What are essential oils

Let’s start with explaining Essential oils from a scientific perspective. Essential oils are volatile compounds extracted from plants by distillation or expression process. They are concentrated hydrophobic liquid that give plants their characteristic odours and flavours, also called its “essence”.

The origin of the term “essential oil” actually derives from the idea of “quintessential oil”. It is the fifth element of matter added by Aristotle with the reason that all the other four elements fire, earth, air and water were earthly and corruptible. The fifth element, quintessence, was however considered to be the spirit and the purest form of life force. Distillation and evaporation were thought to be processes of removing the spirit from the plant and this is also reflected in our language since the term “spirits” is used to describe distilled alcoholic beverages such as brandy, whiskey, and eau de vie. The last of these again shows reference to the concept of removing the life force from the plant. Nowadays, of course, we know that, far from being spirit, essential oils are physical in nature and composed of complex mixtures of chemicals.

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How do they work?

Now that we know how essential oils have been studied and defined from ancient philosophy to modern science observation, we can have a better understanding on how this oils can be applied to our daily life from different perspectives.

There are a few characteristics of essential oils that we need to take note. We know they are volatile, aromatic, hydrophobic, lipid soluble, and concentrated. These characteristics will help us apply essential oils in a proper and responsible way which will improve our wellness and not in some cases actually do harm to our body.


Volatile and aromatic

Many of us are introduced to essential oils through the use of diffuser, which is to apply drops of essential oils into a diffuser to allow the aroma to permeate an enclosed space.
Due to the volatility of essential oils, a diffuser is able to distribute essential oil molecules into the air allowing properties of a particular essential oil to be immediately transported through your respiratory tract and lungs and then circulated through the blood stream.

I smell Autumn… We often hear this from people who are more sensitive to season change. And you will notice how these poetic individuals associate feelings to scent. Many believe the aromatic properties, beyond simply smelling good, do alter our state of mind. Yes, that complex emotion and memory can be triggered by a simple inhalation of scent.

“Scents can have positive effects on mood, stress reduction, sleep enhancement, self-confidence, and physical and cognitive performance,” says Theresa Molnar, executive director of the Sense of Smell Institute, the research and educational arm of the perfume industry’s Fragrance Foundation. By becoming more aware of the way specific odours affect you personally, you may be able to enhance your health and well-being.


Lipid soluble and hydrophobic

One of the most unique characteristics of essential oils is that they are lipid soluble, which allows them to dissolve in the lipid portion of cell membranes. In other words, essential oils, when applied topically, can pass directly through human skin and mucous membranes for immediate systemic response. One drop of essential oil on your fingertip doesn’t limit its effects to the your fingertip. The molecules will diffuse into and out of every cell and transport to the rest of your body. It is through this mechanism that we are able to effectively absorb the properties from essential oils.

When we say essential oils are hydrophobic, which really means that they don’t work too well with water. They hate water. When you drop essential oils into a glass of water, you will see it floating instead of diluting. So, this really means, dropping pure essential oils into your bathtub won’t help you benefit much from essential oils. To make water dilution work with essential oils, we need to go through a simple science process – emulsion.

Emulsion is nothing more than making two hating liquid substances to mix harmoniously. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t hate, they just don’t blend. The trick is to find a dispersant that can bind them together. Milk, yogurt or honey are some of the well known dispersants that work really well with water and oil. These dispersants have molecular structure that is both attracted to water and oil. The portion that attracted to oil binds with essential oil and the portion that attracted to water binds with water substances. This process creates an evenly distributed substance of both essential oils and water being evenly distributed in the matter.


Concentrated and effectiveness

Does essential oils work? Thus far, we have mentioned how essential oil can effectively work itself into your entire body. No joke, it’s effectiveness of getting through you body is as real as advertised. However, will all properties of essential oils absorbed in our body work like magic?

Essential oils is essentially the product of an ingenious discovery of humans to capture chemical constituents from nature. All properties found in essential oils are the unique capabilities of each plants developed for its survival, reproduction, and communication. This is why vast majority of essential oils have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, sedative and calming therapeutic benefits.

There are many factors to determine the efficacy or effectiveness of essential oils. We have to look into this from different perspectives. First, we need to know that all the properties are developed by the nature under different circumstances or environment the plants will develop it’s properties accordingly. Secondly, the harvesting and production handling might reduced or increased the oils’ potency. Thirdly, we are all built different, and each of us will react to essential oils differently. Finally, we need to know the current state of our wellness. When we find ourselves not reacting to a certain remedy the way it should be, we need to find out the real cause of our condition. May be instead of sniffing Eucalyptus oil to cure sinus, one should boost immune system by applying a blended combination of lavender and lemon oil?

Essential Oils are very concentrated extract of plants. They are highly potent with their properties. Some source of information mentioned the potency of 1 peppermint essential oil equates to about 20-30 cups of peppermint tea. Such dosage might cause unimaginable effect to your body, you should probably think twice before ingesting the equivalent amount of essential oil.

In general, we should always apply essential oils diluted topically. Some claimed that their oils are so pure or because they are organic it should be safe to consume or apply directly from the bottle. But, again, the worry is that the oil is concentrated and can pose risk of toxicity if not used correctly. Essential oils can benefit us in many areas of our life. However, should be used as a complementary therapy.