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Essential Oils
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Do They Really Work? The Science Behind The 5 Most Popular Essential Oils

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years as a form of natural medicine. They are extracted from the leaves, flowers, roots, and stems of various plants, and each oil contains a unique set of compounds that give it its distinct aroma and therapeutic properties.


Woman scientist examining essential oils with microscope

In recent years, essential oils have gained popularity as a complementary therapy for various conditions, such as anxiety, depression, pain, and skin problems. However, many people still wonder about the science behind essential oils and how they work to provide these benefits.

In this blog post, we will explore the active components in the most popular essential oils and the therapeutic properties they provide. We will also discuss the current scientific evidence supporting their use and how to use them safely.


Before we dive into the specifics of individual essential oils, it's important to understand some basic concepts related to essential oils.


What Are Essential Oils?


Essential oils are volatile, aromatic compounds extracted from different parts of plants, such as leaves, flowers, stems, and roots. They are called "essential" because they capture the essence, or characteristic fragrance of the plant from which they are derived. These oils are not greasy like vegetable oils but are rather clear and evaporate quickly.


Essential oils can be obtained through various extraction methods, with the most common being steam distillation. In this process, steam passes through the plant material, causing the release of volatile compounds, which are then condensed into a liquid form. Other methods include cold-pressing, where citrus peels are pressed to extract their oils, and solvent extraction, which involves using chemical solvents to separate the aromatic compounds.


The chemical composition of essential oils is incredibly complex, as each oil contains a unique combination of natural compounds. These compounds can include terpenes, esters, aldehydes, phenols, and many others. It is this intricate blend of constituents that gives each essential oil its distinctive scent and therapeutic properties.


How Do Essential Oils Work?


Essential oil bottles with plants on scientific background

Essential oils can be inhaled, applied topically, or ingested (in some cases). When inhaled, the aromatic compounds in the oil stimulate the olfactory system in the brain, which is responsible for our sense of smell. The olfactory system is connected to the limbic system, which is involved in emotions, memory, and behavior. This is why certain smells can trigger specific emotions or memories.


When applied topically, essential oils can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, where they can have various effects on the body. For example, some oils have anti-inflammatory or analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, while others have antimicrobial or antifungal properties.


Some essential oils can also be ingested, but this should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as some oils can be toxic if taken internally.


Now that we have a basic understanding of essential oils, let's explore some of the most popular ones and their active components.


Lavender


Lavender oil is the world's most popular essential oil, known for its calming and soothing properties. It is extracted from the flowers of the lavender plant and contains several active components, including linalool and linalyl acetate.


Linalool is a terpene alcohol that has been shown to have sedative effects and can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. Linalyl acetate is an ester that also has calming properties and can help relieve stress and tension.


Several studies have shown that lavender oil can be effective in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. For example, a study published in the International Journal of Research in Pharmacy Practice found that inhaling lavender oil for 15 minutes before a dental procedure significantly reduced anxiety levels in patients.


Lavender oil has also been shown to have analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. A study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that lavender oil reduced pain levels in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.




Peppermint


Peppermint oil is extracted from the leaves of the peppermint plant and has a refreshing and invigorating scent. It contains several active components, including menthol and menthone.

Menthol is a terpene alcohol that has cooling and analgesic properties. It can help relieve pain and inflammation, and is often used topically for headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain. Menthone is a ketone that also has analgesic properties and can help reduce pain and inflammation.


Peppermint oil has been shown to have several therapeutic benefits, including improving digestion and relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is shown in a 2019 meta-analysis of 12 randomized trials that found that peppermint oil is a safe and effective therapy for the pain associated with IBS in adults. If you plan on using peppermint essential oil to help with digestion or IBS symptoms, consult with a phisician first as it generally involves the internal use of the essential oil which may be dangerous if done improperly.




Tea Tree

Tea tree essential oil with glass dropper

Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is extracted from the leaves of the tea tree plant and has a fresh, medicinal scent. It contains several active components, including terpinen-4-ol and alpha-terpineol.


Terpinen-4-ol is a terpene alcohol that has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help fight off bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and has been shown to be effective against acne and other skin conditions.


Alpha-terpineol is also a terpene alcohol that has sedative and analgesic properties. It can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.


Tea tree oil has been shown to be effective in treating acne, dandruff, and other skin conditions. A study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology found that tea tree oil was as effective as benzoyl peroxide in treating acne, with fewer side effects.


Tea tree oil has also been shown to have antifungal properties and can help treat nail fungus, athlete's foot, and other fungal infections. A study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that tea tree oil was effective against several types of fungi, including Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger.




Eucalyptus


Eucalyptus oil is extracted from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree and has a refreshing, camphor-like scent. It contains several active components, including eucalyptol (also known as 1,8-cineole) and alpha-pinene.


Eucalyptol is a terpene oxide that has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It can help reduce pain and inflammation, and has been shown to be effective in treating respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and sinusitis.


Alpha-pinene is a terpene that has bronchodilator properties, meaning it can help open up the airways and improve breathing. It also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.


Eucalyptus oil has also been shown to have antimicrobial properties and can help fight off bacteria and viruses. A 2012 study found that eucalyptus oil was effective against several types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.



Rosemary


Rosemary oil is extracted from the leaves of the rosemary plant and has a fresh, herbal scent. It contains several active components, including rosmarinic acid and 1,8-cineole.


Rosmarinic acid is a phenolic acid that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help protect against oxidative damage and reduce inflammation in the body.


1,8-cineole, also found in eucalyptus oil, is a terpene oxide that has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce pain and inflammation, and has been shown to be effective in treating respiratory conditions.


Rosemary oil has been shown to have several therapeutic benefits, including improving cognitive function and reducing stress and anxiety. A study published in Scientia Pharmaceutica found that inhaling rosemary oil improved cognitive performance and mood in study participants.


Recently rosemary essential oil has been attracting attention across social media for its ability to help with natural hair growth and scalp health. To learn more about how rosemary can help promote healthy hair growth check out our blog: Is Rosemary Essential Oil The Secret Ingredient for Healthy Hair Growth?



Where to Find Essential Oils

Rosemary essential oil bottle front view


If you are looking for high quality, certified organic essential oils, consider checking out our shop page. All of our essential oils and blends are USDA Certified organic, GC/MS tested, and Non GMO. Shop today to experience the benefits of these essential oils for yourself!


Essential Oil Safety


Before you begin your journey into the wonderful world of essential oils, there are a few things you should know that will keep you safe when working with essential oils. This is by no means a complete list, so if you are interested in using essential oils, doing some additional research into essential oil safety is highly recommended.


Learn which oils to avoid when pregnant


Certain essential oils can be harmful when you are pregnant, so be sure to review the complete list of oils to avoid.


Keep essential oils out of reach of children


There are essential oils that are safe for children, however it is always a good idea to keep your oils stored in a safe area to avoid accidental ingestion.


Use caution around pets


While some essential oils have been shown to be beneficial to animals, others can be extremely toxic for your pets. If you have animals in the house be very cautious and review each essential oil to determine their safety before using them around your pets.


Do not take internally without proper guidance


While taking essential oils internally is generally not advised, some may choose to do so under the guidance of a proper medical professional. Do not consume essential oils without direction of a medical professional as some essential oils can be toxic when consumed.


Dilute before using topically


Essential oils are highly concentrated and should almost always be diluted before use. This helps prevent skin irritation or sensitization. Carrier oils like jojoba, almond, or coconut oil are commonly used for dilution. A general guideline is to use a 1-2% dilution ratio, which means adding 1-2 drops of essential oil per teaspoon (5 ml) of carrier oil. Adjust the ratio based on individual sensitivities and specific oils being used.


Research each essential oil you plan on using


Educate yourself about the specific properties and contraindications of each essential oil you use. Some oils may not be suitable for pregnant women, children, or individuals with certain health conditions. Additionally, certain oils may interact with medications. Consult reliable sources such as books, reputable websites, or certified aromatherapists to gather accurate information.


How to Use Essential Oils


There are several effective methods for incorporating essential oils into your daily routine. A powered diffuser is often the first choice of those who are looking to benefit from essential oils, however there are other effective options available.


Thera-Clip essential oil nasal inhaler

One of the easiest ways to use essential oils is the Thera-Clip nasal inhaler. Thera-Clip is a personal, portable essential oil inhaler that allows you to target your symptoms by providing a direct, continuous flow of aromatherapy relief. You can use Thera-Clip with any of your favorite therapeutic essential oil blends to target nausea, headache, stress and more!



Essential oil inhaler tubes white

Another good option is a simple Essential Oil Inhaler Tube that uses an absorbent wick to naturally diffuse any of your favorite blends. When not in use, these fit easily in your pocket or purse making them great for traveling.




Blue flower essential oil diffuser necklace front view

If you're looking for something a little more stylish, there are also several styles of diffuser jewelry available including diffuser necklaces and lava bead bracelets. These are a great choice if you want something that blends form and function into one effective tool to help you benefit from the daily use of essential oils.




Final Thoughts


Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for their therapeutic properties, and research has shown that many of these oils contain active components that provide a range of health benefits. From reducing inflammation and pain to fighting off bacteria and fungi, essential oils can be a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle.


The science behind essential oils is still being studied, and more research is needed to fully understand the therapeutic properties of these oils. However, the evidence so far suggests that essential oils can be a safe and effective way to improve health and wellbeing.

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