For centuries, essential oils have been used as natural health remedies in cultures around the world. Widely available online and sold by independent consultants through multilevel marketing companies, essential oils have become a trendy way to treat conditions such as pain, anxiety or insomnia.
Today, many practitioners use them in a combination of traditional medicine and aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine. However, some of the health benefit claims associated with essential oils are controversial.
The safety of essential oils
Very little is known about the effectiveness of essential oils in treating health conditions despite their widespread use. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any essential oils for safety or effectiveness, and there’s no standard protocol for practice or dosage.
“No research in the area of nutrition has been done to ensure these oils have a significant benefit on health,” says Health & Nutrition Specialist Tamara Warren, Ph.D.
The quality and composition of essential oils can vary greatly given that it is an unregulated industry. Many companies claim that their oils are “pure,” “natural” or “medical grade.” However, these terms are not universally defined and hold little weight.
How to use essential oils
Several essential oils pass the sniff test for aromatherapy benefits. Lavender and chamomile are often used as ingredients in sleep-inducing or stress-relieving products. Applying peppermint oil topically may help relieve tension headaches or migraines, and ginger’s anti-nausea properties are possibly effective in treating seasickness.
“These oils are normally inhaled or used topically,” says Warren. “It has been claimed that the oils are useful in those manners.”
Essential oils are potent, and when applied topically, can cause skin irritation. Cinnamon, peppermint and tea tree oil can be irritating to sensitive skin. To limit this effect, they are often diluted with a “carrier oil” such as coconut or olive oil.
Everyday Uses for Essential Oils
They also have many uses outside of aromatherapy. Many people use them to scent their homes or freshen up laundry. A popular treatment uses oils known for their anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties, such as lemon or tea tree oil, to create a natural household cleaner.
There are hundreds of essential oils to explore, including the best-selling “thieves” oil. A popular blend of cinnamon, clove, lemon and eucalyptus oils, advocates claim it can boost the immune system and stave off germs during cold and flu season.
The evidence for many essential oil health claims is lacking, especially in the area of health and nutrition. However, when used appropriately, essential oils can positively affect your family’s well-being through aromatherapy.