Oil: Essential of Extraneous

Essential oils are in the news, on your Facebook feed and at your au naturale-obsessed friend’s house. Although their roots are ancient, their mainstream popularity is relatively new. But before making the decision to hop on the essential oil bandwagon, there are several things to take into consideration, ranging from where to purchase the oils to how to use them safely.

Essential oils are readily evaporated liquids that come from various parts of plants, like the seeds, bark, leaves, stems, roots, flowers or fruit. While these oils aren’t intended to “cure,” they have the ability to work with the body, giving it what it needs to perform at its best.

“Really what essential oils do is they come alongside of the body, and they promote the body’s ability to heal and the body’s ability to help itself and to function as it’s really meant to,” said Kari Smith, trainer and wellness coach at the Athletic Club of Columbus.

Essential oils are nothing new to holistic health practices. Since the beginning of early civilization, aromatic plants were used for their therapeutic properties by people like the Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks. So why is such an ancient practice getting so much attention all of a sudden? Lily Shahar Kunning, proprietor of Boline Apothecary, credited the recent spike in interest in essential oils to the desire to move toward more natural health practices.

Things to know before you buy

Finding essential oils isn’t a problem–they’re nearly everywhere. It’s finding high-quality oils that can be difficult. Smith suggested only using Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG) essential oils. When an oil attains CPTG status, it’s truly pure and of the highest quality.

You might be able to snag a bottle of essential oil for a fraction of the cost of CPTG oils at a drugstore or retail outlet, but that’s because oils found in those stores most likely contain synthetic materials or filler oils. It takes hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds of plants to extract a single pound of essential oil, and that’s why CPTG oils are so pricey.

How to use essential oils

Essential oil companies and basic Internet research will tell you that essential oils can be used three different ways: aromatically, topically or internally. However, some sources don’t suggest ingesting the oils, but we’ll get to that later.

1  Aromatically

Essential oils can be used aromatically by diffusing a couple of drops in water, which puts the oils into the air.

“Those compounds are in the air and you’re breathing it in, which means it’s immediately going into your circulatory system,” Kunning said. She suggested diffusion as the safest and best method because it’s the way essential oils were originally intended to be used.

Another way to use them aromatically is by placing a drop of the oil into the palm of your hand. Rub your hands together, then place them over your nose, inhaling and exhaling deeply.

2  Topically

As mentioned above, essential oils can also be placed directly on the skin. Some essential oils can be used undiluted, but it’s generally recommended to dilute them with a carrier oil, like olive or coconut oil. Carrier oils minimize concerns about skin irritation, and they help that tiny bottle go a long way.

According to Lucy Roberts, an Ohio Valley-area representative for doTERRA, a leading seller of the products, diluting essential oils has another benefit. When diluted, the beneficial molecules in essential oils evaporate less quickly, allowing your body to absorb them better.

3  Internally

Some sources claim that essential oils are safe for ingestion if they’re CPTG and labeled as safe for ingestion. On the other hand, many sources don’t suggest ingestion due to concerns of long-term toxicity. Beth Steinberg, director of critical care nursing and associate director of integrative nursing at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, doesn’t recommend ingesting essential oils unless you’re working closely with a naturopathic physician or an herbalist who has studied aromatherapy. For additional safety, Steinberg recommended that people talk to their physicians before beginning to use essential oils.

Research, research, research

Bottom line—understanding essential oils before making the decision to start using them is crucial. Deciding which oils to use and how to use them varies from person to person.

“Educate yourself. Anything can be dangerous if you’re not educated,” Roberts said.

Pubmed.gov, aromaticscience.com and CINAHL medical journal database are a few trusted research platforms.

Although they’re natural and often beneficial, there’s no arguing that essential oils are trendy. Opinions about safety and proper usage vary by source, so it’s important to be knowledgeable, not only about essential oils but about your body and what it needs.

Top five oils


It can be used to alleviate an upset stomach or headache. It also promotes respiratory health and clear breathing.

*Use with caution if you have high blood pressure or are pregnant.


When diffused, lemon essential oil purifies the air. Because of its antiseptic and antiviral properties, it can also be used to clean household surfaces. When inhaled, lemon can benefit your mood, helping to relieve stress and nerves.

*Avoid direct sunlight for up to 12 hours when used on skin.


It is most often used for its calming properties. It relaxes muscles and aids in sleep. Lavender also soothes skin, helping it recover quickly from something like a burn or a bee sting.


It affects emotional balance, the immune and nervous systems and skin. It’s said to help focus energy and is often used for meditation.


Like lemon, orange is known
for its uplifting and purifying
effects. It can help reduce anxiety, it aids in sleep, and it promotes good digestion.

*Avoid direct sunlight for up to 12 hours after using on skin.