WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?
Volatile liquids and aromatic compounds that are distilled or pressed from plants! Essential oils may be sourced from the seeds, roots, flowers and leaves of plants, as well as from an entire shrub or resin from a tree, and are far more potent than the botanicals from which they are derived. Through careful steam distillation, hydro-distillation or cold pressing, the phytochemicals in the plants are amplified in the resulting oil. Each may contain hundreds of molecular compounds – phytochemicals – that are known to have protective or disease preventive properties. Plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves but recent research demonstrates that they can also protect and support all the systems in our own bodies.
The phytochemicals present in essential oils can have profound effects on the human body. Synthetic or inorganic substances do not contain any life force. By comparison, the organic compounds in essential oils are recognized by the human body and are known to have powerful antioxidant, anti-microbial, enzymatic, hormonal and emotional supportive effects. They can also be vital in supporting a healthy neurological and immune system too.
Plants not only play a vital role in the ecological balance of our planet, but they have also been linked to the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of mankind for thousands of years. Records dating back 4500 years document the use of plant substances with aromatic properties used in rituals, beauty care, food preparation and medicinal practices. Timeless traditions have supported the use of plants as man’s first medicines and are considered the root of today’s pharmaceuticals. And they’re making a modern comeback!
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
In a word? TOXINS. Harmful synthetic chemical compounds. The kinds that are known to cause chronic illnesses, developmental delays, reproductive abnormalities, neurological disorders (the list goes on), and yes- even cancer.
Synthetic chemicals are abundant because they are easy to produce and cheap to make. Science has led to so many important discoveries and life-altering gifts to humanity, but it has also increased our chemical burden. And we are sicker for it. Less than 100 years ago, man-made synthetic chemicals were used far more sparingly than they are today. Over 80,000 man-made chemicals are known to be in use in our modern world. The EPA has tallied over 10,000 of these ingredients lurking in our cosmetics, food and consumer products. Yet, only 200 of these chemicals have been tested by the FDA for safety, and companies are under no legal or regulatory obligation to assess how these chemicals may harm our health. Out of the 200 chemicals tested, only five have been regulated and the last time our federal chemical safety law was updated? 1976 (Natural Resources Defense Council). We are behind the times.
Just because we can reach for a product on the shelves of our favorite corner pharmacy or home goods retailer, does not make it safe. Just ask the European Union. Now 28 countries strong, the EU has more stringent and protective laws for cosmetics than the US. Since 2013 a law banning 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects went into effect in the EU. In contrast, the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics. Unlike the United States, EU law requires pre-market safety assessments of cosmetics, mandatory registration of cosmetic products, government authorization for the use of nanomaterials and prohibits animal testing for cosmetic purposes. Not so in our country.
HOW CAN ESSENTIAL OILS HELP REDUCE OUR CHEMICAL BURDEN?
Essential oils are Mother Nature’s alternative to using harsh synthetic and toxic chemicals. They also have the added benefit and potential for therapeutically supporting every system of our body and restoring balance. It’s widely accepted that plants can heal the body, and that a plant-based diet can lead to better health. The very oils that are responsible for healing and promoting longevity for the plant can also have an extraordinary impact on our own health as well.
The average American home contains over 63 hazardous products. The items in our personal care and household cleaning products contain hidden toxins and harmful by-products. As such, we are exposed to an estimated 400+ synthetic chemicals each day! Our indoor air quality is estimated to be 7 times more polluted than the outdoor air. And the average American woman applies 300 chemicals to her body a day – 80 of them before breakfast! If you’re curious, you can find out more here: www.davidsuzuki.org and here EPA’s Toxic Chemical List.
A national study on chemical exposure called, “Is It In Us?” revealed that phthalates, BPA and PBDEs were found in blood samples from every person who took part in the study. The CDC also monitors the effect of environmental chemicals which is available in depth here: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport.
So it’s not just what we eat that influences our health, but also what we put onto our skin and what we inhale that can make a difference. And that’s where essential oils can play a key supporting role. Becoming aware is the first step in knowing more. And when we know more, we can do better!
The purity of an essential oil determines its safety and potency*, and its potency is affected by preserving the delicate constituents in the plant. These constituents can be affected by a vast number of variables, including the part(s) of the plant used, soil conditions, fertilizers used, geographical region, climate, altitude, harvesting methods and distillation processes. Like a fine wine, the purity and therefore potency of essential oils are in the hands of the maker!
Here is an example of the importance of precise timing during distillation. Cypress has 280 known chemical constituents that must all be present to have its full therapeutic benefits. Distilling for 24 hours will yield that result. But distilling for 20 hours yields only 20 constituents, and fewer hours yields no therapeutic benefit whatsoever. Unfortunately, time is money, and most Cypress available in the US is distilled for fewer than four hours.
*A brief note on the importance of sourcing quality essential oils. Like the food we eat, how plants are seeded (non-GMO), cultivated (pesticide free), harvested (without solvents, child labor, harmful farming practices, etc.) distilled (proper temperatures/pressures, first distillation), and bottled (no additives, fragrances or fillers) are important factors to consider when choosing your essential oils. Please do your research and ask questions.
HOW ARE ESSENTIAL OILS USED?
Aromatically. Topically. Internally. Together, these three approaches highlight the versatility and power of essential oils. An integrated approach can offer tremendous benefits.
When we use essential oils aromatically, that means we are inhaling them to receive their benefits. Inhaling oils from their bottles, our palms, aromatherapy jewelry, ultrasonic diffusers and homemade spritzers and perfumes are quick and easy ways to use essential oils. Within seconds the phytochemicals have crossed the blood-brain barrier. Within 20 seconds they are traveling in our blood stream. And within 20 minutes they have made a complete trip around the body.
Traveling the olfactory pathways, the aromatic compounds in essential oils reach the limbic region of our brains within seconds. The limbic system is responsible for such things as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance, just to name only a few.
It’s also our emotional control center. Anxiety, depression, fear, anger, joy (etc.) all emanate from this region. And if that wasn’t enough, the limbic region also houses the hypothalamus, one of the most important areas of the brain responsible for things like body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, circadian cycles and hormone release. Aromatically, essential oils can have a profound physiological and psychological effect, and using them can open up pathways to improved health and wellness.
When we use essential oils topically, it means that we are using our body’s largest organ – our skin- as a transport mechanism. Proper dilution with a suitable carrier oil – or fatty oil – allows the body to equalize the absorption rate of the oil. It also protects our skin as the highly concentrated oils get to work. Carrier oils are fatty oils that many of us already have in our pantries – coconut oil, avocado oil, grape seed oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, etc! Other carriers include witch hazel and vodka which are most often reserved for sprays and perfumes. Some high quality, pure and absolute essential oils can also be used “neat” – without the aid of carrier oils to maximize their therapeutic benefits. Dilution charts are widely available for reference.
Recipes for homemade body butters, shower gels, shampoos, room sprays, perfumes, lotions and other essential oil infused products are becoming widely available. Making our own essential-oil infused products not only allows us to ditch harmful toxins, but it also provides great therapeutic benefits. Gathering with family and friends for some apothecary in the kitchen can also create a foundation for awareness, education and better health, and more intimate relationships with those we care about!
High quality, absolutely pure essential oils can also be taken internally. Essential oils can be dropped on the tongue and taken sublingually. They can be dropped in our teas and beverages. They can be added to veggie capsules and taken like a traditional dietary supplement. They can also be used in the kitchen to season our favorite recipes. Check your high-quality essential oils and select those that are GRAS – generally regarded as safe- when using them internally. This is a convenient marker used by the FDA that indicates the essential oil has a well documented history of safe use. It also serves to assist the oily enthusiast in selecting which oils to use as flavor enhancers and dietary supplements.
If you’re just starting out using essential oils, consult your essential oil labels for dilution help and consider the guidance of your health care practitioner if you are taking medications, pregnant/nursing or otherwise under care.
HOW DO I KNOW IF ESSENTIAL OILS ARE RIGHT FOR ME AND MY FAMILY?
We don’t know what we don’t know. So if you’re curious about them, try them. See how your body responds. Follow the labeling directions. Ask an experienced Aromatherapist, Naturopathic Doctor, Healer, Wellness Coach, or friend for help. Start by gradually eliminating harmful products from your kitchen and bathroom. Make a list of the things that concern you most, and prioritize what you’d like to switch out for a healthier version. Collect recipes on your Pinterest board that you can make with your family and friends. Do a little apothecary in the kitchen. Return to homemade gift giving and start making those bath fizzles, rollerball perfumes, immune support rollers, healing salves and more! Just do it!
If you are interested in learning how your favorite personal care and household cleaning products measure up in terms of their toxic load, there are two helpful apps HealthyLiving, and Think Dirty. These can be particularly useful when identifying, prioritizing and replacing the harmful toxic products lurking in your home and cabinets.
If you are interested in learning how to create a healing home and support a toxin free lifestyle with the help of essential oils, you can contact Maggie at 917-301-1734. Maggie is a student of aromatherapy and Certified Life Coach with an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneur Management. As a former Wall Street exec and corporate castoff, Maggie is on a mission to help people and families live better with less toxins, by educating, coaching and empowering them to be the best versions of themselves.