Es­sen­tial Oils: Luxe, Po­tent, Vi­tal

They con­tain special mol­e­cules that de­liver pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits, new re­search shows. Here’s what to know so you get the most out of ev­ery lus­cious drop.

SHAPE (USA) - - Contents - By Mirel Ketchiff

These picks de­liver proven health ben­e­fits

Once con­fined to yoga classes and mas­sages, es­sen­tial oils have of­fi­cially en­tered the main­stream. Made up of su­per­con­cen­trated aro­matic com­pounds that have been dis­tilled and ex­tracted from plants, the oils surged in pop­u­lar­ity when sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered they have com­pelling and wide-rang­ing ef­fects on our health, thanks to sub­stances known as odor­ants. “More than 50 odor­ants from es­sen­tial oils have re­cently been iden­ti­fied and shown to do things like im­prove sleep, re­duce anx­i­ety, lower blood pres­sure, and even ac­cel­er­ate skin regeneration,” says Hanns Hatt, Ph.D., a pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of cell phys­i­ol­ogy at Ruhr Univer­sity Bochum in Ger­many, who is pi­o­neer­ing much of the re­cent re­search on odor­ants. Pow­er­ful es­sen­tial oils are catch­ing on, and they’re pop­ping up all over—in beauty prod­ucts, drinks, de­odor­ants, and clean­ing so­lu­tions. Here’s your guide to ev­ery­thing es­sen­tial oil.

How they work

Es­sen­tial oils can be ap­plied to the skin, in­haled, or in­gested in drinks like tea. The odor­ants in them are dis­trib­uted through­out your blood­stream, Hatt says. From there, his re­search shows, they at­tach to and ac­ti­vate your ol­fac­tory re­cep­tors and branch out to your skin, heart, kid­neys, in­testines, and lungs. De­pend­ing on the type you use, es­sen­tial oils can do things like help ease a mi­graine headache, boost skin-cell turnover to pro­mote wound heal­ing, and make you feel more alert. Some es­sen­tial oils have even been shown to re­duce bac­te­ria and viruses. Thy­mol, an odor­ant in thyme es­sen­tial oil with an­tibac­te­rial prop­er­ties, is used in many dis­in­fec­tants and house­hold clean­ers. As you re­move germs from your sur­faces, thy­mol is re­leased into the air, where it may sup­port the res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem, says Cher Kauf­mann, a cer­ti­fied aro­mather­a­pist and the au­thor of Na­ture’s Es­sen­tial Oils.

What to look for

You can pur­chase prod­ucts with es­sen­tial oils in them, like skin creams and clean­ing so­lu­tions. You can also buy the oils pure to use in a dif­fuser or add to un­scented lo­tions. But be­ware: Some com­pa­nies put syn­thetic fra­grances in their oils, which may not have ther­a­peu­tic qual­i­ties, Kauf­mann says. To en­sure you’re get­ting a pure prod­uct, look for the plant’s Latin name on the bot­tle, an in­di­ca­tor

that it’s the real thing, she says. The bot­tle should be dark-col­ored glass, which pre­vents light ex­po­sure and doesn’t de­grade like plas­tic. Be­fore you buy, Kauf­mann says, check the com­pany’s web­site to make sure it does gas chro­matog­ra­phy–mass spec­tron­omy (GC-MS) test­ing for qual­ity as­sur­ance.

Find­ing the sweet spot

These oils need to be used in mea­sured dosages. Over­do­ing them is a com­mon mis­take, and high con­cen­tra­tions—the amount you’d get if you let a dif­fuser run all day, for ex­am­ple—will over­load the body’s sen­sory sys­tems and over­stim­u­late the trigem­i­nal nerve in your brain, lead­ing to headaches, nau­sea, and dizzi­ness, Hatt says. To use the oils safely, run dif­fusers for no more than 30 min­utes at a time, then take a break for an hour or two, Kauf­mann says. Or look for a model with an in­ter­val mode, like Stadler Form LEA ($79, stadler­, which dis­perses oil for 10 min­utes and then shuts off for 20 min­utes. Run it for an hour or two, then take an equal amount of time off. If you’re ap­ply­ing an oil top­i­cally, al­ways di­lute it to avoid skin ir­ri­ta­tion. If you have sen­si­tive skin, start with a 1 per­cent con­cen­tra­tion, which is the equiv­a­lent of seven to nine drops of es­sen­tial oil blended with an ounce of a neu­tral oil like jo­joba, ar­gan, or grape­seed. Di­lu­tions of 2 to 3 per­cent (12 to 27 drops of es­sen­tial oil to one ounce of neu­tral oil) are safe for gen­eral use, Kauf­mann says. But al­ways try a small, di­luted amount of the oil on your fore­arm be­fore us­ing it all over, and switch oils ev­ery two to four weeks so you don’t be­come overly sen­si­tized to one. Fi­nally, check the bot­tle for ad­di­tional cau­tions. Many cit­rus oils, for in­stance, can in­crease your re­ac­tiv­ity to UV light. In­gest­ing es­sen­tial oils is much trick­ier and should be done only with the guid­ance of a cer­ti­fied aro­mather­a­pist or aro­matic medicine prac­ti­tioner, Kauf­mann says.

LIQ­UID GOLD Es­sen­tial oils can im­prove di­ges­tion, skin health, mood, and more.

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