Aromatherapy has been practiced throughout the world for well over ten thousand years. The oils of various plants are extracted, using a variety of methods explained later, to be used in therapeutic medicine. The plant oils can be rubbed on the skin, burned in a candle, released through a diffuser, or taken internally through the direction of a medical professional.
Plant material used to make essential aromatherapy oils include leaves, roots, grasses, barks, citrus skins, flowers, and seeds. The majority of benefits come from the fragrance released by the 40 or so essential oils marketed today. However, there are only a few essential oils proven to impart significant health benefits on the end user. Continue reading to learn more about the practice of aromatherapy — including history, benefits and the top 10 essential oils on the market.
History of the Practice of Aromatherapy
Little is known about the origins of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils in its use. All the earliest civilizations used aromatherapy in spiritual practice and holistic medicine including Egyptians, Romans, Chinese, Indian, Jewish, and indigenous cultures worldwide.
The “science” of aromatherapy was born in the 1900s, back in the late twenties. Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, discovered the benefits of lavender oil by accident. After applying it to his hand using a carrier oil and discovered it healed a burn on his skin, he discovered the wound healed in record time. After this time, he started studying lavender and later other essential oils extracted from all manner of plants. This spurned the science forward and other scientists and healers soon followed his lead.
Most people who aren’t aware of the ins and outs of aromatherapy associate it with diffusers and candles. However, simply applying some peppermint oil to the skin, or adding a drop or two of lavender oil to your pillow before bed is also practicing aromatherapy. With that said, diffusers are often preferred because they offer the best bang-for-buck in terms of longevity, and can transform an entire room or house into a hotbed of spiritual wellness, lowered stress, and relaxation.
How Aromatherapy Essential Oils are Made
There are the most common ways essential oils are made currently:
• Steam Distillation: Fresh-picked plants are suspended on a screen over a sealed pot of boiling water. As the steam rises, it extracts the oils and those oils rise, they’re captured and diverted through a length of glass or metal tubes that convert the condensation back into liquid at the other end.
• Expression: This is similar to the cold pressing of cooking oils, but is used purely for essential citrus oils where the rinds of the fruit are used to make essential oils. Rinds are placed into a machine with rotating spikes that break up the rind and cause the oils to be released into a catchment located underneath.
• Chemical Extraction: Common extraction solvents like hexane and ethanol are used to soak “absolutes” in, which typically don’t offer a lot of finished essential oils. Examples included most flowers such as rose and jasmine. After a period of soaking, the mixture is added to alcohol, and a vacuum sends the fumes created into a distiller which condenses the finished essential oils to their liquid form.
• Enfleurage: This method is never used commercially, but still used by certain cultures to extract essential oil from flowers like roses and tulips. Hot oil in a vat or bowl, or cold oil smeared on a plate of glass are used to extract the oils. Fat is highly absorbent and when exposed to fats, they take on the oils and their healing fragrance. This fat is later melted down and sold as is, or soaked in alcohol to separate the fragrance from the fat source.
How to Choose the Best Aromatherapy Essential Oils
It’s worth noting that there are a lot of counterfeit essential oils on the market. Due to their popularity and high production costs (in many cases), companies will use artificial chemicals in place of pure oils. It’s not that company’s outright lie to consumers, but you have to read the bottle before you buy to ensure:
• The oil is 100% pure, therapeutic-grade essential oil.
• That it’s ethically sourced.
• The oil’s pesticide free.
• The company has a proven track record in quality and integrity.
The last point can be a tough one, as there are so many brands out there. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Amazon. Sure, reviews can sometimes lie, but when we’re talking about the thousands of reviews consumers make on Amazon, I’ll trust that platform over a snake-oil salesman on the corner any day!
Top 10 Essential Oils & Their Unique Health Benefits
A few benefits listed below mention the benefits associated with taking certain essential oils internally. I’d like to note that all health governing bodies recommend never taking essential oils internally unless under direct care of a medical professional. Being they’re so concentrated, there are a number of risks such as stomach and intestinal discomfort, potentially leading to nausea and illness in sensitive or unhealthy people.
All the products listed below are 100% concentrated, meaning they’re not mixed with other “carrier oils.” It’s better to mix your own essential oils if a carrier is to be added, as pre-mixed oils will cost you more over the long term.
1. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender oil, as mentioned earlier, was the first official essential oil isolated by science for its ability to topically heal skin. This is no surprise, since it’s antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, moisturizing, and promotes circulation. It can be used for healing and also to deep condition the hair and scalp. These benefits also extend to inside the body when the oil is consumed. It helps to boost glutathione production in the liver, protecting against heart disease, cancer and diabetes to name a few.
When consumed, or inhaled via a diffuser or other airborne methods such as candles or lavender infused bathwater, it’s a major relaxant. Lavender has proved to help fight insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches and other pain, and has shown promise promoting increased brain function. It’s believed the antioxidant properties in lavender are responsible for these and other benefits.
Best Lavender Oils:
• Healing Solutions: 100% pure and organic. The most popular lavender oil on Amazon. Meets all current health and purity standards for modern essential oil products.
• Pure Body Naturals: Choose from organic French or Bulgarian essential lavender oil. This is also 100% pure and independently lab tested to ensure each bottle is perfect quality.
2. Tea Tree Essential Oil
Like lavender, tea tree oil also extremely popular for use on the skin (when diluted with a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil. Tea tree essential oil has proven itself useful for eliminating acne, relieving dandruff, healing wounds, treating eczema, reducing skin infections, athlete’s food, and for relieving serious sunburns.
Taken internally under professional instruction and observation, tea tree oil can strengthen the immune system against a number of issues. Issues including strep throat, respiratory illnesses, urinary tract infection, blood infection, and sinus issues. Last, but not least, tea tree oil can be diluted 5 parts water to 1 part concentrated tea tree oil for a breath freshening, bacteria killing mouthwash.
Best Tea Tree Oils:
• Artizen: This is the most popular organic tea tree oil on Amazon for a reason. It’s therapeutic grade and independently tested for finished quality. This product is so pure and concentrated, it absolutely must be diluted for topical delivery.
• Mary Tyler Naturals: Super potent and USDA organic certified, you needn’t worry about pesticides or other harmful chemicals making their way onto your skin or inside your diffuser. This potent product also requires mixing with a carrier oil like coconut before being applied on the skin.
3. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint oil is very diverse in the number of uses it offers. You can take it internally when diluted, use it as a powerful breath freshener, or clean the air in any room of your house using it in a diffuser. It’s also great for skin irritations, joint problems, and eliminates most headaches when applied topically to the forehead. If you have aches and pains, I’d suggest buying some peppermint essential oil right away and giving it a try.
Peppermint itself has been used as far back as 1000 BC. Archeologists have even found peppermint leaves in the Egyptian pyramids. One of the greatest benefits peppermint essential oil offers is relief from the most extreme nausea and digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. Just taking a whiff from a bottle of peppermint oil can rev up energy levels considerably.
Best Peppermint Oils:
• Sun Essential: Sun Essential makes top quality, 100% pure essential oils. It’s difficult to find peppermint essential oils that don’t have a distinctive alcohol scent left over from the extraction process. This peppermint essential oil only smells like peppermint and is great for soothing irritated skin and sore muscles.
• Essential Oil Labs: This is a therapeutic-grade peppermint oil made for diffusers, skin application, and can be taken internally to cure digestive upset and bad breath. The great thing about this company is they steam extract their oils in small batches to ensure quality and prevent contamination.
4. Ginger Essential Oil
The benefits of ginger have been discussed at length over this past century. It’s a very gut-healing plant that can protect against ulcers and even help reduce liver damage in laboratory rats. When inhaled via a diffuser, ginger essential oil can eliminate extreme nausea. Aromatherapy with ginger essential oil is a common natural remedy for reducing post surgery nausea and stress.
Ginger essential oil can kill internal and external bacterial infections of all kinds, including upper respiratory problems. It’s an expectorant and often used to lubricate the lungs and throat in people suffering from colds, flue, respiratory tract infections, and strep throat. Taken internally, concentrated ginger essential oil is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and age related degenerative disorders of the brain.
Best Ginger Oils:
• Healing Solutions: Healing Solutions’ premium quality, therapeutic-grade ginger essential oil is just what the doctor ordered for a number of inflammatory conditions. This oil gets nothing but top reviews, is rigorously tested for quality and purity, and certainly won’t hurt the budget.
• Zongle: Zongle ginger oil is USDA certified organic and non-GMO. It’s proudly bottled in the USA and the company claims to do everything possible to give customers ethical and sustainable products. The oil is steamed distilled and can be taken internally when diluted.
5. Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial essential oil that’s used extensively in naturopathic medicine as a replacement for pharmaceuticals. Eucalyptus essential oil comes from the leaves of trees native to Australia. Traditionally, the plant has been used as a pain reliever, taken topically or internally. Headaches, ear aches, and muscle and joint pain are just a few of the ailments eucalyptus can help with. It’s also traditionally been used as a natural method to repel rats.
The compound 1,8-cineole is the main medicinal ingredient and is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which is what makes eucalyptus so effective at curbing pain. However, this ingredient also hosts more proven and potential benefits, many yet to be discovered as more testing is completed. Eucalyptus can kill fungal infections of all kinds, works as an analgesic to help people with colds, flus, and other respiratory issues breathe better.
Best Eucalyptus oils:
• Art Naturals: This is my favorite eucalyptus oil on the market. Not only is it 100% natural, this eucalyptus oil comes with a money-back guarantee if you’re unsatisfied for any reason. The 30ml bottle also comes with a handy dropper, which makes measuring much easier.
• Sun Organic: Another great offering from Sun Organic. This eucalyptus oil is one of the most popular on Amazon and a huge hit with people who’re in love with the benefits this unique aromatherapy oil offers. I’d recommend the 16oz bottle for the best bang-for-buck.
6. Clove Essential Oil
Clove oil used to be a mainstay in dental medicine throughout history. Just a dab can turn excruciating tooth pain to completely bearable in seconds — even wisdom tooth pain and pain caused by painful dry socket! It’s also still widely used as a natural acne remover, due to its powerful antiseptic properties. Mix 2 teaspoons of natural honey and two drops of clove oil together, then apply it to acne and leave it on for several hours if possible.
Clove oil also boost the immune system. Eugenol, the main component in clove, is a powerful antioxidant, with over a 290,000 ORAC value. It’s believed such a powerful antioxidant can help prevent and treat cancer, but no studies have been completed to prove this, or any other potential antioxidant benefit such as heart disease prevention. Clove oil taken internally has shown to lower blood pressure in some hypertensive subjects. Dr. Axe recommends taking clove oil internally to cleanse the digestive tract for up to two weeks under the care of a physician.
Best Clove Oil:
• Now: Now makes many of the purest, most highly trusted health and beauty products in the world. This clove oil is no different, with 2-ounces of steam extracted product derived from the bud and bark of the clove tree. I really love the burning wood smell this product imparts.
• Healing Solutions: It’s hard to choose between Healing Solutions and Now. They both smell so good and feel so good when diffused in a room or applied to the skin. This product claims to be therapeutic grade though, where as Now doesn’t market their variation as such.
7. Rose Essential Oil
Rose oil contains a number of aromatic and highly therapeutic compounds that are beneficial to the body (see entire list). It’s also arguably one of the best smelling essential oils on this list. One of the biggest benefits of using rose essential oil is in relieving depression.
Certain studies have shown participants experiencing lowered blood pressure, breathing rate, and skin temperature after inhaling rose oil. For this reason, men and women note that rose oil aromatherapy helps with sexual dysfunction brougt on by high stress levels — though studies are rare and inconclusive. Rubbing rose oil on the skin using a carrier oil can also help reduce wrinkles, fine lines and acne breakouts, while promoting faster healing of wounds.
Best Rose Essential Oil:
• Artizen: This product is steam distilled for ultimate purity and a little really will go a long way in a diffuser or as part of a homemade topical mixture. You can get a much better deal on Amazon than directly from the manufacturer.
• Sun Essential: This product is frequently used as an inexpensive natural tick repellent for dogs and cats. However, it’s perfect for human use, too. Use Sun Essential Rose Geranium oil for all the benefits listed above.
8. Sandalwood Essential Oil
Sandalwood has a long history of use in aromatherapy, including religious and other spiritual ceremonies. Alpha-santalol is one of the constituents that give sandalwood its sweet, woodsy smell. It’s also what gives the essential oil its health benefits ranging from boosting mental clarity, lowering blood sugar levels, and reducing inflammation.
Alpha-santalol helps to free the body of free radicals, which helps reduce aging, heart disease, stroke risk, and aging in general. The anti-inflammatory effects of inhaled sandalwood is very promising from a naturopathic perspective. This study found ingested sandalwood equal in effectiveness to prescription NSAIDs like ibuprofen and Aspirin.
Best Sandalwood Oils:
• doTERRA: While some people find the smell of Indian sandalwood a little too strong to other variants, it’s largely considered the most pure and potentially having the most benefit. This one isn’t cheap, but after reading the reviews, you’ll note doTERRA is the most potent product on the market.
• Sun Essential: Sun Essential pure sandalwood oil is a go-to for people looking for sustainable alternatives to the Indian version. Its smell is much milder, which is what customers love so much about it. Sun Essential has found the perfect balance with this product.
9. Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary is one of a select few oils that are used extensively in cuisine. Rosemary oil is great on chicken and potatoes, and a staple in many home kitchens. It’s also great for improving memory, easing digestive upset, and for topical pain relief. Rosemary oil is also a potent antioxidant, with an ORAC value of 11,070 — higher than gogi berries, in fact!
The main antioxidant in rosemary is carnosol. Carnosol is a phenolic compound that’s been studied extensively as of late for its effect on preventing prostate, breast, skin and colon cancer. It’s selective in killing pre-cancerous and cancerous cells, while leaving healthy cells alone. Carnosol can also prevent hairloss in men by inhibiting DHT levels, and has shown promise in balancing hormones in both sexes.
Best Rosemary Oils:
• Radha: You’ve seen this brand listed a number of times on this list of best aromatherapy essential oils. That’s because Radha doesn’t cut corners on quality, and delivers an end product that’s always affordable. This glass bottle of 100% pure product comes with a glass dropper and money-back satisfaction guarantee.
• Zongle: Zongle is USDA certified organic, which isn’t always an important factor with many essential oils, as most are nature’s pesticide and thus don’t require harsh chemicals to protect them as they grow. Still, Zongle is organic, 100% pure, therapeutic grade medicine, and labeled safe for consumption.
10. Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon is the most popular of all citrus essential oils. The oil is extracted from the skin (rind) of the lemon using the expression method detailed near the beginning of this article. Lemon oil has a range of uses from whitening teeth, killing bacterial infections, and rejuvenating energy levels. Also, though the fruit is often credited with being high in antioxidants, oil extracted from the rind is even more potent.
All lemon oil’s benefits that have been tested and verified come from aromatherapy, except for the teeth whitening and acne benefits. Lemon essential oil rubbed on the skin can stop an acne outbreak quickly and reduce the signs of aging. It can also treat a number of other skin diseases. Gargle a few drops of pure lemon oil for 60 seconds twice a day to whiten teeth. When the essential oil of lemon is inhaled, there are a number of benefits including relieving nausea and digestive ailments such as constipation.
Best Lemon Oils:
• Essential Oil Labs: This is a premium therapeutic grade lemon oil. It’s steam extracted and cold processed into the final product. This lemon oil is perfect for use in or on the body, and any corner of the house that could benefit from its invigorating scent.
• Mary Tylor: This bottle of lemon oil is on the short-list of most popular essential oils on Amazon. It’s USDA certified organic, and comes in a 4oz glass amber bottle with dropper.
As mentioned earlier, there are numerous essential oils on the market currently. Sadly, few have enough scientific backing to lend any credence to the benefits they might offer. The 10 listed above can be used separately or mixed together to make super essential oils for a synergistic affect to cure the ailments each are known for.
I hope you’ve learned a lot from this article and that you plan to adopt the use of aromatherapy into your health routine.