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Are Essential Oils Really Beneficial?

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Essential oils are one of the biggest trends in the health industry today. But can an oil really cure everything from cancer to the common cold? Find out more about how essential oils work and their proven benefits below.

Trends come and go in the health world, and today, one of the biggest trends is the use of essential oils. Essential oils are concentrated oils extracted from herbal plants and spices. The use of essential oils is rooted in the ancient art of aromatherapy, and many people swear that essential oils can cure everything from the stomach flu to a broken toe. But how effective are the oils? Is it anything more than a placebo effect? Read more about the uses and proven benefits of essential oils below.

Essential Oils Explained

Essential oils have active volatile compounds harvested from the original plant. Essential oils are different from fragrant oils, which do not contain extracts from plants, but rather synthetic versions of the scents. Essential oils are directly harvested from herbs and plants and it can take several pounds of herbs to create one bottle of essential oil.

One of the biggest problems with essential oils sold today is that there is no regulation on oil quality. Some brands may offer highly concentrated, natural oils, while others may supplement with a cheaper carrier oil or even include some synthetic compounds. Even among pure oils, harvesting methods, storage, distillation, the age of the oil, and the manufacturing process can change the quality. Only pure essential oils have benefits. Synthetic compounds will not have the same beneficial effects and are not worth the time and money they consume. If you do choose to try essential oils, make sure they are the purest form of the oil you can find.

Do Essential Oils Work?

Although some people swear by essential oils, others are skeptical that a smell or plant oil applied topically can make a difference in your health. But rather than just take someone else’s word for it, take some time to examine the scientific evidence for yourself. Below is a summary of what science has to say about the effectiveness of essential oils.

A scent can enter your lungs and penetrate the bloodstream, according to a 2002 study published in Holistic Nurse Practice. The study authors stated that the scent in the bloodstream can cause physiologic changes and may also affect memories or emotions by triggering smell responses. When applied topically to wounds, many essential oils have antibacterial or antiviral effects.

Therefore, according to these studies, essential oils can have a direct benefit on your body, although perhaps not to the magical extent that some people attribute to the oils.

A few targeted studies have found specific health benefits linked to essential oils:

Nervous System

A 2002 study conducted by Japanese researchers examined the possible effects of essential oils on the nervous system. The researchers found that when study participants smelled certain oils, the nervous system was calmed. However, when they gave them other essential oils to smell, their nervous system activity increased. Smells such as grapefruit, fennel, and black pepper stimulated the nervous system two times beyond normal activity. Smells such as rose and patchouli decreased nervous system activity by about 40 percent.


Two studies have indicated that essential oils can have an effect on mood. These two studies examined the mood-lifting benefits of lavender and jasmine. In 2006, researchers from South Korea tested the mood-boosting effects of lavender on college women who either had insomnia or depression. The women reported feeling calmer, sleeping better, and having fewer depressive symptoms after just a week of treatment.

A study from 2010 published in Natural Product Communications tested the mood-boosting effects of jasmine. According to the study authors, after receiving massages with jasmine essential oil study participants reported feeling happier and more alert and also had better blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation.

Immune System

A 2003 study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry examined the role of essential oils as antibacterial and antiviral compounds. The study authors tested several different essential oils against common bacterial and viruses in in-vitro studies to investigate their potential for boosting immunity.

The study authors found that mint, cinnamon, oregano, clove, thyme, and salvia had the greatest effects on fighting viruses and bacteria. Applying topical preparations of these essential oils can help prevent infection, and breathing these oils in the air could potentially boost the immune system. Immune function may also be boosted if the oils are taken internally, but essential oils can have strong side effects when taken internally, and they should not be consumed without the guidance of a health professional.

How to Use Essential Oils

Essential oils are beneficial when the compounds get into the bloodstream. You can do this by rubbing them topically into the skin or by breathing in a diffused oil.

How to Use Essential Oils
  • Heated in a diffuser
  • Placing a few drops in a bath
  • Massaging them into the skin with a carrier oil
  • Using oils as perfume Using them in warm compresses for the skin
  • Using them in cleaning supplies Using oils as room freshening spray
  • Placing a few drops on homemade dryer sheets
  • Adding them to soap, lotions, and bath salts
  • Adding them to cosmetic products
  • Placing a few drops in homemade candles
  • Using a few drops on the skin (with a carrier oil) to deter insects (peppermint, tea tree oil, and lemon are good for this)

The Best Oils to Use for Common Complaints

Numerous studies back the therapeutic uses of oils for several common complaints and illnesses. According to studies from Europe (particularly Germany) and a few studies from the United States, essential oils can help ease the following minor health concerns:


Stress-relieving is one of the most-studied benefits of essential oils. Lavender, bergamot, chamomile, lemon, and pine all have stress-relieving effects when inhaled.


If you have fatigue and low energy, try smelling the following essential oil scents:

  • Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Jasmine
  • Citrus
  • Clove
  • Rosemary


Several essential oil scents are known for their restful properties and ability to promote healthy sleep. Try diffusing lavender, rose, sandalwood, chamomile, or marjoram when you have trouble falling asleep.


If you are feeling queasy, try diffusing the following oils:

  • Peppermint
  • Ginger
  • Fennel
  • Dill
  • Chamomile
  • Clary sage
  • Orange
  • Lemon

How to Choose a Quality Oil

According to the University of Minnesota's essential oil guidelines, there are currently no regulations for essential oils in the United States. This can make choosing a quality oil difficult. However, there are a few things you can do as a consumer to ensure that the oil you are purchasing is of a higher quality than most.

The first check is a price check. Essential oils are expensive to manufacture, so anything that is too cheap is probably not 100 percent essential oils. In general, most bottles of pure essential oils will cost $30 or more. Use the following guide to ensure your oil quality is of the highest:

Look for the Latin name: There are several different species of a lot of common herbs. Certain herbs have different properties. For the best benefit, choose a label that lists the exact species you need.

Look at country of origin: A high-quality essential oil brand will tell you where the herbs were grown. This is important for knowing what the effects of the oil might be. Aromatherapists need to know where the herbs are grown, so if the brand tells you where the plants are grown, they are marketing toward an educated customer, which means the oil is likely to be of a much higher quality.

Look for a purity statement: The bottle should state it is 100 percent essential oils, sometimes tagged as therapeutic grade. This doesn’t always mean it is pure essential oil, but it does make it more likely.

Essential Oils are Not Magic, but Do Have Benefit

Although some people declare that essential oils are the cure-all for all ills, there is not enough evidence to support that essential oils will cure all diseases and prevent all bad things. However, there is documented proof that essential oils can help with some conditions, such as lifting mood and promoting rest. The best way to prevent serious illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, is to eat a healthy diet and live an active lifestyle. Essential oils cannot reverse all ill effects of an unhealthy lifestyle.

However, if you want to ease a headache and do not want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever, diffusing the right essential oils can help fight minor aches and pains such as headaches and insomnia. If you live a healthy lifestyle, essential oils can be a safe and effective way to help manage issues such as stress, anxiety, nausea, mood swings, and sleep.

Additionally, the antibacterial and antiviral properties of some essential oils make them a good addition to soaps and cleaning products in the home without the need for chemical additives. Used in this way, essential oils can have a positive effect on your overall health and wellbeing.





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