What Are Essential Oils And Are They Safe? How To Use Them Properly In Your Own Home

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Your complete essential oils guide.

Essential oils have become extremely popular over the last few years, with a lot of people getting more into natural alternatives for beauty and healthcare. But essential oils can be used for a LOT more things besides just putting a few drops in your bathwater.

In fact, essential oils have hundreds of uses that range anywhere from beauty and skin care to alternative cleaning supplies and even wound care.

So, if you absolutely love busting out your diffuser when you've had a stressful day, buuuut you want to get more out of just using essential oils for one thing, then look no further because this is going to be your go-to guide to get you obsessed with essential oils.

Of course, I know you're probably thinking that you're not just going to go out and buy ten bottles of essential oils without knowing all the facts, and I agree.

Buying essential oils isn't just like buying perfume - it's a much more complex process that is going to be different for everyone.


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Looking for soft skin? Want a disinfectant spray that's a lot safer on your furniture and for your family?

If yes, then essential oils are going to become your new best friends because they do it all.

But don't be put off if you've already tried essential oils and feel like they just don't do the trick for you — some will work and some won't, especially when it comes to how your body reacts to certain ingredients.

But I swear by essential oils and have swapped most things I use on my skin and in my hair that are jam-packed with chemicals in favor of essential oils - and it DOES make a difference.

But before we can get into all of that, let's start with the basics.


What are essential oils?

Essential oils are essentially concentrated oils found in all parts of plants, including the petals, leaves, stems, roots, and more. They are extracted from plants and bottled without any added ingredients - meaning they are 100 percent pure. Essential oils are very quickly absorbed into the skin and won't leave any oily residue behind, either. So, while they are a kind of oil, it's nothing like olive oil or something similar in consistency that would leave your skin feeling greasy afterwards.

Before essential oils are extracted from plants, they are basically the plants natural protection from insects, decay, and other environmental threats. They are also what give plants the smell you associate with that plant.

For example, rubbing the leaves of a basil plant will make it smell like basil; smelling roses or lavender does the same. All of that? That's what helps create essential oils.

When essential oils are creating, they are often distilled through water or steam, which basically means - if you want to get as primitive about it as possible - that they are cooked together until the plant turns to oil and then the rest of the plant is separated from the oil that's eventually bottled and sold.

Let me just say that I have tried to make my own essential oils before and it turned out terribly because I was only about to make about a quarter of an ounce with the plants I bought. So, even though essential oils can be expensive, remember that the process is NOT easy and requires a lot of plants to get enough oil to fill those tiny, one-ounce bottles.


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Beginner's guide to using essential oils:

Essential oils are VERY concentrated (AKA strong), so don't let those tiny little bottles trick you. When you are ready to use essential oils, it's important that you dilute them with a carrier oil because chances are pretty good that you won't react kindly to having pure essential oil applied directly to your skin.

There are a few essential oils - like tea tree - that aren't as strong, but it's still always safe to mix them with another oil to be safe. Some of my favorite carrier oils (and some of the best for amazing, glowy skin) are sweet almond, vitamin E, coconut, and jojoba oils.

If this is the first time using essential oils, start with one or two drops of essential oil for every teaspoon of carrier oil. If this ain't your first rodeo, you can do whatever amount of essential oil you're comfortable with but remember that even a seasoned essential-oil user can get a bad reaction. This is especially true for essential oils that can affect children and pregnant women negatively, so before buying and using an essential oil, always read the application uses and potential safety precautions first.


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Are essential oils safe?

Yes! Essential oils are the bomb and they can be very safe. But not all essential oils are meant for human topical (directly on the skin) use or even ingestible.

You probably already know that oils like lemon, chamomile, and basil are safe to ingest because you've had variations of these plants in food at one point or another, but some aren't meant for consumption at all because they can be toxic to your system - and that includes ingesting it, as well as putting it into your diffuser and using the essential oil as an inhalant.

Like I said, the only way to know for sure which essential oils are meant for what is to do your research first. But don't let that scare you because more often than not, you won't even be able to find the essential oils that are harmful to your body in stores anyway.


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How to properly use essential oils throughout your home:

I can tell you from experience that using essential oils is a game changer. I have tried so many different products to keep my skin looking healthy and pretty, and nothing has worked as well as essential oils has. I even make my own skincare now because I know that the purity of essential oils is so much kinder to my skin than any chemically-enhanced item I could find in the beauty aisle of a store.

And even if you are a hardcore skincare fan who lives and dies by a certain brand, then keep using what works for you! But before buying that 50-dollar oil that's supposed to help fade acne scars, consider using vitamin E oil with a few drops of rose hip essential oil every day. And if you want the softest skin you've ever had, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to your favorite non-scented lotion and cover your entire body in it nightly - you can thank me later for that one.

You don't have to be a skincare junkie to get into essential oils, not even a little bit. Like I said, there are a hundred uses for essential oils, and skincare and beauty alternatives are only a few.

For example, if you want to get rid of all those cleaning supplies that are totally toxic for the environment and not much better for your children and pets, you can sub in essential oils for things like disinfectant sprays, surface cleaners, and even wood polish. Lemon, rosemary, and lavender essential oils are all amazing as an antibacterial, eucalyptus is a great germicide (although you should keep it away from your animals, as it may be toxic to their specific genetic makeup), and cinnamon works winders as an antiseptic. Plus, cleaning with essential oils means your house will smell amazing and not at all like bleach or cleaning supplies.

Just be sure to take special care to make sure you're not using oils that are toxic to your pets. Here's a list of oils your cats, dogs or other household animals should stay away from.

You can even make your own blends for things like reducing stress, staying energized, and calming anxiety by adding essential oils to a diffuser, a bath, as an air spray, or even making a massage oil for yourself or someone else.


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Do essential oils work?

In my opinion (and the opinion of many others), YES, essential oils work and they are worth the money. But the most expensive essential oils don't necessarily mean that those are the best brands to buy.

I've always sworn by DoTerra and NOW brands, but any brand will do as long as the ingredient list only has one thing on it: 100 percent pure essential oil. So, if you're buying lemongrass essential oil, the only ingredient should be "pure lemongrass oil" — nothing else. See any other ingredients? Then it's most like a fragrance oil, which is nothing more than fancy perfume.

You want to make sure that you're not buying any essential oils that include any fillers or synthetic ingredients because not only are you being ripped off, but you also won't get any of the benefits of pure essential oils. Any essential oil brands that are Certified Therapeutic Grade should be your first choice.

From what I've learned using essential oils almost exclusively for a few years now is that it's better to rap into your DIY side and make your own essential-oil concoctions, rather than buying anything that's pre-bottled. That way - just like if you were trying to eat healthier - you know exactly what kind of ingredients are in your products and you don't have to guess whether the essential oils are actually doing anything or not.


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Some precautions you should take when using essential oils:

Essential oils are unfortunately not for everyone. You might be allergic to certain oils or your doctor might advise against using them, so please consult a professional before getting started!

If you are given the go-ahead from a doctor before using essential oils — or have done your research and feel like you know which oils your body will react kindly to (especially for topical uses) — apply the essential oil to a small part of your body before using it on larger areas, adding it to your bath, or inhaling it.

Don't forget that diluting the oil is also an important step that should be taken into account before usage.


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The correct way to start using essential oils in your everyday life:

Unless you have a clear idea of the kinds of essential oils you want to use and for what, I will suggest a few of my favorite starter essential oils and the best ways to use them.

  • For smooth skin and to prevent acne: create a blend of lavender and tea tree essential oils and add two to five drops each to your favorite, unscented face lotion (my favorite here is Neutrogena for sensitive skin).
  • For headaches and muscle aches: massage peppermint oil into your temples or on achy area - for this use, you can add a few drops to your hands and apply directly to the skin; otherwise, dilute with a carrier oil.
  • For anxiety: you can add orange essential oil to a diffuser and inhale in deep breaths.

If you just want to buy some essential oils now and figure out how to use them later, I recommend starting with lavender, tea tree, jasmine, patchouli, and lemongrass essential oils. These all have a ton of different uses and can even be blended together for additional uses.

Remember to listen to your body's reaction (and do your research) before getting started with essential oils.


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Emily Ratay is a full-time writer living in Pittsburgh. She's passionate about the environment and feminism, and knows that anything is possible in the right pair of shoes. She plans on writing a non-fiction book in the future.

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