Essential Oils 101
Essential Oils Guide
Ten years ago most people had never heard of essential oils. Now you would be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't aware of essential oils. As the popularity of essential oils has grown, so has the misinformation. Let's unravel some of that and give you accurate information.
WHAT IS AN ESSENTIAL OIL VS A CARRIER OIL?
Plants can produce two types of oils. Carrier oils, also called fixed oils consist of triglycerides made of glycerol and fatty acids. They are extracted from the seeds or nuts of a plant by cold pressing, expeller pressing or solvent extraction. Examples of carrier oils are sunflower oil, olive oil and avocado oil. Essential oils, also known as volatile oils are a mix of a plant's volatile components and contribute to the taste and fragrance of a plant. Essential oils can be extracted from flowers, bark, roots, leaves, seeds , fruit rinds and resins. Even branches and grasses. Plants produce essential oils mainly to attract insects for pollination but also to protect the plant from predators. They can be extracted by distillation, pressing, solvent extraction or CO2 extraction. The method of extraction is dependent on the plant part that contains the oil.
ESSENTIAL OILS ARE VERY CONCENTRATED
Producing 1 drop of rose essential oil requires approximately 40 roses. To produce 1 kg of rose oil takes 3500-5000 kg of roses! 1or 2 drops of peppermint essential oil is the equivalent of 50 bags of peppermint tea! Because they are so concentrated, essential oils should ALWAYS be diluted before use. One common misconception is that essentials oils can be used directly on the skin. Bad idea. Sensitization, also known as allergic contact dermatitis affects the immune system and can occur as a result of using undiluted essential oils. When this happens people can experience a rash and/or headache. As they continue to use the oil, the reaction can become systemic to the point that even smelling that particular essential oil can trigger a reaction. You may be using essential oils undiluted without any issues but sensitization can occur at anytime with no warning. Essential oils are potent and need to be used with extreme care. They should be diluted at 1-2 % in a carrier oil. That means for 1 oz of carrier oil there should be no more than 5-12 drops of essential oil added.
ESSENTIAL OIL SHELF LIFE
You may have been told your essential oils will last indefinitely. Another myth. Essential oils are volatile, which means they have constituents that can evaporate and lead to oxidation ultimately causing your oil to degrade. Heat and light also cause degradation. Once an oil degrades it is more likely to cause sensitization. To prolong the life of your oils, store them in the refrigerator or a wine cooler. This will keep them cool and away from light. Essential oil shelf life also varies depending on the plant. Citrus oils typically have a shelf life of only about 1 year. Frankincense, pine and spruce oils up to 2 years, rose and geranium 2-3 years, Vetiver and sandalwood 8 years and patchouli up to 20 years.
A reputable essential oil company will be able to give you purity, shelf life and expiration information. Do not buy any oils from a company that cannot provide this information to you because you have no way of knowing what you are getting. Some companies will claim their oils are "therapeutic grade". There is no such thing as "therapeutic grade". It's a made up term by an essential oil brand. The only way to know if an oil is pure and hasn't been adulterated is to be able to get a copy of the GCMS or certificate of analysis report which will tell you exactly what is in the oil. Some companies will have this information on the website but you may have to ask for it from others.
INGESTING ESSENTIAL OILS
I have heard of many people adding essential oils to their water, smoothies and even cooking with them. Another really bad idea. As noted above, remember essential oils are super concentrated so even a single drop is a lot of plant material. We all know that oil and water don't mix so if you add a drop of essential oil to your water, it doesn't dissolve. It just sits there on the surface of the water. When you drink it, the whole blob of oil enters your system. The mucous membranes of the mouth, throat and stomach are very sensitive. When the essential oil comes into contact with these areas it can cause damage that may not manifest itself immediately but as with sensitization, you may one day start having problems and not realize it stems from ingesting essential oils. There are uses for essential oil ingestion but it should NEVER be done on your own. Ingestion should only occur under the supervision of a CLINCAL aromatherapist.
Some essential oil companies have perpetuated a lot of misinformation in order to sell more of their products. This is really unfortunate because a lot of people have been and will continue to be harmed. So here are some resources and suggestions to help you use essential oils safely:
- NEVER use essential oils undiluted unless under the care of a CLINICAL aromatherapist.
- NEVER ingest essential oils unless under the care of a CLINICAL aromatherapist.
- Store your essential oils in a cool, dark place preferably in a wine cooler or refrigerator to delay oxidation and prolong the life of your essential oil.
- Throw out any oils that are past their expiration dates.
Essential oil companies that I recommend:
LeaJacobson.com: Lea is a CLINICAL aromatherapist and writes a blog that has a ton of good information as well as some recipes.
Robert Tisserand : He is considered by some to be the leading expert in essential oils. His book "Essential Oils Safety" is a comprehensive resource on every essential oil you can think of.
AromaWeb : Another great website with lots of good info such as essential oil profiles for dozens of different essential oils.
Essential oils are wonderful and can be used safely in skin care products for scent as well as their skin nourishing and healing properties. They are also helpful for many other purposes including but not limited to: respiratory issues, anxiety and inflammation. However, because of their concentration it is vital they be used safely so it is important to be informed of the proper usage for the specific essential oils you intend to use.
Take care friends!