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Modern Use of Ancient Oils.

Look on the shelves of any bath and body shop and you 11 find products whose use dates back thousands of years. They are called essential oils and you can find them in tiny bottles or already mixed in products from bath oils to skin-care products. There's been a resurgence in the use of these ancient oils, and it's more than just a fad. They actually have properties that affect your physical and emotional health.

Essential oils are extremely concentrated volatile oils (oils that evaporate easily) found in the flowers, leaves, roots, bark, and fruits of various plants. Out of more than 30,000 known aromatic molecules, any one essential oil contains from 10 to 100 different types of aromatic molecules. The number and combination of aromatic molecules in an essential oil determines both how it smells and its activity. These oils are from 75-100 times more concentrated in oil than in the dried plant. Often, one drop is sufficient to get the desired effect.

Essential oils were used in healing salves, perfumes, and incense thousands of years ago in Egypt, Greece, China, and throughout the Middle East. They were used to mask body odors and as medicine. Today, essential oils are an important component to aromatherapy -- a healing method that works both physically and emotionally. Particular essential oils can alter your hormone production, change your brain chemistry, and reduce stress.

The essentials of essential oils

The chemical compounds in essential oils may have anti-viral, antibiotic, anti-fungal, or antibacterial qualities. They can also affect your emotions by having a calming or sedating effect.

Some oils are extracted from plants through a water distillation process or with solvents. Others, like orange, lemon, and grapefruit oils are crushed. Concentrated oils may contain pesticides and solvent residues, so always buy organic water-distilled essential oils when possible.

You can find essential oils in natural food stores and in many bath and body shops. Not all essential oils are the same. Synthetically made oils do not have the same medicinal qualities as those found in nature, so buy the real thing. Remember that essential oils are volatile, so they should be purchased in small quantities. Buy essential oils in dark, glass bottles (which protect the oils from light) with built-in droppers (the droppers allow you to use just what you need).

How to use them

Never use essential oils full strength. Essential oils are very potent and can irritate your skin. Always dilute them in a good quality vegetable or seed oil, like almond oil (used for massage) or safflower oil. One to three percent dilutions are common. A one percent dilution would mean using five drops of essential oils to four teaspoons of a carrier oil. If you're in doubt about how much to dilute an oil or formula, dilute a little more rather than a little less.

Keep essential oils away from your eyes. Wash your hands well after handling them before touching your face or genitals.

Only use essential oils externally unless you are working with a doctor or health practitioner who is very familiar with their internal use. They are safest when you use them externally.

Do not use essential oils when you're pregnant since some may stimulate the uterus. This could be dangerous during the first trimester. Don't take chances.

Some good ones to use

There are dozens of essential oils that are both safe and effective when used externally and diluted in a carrier oil. You may want to start with two or three of them to use separately or to mix, adding others as a need arises.

Grapefruit oil: used for mood swings and in lifting the spirits. To combat jet lag, Colleen K. Dodt (The Essential Oils Book) suggests adding two drops each of grapefruit, bergamot, and lavender oils to a bath. Inhale deeply, relax, and feel their balancing effects.

Jasmine oil: used as a nervous system sedative to calm and as an anti-depressant. For dry or aging skin, add a drop or two to your moisturizing creams. Or put a drop of the oil on your fingertips and run them through your hair after shampooing. Jasmine has been used for anxiety, worry, apathy, and to boost confidence.

Lavender oil: This is my favorite and most-used essential oil. This is perhaps, in part, because mine comes from a friend's lavender field that I help plant and harvest. And also because it's so effective. Lavender oil has many uses, both physical and emotional. It is an antiseptic, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal oil. It can be applied on the forehead and throat for headaches, asthma, and laryngitis. Lavender is both calming and rejuvenating and is used for exhaustion, irritability, and central-nervous-system problems. A single drop of this oil can be used full strength on a blemish or burn.

Peppermint oil: used as a mental stimulant for either migraine or tension headaches, congestion, fatigue, and sore muscles. Don't use this oil in the evening, since it is a stimulant. Use sparingly alone or in a formula. For sore muscles or at the first sign of a cold or flu, add one or two drops each of peppermint and lavender oils to four to six ounces of massage oil and massage anywhere. Also try diluted peppermint oil for itching skin from poison oak.

Rose geranium oil: used for nervous tension and to help balance hormones for women with PMS or menopausal symptoms. Rose geranium, or geranium, can help reduce inflammation including acne and eczema. It is also used as an insect repellent by adding it to a small amount of peppermint or lemongrass oil. It blends well with lavender, bergamot, and lemon oils. A small amount may help you sleep, while too much may have the opposite effect.

Tea tree oil: Second only to lavender, this useful and non irritating oil can be applied and diluted as an antiseptic to treat dandruff and athlete's foot, insect bites, and yeast infections. For insect bites, combine it with lavender oil and dilute with a carrier oil before applying. Kathi Keville and Mindy Green (Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art) found it protects the skin from radiation burns associated with cancer therapy. Tea tree oil is used before and after surgery to help strengthen the emotions.

Essential oils are just beginning to be taken seriously, yet they've

been used for thousands of years in healing regimes. Practitioners have documented the effectiveness of essential oils, however, they haven't been studied much by modern scientists. But because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and safe to use, I think you should consider adding a few of them to your medicine cabinet.

Dodt, Colleen K. The Essential Oils Book, Storey Books, 1996.

Keville, Kathi and Mindy Green. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, The Crossing Press, 1995.

Lawless, Julia. Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Barnes & Noble, 1999.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Women's Health Letter
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fuchs, Nan Kathryn
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Date:May 1, 2001
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