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Essential Oils: Benefits, Safety, and How To Use

You’ve probably had the experience of encountering a smell that instantly evokes a strong memory or feeling. Maybe the waft of banana bread reminds you of family nights, or the scent of grass clippings you back to your childhood playing in a yard. Our sense of smell is directly wired to the brain’s centers of memory and emotion. Cells inside the nose detect smells in our environment, and send information to the brain, via the olfactory nerve. Aromatherapy is a modern term for this ancient practice. Scientists have been conducting studies into the sleep-promoting, stress-relieving, pain-reducing and mood-regulating benefits of essential oils.

This article explains that the constituents of an essential oil are created by specialized plant cells, which secrete them into very tiny sacs or glands, either on the surface of a leaf or flower, or deeper inside the plant tissue. Most essential oils are extracted using one of two methods: mechanical expression, which is only used for citrus fruits, and distillation. The aim of distillation, or expression, is to cause the glands containing the essential oils to release their contents. There are other aromatic extracts that we won't go into here.


For sleep: A body of research shows that essential oils can provide relief for disrupted sleep and improve sleep quality in adults. The blended oil was also more effective at improving sleep than a single essential oil, lavender.

For stress and anxiety: Stress and anxiousness are frequent obstacles to sound, restful sleep. There’s a body of research indicating that aromatherapy using essential oils can help to relieve stress and anxiety symptoms, which may help improve sleep indirectly. Overall, lavender oil has a calming effect of the body and is extremely useful in reducing stress.

For depression: Aromatherapy can help improve depressive symptoms, according to the results of several studies. A study found aromatherapy improved both depression and anxiety in a group of post-partum women. And a 2016 analysis found aromatherapy effective in reducing stress and depression.


Apply Topically: Essential oils are distilled from the aromatic leaves, bark, and roots of plants. If applied to the skin directly, they can cause reactions, such as severe irritation, redness or burning. Carrier oils are used to dilute the essential oils and help “carry” them into the skin. Aloe vera gels and unscented body lotion are also sometimes used as carriers.

Diffuse & Inhale: Essential oils are never applied directly to the skin. They must always be diluted with something like a carrier oil. Breathe in your favorite essential oils using an essential oil diffuser, personal pocket inhaler, or adding a few drops to a bath tub. Apart from providing a pleasant smell, aromatherapy oils can provide respiratory disinfection, decongestant, and psychological benefits. Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy. It does not provide a cure for diseases, rashes or illnesses, but it can support conventional treatment of various conditions.


Consult your health care provider if pregnant, nursing, taking medication or being treated for a health condition. Dilute with carrier oil before topical application or bath use. Keep out of reach of children. Store in a cool, dark place.

If you're experiencing symptoms like a near-constant presence of worry or tension, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disruption, or have other symptoms that concern you, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.

Essential oils should never be ingested, despite claims on the internet that suggest otherwise. There’s not enough research on any one essential oil to prove it’s safe to swallow. Each essential oil is very different, and some are toxic.

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