OIL OR NOTH­ING

As es­sen­tial oils slip into the main­stream, we’re here to de­code what they are, how they work and what to do with them

Best Health - - CONTENTS - By COURT­NEY REILLY-LARKE

Es­sen­tial oils are ev­ery­where. Here’s why (and how) you should use them

A FEW YEARS AGO, IF YOU CA­SU­ALLY LISTED laven­der es­sen­tial oil as your pre­ferred sleep aid, you prob­a­bly would have re­ceived skep­ti­cal stares re­served for talk of crystals and chakras. But it’s 2017 and es­sen­tial oils are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar across Canada. How­ever, the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion re­mains: Do es­sen­tial oils work?

“I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in es­sen­tial oils and the tra­di­tional healing power of plants in dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” says Dr. Roohi Qureshi, a Toronto-based doc­tor and founder of the nat­u­ral skin­care brand Leaves of Trees. “A lot of our phar­ma­co­log­i­cal treat­ments to­day ac­tu­ally have their origins in dif­fer­ent plants.” She cites the likes of as­pirin (orig­i­nally de­rived from wil­low bark) and dig­i­talis (which comes from the fox­glove plant), to name a few. “It makes sense that es­sen­tial oils would have healing prop­er­ties,” says Dr. Qureshi.

Even the orig­i­nal 1886 recipe for Coca-Cola in­cluded es­sen­tial oils like orange, lemon, nut­meg, cin­na­mon, co­rian­der and neroli. They’ve been steadily pop­ping up in beauty and skin­care prod­ucts, too. They’re no longer strangers to the main­stream, but why the sud­den leap from crunchy health-food store aisle to swanky mall real es­tate?

One of the rea­sons why es­sen­tial oils may soon be ubiq­ui­tous in your medicine cabi­net and on your skin­care shelf is be­cause of our sparkly new sense of en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness. “Peo­ple are see­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween chem­i­cals – with their ef­fects on the en­vi­ron­ment and the body – and nat­u­ral reme­dies,” says Is­abelle Pac­chioni, co-founder of the French es­sen­tial oil and nat­u­ral prod­uct line Puressen­tiel. “We’re at a point where we need to change our way of think­ing.”

Lit­tle plants can have a big ef­fect on your health, but how? Make no mistake, es­sen­tial oils are en­tirely dif­fer­ent from the vegetable oil in your pantry. This oil – the volatile oil that’s found within that of­fers ex­tra ben­e­fits and strength – is but one com­po­nent of the plant that has been ex­tracted with steam dis­til­la­tion. The process goes like this: Freshly picked plants are placed over boil­ing wa­ter so that the steam pulls the oils out. The ris­ing steam is con­tained in a ves­sel and moved along a tube, where it’s quickly cooled so that it con­denses back into wa­ter. The wa­ter and es­sen­tial oil don’t mix, mak­ing it easy to re­trieve the oil. This leaves us with a highly con­cen­trated oil to use for aro­mather­apy, the ther­a­peu­tic use of plant-de­rived, aro­matic es­sen­tial oils to pro­mote phys­i­cal and men­tal well­ness.

Next, the es­sen­tial oil needs to get from the vial to the body, but it’s not as sim­ple as drink­ing it (which, by the way, you should never do). Julie Clark, a cer­ti­fied aro­mather­a­pist and founder of the Toronto skin­care com­pany Prov­ince Apothe­cary, says that es­sen­tial oils can be ab­sorbed into your body in a few dif­fer­ent ways. The first way is in­hala­tion, en­ter­ing your sys­tem through your mu­cous mem­brane and af­fect­ing your ner­vous sys­tem from there. Most aro­mather­a­pists also rec­om­mend putting es­sen­tial oils in your bath be­cause they can en­ter your sys­tem that way (and it doesn’t sound like an en­tirely un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence). They can also be ap­plied top­i­cally, pen­e­trat­ing the skin to en­ter the blood­stream, sim­i­lar to a birth con­trol patch (Clark rec­om­mends putting them at the back of your hair­line).

Once they’re in your body, the oils do all the work. “Es­sen­tial oils af­fect your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem [your un­con­scious ner­vous sys­tem], so you don’t have to do any­thing,” says Clark. “Once they get in your blood­stream, they will af­fect you, just like how drink­ing camomile tea has tan­gi­ble ef­fects.”

There’s a cock­tail of oils for ev­ery­thing from headaches and bug bites to stress and anx­i­ety. But why opt for oils over, say, ibupro­fen? It’s a whole body ap­proach. “The prop­er­ties of the oil are tar­geted, but they also have other ben­e­fits,” says Clark. “For in­stance, if I burned my­self, I could use laven­der oil to calm the burn, re­pair the skin, dis­in­fect the area and stim­u­late cel­lu­lar re­growth, so it’s work­ing on a top­i­cal level. But on an in­ter­nal level, I’ve also ab­sorbed the laven­der, which is calm­ing, com­fort­ing, anal­gesic and an­ti­spas­modic. I might tense up be­cause of the burn, but the prop­er­ties of laven­der will help me re­lease ten­sion in my body, calm my ner­vous sys­tem and re­lax.” This body-mind con­nec­tion wouldn’t ex­ist if she had just ap­plied a con­ven­tional first-aid oint­ment, but it would get the job done top­i­cally. “Ev­ery es­sen­tial oil is a multi-tasker,” says Clark.

Dr. Qureshi agrees. “For some peo­ple, us­ing oils for re­lief can be a bit of a rit­ual,” she says. “Sim­ply tak­ing the time to stop and in­hale the scent can make peo­ple more

con­scious. For pain, if you’re us­ing some­thing like ibupro­fen, it first has to be di­gested, then ab­sorbed into your blood­stream to re­lieve your sore back or shoul­der.” But oils and con­ven­tional medicine are by no means meant to be a di­chotomy and can be used in con­junc­tion with each other. “When I get a headache, the first thing I reach for is pep­per­mint oil be­cause I get re­lief in one minute, but I still take a pill, too,” says Dr. Qureshi.

Even though these oils are nat­u­ral, re­search is still rec­om­mended be­fore mak­ing your own con­coc­tion. Cumin oil, for ex­am­ple, is safe in food but can cause blis­ter­ing on the skin. And, though Clark rec­om­mends marjoram for sore mus­cles, she cau­tions against us­ing it ev­ery day. “It ac­tu­ally kills your sex drive and is ex­tremely numb­ing, so I wouldn’t put it in a cream,” she says. But Dr. Qureshi says that there is less of a chance of ad­verse ef­fects when es­sen­tial oils are used prop­erly.

Dr. Qureshi ad­vises preg­nant women to be es­pe­cially mind­ful of safety: Cer­tain oils de­rived from cel­ery and pars­ley and es­sen­tial oils of Span­ish sage, pen­ny­royal and rue con­tain com­pounds that can put your preg­nancy at risk. There’s also suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to sug­gest that oils like cin­na­mon bark, clove, car­rot seed and chaste tree are un­safe to use dur­ing preg­nancy. Moms should take cau­tion, too: “Chil­dren have much thin­ner, more del­i­cate skin than adults and tend to be ex­tremely sen­si­tive to their po­tency,” says Dr. Qureshi. She says that oils should never be given in­ter­nally to chil­dren or used undi­luted on the skin. If used at all, they should al­ways be di­luted twice as much as they would for adults. Some oils, such as orange, lemon, laven­der, camomile and frank­in­cense, are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered safe for use on chil­dren (when di­luted), but you should still do a skin test. And don’t for­get to keep es­sen­tial oils out of reach of chil­dren. Oils like win­ter­green can be fa­tal if swal­lowed.

Adults who aren’t preg­nant need to be care­ful, too. For one, you should never take es­sen­tial oils in­ter­nally. Also, don’t use them undi­luted on your skin: They can lead to prob­lems rang­ing from mild ir­ri­ta­tion to blis­ter­ing rashes (or even per­ma­nent loss of skin pig­men­ta­tion). Al­ways di­lute your es­sen­tial oil with a car­rier oil like jo­joba, co­conut or al­mond oil. The gen­eral rule is to di­lute the es­sen­tial oil in a car­rier oil (three to five drops of es­sen­tial oil per tea­spoon of car­rier oil). You can per­form a patch test to check for ir­ri­ta­tion be­fore you pro­ceed. If you re­act, you can have your doc­tor de­ter­mine specif­i­cally what you’re al­ler­gic to so that you can avoid it in the fu­ture.

Es­sen­tial oils are worth try­ing if you’re look­ing to in­no­vate the way you re­lieve what ails you. “When there is very lit­tle po­ten­tial harm, try us­ing them,” says Clark. “What’s the down­side if you feel that they help you?”

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