So you want to use essential oils? Do you have a chemistry degree? How about extensive aromatherapy training? No? Good news: you don’t need them.  

One of the most empowering things about essential oils is the fact that anyone can learn to use them. There’s typically a widely-studied oil for almost anything you can think of. And all you need to do to get started is an overview of the ways oils can deliver their benefits to your body, so you can identify which is best for your needs. 

There are 3 simple ways to use essential oils: aromatically, where you inhale the oils; topically, where the oils are absorbed by the skin; and ingesting, where you consume the oils and they’re absorbed internally. We’ll focus on the first two here, as ingesting is often thought to be riskier since essential oils are so powerful. Here are some examples of how these use cases might play out: 

If you’re looking for immediate respiratory support, aromatic use is the fastest delivery method for oils like peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary that work on the lungs and sinuses. By contrast, you can also rub these same oils on the chest at bedtime in the form of massage oils that support easy breathing. For skin concerns, apply soothing lavender, frankincense, or roman camomile topically to affected areas. 

Want to learn more? Keep reading for how to think about and make the most of these distinct delivery systems. 

1. Aromatic use 

This is one of the most popular ways to use essential oils, and it’s especially powerful. Your sense of smell is the fastest way to affect mood, and inhaling oils is particularly impactful when it comes to eliciting physiological, mental, and emotional responses. This is because an oil’s aromatic compounds reach the brain quickly, where they are rapidly absorbed by smell receptors that affect the limbic system. 

The limbic system is the part of the brain that stores memories and emotions and it is directly linked to controlling heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. Delivered this way, essential oils can have a subtle, yet holistic effect on the body. Some essential oils induce uplifting or invigorating effects—like breathing peppermint and wild orange—while others are more calming and grounding, like inhaling cedarwood and lavender. 

Here’s how to get started:

  • Diffuse oils in an essential oil diffuser—this allows for ongoing aromatic support—from air purification to mood enhancement. In our home, we use peppermint and vetiver in a diffuser to encourage my child’s attention and focus on homework. 
  • Placing a few drops of essential oil in the palm of your hand, cupping it around your nose, and breathing deeply. This is especially helpful for congestion or seasonal threats. 
  • Wear oils as a personal fragrance to enhance mood by applying to the back of the neck, on the wrists, and over the heart.
  • Apply oils to a cotton ball and place it in the air vents of your vehicle.
  • Lastly, mix oils in a spray bottle with water and mist over furniture, carpet, or linens; add oils to a batch of laundry or to dryer sheets; or use them in household surface cleaners.
2. Topical application

This method allows the oils to absorb efficiently into the skin, so it’s particularly useful for localized benefits. Skin is the largest organ in the human body and essential oils easily penetrate it, meaning that you can target specific affected areas to improve skin irritations, abrasions, and burns, as well as boost complexion and skin tone. Add oils like tea tree, frankincense, lavender, sandalwood, and helichrysum to lotions or moisturizers for their anti-aging qualities. They can also be used as part of a soothing massage. 

Be mindful that some oils are "hot" (this includes oregano, thyme, cinnamon, cassia, clove, lemongrass) and should be diluted with carrier oils like coconut, jojoba, sweet almond, grapeseed, or olive oils. Recent research shows that using a carrier oil can actually help absorption to get the fastest result. Relying on a carrier oil also helps to extend your oils and cover more surface area such as the spine, neck, forehead, temples, abdomen, chest, and limbs. Just remember: always use a small amount of essential oils because they’re quite powerful. When in doubt, dilute with a carrier oil, and avoid getting any oils into your eyes and inner ears. 

Here are some other ways to use essential oils topically:

  • Add a few drops of oil to a warm bath. Try lavender, roman chamomile, or petitgrain.
  • Make a hot or cold compress by soaking a cloth in water, adding essential oils such as peppermint or lavender, and then applying to the desired area.
  • Apply essential oils to the bottoms of your feet for a great way to get them circulating around the whole body. All the reflexology points for every organ of the body are found in your feet, plus feet are porous and this technique allows for quick absorption.

Whether you’re looking to use essential oils aromatically or topically always take a good look at the label and list of ingredients before you purchase. If possible, also try to find out how the oils are made and tested. Since there’s no regulation of essential oils, there's a lot of variability in quality between brands, and a low quality oil can be ineffective or even bad for your health. The health science and medical communities are actively researching the many benefits of therapeutic grade essential oils. As more and more people look for natural ways they can holistically impact their everyday health and wellbeing, the versatility of essential oils makes them a powerful, user-friendly option and there’s no time like today to get started.

Robin Steinfeld is a holistic health educator with a specialty in essential oil therapy. She graduated from NYU with a Masters in Health Science & Education and has 30 plus years of experience in the education, practice, and science of essential oils. Her inspiration to explore natural healing came with her own experience dealing with life-long autoimmune disease. She has dedicated herself to healing naturally, using essential oils, and the results have been astounding.

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