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Getting started: A beginner’s guide to essential oils

Essential oils have become the trend of the times. After going through a phase of near-extinction in the late 19th centuries, they have come to rule the world of alternative medicine. They are found everywhere – in health stores, grocery shops, drug stores and in all pharmacies, both online and offline. With so many essential oils in vogue, a beginner is baffled when it comes to choice and use of essential oils. Forget about the choice, the beginner does not know where to start with regard to knowing about essential oils. This article will provide a brief guide on how to use and choose essential oils and also will detail on the nature of oils used in aromatherapy.

Essential oils – A clear definition: Essential oils are not vegetable oils or fatty oils or fragrance oils. They are plant oils that are extracted from plants, seeds, flowers, roots, bark, stems, fruits and various other plant parts through extraction methods like steam distillation, solvent extraction, cold-pressing and extraction with alcohol. High on nutritional and healing value, essential oils are more potent than the plant from which they are extracted. This is because often a whole plant is needed to create just a single drop of essential oil.

Essential oils are easily absorbed: Some link essential oils to filmy and greasy oils like olive oil, almond oil, peanut oil etc. Those are thick oils whereas essential oils are thin, clear and easily absorbed by the skin. Unlike base oils, essential oils evaporate quickly at room temperature. An oil’s chemicals are present in body cells within minutes of its application. This is why essential oils are used to treat illnesses in aromatherapy.

Therapeutic grade of essential oils: Essential oils work only if they are within the therapeutic grade. Some marketers and shops sell watered down essential oils which do not work effectively in treatment of ailments. Most of these are inexpensive and diluted versions of original oils. When you buy an essential oil, you need to check if it is within the therapeutic grade of usage.

Categories of essential oils: Essential oils are classified under major categories based on their extraction/production methods. This is because only the chemical composition of an oil determines its quality and effectiveness. An essential oil contains about 80-400 nutritional chemicals of the plant body. Since several things are common to plants as well as humans, essential oils are useful in treatment of many ailments and disorders.

Apart from the classification based on production methods, essential oils fall into three categories based on their levels of evaporation: Top Notes, Middle Notes and Base Notes. Oils under Top Notes evaporate very quickly and have a greenish, fresh aroma. Oils termed as Middle Notes help with body’s metabolism and functions. Base notes oils have a lovely, warm aroma and have relaxing and sedative properties.

Essential oils storage: Essential oils are generally sold in tinted glass bottles. This is because they are sensitive to light and should be stored in cool, dark places. Since essential oils evaporate quickly, the lids of their bottles should be screwed tightly to avoid evaporation and damage of oils.

Essential oils usage: Essential oils can be used in baths, for cleaning, can be inhaled and applied or massaged on the body. When massaged, essential oils are not used directly, but they are mixed with carrier oils to make massaging easier and effective. Sometimes essential oils can even be worn as perfumes or cologne by rubbing them directly onto the skin.