We’ve undoubtedly all dabbled with essential oils at some point, be it sprinkling relaxing drops of lavender oil into a steaming bath tub, or dabbing soothing eucalyptus on a hanky during winter months. Yet most of us know little about the potent, myriad and even medicinal properties of these plant-derived wonder oils through aromatherapy – the use of oils (or aroma compounds) to enhance mood and psychological or physical wellbeing.
We look at six of the most widely used essential oils and shine a light on their key benefits, while looking at ways they can be diluted and utilised in unexpected ways – think everything from DIY hand sanitisers and at-home massage oils to muscle compresses and cake flavourings…
Damascus roses are considered the preferred flower variety for oil (extracted by steam distillation), but it’s not just their heady scent that’s in demand by perfumers – the oil’s mood-reviving aroma has long been used by aromatherapists and holistic therapists to treat anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction, too. Its strong anti-inflammatory compounds make it popular in the treatment of digestive issues, as well as respiratory problems such as asthma. One of the most potent antimicrobials of all the essential oils, its frequently found in face lotions and acne creams due to its ability to kill the bacteria that leads to spots, and, in more strengthened formulas, helps fight psoriasis.
How to use: The unique and delicate flavour of rose has been incorporated into Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. Long considered a perfect pairing to cocoa, the delicious combination is having something of a resurgence in bijous patisseries and cake companies, so why not add a few drops to a decadent chocolate recipe such as this flourless dark chocolate rose cake, topped with a scattering of petals? Alternatively, harness its long-regarded skin refining and toning properties and add one drop to 100ml of water, bottle, and use as a visage-reviving facial mister.
Essential oil aficionados often cite the exotic whiff of ylang ylang as their favourite aroma (it’s actually one of the key notes in Chanel’s iconic No. 5 perfume). Distilled from the yellow petals of the tropical ylang ylang tree, the sweetly floral oil is a powerful hypotensive, meaning anyone suffering from high blood pressure may want to trial this as an alternative to mainstream medicines, many of which can have adverse side effects. It can also have a mildly sedative effect on the nervous system, thereby helping with tension, panic attacks, shock, rapid breathing and even insomnia. Those trying to balance out overly dry or oily skin should consider incorporating sebum-moderating ylang ylang into their skincare regime.
How to use: Embrace its skin reviving properties by making an anti-aging skin toner by adding three drops to a cup of chamomile tea, allowing to cool, and then apply to face using cotton pads. Or, combine two to three drops with coconut oil for a luxe scented massage oil (ylang ylang is also an aphrodisiac, after all). If you suffer allergic reactions to shop bought fragrance, try mixing 100ml of jojoba oil with six drops of ylang ylang and orange essential oil for a subtle perfume.
Extracted from the leaves and twigs of eucalyptus trees, the distinctive scent of this medicinal oil is instantly awakening (no wonder one of its many uses is to aid concentration). The winter oil of choice, eucalyptus has been used to treat the respiratory complaints throughout history, from unblocking stuffed noses (the oil reacts with nasal membranes, reducing and loosening mucous) and settling a chesty or throaty cough (the over the counter Vicks VapoRub contains 1.2% eucalyptus oil, after all), to fighting the muscle pain and sore joints associated with flu (its cooling capabilities are also used to disinfect and calm wounds).
How to use: If the cold bug has already bit you this season, relieve sinus congestion by adding a few drops of oil to a bowl of boiling water to create a steam inhalation – just be sure to close your eyes to avoid a sting. For a scalp reviving head mask, mix a palm full of coconut oil with one drop of eucalyptus oil and apply to head for 5 minutes (some green beauty gurus swear by this formula as a chemical-free head lice treatment, too).
Antioxidant-packed lemon oil is the undisputed all-rounder of the essential oil family. First up, the oil is packed with white blood cell-stimulating vitamins making it an instant immune system booster (try adding a few drops to bath water to strengthen the nervous system), and can be used to increase focus and concentration when dabbed lightly on the temples (making it a perfect pick-me-up for that mid-afternoon office slump).
Those who battle with acid indigestion and heartburn would be wise to try the carminative effects of lemon oil added to a glass of water, or mix several drops with a dollop of coconut oil to use as a rub on cramping tummies. Next time you’re battling with a sore throat, use a drop (rather than a slice) of lemon in your hot water and honey – it will act as a super soother while also providing an alkaline body cleanse for the liver and kidneys.
How to use: If a glue or sap stain is ruining the appearance of your work surface, try applying neat lemon oil which acts as a non-toxic solvent for dissolving sticky substances. A great non-chemical air freshener, apply an oil dotted hanky to the bottom of laundry baskets and air vents to neutralise any odour or pathogens in the air. For those in search of a natural hair highlighter, apply straight to desired strands and head out into the heat for sun-kissed streaks.
Tee Tree Oil
Chances are that, at some point, you’ve daubed tee tree onto a pesky blemish. Sourced from the Cypress-like Melaleuca alternifolia tree, its powerful antimicrobial and healing properties have made it a go-to component of any spot cream, but it’s even better mixed with a little almond oil and applied directly to the problem area (studies have shown it’s just as effective as benzoly peroxide in treating acne).
Anti-viral and anti-fungal, it makes a brilliant home ready for athlete’s foot and stubborn fungal nail infections; its antiseptic healing properties also make it ideal for treating corns, cold sores, rashes and severely chapped lips. Looking to speed up your hair growth? Mix a few drops with a palm full of almond oil and massage into scalp – it will unclog hair follicles to help stimulate growth.
How to use: If your shoes are smelling, well, less than fragrant, liberally pepper the insoles with tee tree oil – it will both banish odour and cleanse the material of any existing bacteria. A brilliant eco bacteria killer, try taking a damp cloth and sprinkle on some oil before wiping germ-prone domestic spaces such as computer keyboards or washing machine doors.
Lavender is synonymous with calm, and rightly so – the herb has been clinically proven not only to reduce sleep disturbances and insomnia, but to increase the ‘slow-wave’ sleep essential to deep slumber (try dabbing several drops on a tissue and placing under your pillow to see the improvement). Lavender oil’s sedating effect also benefits those suffering from depression, and has proven particularly effective in medical trials measuring the effects of lavender on people with agitation relating to dementia.
Anti-inflammatory, it’s frequently used to treat conditions like migraines, sprains and joint pain, and new research is underway to study its seemingly impressive anti-oxidant-boosting qualities which have shown to reduce symptoms in diabetes patients who have inhaled diffuser vapour. A tried and tested skincare saviour, detoxifying lavender oil is a fantastic DIY facial steam to clear pores – just add a few drops to a bowl of steaming water for instant skin and mood enhancement.
How to use: Don’t waste your pennies on pricey scent diffusers to fragrance your home – make your own and watch one bottle of lavender last and last (it will also help ward off moths). http://naturesnurtureblog.com/homemade-air-fresheners-reed-diffusers/. For an all-purpose, chemical-free surface cleaner that really works, add 150ml of vinegar to a 500ml spray bottle, fill with water, then add 20 drops of lavender essential oil.