Essential oils – literally, the essences of plants - have been widely used in health and wellbeing for centuries. The Egyptians used them in everything from beauty treatments to food preparation, while Roman Bath-houses were filled with fragrant oils (often used to disguise a lack of personal hygiene!)
Plant oils have long been used as medicines, too, and the impacts of their complex compounds on the mind and body are still being studied to this day.
Bioavailability – How do they work?
Two modes of application are the most common: aromatic and topical.
Due to their ‘volatility’, or ability to carry easily through the air, aromatic exposure to essential oils is considered the very effective.
Aromatic vapours are inhaled and the compounds absorbed through the respiratory tract and lungs, before being circulated through the blood stream.
Oil diffusers and steam vapour are two of the most traditional methods of aromatic exposure, but finely diffused sprays or mists are also gaining popularity (see below).
Topical application is also effective because the fat soluble nature of essential oils allows them to easily penetrate through the membranes of cells and be rapidly absorbed by the skin. If you’ve ever dabbed oil on your wrists or temples, or applied it in a skin cream or massage oil you’ve tried this method.
As powerful natural compounds it’s important to remember to treat pure essential oils with respect and use only as directed – essential oils for the most part should never be ingested, and in most cases should be diluted if used topically. Seek advice from a healthcare professional if you have allergies, sensitivities or health conditions, and look for reputable Australian brands whose claims need to be backed by consumer law.
However essential oils' power means they can also be a useful remedy for many health issues and reduce the use of medications as a first line treatment.
A good example is tea tree oil, which, applied topically, is a powerful clinically-proven alternative to antifungal medication.
Another is lavender oil, which many studies show has a calming, relaxing effect on the nervous system helping reduce mild anxiety and promoting sleep – offering a complimentary, or alternative option to sleep or headache medication.
Health and Home
But health and wellbeing are only the beginning. The natural germ-killing and deodorising properties of essential oils make them perfect for household uses as well.
From spraying rubbish bins and shoes to kill germs and reduce odours, to freshening linen cupboards, drawers and pet areas, essential oils can be multi-taskers with an enormous range of practical uses.
With asthma, allergies and skin sensitivities on the rise, many families are becoming more aware of the chemicals they use in the home every day.
Some oils, such as eucalyptus, can even kill 99.99 percent of household bacteria, including germs like e.coli and salmonella which cause food poisoning.
Eucalyptus is also a great helper in the laundry wash, including for washing woollens.
Others, such as tea tree, are good at keeping mould at bay or dettering moths.
Not just a ‘pretty smell’, these useful talents make essential oils a great alternative to chemicals to keep the family healthy and stop the spread of germs.
A Spray a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?
In recent times “Spray” versions of essential oils have become popular. Bringing essential oil use into the 21st century, they use aerosol technology to finely diffuse particles of 100% essential oil into the air, or onto the skin.
A 200g spray can of eucalyptus oil, for example can have up to 1000 ‘sprays’ inside, allowing for a small, metered dose that may be repeated if necessary, reducing wastage.
Oil diffused in a spray dries quickly and creates less mess. It is easier to use for applications such as freshening rooms, spraying mattresses and getting at hard-to-reach nooks and crannies – such as removing stickers from car windshields (eucalyptus), or spraying tinea-affected toes (tea tree oils).
Another very popular product are Aromatherapy Room Mists, which contain oil blends that combine to help lift mood or ease tension - a quick spray of these is an easy & convenient way to get the benefits of aromatherapy without the hassle.
Take out message? Essential oils are a wonderful complement to a healthy lifestyle, and they are far more than just pretty fragrances, but complex compounds to be respected. Educate, use wisely & enjoy.
DID YOU KNOW?
‘Monoterpenoid compounds’, just one of the many types of chemical constituents found in essential oils, are readily absorbed after topical application. This has been verified through analysis of blood concentrations which found maximum levels were achieved in as little as 10 minutes.
Use only as directed and if symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional.