Those looking to reduce stress, sleep better, and improve their overall well-being might want to look into essential oils, as they can produce a variety of unique benefits.

Essential oils are natural, plant-based chemicals that can interact with the body in several ways.

“The idea of essential oils is to capture the features of the plant – the smell, the taste. They’re used with bark, roots, leaves, flowers – just different parts of different plants are used,” said Steelle Stevens, from Oasis Health Foods.

Most oils are extracted using steam distillation. There is also the cold press method, otherwise known as expression, wherein citrus peels like orange, grapefruit and lemon are pressed and the oil is squeezed out of the plant tissue. Most oils are then coupled with a carrier oil.

“Most of our oils are pure, 100 percent oils, and then we will recommend our customers to add a carrier oil,” Stevens said. “A carrier oil is going to be any kind of oil that you would put regularly on your skin, whether it’s coconut oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E oil – anything that would dilute the concentrated oil and make it safe for use.”

The oils can be used topically or for aromatherapy purposes. They’re not meant to be taken orally. Swallowing essential oils can do damage the esophagus and the mucosa in the mouth. Some people put them in their shower, their shampoo, or conditioner. A diffuser can also be used to help stimulate the lymphatic system, said Stevens.

“The lymphatic system controls parts of your brain that deal with emotions, smells, behavior, long-term memory,” she said. “It can also help control breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. That’s why the different essential oils will affect you differently.”

Basil oil, for instance, is known to work as a cold and flu remedy. Those looking to reduce anxiety could try rose oil. Lavender, meanwhile, can help users relax and fall asleep. Tea tree oil can be used to treat acne, dandruff or athlete’s foot. Because it can exhibit antimicrobial activity, Stevens said tea tree oil can be good for wounds or new piercings.

“The essential oils can help control all of that stuff if you know how to use them right,” Stevens said. “For example, peppermint can help with nausea and digestion. It can also help with headaches. If pregnant women come in and they don’t want to try medication, I usually recommend peppermint oil to start out with if they’re having morning sickness or headaches.”

Essential oils are not something that need to be used every day, especially if they’re used topically. Stevens said while they’re natural chemicals, the body still needs time to detox from certain oils, but the occasional use of them can promote a healthy day-to-day life. She said diffusers could be used every day, but there are still precautions to be taken.

“There are essential oils that are not OK to use around your pets, that includes diffusing them if you have a pet in your household,” she said. “So if you have a pet, make sure you check online or read up on it to make sure it’s not going to be toxic for your pet.”

Essential oils are considered largely safe when used appropriately. However, they can cause side effects, such as rashes, allergic reactions, headaches and asthma attacks. People who are concerned might want to speak with their doctor before using them.

Most essential oil bottles include a best-by date, but Stevens said they store pretty well – anywhere from three to five years.

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