Essential oils are potent healing allies. In many ways, essential oils are plants’ secret weapons to maintaining their health—so powerful they’re walled off in special vacuoles in plants. The plants release these sequestered oils to deter insects, repair wounds and cope with unexpected weather changes. Eucalyptus trees, for example, secrete essential oils to create a special water-conserving haze around their leaves to survive in a hot, dry desert climate.
The same oils that do this miraculous work in plants offer healing benefits for humans, as well. Numerous studies confirm essential oils’ abilities to affect our moods, reduce pain levels, heal wounds, fight illness and more. We can use essential oils in many safe and effective ways, but we don’t recommend ingesting them. Instead, turn to the following forms of topical and inhalation-based methods.
Method 1: Topical Application
Salves and lip balms deliver both the healing and beautifying benefits of essential oils. This recipe can be used either for salve or lip balm, although you may need to adjust the amount of beeswax slightly depending on how firm or soft you want the salve or balm to be.
1. In a double boiler (or a bowl over a pot of water), gently melt 2 ounces of beeswax over low heat.
2. Add 1 cup of polyunsaturated vegetable oil such as almond, avocado, safflower or sunflower. Essential oils absorb best when combined with polyunsaturated oils. You can use monounsaturated oils such as olive or coconut oil, but the essential oils will not absorb into the skin as well as if you use a polyunsaturated vegetable oil.
3. Test the thickness of the salve or lip balm by putting a teaspoon of the oil-beeswax combination in the freezer. If you want a softer consistency, add another teaspoon or two of oil and retest. If you want a firmer consistency, add a small amount of beeswax and retest.
4. When you have the consistency you want, remove from heat, then stir in either a single essential oil or a combination for a total of 48 to 96 drops (1 to 2 percent concentration).
5. Quickly pour into shallow glass or metal jars for salves; pour into small jars or tubes for lip balm.
6. Allow to cool completely before putting on the lids.
7. Keep the lid on when the salve or lip balm is not in use so that essential oils do not evaporate. Always label herbal salves and lip balms.
Caution: When making topical herb products, remember to use only pure, natural ingredients you intend to absorb deeply into the skin. Avoid adding essential oils to products that contain mineral oil or other petroleum products; parabens; and/or sodium laureth or lauryl sulfate. Current research demonstrates essential oils can enhance the absorption of many potent drugs and chemicals.
Essential Oils for Topical
Use These essential oils make good therapeutic blends for salves and lip balms.
• Soothing and healing skin: Lavender, helichrysum, St. John’s wort, rosemary verbenone, rose, German chamomile
• Lip balm: Peppermint, helichrysum (for very chapped lips), vanilla, rose geranium, fennel, coriander (avoid the citrus family as they increase sun sensitivity)
• Chest congestion: Pine, Siberian fir, pinyon pine, eucalyptus (use Eucalyptus radiata for children)
Method 2: Inhalation
When we breathe in essential oils, they penetrate the cells lining the lungs and cross immediately into the bloodstream. As we inhale, essential oils also cross the blood-brain barrier and directly influence the brain. You can explore three methods for inhaling essential oils: inhaler, diffuser and mister.
Inhalers are a wonderfully convenient way to carry essential oils with us—consider tossing one in your desk to relieve stress at work; carrying one when traveling to help ward off illness; or bringing an inhaler with a stimulating blend on a road trip. Using an inhaler targets delivery so not everyone in the room (or on the plane) is exposed to the essential oils. Essential oil inhalers can also be a helpful smoking-cessation aid. You can buy “blank” inhalers in most health-food stores or from online sources such as Stillpoint Aromatics (stillpointaromatics.com).
Tips for essential oil inhalers
1. Use a total of 8 to 10 drops of an individual essential oil or an essential oil blend.
2. Saturate the cotton wick with 8 to 10 drops of essential oil.
3. Place the wick inside the tube.
4. Insert the cap at the end of the tube.
5. Screw the tube into the outer casing.
6. “Recharge” the wick every two to three months by removing the cap and saturating the wick with another 8 to 10 drops of essential oil. Always recharge inhalers with the same essential oils.
You can diffuse essential oils in a variety of ways. Heating essential oils oxidizes them and creates caustic substances that damage the lungs and can cause other harm. Please use nonheat methods to diffuse the oils. One of the simplest options is essential oil ornaments—easy to make, beautiful decorations that scent your closet, car, bathroom or work space.
Tips for essential oil ornaments
1. Use nonfiring clay.
2. Shape the clay into your desired shape. You can use cookie cutters or simply roll the clay in a ball and then flatten it for an even, round shape.
3. Decorate if desired, e.g. with stamps or designs etched with a toothpick.
4. Add a hole at the top if you plan to hang the ornament.
5. Allow to dry thoroughly (usually 24 to 72 hours, depending on climate).
6. Saturate with 6 to 8 drops of a single essential oil or an essential oil blend.
7. Hang in your desired location.
8. “Recharge” the ornament by adding additional drops of essential oil every 3 to 4 weeks.
Even at levels too low to consciously smell, essential oils diffused into a room can improve mood, increase concentration and reduce bacteria and viruses in the air. When using essential oils, keep in mind that recent research has shown that less is more. Increasing the concentration of an essential oil may actually decrease its effectiveness. Really, a 1 to 2 percent dilution is enough! It’s best to choose glass spray bottles to contain mists, as essential oils will degrade plastic over time, and to opt for dark blue or amber glass to help prevent light from damaging your blends. Glass spray bottles can be surprisingly difficult to find in stores, but you can find them from many online sources, including Mountain Rose Herbs (mountainroseherbs.com).
Tips for essential oil misters
1. Fill an 8-ounce mister with water.
2. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of alcohol (vodka or pure grain alcohol). Alcohol helps disperse the essential oil in water.
3. For a 1 percent concentration, add 48 drops of a single essential oil or a blend. For a 2 percent concentration, add 96 drops.
4. Shake the bottle before misting. Even if you can no longer smell the essential oils after 15 to 20 minutes, their therapeutic effect will continue for another one to two hours.
Essential Oils for Inhalation
These essential oils can be used with any of the inhalation delivery methods: inhalers, misters or diffusers.
• Anxiety: Lavender, lemongrass, ylang ylang
• Increased concentration: Rosemary, basil, peppermint
• Improved athletic performance: Peppermint
• Sleep: Lavender, lemon balm, ylang ylang
• Meditation: Frankincense
• Bronchodilation: Eucalyptus
• Anti-inflammatory for nasal passages: Peppermint
• Antibacterial: Thyme, tea tree, eucalyptus; pine and other conifers; lemon and other citrus family members
• My favorite combination: Siberian fir and grapefruit
Learn tips on aromatherapy safety in Using Essential Oils Safely.
Judith Boice is an award-winning author, international teacher, naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist. She lives with her twin teenage boys and sees patients in Fairbanks, Alaska. For more information about essential oils, other natural medicines and health consultations, please visit her website.