A Skeptic’s Guide to Essential Oils

Walking with Cake: Essential oils and natural diffuser

(A few of my essential oils and natural diffuser.)

As my interest in natural beauty has grown over the last several years, I’ve started using essential oils in a variety of ways.  I’ve been a perfume lover for years, but after an allergic reaction a few summers ago, I stopped using artificial scents. Essential oils initially appealed to me because I can add one single oil or a blend to unscented lotion or a carrier oil to create my own fragrance. Most of my essential oil use is for aromatherapy purposes, and I maintain a healthy dose of skepticism regarding their effectiveness, specifically when it comes to medical claims. I’ve done a bit of research and found some interesting facts, as well as a few safe, practical ways that essential oils work for me.

I have friends who sell different brands of essential oils and I’ve heard many claims about their benefits. As an ethical consumer, I prefer to dig into the details of a product before I buy it, and it’s especially important to do your own research before dabbling in essential oils. Young Living and doTERRA are the two most popular multi-level marketing brands on the market, and doTERRA was founded by former Young Living employees after an internal company disagreement. In 2014, the FDA issued a warning letter to both Young Living and doTERRA, as well as a third essential oils brand, for marketing their products as potential cures for the Ebola virus and other serious illnesses.

It’s my opinion that strategic marketing is behind the resurgence and success of these essential oil brands, and I also find it especially telling that their use has increased as health insurance and quality healthcare become less accessible in the United States. There is very little data to suggest that essential oils offer much more than a placebo effect for many health concerns, though in my research, I found a few studies that were interesting. If you are in the market for essential oils but prefer to avoid MLM brands, Now Foods (sold at many grocery stores and at Amazon) and Eden’s Garden are two great options. Everyone who uses essential oils will have a different opinion on the quality and scents of different brands, but as a skeptical consumer of oils, I’ve found very little difference between all of the brands I’ve mentioned. It really seems to come down to a scent preference.

Also, common sense usage is important with essential oils. I’ve encountered what I perceive to be a metaphysical reverence held by some lovers of essential oils, and I also chalk that up to brilliant marketing campaigns. Essential oils are a product, much like any beauty product or over-the-counter medicine you might buy, and there is no spiritual transformation that occurs when you use them. Should you experience a skin irritation or rash, it’s important to stop using the oil immediately; it’s not a sign that your body is working through unexplored feelings with the oil or that toxins are being removed. It just means your body chemistry does not work well with the oil you applied to your skin. My skin has reacted poorly to beauty products containing citrus and rose oils, so I stopped using them. It’s also true that some essential oils can be taken orally or used when cooking, but it’s best to do your own research before trying them or giving them to children or pets.

In my day-to-day life, I’ve found a few beneficial uses for essential oils. Many oils smell lovely, and I enjoy diffusing them throughout my house. It’s an easy and safe method to enjoy the fragrance of oils without using them on your body. I’ve also found that mixing lemon or orange oil with vinegar as a cleaning spray is a great way to add a bit of refreshing scent while I wipe down my bathroom counters.

Lavender, one of the most commonly used essential oils, has been studied and found to have some short-term benefits, including aiding in relaxation. I will add a drop to my younger son’s evening bath when he is feeling sick or cranky, and it helps him to relax before bed. If I am particularly stressed, I will apply a few drops of lavender mixed with a carrier oil to my temples or under my nose before I fall asleep, too.

Rosemary oil is known to help with hair growth and a recent study found that it produced similar results when compared to the drug minoxidil as treatment for androgenetic alopecia. I add a few drops to my shampoo and conditioner bottles and also recently tried this easy-to-make hair serum using castor oil as a base. I apply a drop to my eyebrows before bed and I have noticed a small amount of growth along the outer edges of my brow line. I have thyroid issues, which can cause brow thinning, and the new hair growth could also stem from successfully controlling my thyroid hormone levels via medication.

I enjoy using a few blended oils by various companies as natural perfumes, and my very favorite is DoTERRA’s ClaryCalm. I use it strictly as a perfume and love its light and refreshing smell. My husband also uses AromaTouch, along with daily stretching, to ease his sore muscles after running. I also use a few natural beauty products that contain small amounts of essential oils as secondary ingredients, though I have to be selective about which products I try.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed testing various oils and scents by different brands, and with a bit of research and some general understanding of how they work, I feel comfortable using them on a daily basis. As with any natural product, your experience might be different and I definitely recommend doing your own research, too.

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