In the world of aromatherapy, essential oils play a vital role. Their usage for massages and other therapeutic relaxation techniques as well as to treat certain ailments is common in alternative medicine systems. Essential oils are the next big revolution in the cosmetic industry. Most of the ‘natural’ skincare products have them listed under ingredients. Of course, being completely natural, their goodness definitely surpasses the chemically loaded skincare routine the world has been following to date. So, let’s find out more about essential oils and their forms.
ABC of Essential Oils
Essential Oils are pure extracts of plants. They are extracted from the leaves, flowers, barks, roots, etc. and carry all the characteristics or ‘the essence’ of the plant; hence, termed as essential oils. They keep all the plant compounds intact including its aroma. That is why the same type of essential oil may differ in quality depending on the geographical location where its plant was situated.
The quality of essential oil greatly depends upon its source and also the method of extraction. Essential oils are extracted mainly in two ways-
Steam/Water distillation – Most of the essential oils are obtained through this method. The volatile compounds in the plant are vaporized through steam and then collected with the help of the condensation process.
Cold Pressed Method - This is a commonly used method for citrus peels. Have you ever squeezed an orange peel and felt a few droplets come flying to your face? This is exactly how the cold press method works. It is a mechanical process in which the fruit is placed on a device that mechanically ruptures the oil sacs located below the rind to obtain the essential oil.
Essential Oils are basically the liquefied version of their individual plants. One of the benefits of these oils over their parent plants is that they reach the bloodstream faster as compared to consuming the plant.
Types of Essential Oils
There are numerous essential oils available. But all of them can be classified under two heads –
Single Essential Oils: These are plant extracts from an individual tree or a single species of plant. They have a distinct aroma that can be traced back to their individual plant. Their characteristics are clearly a function of the parent plant. All pure essential oils like lavender, rose, tea tree, etc., fall in this category.
Blended Essential Oils: These oils essentially are a mixture of two or more single essential oils. The beauty of blends lies in the formation of a completely unique oil which may or may not be similar to the original ones used. The fragrance and even the characteristics may change. Some of the examples of blends are Elaviya’s Focus blend, Skin Blend etc.
Essential Oil blends are available in two variants. One of them is a pure essential oil blend wherein only essential oils of a specified characteristic/genre are mixed and stored. They do not have any carrier oil added to them. The other blend also includes carrier oil. Such blends can be directly applied without the need of diluting them further as against the former.
Same yet Different: Differences between Pure Essential Oils and Essential Oil Blends
Although both are different forms of essential oils, there is a substantial difference between the two in terms of functions and performance. Below are listed some of the major differences between the two:
Potency: Essential oils when mixed can bring out overriding effects that cannot be traced to any one oil. This phenomenon is known as synergy in aromatherapy. The synergy of a blend is more powerful and complex. The potency of essential oil blended in the right manner is always higher than their individual oils.
Expensive: Pure essential oils are comparatively more expensive than the blends. Consider 3 essential oils have been used in the formation of a blend, still it will always be more expensive to purchase the single essential oils separately. The ready-made blends in such cases are a reasonable choice as they are lighter on the pocket. They even have the advantage of being professionally blended in the right environment.
Fragrance: There can be a considerable difference between the fragrance of an essential oil and the blend made using the same essential oil as one of the ingredients. The interaction of different essential oil causes the scent to change. More often than not, the smell becomes milder and calmer.
Tolerable: Some of the essential oils may have a pungent smell or some other characteristic that turns it intolerable for an individual. However, when the same essential oil is blended with another essential oil, it becomes milder and endurable.
Effectiveness: Blends are a melody with different notes incorporated into them. Due to the presence of different oils having different properties, they act in unison to provide therapeutic benefits. Applying a single essential oil may provide the benefits of the plant compounds of that oil, but using a blend simultaneously provides the benefits of all the complex compounds present in it. The effectiveness of a blend is always higher than a single essential oil.
Ways to use Essential oil
The essential oils can be used in three ways- inhalation, topical application and massage. The following techniques can be used for deriving the best results:
- Diffuser: One of the most commonly used ways to calm your senses and the anxious mind. Put a few drops of your favorite essential oil in the diffuser and let it work its magic!
- Inhalation: You could inhale directly from the bottle or use the steam method of inhalation. While inhaling directly from the bottle, be careful not to spill it on your bare skin as that may cause an adverse reaction. In the steam method, put a couple of drops in hot water. The steam will carry the essence of the oil. Deeply inhale the steam for 7-10 minutes.
- Dry Evaporation: If the above two methods are cumbersome, just put a few drops on your handkerchief or a ball of cotton. Hold this to your nose and inhale the fragrance arising from it.
- In Bath or Shower: Another rejuvenating way is to add a few drops of essential oil to your shampoo, body wash or conditioner. You may even add it (after mixing it with a carrier oil) to your bath water if you intend to immerse in it for a while.
- In personal care products: Adding a drop of essential oil to your daily moisturizer works great for the skin. For certain oils, like tea tree oil, you can directly do spot treatment.
Precautions to be taken
- Essential oils contain active plant compounds which are extremely potent. If not handled with care, they may have adverse effects. Here are some of the basic precautions needed to safely reap the benefits of essential oils:
- Always dilute the pure essential oil with a carrier oil. Never apply them directly. Essential oil blends which already have a carrier oil mixed in them can be used directly for topical application.
- If you fall in the following category of persons, always seek medical advice before using essential oils-
- Elderly (Above 60 years of age)
- Children below the age of 12 years
- Pregnant or lactating women
- Individual with an underlying health condition
As with all cosmetic and personal care products, a patch test before the full-fledged use of the oil is a must. Apply the diluted oil on a small section of skin and leave it on for at least 24 hours. Observe the area closely for a possible adverse reaction.
Essential oils are not meant for pets and infants. Pets may show absurd behavioral change even at the aroma of the oils. So keep them away.
Some of the oils, especially those from the citrus family, increase the photosensitivity of the skin. Be cautious not to expose yourself to the sun after their application.
Essential oils are the gifts of nature. They uplift the mood, calm the mind and treat many of the internal organs without any side effects. Incorporating them into your lifestyle is highly recommended. To begin with, put a few drops in the diffuser and you would be amazed at the positive impact it has on your body and your psychology.