounds extracted from plants through various methods. Most commonly steam distillation and cold pressing. They can be extracted from multiple parts of plants: the flowers, the bark, the stems, the leaves, the roots, and the fruits.
What are the benefits of essential oils?
There are so many. Essential oils are rich in antioxidants, and some contain potent antibacterial and antiviral ingredients. They’ve also been used for centuries in the practice of aromatherapy, which uses the inhalation of potent scents to stimulate your brain and have a positive, calming effect on your body. They can also support your health and well-being in some more concrete ways.
A variety of essential oils have been studied for their benefits on health over the years; for example, lavender is commonly believed to reduce stress and help with sleep, and peppermint is said to energize and help with digestion and upset stomachs. Oils with a warming or cooling effect, such as cinnamon bark oil and eucalyptus oil, can help relax sore muscles, aiding with cramping, stiffness, and pain.
These claims, however, should be understood to be just that—claims that are not yet substantiated by hard scientific evidence demonstrated through clinical trials with human participants. We do not yet know for sure whether any essential oils can in actuality treat health conditions or have proven effects on the body.
They should not be consumed orally in a direct way, essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, and ingesting them could be harmful.
A cautionary note about using essential oils for skincare:
Essential oils should also not be applied directly to your skin. Although they do have many benefits for skin—when used correctly, some EOs, like rosemary oil and tea tree oil, are even helpful with treating acne (more on that below), these fragrant oils can sensitize, damage, or burn your skin if applied directly. In general, fragrance is highly irritating for most people’s skin.
In order to be used for skincare, essential oils should be diluted with a carrier oil (also called a base oil) that is not harmful to skin, such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, argan oil, or olive oil, among others. Diluting essential oils with carrier oils makes EOs safe to use on your skin.
This dilution needs to be done safely and according to specific amounts, so it is better to use skincare products that have been properly formulated with a safe percentage of essential oils rather than doing this yourself. If you are staunchly a DIY person, you can find research online as to the appropriate amounts needed for diluting essential oils with carrier oils.
Could essential oils help during the pandemic?
Yes! A number of essential oils, including the eight you’ll find listed below, contain potent antifungal and antibacterial properties that make them beneficial to use to clean your hands, body, and surfaces in your home during the pandemic. Scientific studies focusing on the efficacy of essential oils as antibacterial and antiviral agents have been carried out, after which the researchers have concluded that some essential oils have the ability to kill bacteria better than antibiotics treatments available on the market.
A few examples of this: a 2018 study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health called “Identification of Essential Oils with Strong Activity against Stationary Phase Borrelia burgdorferi” found that essential oils from garlic, myrrh, thyme, cinnamon bark, clove, wintergreen, and cumin, along with a few others, can kill the bacteria that causes Lyme disease more effectively than available antibiotics. Another study found that some essential oils including oregano can be used to work against staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes staph infection. Still another study has shown that essential oils like tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil have shown promising results against several bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. This led researchers to believe that these essential oils could in the future become an inexpensive, effective way to treat infections acquired during hospital stays and bacterial infections that are not helped by currently available—and far more expensive—antibiotics.
These studies were not conducted on human subjects, so although more research and trials are needed to demonstrate the efficacy of essential oils for human beings, these results are definitely promising and exciting!
Thieves essential oi is a potent blend of a few different essential oils: clove oil, cinnamon bark oil, eucalyptus oil, and rosemary oil. Its scent is spicy and powerful, and it has antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and antiviral properties that make it amazing in cleaning and personal care products.
Cinnamon bark oil is distilled from the bark of cinnamon trees, which are native to Sri Lanka. It is distilled from a different part of the tree than the cinnamon we use in cooking and beverages, although it has the same warm, sweet, spicy scent. When used in products formulated for the skin, it imparts a warming sensation that can especially help with pain and stiffness in muscles and joints. Like all the other essential oils detailed here, it also has properties that make it a powerful cleaning agent.
Eucalyptus oil is also made from trees—the oil is distilled from the leaves of evergreen trees that are most commonly found in Australia. Eucalyptus has an earthy, clean, fresh, grounding scent that make it a favorite essential oil for diffusing in spas and in the home. It also acts as a natural bug repellent. It is a cooling oil that be very beneficial in personal care—for your scalp, stress levels, your muscles, your sleep, and your energy. It is also incredible in cleaning products. As an ingredient in medicinal products, it can help with chest colds and promoting better breathing due to its strong antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Rosemary oil is steam-distilled from the needles of rosemary shrubs. It has a fresh, invigorating, woody scent and has oh so many benefits. To name a few: in personal care, it can help with your scalp (because of its clarifying properties), headaches, acne, sore muscles, tension, and frizzy hair! Bugs hate it so it is a great home repellant. As an ingredient in cleaning products, it smells amazing and gets rid of bad bacteria.
Peppermint oil is another essential oil with a range of benefits. The strong minty scent from the leaves and stems of the peppermint plant refreshes, invigorates, and energizes. It is a natural antibacterial agent. It can be strong in skincare products, so use with caution on your face, especially around your eyes (it can sting and make them water!), but go to town on your body if you like this scent. It is a cooling oil, and can be very soothing on tired, sore muscles and joints.
Clove oil, like cinnamon bark oil, clove oil has an intense, spicy scent. It is a warming oil, so it often used topically for massages and in personal care products. As an ingredient in ingestible products, it is said to promote a healthy immune system. It has antibacterial and antiseptic properties that make it useful as an ingredient in treating cuts, bruises, and fungal infections on the skin.
Lemongrass oil has a citrusy, grassy scent that really lingers and is uplifting and energizing. In skincare, lemongrass products has astringent properties and helps unclog pores and balance oily skin. In cleaning products, it naturally helps freshen carpets and linens and clean dishes, laundry, and other home surfaces.
Tea tree oil (also called Melaleuca oil) can do many things. It has a strong earthy and slightly medicinal scent that you either love or you hate. If you love it, this oil is a beneficial anti-acne ingredient and a powerful cleansing, purifying skincare ingredient; it is antifungal and can help your feet, nails, and scalp; and it can help with deep cleaning a variety of surfaces in your home. It is also a natural deodorant!
Are you convinced of the benefits of essential oils yet??