Lavender—for sleep and relaxation, lemon—for headaches, rose—for reducing anxiety, etc. Essential oils may smell nice, but whether or not they actually work is still being debated.
While their effectiveness in aromatherapy is unclear, essential oils are widely used as antibacterial ingredients in a range of products.
We can date the use of essential oils back to at least the 12th century. Records tell us they were used in the composition of ointments, in perfumes, and even in embalming fluids. Although fragrant oils are no longer used to mummify our deceased, in recent years they have made a big comeback as a natural remedy for many ailments and diseases. Essential oils can be found in cosmetics, in scents, and in household cleaning products.
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What are essential oils?
An essential oil is a liquid that contains aromatic chemical compounds characteristic of a particular plant in concentrated form; these oils are generally obtained by steam distillation— except for citrus essences which are cold extracted. When describing these oils “essential” does not mean indispensable but indicates that the oil contains the “essence” of the plant as characterised by its volatile oils—compounds that evaporate when they come into contact with air allowing us to smell them. Unlike vegetable oils (such as olive, avocado or sesame oil), essential oils do not primarily contain fatty substances; perhaps a better term would be plant essence because once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use.
Essential oils are most commonly obtained through steam distillation. Some, such as citrus oils, are obtained through mechanical extraction or cold-pressing. Some delicate floral scents are obtained through solvent extraction; the solvents are then filtered or removed by evaporation, leaving only the pure fragrance.
Unscrupulous manufacturers of essential oils may dilute or adulterate the oils they sell to maximize their profits. Low prices and warning labels such as “for external use only”, “not for internal use”, and “dilute before topical application” should alert you to the possibility of adulteration. However, pure essential oils are strong and not all are safe to ingest. Buy your oils from a reputable producer and use them according to instructions.
Applications of essential oils
Plants produce essential oils for a variety of purposes—to attract pollinators, to deter herbivores, to influence the growth of competing plant species, and to control fungal, bacterial and viral plant diseases. The volatile nature of essential oils and their known action on herbivores make them a strong candidate for a natural substitute to synthetic pesticides. Essential oils have also been used as natural additives for food preservation, for example, to combat bacteria that damage meat.
Most essential oils are used in the manufacture of perfumes and fragrances that are added to cosmetics such as creams and body washes. Sometimes essential oils are added to beauty care products for their natural antioxidant properties and not primarily for their aroma.
Only a relatively small number of essential oils have been shown to be useful for therapeutic purposes. Many natural medicine practitioners and aromatherapists use essential oils. Aromatherapy involves diffusing oils into the air or applying an oil or blend topically —directly on the body, usually diluted in a carrier oil.
Aromatherapists believe that breathing in the beneficial compounds found in certain essential oils allows them to reach the lungs and bloodstream—otherwise largely inaccessible—where they can potentially benefit the body.
Here are some examples of the effects attributed to different essential oils:
Rose oil has a sweet floral scent that has been shown to reduce anxiety. Its antioxidant properties have been found to help treat acne and improve complexion. Caution: Skin irritation can occur when used topically, so make sure to use more of the carrier oil if you want to reap the skincare benefits of rose oil.
Lavender oil has a subtly floral scent that has been known to help people relax and fall asleep. Moreover, breathing it in has been found to alleviate headaches, while the use of the oil topically may help reduce itching and swelling caused by bug bites. Caution: There are a few known side effects, including nausea, headaches, chills, and vomiting. It can also irritate the skin if you have an intolerance.
Hyssop oil has an earthy, herbal, and sweet scent. It can be applied to the skin to minimize scarring, decrease inflammation, and act as an overall healing agent. Caution: Don’t use hyssop if you’re pregnant or have a history of seizures.
Myrrh oil is sappy-smelling and is said to relieve acne and cracked skin, and it may even help treat athlete’s foot. Caution: Myrrh should never be taken orally. If you’re using it topically, take note that it’s been found to cause dermatitis. More serious side effects include heart irregularities and low blood pressure. It can also increase the risk of miscarriage if taken while pregnant.
Basil oil. The essential oil extracted from basil has many topical and internal benefits. Basil has been shown to have both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, so it works as a cold and flu remedy and as muscle relaxant. It has also been found to treat acne, to reduce stress, and to reduce product build-up and enhance shine when added to hair care products. Caution: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with your doctor before using basil oil.
While most people enjoy their pleasant aromas, there are strongly conflicting views on the therapeutic effects of essential oils.
For many people, herbal oils such as lavender, mint, or eucalyptus, can be a real miracle remedy. Some claim that essential oils relieve their migraines faster than pharmaceutical drugs. And others say essential oils work to boost the libido when nothing else does.
The aromas contained in essential oils are thought to stimulate the limbic system—the structures in the brain that regulate emotions and long-term memory. The limbic system plays a role in controlling several autonomous physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Because of this, some people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect on your body. The limbic system is also strongly involved in the formation of memories. This may explain in part why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions.
However, there is not a sufficient scientific basis for these claims, and more research must be done before we can say for sure.
Scientists are conducting more studies
While there is continued scepticism about the therapeutic uses of essential oils, these claims have not been wholly disregarded by scientists. Essential oils have been the subject of a series of scientific studies, with a particular emphasis on the biologically active molecules in the oils.
Each essential oil contains 50 to 100 different biochemical molecules. Specific methods make it possible to identify and quantify each of these molecules and thus obtain the precise composition of each oil.
Many of the ingredients in essential oils have been found to have antibacterial properties.
The compounds with the greatest antibacterial effectiveness and the broadest spectrum action are phenols: thymol (found in thyme and oregano oil), carvacrol (found in oregano oil), and eugenol (found in clove oil).
Phenols in particular cause irreversible damage to membranes and can be used for bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, no matter their location.
Thymol and eugenol are responsible for the fungicidal (inhibiting the growth of fungi) and bactericidal (killing bacteria) activities of the essential oils that contain them.
Additional research on essential oils could aid with the development of new antibiotics to fight resistant strains of various bacteria. The misuse of existing antibiotics—not completing an entire course of antibiotics and overuse of antibiotics—are the main reason for the emergence of strains of bacteria that are resistant to the medications we already have. We must find new ways to fight these bacteria without causing adverse side effects to patients. The lack of such antibiotics has become a global problem.
Essential oils are already used as natural pesticides and food preservatives and could be a useful tool for combating various bacterial infections in the future.
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Tattoos are not a new invention, many cultures have a long history of using tattoos in their religious and symbolic practices, or purely for aesthetic reasons. Tattoos were reintroduced into popular Western culture in the 20th century. Artists such as Lyle Tuttle, Cliff Raven, and Don Nolan were some of the people who influenced the re-emergence of tattoos.
Sweating is a natural bodily function—all of us sweat regardless of age, gender, or intensity of physical activity. Sometimes we notice changes in how much we sweat or how our sweat smells. There are reasons for these changes.
Toxic shock syndrome is an acute, potentially fatal infection caused by staph or strep bacteria. Both types of bacteria can live harmlessly on your skin and in your nose and mouth—it is when there’s an overgrowth within the body that problems occur. The condition is commonly linked to the use of highly absorbent tampons during menstruation.
Many of us only truly learn to love ourselves and our bodies fairly late in life. Prior to that, we tend to spend time and energy judging ourselves about things we cannot change. Self-love is a skill made difficult to attain by the very impractical beauty standards that are popular today.
Brain fog is a common experience that can happen to anyone due to lack of sleep, certain medications, or exhaustion after heavy physical activity. However, many menstruating people experience brain fog right before menstruation, and sometimes the symptoms are so intense that they disrupt daily life.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD in the world: there is a very good chance that you will get at least one type of HPV during your lifetime. Preventative measures include practicing good hygiene and safe sex, getting tested regularly, and getting vaccinated, the last of which we focus on in this article.
Humans have an innate need for social interactions, including physical touch. Touch is vital for a person’s wellbeing. As the Covid-19 pandemic mandates social distancing, many of us are left touch starved. What are the consequences, and is it possible to compensate for this deficit?
The choice of dietary supplements available in any given drugstore, let alone online, is vast. They promise to provide us with vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients in the form of pills, drops, capsules, and powders. Some of these can be truly useful while others are merely money-making fads for their producers, and some can even be quite harmful if used recklessly or purchased from an unreliable seller.
Many of us enjoy the occasional drink. Alcohol consumption has played a central role in almost all human cultures since at least about 4000 BC. The development of agrarian societies was based on the cultivation of grain to make bread and, the evidence tells us, to make alcohol. From the earliest recorded use of alcohol, drinking has been a social activity subject to local cultural norms.
If you ask someone what migraine is, chances are they will tell you it’s a kind of severe headache. While partially true, this is an oversimplification. In this article, we explore the stages, symptoms, and myths associated with migraine, and discuss various coping strategies that help mitigate symptoms.
Preventative testing is a powerful tool in the battle against conditions that worsen over time. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the preventative measures you can take to tackle HPV-related cancers.
Millions of people across the globe use antidepressants to cope with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Although not a cure, the right antidepressant can be incredibly helpful with treating symptoms.
Food is a necessity in our lives. It gives us energy and nourishes our bodies. But sometimes, what is supposed to provide us with vitality takes it away. People with eating disorders use food as a crutch for dealing with negative or overwhelming emotions until their relationship with it becomes unhealthy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about many changes in our daily lives, including the new norm of wearing a protective face mask while out in public. The mask provides necessary protection against the virus, however prolonged use can have an impact on your skin.
Millions of people take prescription and illicit drugs for medical or recreational reasons. When such substances are taken without precaution, they can develop into an addiction. Drug addiction is dangerous to the affected person and the people close to them.
Going to the gynaecologist can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time or if you have had a previous negative experience. Fear not! Reproductive health is an important aspect of your health, and you are in control of who you choose as your doctor and what happens at the appointment.
Going green is important for the health and safety of our own bodies, as well as the safety of our planet. Making green choices and reducing your environmental footprint can start with your feminine hygiene routine.
Urinary incontinence affects 200 million people worldwide. People who develop incontinence experience urine leakage, lack of bladder control, and the frequent urge to urinate. It mainly affects older, pregnant, or postpartum women. Although many women choose to live with the discomfort, urinary incontinence can be reversed by improving one's lifestyle and incorporating regular pelvic muscle exercises.
Any abusive relationship, be it with a parent, sibling, or romantic partner, leaves scars. Moving forward with your life can be daunting enough, let alone building the foundations for a new healthy relationship.
A new member of the coronavirus family was first identified in December 2019. Over the past several months this new or novel coronavirus has spread around the world causing a global pandemic. This virus, COVID-19, is very contagious and causes mild to severe flu-like symptoms, especially affecting the respiratory organs and heart. Almost two million people have been infected worldwide and more than 100, 000 have died.
Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition caused by the presence of endometrial cells outside the uterus. It is known to be a leading cause of infertility in women. There is no known cure, but there are plenty of treatment options for combating symptoms.
The human body is naturally covered in hair and still we have a long history of going to great lengths to remove it. Contrary to some beliefs, body hair removal serves a purely aesthetic purpose. This makes the choice to leave it there or get rid of it up to you.
Millions of women worldwide struggle with hair loss. Human hair growth passes through four stages. At the end, a hair is shed, and a new hair begins to grow from the follicle. However, a stressful lifestyle, poor diet, hormonal imbalances, and certain illnesses can cause excessive hair loss and pattern baldness in women.
Pain is a universal human experience, but it is also highly individual. It can be hard to evaluate the exact cause of pain, but it is always a signal that something potentially dangerous is happening to your body.
Acne is a widespread skin condition, well known as a teenage issue, although it also affects adults. It can be tempting to cover it up (with makeup or otherwise), but this is, at best, a temporary solution and is more likely to make things worse.
You may have experienced heartburn after eating or at other times during the day. Despite their menacing names, heartburn and acid reflux are common (yes, there is a slight difference between the two), and are not considered disorders on their own. They do, however, cause discomfort and can indicate a more serious problem if the sensation lingers for too long or occurs too often.
If there is does not happen to be a toilet nearby, there is nothing dangerous about holding your pee for a while. It happens to everyone, and the unpleasant feeling will be forgotten as soon as you finally have the opportunity to relieve yourself.
It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that smoking is unhealthy. Even so, many people still smoke regularly. Even those who consider themselves to be non-smokers, occasionally smoke when out with friends for a drink.
They say you are what you eat. This idea can be helpful, provided we know what we are eating (which we often don’t). It can be very tempting to rely on an outside source to give us a list of special ingredients that will magically solve all our problems.
Hormones are responsible for myriad bodily functions, and they affect our bodies in myriad ways, including our mood. Since the menstrual cycle features so many different hormonal processes, most women experience related emotional symptoms.
Vaginal mycoses, or vaginal yeast infection (also called candidal vulvovaginitis, vaginal thrush, or candidiasis) is extremely common. Mycoses is found in about 20% of vaginal secretions tested in laboratories. The pain and discomfort caused by this condition often requires immediate medical attention.
A urinary tract infection or UTI is a bacterial infection usually caused by gastroin-testinal bacteria that has travelled from the anal tract to the urinary tract. The condition is uncomfortable and painful, and, if left untreated, can lead to kidney damage.
Where do children come from? All parents eventually get this question. There are many different ways to explain the complicated process of forming of a new life to a child, but our answer is a short and precise—children come from the uterus.