What Are Essential Oils?
The Beginner's Guide to Essential Oils
Essential oils can be a bit tricky to define. For starters, since they aren’t made up of fatty acids, they aren’t technically oils.
Essentially (pun intended), an essential oil is a highly-concentrated organic compound distilled from a plant that contains the unique aromatic and medicinal qualities of the plant it comes from.
And we mean highly-concentrated--it can take hundreds of pounds of plant material--or, in the case of Bulgarian roses, up to 4000 pounds--to produce a single pound of its essential oil.
The Role of Essential Oils In Plants
While inside plants, essential oils are powerhouses that constantly work to:
- Attract insect pollinators
- Compete with other plants for space (allelopathy)
- Defend against insects and other predators
- Protect the plant from fungi and bacteria
These molecular compounds clearly play a vital role within the plants themselves. Their fragrances attract insects, such as bees, to pollinate the plant and disperse its seeds.
They release terpenes (types of hydrocarbons) to thwart the attacks of flies, worms, and other creatures; and terpenoids (terpenes that have been oxidized) to deter other plants from creeping up too close. They contain antifungal and antimicrobial agents that can be activated on their own or when mixed with resins.
Essential oils are clearly very important for plants, but they’re also useful for people too!
The Role of Essential Oils In Human History
Records of people using aromatic oils in Egypt, India, and Persia date as far back as 4500 B.C., and ancient Greece and Rome traded extensively with the Orient for scented plant-based oils and ointments.6, 7 They were used for culinary, religious, cosmetological, and medicinal purposes.
After the technique for distillation was discovered in Persia around 1000 A.D., they became a specialty in European pharmacies in the late Middle Ages. By the 1800s, more than 100 essential oils had been discovered, and knowledge of their molecular structures has increased dramatically in the last 100 years.
How To Use Essential Oils
Essential oils are mainly used one of two ways:
As dieticians say, the most common methods of use are “massaging into the skin or inhalation of vapors. Both methods allow the oil’s plant chemical compounds to cross into the bloodstream.” The extremely small molecular size of essential oils makes them ideal to be absorbed by the skin because they “Do not accumulate in the body over time – they simply offer up their healing properties and then pass on through.”
Health Benefits of Essential Oils
Since people can’t patent individual essential oils, big pharmaceutical companies haven’t done extensive testing on them. What we know of their use comes largely from thousands of years of experimentation and personal testimonies.
For instance, rosemary has been shown to improve memory recall, lavender to aid relaxation and sleep quality, and peppermint to improve focus and boost energy.
While it can be difficult to quantify effects of essential oils, they have been shown time and again to contain properties that are beneficial for the human body. Here are a few:
Essential oils would be worth adding to your life on the basis of their antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory qualities alone, but the analgesic--or pain-relieving--qualities of some are what intrigue us most here at ithriveX.
Treating Pain: Essential Oils vs. Traditional Pain Killers
Essential oils and traditional painkillers treat pain very differently. Traditional pain relievers block signals from your nerve endings to pain receptors in your brain but also add toxins and synthetic materials to your body. So it’s a win-lose. Essential oils jumpstart and boost different facets of your body’s natural healing processes, provide crucial compounds like vitamins, minerals, proteins, and antioxidants, and don’t add harmful substances to your body. So it’s a win-win.
Of course, there are times when powerful man-made painkillers are appropriate (we’re not urging hospitals to throw away all their epidurals or anything), but it’s important to remember that essential oils can help relieve pain in many situations, so you don’t always need to reach for that pill container.
The Total Guide To Buying Essential Oils: What To Look For
With so many different types and brands of essential oils on the market today, it can be pretty confusing to know which ones to choose. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way around this confusion, because “No 3rd party certification office or institution exists to stamp or ensure that this term [‘therapeutic grade oil’] is used properly and really only for situations where in fact the oils are pure, complete, and unadulterated.”
To put it simply: the essential oils market is unregulated. The terms “therapeutic grade” and “pure” are definitely good places to start, but since there’s no central governing body to verify quality, there’s always a chance this language could simply be marketing.
That said, do your due research when buying essential oils, because if they’ve been sourced and distilled correctly, they should retain all the health benefits that are intrinsic to the plant they come from. While not every product labels this explicitly, look for products that boast about containing no or few synthetic materials, and provide the oil’s botanical, or Latin, name (i.e. “Cannabis sativa” for hemp seed oil.)
This article can’t speak for every company, but the essential oils in ithriveX creams come from a reputable distributor, and our chemist verifies they’re of premium quality.
When Not To Use Essential Oils
There are situations where the use of essential oils is either hotly debated or strongly advised against. Here are a couple:1. Pregnancy
Dr. Axe explains that essential oils “can affect hormones” and so “are not recommended at this stage.” If you are or may become pregnant, specifically avoid the essential oils of:
2. Heart Medications
Essential oil aromatherapy is generally a safe way to promote healing, relaxation, and well-being without adverse side effects, but can react negatively with blood thinners. Specifically, avoid the essential oils of:
The 7 Essential Oils in ithriveX Creams
ithriveX Performance Cream is an example of a product that is both topical and analgesic. It is loaded with essential oils for sore muscles. Its magic comes from these 7 essential oils:
- Arnica Flower Extract
- Hemp Seed Oil
- Lemongrass Leaf Oil
- Jojoba Seed Oil
- Sweet Almond Seed Oil
- Bay Run Leaf Oil
- Lavender Flower Oil
Arnica Flower Extract
Arnica flower extract can improve blood circulation and cell oxygenation, and also reduce swelling, pain, inflammation, and bruising.
Hemp Seed Oil
Hemp seed oil contains antioxidants, protein, carotene, phytosterols and phospholipids, and is also a source of calcium, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus, as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, D, and E. It can reduce inflammation and hydrate skin, alleviating conditions like back pain, rheumatism, eczema, and psoriasis.
Lemongrass Leaf Oil
Lemongrass leaf oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamins B1, B5, and B6. It contains compounds that can have counterirritant, insecticidal, antifungal and antiseptic properties.
Jojoba Seed Oil
Jojoba seed oil contains proteins, liquid waxes, and unique fatty acids. It resembles skin’s natural emollients and moisturizers, nourishing bruises, burns, and scars
Sweet Almond Seed Oil
Sweet almond seed oil contains vitamins A, B, D, E, along with Omega-3 fatty acids. Its rich consistency can moisturize the skin without leaving an oily residue.
Bay Rum Leaf Oil
Bay run leaf oil has been said to have a warming effect on general aches and pains. It is used to aid rheumatism, neuralgia, muscular pain, circulation problems, colds, flu, dental infection, hair growth, general health of the scalp, diarrhea and skin infections.
Lavender Flower Oil
Lavender flower oil contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. It can ease muscle soreness, joint pain, and rheumatism.
Experiencing Essential Oils For Yourself
We know the phrase “essential oil” can sound a bit mystical and unclear. We’ve talked about how they aren’t really oils at all, but instead concentrated organic compounds distilled from plants; that they are vital for plant survival and pollination; and that humans have reaped their health benefits and aromatic qualities for thousands of years.
People have reported a vast spectrum of emotional and physical benefits of essential oils, depending on which oil, or combination of oils, they used. Ultimately, essential oils should be experienced personally to discover how they enhance your body, mood, and life.
1 “What Is An Essential Oil?” DoTerra, www.doterra.com/US/en/what-is-an-essential-oil.
2 “What Are Essential Oils?” National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/what-are-essential-oils.
3 Axe, Dr. Josh. “Dr. Axe's Essential Oils Guide.” Dr. Axe: Health and Fitness News, Recipes, Natural Remedies, 5 Sept. 2017, draxe.com/essential-oils-guide/.
4 “Do Essential Oils Work? A Sales-Free Look At The Research.” DIET vs DISEASE, 17 Feb. 2017, www.dietvsdisease.org/do-essential-oils-work/.
5 Betty, Crunchy, et al. “21 Things You Should Know About Using Essential Oils.” Crunchy Betty, 23 Oct. 2017, crunchybetty.com/best-essential-oils/.
6 The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Essential Oil.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 Apr. 2016, www.britannica.com/topic/essential-oil.
7 Canada, Healingscents. “History of Essential Oils.” Healingscents Canada, 14 Jan. 2015, healingscents.net/blogs/learn/18685859-history-of-essential-oils.
8 “How to Buy Essential Oils.” AromaWeb, www.aromaweb.com/articles/howtobuyessentialoils.asp.