The world of essential oils is vast, intriguing, and honestly, a tad confusing. Are these plant extracts actually that powerful? (Yes.) Do I need to be the DIY-loving, crunchy type to use and enjoy them? (Not at all!) Can I just dab a few drops on my skin and call it a day? (Nope—please don’t.) What the heck do I use all these different scents for? (We’ll tell you!)
To answer every essential oil–related FAQ, we enlisted the help of Charlynn Avery, aromatherapist and educator at Aura Cacia, to help us craft the ultimate essential oil guide. Read on to get the lowdown on everything from why (and how) you should dilute your oils to the best scents for every occasion.
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?
“Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile plant extracts,” explains Avery. “We obtain essential oils through a few different extraction methods, and the part of the plant we get the essential oil from can be different depending on the oil but is typically the most aromatic part. Rose oil, for example, comes from the petals of the rose, while citrus oils come from the rind.”
Because essential oils are obviously all-natural, it might be easy to assume that they’re gentle and largely unreactive. This isn’t the case at all—by definition, it’s extremely potent stuff. “On average, they are up to 75 times more powerful than dried herbs,” says Avery. As such, “essential oils must be handled with care.” This means that a couple drops go a long way, and aside from very specific oils (more on that later), essential oils should always be diluted properly before applying them directly to skin. Whether or not essential oils should be ingested is actually a highly debated topic, and many argue that it isn’t safe unless specifically advised by a doctor or expert.
WHAT CAN ESSENTIAL OILS BE USED FOR?
Aromatherapy, treating skin conditions, soothing muscle inflammation… the benefits of essential oils abound. “Essential oils can be used in personal care products, in home cleaning products, for general well-being in the context of emotional support, and many other ways,” says Avery. This versatility also extends to the scents themselves. “Some of the most popular essential oils, like lavender and sweet orange, cross over into many categories and can be used effectively for many applications,” she says.
HOW SHOULD I DILUTE MY OILS?
In addition to avoiding a potential skin reaction, diluting essential oils allows them to work better—when exposed to air alone, the molecules of the pure essential oils tend to evaporate very quickly. “Adding the essential oil to a carrier substance better facilitates the absorption of the oil by the body,” says Avery.
In most cases (even if you’re just adding the essential oils to a bath), you’ll need a carrier oil—a neutral, plant-based oil that can act as a base. Common carrier oils include sweet almond, jojoba, olive, sunflower seed, avocado, and grapeseed.
According to Avery, while specific dilutions can vary based on personal needs and individual essential oils, the general rule of thumb is to aim for a one to five percent dilution. “A one percent blend is six drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier, while a five percent blend would be 30 drops per ounce of carrier,” she says.
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