They are available everywhere and lately everybody, from the local masseuse to the Pinterest users you follow, swears by it, but what are essential oils really? In the simplest terms, essential oils are concentrated botanical extracts derived from plants. Because they carry the distinct smell and essence of the plant they are extracted from, they are also referred to as ‘essences’. There are different ways in which essential oils are extracted from the plant material; however, the most popular is the distillation method which often involves the use of steam. Plant materials like flowers, bark, leaves, roots, etc. are put into the apparatus which is placed above water. The water is then heated which leads to the vaporization of all plant material. These vapors pass through a coil where they are condensed back into a liquid form and collected. This method is commonly used for the extraction of common essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint.
Uses Although essential oils have been around since ancient times, the recent trend of people gravitating towards alternate therapies has led to their revival. Aromatherapy, one such alternate treatment, operates on the belief that the aromatic compounds in essential oils have healing properties. Essential oils can be used in a variety of home remedies to treat diseases, get relief from pain and stress, and to promote general well-being. For instance, it is handy to have a bottle of eucalyptus essential oil around the house during the winter season when cold and flu are doing the rounds. Eucalyptus is known for its powerful anti-viral properties and can help fight these seasonal diseases. One the best natural products available, essential oils can be safely incorporated in beauty and health routines without the fear of harmful side effects. They can be used in a variety of skincare and hair care products, including soaps and shampoos. In fact, a lot of DIY products frequently feature essential oils as an important ingredient. Many essential oils are also used in perfumes. Attar, an essential oil derived from flowers, is a perfume commonly used in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It is a great alcohol-free alternative to popular perfumes. Besides perfumes, essential oils are also used in incenses. Some are even used as artificial flavoring in food and drinks. Safety Most essential oils are absolutely safe to use with no side effects. A few essential oils that are known to be toxic have been banned and are not usually sold. As with any new product, one should exercise caution while using an essential oil for the first time. Ideally, a skin-patch test* will reveal if you are allergic to a particular essential oil. Never use pure, undiluted essential oil directly on the skin. It has to be mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil or avocado oil before being applied to the skin. Also, with essential oils, a little goes a long way, so you only need a few drops. Never take an essential oil internally unless you are prescribed to do so by a medical practitioner. *For a skin-patch test, mix a drop of essential oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil and apply on the inside of the wrist or elbow. Leave it alone for a day and see the results. If there are no adverse reactions like itching or reddening of the skin, then you can safely use the essential oil. - Samira Shaikh