Have you seen products such as soaps, lotions, and massage oils that are claiming that it will help you ease pain, relax muscles, relieve colic, treat depression or anxiety, or help you sleep? Such products contain essential oils and it is often marketed by distributors as natural products since its ingredient usually comes from plants. However, did you know that it can also be dangerous to your health?
Essential oils are plant-based, volatile oil that are used to create a range of products such as perfume, cream, body washes, and hair products. It is made from the mixture of carrier oil and natural compounds extracted from plants to capture their flavors, aroma, and overall essence.
Methods of Extraction
The extraction of essential oils is carried out in different ways, including:
- Steam or water distillation- This process happens when the plant material is packed in a vessel and water or hot steam slowly introduced from the top to make the plant’s volatile compounds escape. It will eventually evaporate into the steam.
- Expression or cold pressing- It is used for extracting essential oils from fruits, seeds and flowers. In this process, the whole material will be grinded and crushed through a modern steel press. It forces out the oil without external heat needed to retain the flavour, aroma and nutritional value.
- Solvent extraction- Plant materials that cannot endure the pressure and distress of steam distillation or flowers that are extremely fragile are commonly used for this method. It involves the application of food grade solvents like hexane and ethanol to isolate essential oils from plant material. The process will be repeated until a pure mixture of only absolute remains. The solvent extracted oils can be used in perfumes or for aromatherapy purposes.
Essential oils are also used as a healing treatment or aromatherapy. The usage of plants and herbs as medicine started from the time of ancient Egyptians. However, the term “Aromatherapy” was first used when a French perfumer and chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé discovered the healing potential of lavender in treating burns. He wrote in his book that was published in 1937 the use of essential oils in treating medical conditions. Aromatherapy continued to be practiced into the 21st century in various cultures.
Aromatherapy is sometimes called essential oil therapy. It involves diffusing different therapeutic essential oils into the air to bring healing treatment to mental and physical well being. Aromatherapy can also be a massage therapy wherein the essential oils are applied or massage into the skin.
Aromatherapy has tons of benefits. It claims to treat many conditions including:
- cold sores
- sore muscles
- discomforts of labor
Essential oil’s availability
Essential oils became more accessible as years passed. It is currently available online, in health food stores, and in some regular supermarkets. Nearly one hundred types of essential oils are being sold in the market, such as:
- Lavender- Its floral scent helps people to relax and sleep so they’ll relieve their anxiety, insomnia and restlessness.
- Roman chamomile- This oil is said to treat conditions like inflammation and eczema.
- Melaleuca or tea tree oil- It’s typically used for its antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Peppermint- This oil can help to relieve headaches and indigestion.
- Ylang ylang- This flowery oil with a spicy but sweet aroma treats combination skin and promotes hair growth.
Each essential oil has different healing properties, uses and effects. However, you can use these essential oils in combination. Combining two or more essential oils create a synergistic blend which can give more benefits.
Dangers of essential oils
Many plants are known for their helpful compounds. However, not because essential oils are mostly made from plants it will not cause side effects. Besides, there is not enough evidence to prove that it can really treat many health conditions.
Although essential oils are used for many purposes, it’s still dangerous to consume. It can be potentially life-threatening when it goes anywhere near the mouth as it can cause significant poisoning even if small amounts are ingested. Taking oral capsules containing essential oils should be avoided unless under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
The use of essential oils in other places where it may enter the body, such as the eyes, ear, anus, or vagina is also extremely health threatening as it can irritate the sensitive cells inside the body.
Since essential oils are also used for massage, it’s applied directly to the skin. However, undiluted essential oils can irritate and burn a sensitive skin. Allergic reactions and skin rash can occur as well.
Although relieving headache is one of its benefits, inhaling too much essential oil may lead to a headache in others. Breathing essential oil can also trigger asthma attacks for an asthmatic person.
Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are particularly susceptible to essential oils so they need proper caution and to be under the supervision of a doctor when using it.
Don’t get overly carried away by products that are said to be "all-natural" and "therapeutic". Not all naturals are safe to use such as essential oils. It may help to treat health conditions, but it also somehow brings danger to the consumer. Using essential oils is like risking your safety over a substance that you have no certainty if it will really create a positive effect.