YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils – highly concentrated oils derived from flowers, bark, roots, and resin – might smell great, but their uses go far beyond their pleasant scents. They can help you relax, make you feel better when you’re coming down with a cold, and even improve your memory – and there are many studies to back these claims. Essential oils can be used in a multitude of ways, from putting a few drops in hot water to inhale, to suspending in a carrier oil such as jojoba and applying topically. But be careful, as their potency means that they can cause irritation if left undiluted. Here’s a run-down of some of our hero essential oils, from the classic and highly versatile lavender, to the invigorating and pain-relieving peppermint.
Best for when: you’re stressed or anxious
One of the most commonly-found essential oils on our list, there is a reason why lavender oil is so popular. Thought to calm the nervous system, you can add a few drops to your bath for a relaxing soak, put some on your pillow to help improve your sleep, or use a diffuser or vaporizer to soothe you around the clock. If you’re feeling anxious on the go, you can also rub a couple of drops between your palms and inhale.
Research suggests that diluting it with another oil, such as olive, and massaging the mixture into your scalp can improve hair health, while there is some evidence that it can also help relieve migraines and nausea when inhaled, and can even mitigate depression in some.
Best for when: you need to optimize your brain power
Taken from the flowering rosemary plant, rosemary oil is another potent one to add to your collection. While it’s great for improving digestion, boosting your immune system, and is an effective anti-inflammatory, its most useful applications benefit the mind. It stimulates mental activity, so inhaling from your hands during a long day at work can help invigorate you, but subjects in studies who inhaled rosemary oil in an exam displayed significantly higher cognitive function. Inhalation has also proven to reduce levels of cortisol – the main stress hormone – in saliva, so this is another good one for when you’re having a rough week.
Best for when: you have a headache
Another more refreshing essential oil, and also another found in a culinary context, peppermint oil has been proven to improve digestion and even ease IBS when a couple of drops are diluted in water and drunk after a meal. Like rosemary, it can also help focus. If you’re suffering from a tension headache, peppermint oil could be your new best friend. Menthol, a natural anaesthetic, is found in the oil, and applying a few drops diluted with an unscented base oil to the forehead has been suggested by some studies to be as effective for relieving headaches as paracetamol.
Best for when: you have a cut or troublesome skin
Anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-viral, anti-fungal… The benefits of tea tree oil go on and on, but the main message here is that it has highly potent curative properties. Applied topically – and diluted – its anti-bacterial and antiseptic powers can prevent infection of wounds. Taken orally in very weak concentrations, the oil can also help with internal bacterial infections, although tea tree can be very dangerous when ingested, so consult a medical practitioner before you try this. For more general skin issues, tea tree oil can help fade scars and marks left behind by blemishes, heal active spots, and also sooth acne-prone skin by cleansing and regulating the sebum glands that cause acne if clogged inflamed.
Best for when: you’re having menstrual problems
Yes, baby Jesus got frankincense as a birthday present – but the oil is a bit of a gift for all of us. As well as being another essential oil with anti-bacterial and antiseptic qualities, making it excellent for wounds and oral hygiene, frankincense can also help ease menstrual issues. It is suggested that the oil can reduce obstructed and delayed menstruation, and even delay the menopause, while it also eases symptoms of PMS such as abdominal cramps, nausea, fatigue, headaches, and mood swings. It may also help regulate oestrogen levels, also making for a more regular cycle. That said, as a result of its powerful effects on the menstrual system, it should be avoided if pregnant.
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