What Are Essential Oils And What Are They Used For?

Even though essential oils have existed for centuries, they have come into limelight for various reasons. Be it curing an ailment or using it for religious purposes, their uses differ from one culture to the other. Though it is tough to determine accurately when aromatic or essential oils gained their fame as efficient healing agents, eventually their benefits spread throughout the globe.

Be it beauty, health, or aromatherapy, experts in these domains leverage them to achieve their desired results. If you aren’t aware what are essential oils and what are they used for, then this is the right article to unveil about them.

So, let’s get started.

What Are Essential Oils?

By definition, essential oils are concentrated hydrophobic liquids that contain volatile aromatic compounds from the plants.

In simple words, essential oils are highly concentrated forms of natural oils that are extracted from different parts of a plant like flowers, roots, leaves, bark, peels, stems, etc.

Typically, essential oils are created through distillation — a process that separates water and oil-based compounds of a plant (or any of its parts) by steaming. With this, the most powerful therapeutic compounds of a plant are separated into a potent single oil.

Now, talking about the potency of essential oils, they are so high that even a single drop is equivalent to several teaspoons of a dried herb. Say, for instance, one drop of pure peppermint oil is equivalent to 20+ cups of peppermint tea. This means that even the tiniest amount is really high.

Moreover, their high potency gives them that strong aroma.

Note: Oils can be 50+ times more potent than in their dried form.

what are essential oils

What Is A True Essential Oil?

The way an essential oil is made is highly important. The essential oils that are extracted through chemical processes other than the methods listed below are not pure or true essential oils.

An essential oil can be “true (or pure)” only when it is isolated through:

  • Distillation (water, steam, steam/water)
  • Expression (or cold pressing)

Apart from the above two, there is another method, which is specific only to a few essential oils. It is called maceration, where the plant (can be any of its part) is macerated or soaked in lukewarm water so that the important enzymes are released.

A few examples of oils that are extracted through the maceration process include bitter almond, onion, wintergreen, garlic, etc.

How To Choose An Essential Oil?

uses of essential oils

In order to generate sales, most companies usually claim that their essential oils are “medical grade” or “pure,” as, these terms not only attract buyers but also they are not universally defined.

However, the composition and quality of essential oils differ greatly. Therefore, remember these tips while choosing one:

  • Purity: Look for an essential oil, which purely contains aromatic plant constituents – meaning that they shouldn’t contain synthetic oils or additives. If a brand uses pure oils, then it will list its botanical name (For example, Lavandula officinalis) instead of just saying “lavender essential oil.”
  • Quality: As said above, a true essential oil is known by the process it is extracted. Pick the oil only if it is extracted through cold pressing or distillation method.
  • Brand: Avoid buying essential oils that do not have any brand name. Look if a brand is reputed by quickly going through its reviews. Only a reputed brand will sell high-quality essential oils.

What Are The Other Names For Essential Oils?

Though they are popularly known as “essential oils,” they have a few other names like:

  • Plant Oils
  • Ethereal Oils
  • Aromatic Oils
  • Volatile Oils
  • Aromatherapy Oils

What Properties Do Essential Oils Have?

  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal
  • Insecticidal
  • Nematicidal

How Do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils enter into your body in three different ways:

  • When inhaled
  • When applied on the skin
  • When ingested (this is not recommended except for a few cases)

Now, let’s understand how an essential works on your body.

Your nasal cavity has something called olfactory nerve cells, which are mainly responsible for:

Sense of smell

However, they also play a major role in your taste sense too.

Each nerve cell has various receptors, which react to diverse scents. They are more like puzzle pieces. While some odor molecules suit certain receptors others may not.

But whenever all of these pieces are aptly positioned, an electrical message is sent to your brain – the part that is responsible for memory formation and mood. It processes the signal sent by the olfactory nerve cells and that’s when the scents or aroma from an essential oil triggers your memory and changes your mood.

Have you ever experienced a point where the scents of a particular perfume made feel nostalgic or miss someone? Perhaps, a quick whiff of a specific cookie took you to your childhood memory.

Not only your memory recollection is instantaneous but also because your sense of smell is fastest and strongest.

Fact: Good aromas help in keeping humans happy.

The naturally-occurring chemical compounds in an essential oil are something that makes them so great. Their medicinal properties can affect your mood—and overall well-being with just a twist of its cap.


The ideal way for your body to absorb the beneficial components of an essential oil is by:

Inhaling through the nose and absorbing through your skin’s surface.

1. Inhalation

When you inhale an essential oil through your nose, small nerves instantly send a signal to your brain and work on the parts that moderate your body as well as your mind. Inhalation is the direct and most effective delivery method to receive the nurturing constituents in an essential oil.

The moment you smell an essential oil, receptor and cilia cells in your olfactory organ sense the whiff and send signals to your brain’s limbic system (centre of emotion and memory) immediately.

2. Absorption

When an essential oil is applied to the skin, your hair follicles and spores absorb its healing constituents and pass onto the bloodstream.

As soon as they reach your bloodstream, they scatter to particular organs where they work. Out of all, pulse points are the key regions where blood vessels are nearest to your skin’s surface. Hence, applying an essential oil onto your pulse points allow faster absorption and work faster.

Note: To get the most from an essential oil, apply it to your temples, wrists, and at the back of your neck.

What Are Essential Oils Used For?

Essential oils are primarily used in aromatherapy.

The NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy) defines aromatherapy as “the therapeutic application or the medicinal use of aromatic substances (or essential oils) for holistic healing.”

Aromatherapy (also known as essential oil therapy) signifies to a range of traditional, complementary or alternative therapies, which use essential oils and some other aromatic plant combinations.

The practice of using essential oils aren’t new. Since ages, they were known to uplift a person’s health and mood.

Aromatherapy comprises three applications:

  • Topical
  • Inhalation
  • Massage

Besides being “natural,” understand that essential oils are nothing but potent plant chemicals. Hence, they can be dangerous if not used in the right way. While using essential oils, follow an expert’s advice and never use them blindly.

Other Uses Of Essential oils

Apart from aromatherapy, essential oils have other uses too. They include:

  • Freshening up your home through diffusers
  • Preparing homemade cosmetics or mixtures
  • Making homemade mosquito or insect repellents
  • Preserving certain foods
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