All about Essential Oils!!
Essential Oils are a concentrated, hydrophobic liquid, containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the “oil of” the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An oil is “essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant.
Essential oils are generally extracted by distillation. Other processes include expression, or solvent extraction. They are used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and other products, for flavoring food and drink, and for scenting incense and household cleaning products.
Various essential oils have been used medicinally at different periods in history. As the use of essential oils has declined in mainstream evidence-based medicine, one must consult the older textbooks for much information on their use. Interest in essential oils has revived in recent decades with the popularity of aromatherapy, a branch of alternative medicine which claims that the specific aromas carried by essential oils have curative effects. Oils are volatilized or diluted in a carrier oil and used in massage, diffused in the air by a nebulizer or by heating over a candle flame, or burned as incense, for example.
Because of their volatile and concentrated nature, essential oils generally should not be applied directly to the skin in their undiluted or “neat” form. Some can cause severe irritation, provoke an allergic reaction and over time prove hepatotoxic. Common carrier oils include coconut, olive, almond, hazelnut and grapeseed. Only neutral oils should be used. Some essential oils, including many of the citrus peel oils, are photosensitizers, increasing the skin’s vulnerability to sunlight.
Many professionals use essential oils as part of their practice, such as: Naturopaths, Aromatherapists, Massage Therapists, Mid-Wifery and Chiropractors. The general public also uses them for various purposes.
How do you know if you have a Pure, Quality Essential Oil?
A lot of Essential oils sold in the US have concealed labeling. They may say they have a 100% pure essential oil and then dilute it with extenders such as almond oil or safflower oil. This causes them to be slower acting and much less effective. It gives the body a short false change and cannot help your body heal or feel better. In many cases, they do more harm than good. Please read this article from NAHASpring 2013 issue of Aromatherapy Journal on labeling to learn more about what regulations might be in place on product labeling. You can also read NAHA’s journal on Quality to learn more. The following methods are ways that can help you know if you have a Pure, Quality Essential Oil.
Index Card Testing
A crude way to test an essential oil is by Index testing. The process of Index testing is taking a drop of oil and placing it on an unmarked Index card (not paper). Wait until the essential oil completely drys, about 30 minutes. There should be nothing visible left on the index card. If there is no “oil ring” left behind, then there should be no carrier oil (olive oil, jojoba oil, vegetable oil, etc.) that has been used to extend and dilute the essential oil.
The only problem with this process, is that there are some essential oils that can leave a ring, just from the very nature of the plant. Heavier essential oils, like Patchouli or Myrrh, can leave a ring, for example. Most citrus oils should evaporate completely. You will need to understand the different essential oils and there constituents and weights to properly do this method of testing. It is not 100% full proof to test this way.
Smelling an essential oil can also tell you if it is pure or not. For the untrained nose, this method may be a little more difficult, but there are a couple of things to feel for with this process. Take the essential oil bottle and smell directly from the bottle. If there is an immediate “bite”, from the essential oil smell, then something may be wrong with the oil. Otherwise, continue to breath deeply for about 30 seconds. If a headache pain forms over either eye, then something is wrong with the essential oil. If the pain is over the right eye, the essential oil has been distilled or processed wrong. If the pain is over the left eye, then the essential oil has been adulterated or something has been added to it.
Keep in mind that smelling directly from the bottle can quickly overwhelm the nose and force a “smelling detox”. Also, please refer to the document of “Understanding the Healing Crisis”, by Dr. Leo Roy, for more information. Again, this process is not 100% guaranteed to work, especially if you are not trained in essential oils. A “smelling detox” , as a headache, should not be confused with a reaction to the skin. In other words, if you get a rash or burn from putting oils on your skin it is because it’s irritating the skin and the oil should be diluted or discontinued, not because of a “detox”. A patch test should always be conducted before using essential oils on the skin.
GC or MS Testing
The only true way to know if you have a Pure Essential Oil, is to have it tested in a lab. The two main ways to test Essential Oils are Mass Spectrometry (MS) and Gas Chromatograph (GC). Either testing can be costly. GC stands for Gas Chromatograph. In simple terms, a GC separates an essential oil into individual components. The oil is vaporized upon entry into the device, and the oil passes through a column assisted by a carrier gas (usually helium or hydrogen). The column itself sits within an oven; here change in heat over time is managed. Different chemical compounds react at different speeds within the column, and this information is captured on the Gas Chromatograph.
GC reports are unique, and in many publications, they are referred to as fingerprints of that particular batch of essential oil. They help purchasers protect their quality by ensuring major constituents are within generally accepted guidelines, as well as providing quantitative proof that received product matches approved samples. Still, it is important to note some of the limitations with GC’s. While a GC may produce a unique fingerprint of an essential oil, this result is often unique to the GC device and the skill of the user. Even when conditions such as the type of column being used, ambient temperature, retention rates, etc are held equal, results may have slight variations.
MS stands for Mass Spectrometry. MS is often used in conjunction with Gas Chromatography as it can aid in determining if a sample contains any adulterants. Each compound, after passing through the gas chromatograph machine, is fed into the mass spectrometer. The Mass Spectrometer ionizes the compounds, sorts each by their massto-charge ratio and then measures their molecular weights. The results are then charted.
Sometimes, without Mass Spectrometry (MS), a device significantly more expensive than even a GC, individual components cannot be identified. In recent years this has become less of an issue as libraries of reference are being compiled and made available. Sources are typically Food and Flavor journals, and by replicating conditions with a GC, major constituents can now be reasonably identified.
Understanding how an essential is obtained, may help understand why an essential oil can be processed wrong. These processes don’t matter, if the plant is processed rotten and dying. This will also cause the “eye headache”, mentioned with the “Smell Testing”.
- Steam Distillation is the most common process of obtaining an essential oil. It is a process that isolates the aromatic, volatile element of the plant with steam. If there is too much pressure and the temperature is too high, then the constituents, from the essential oil can be destroyed.
- Expression or Cold pressing, is used primarily for citrus fruits like orange and lemon, where the essential oil is obtained in tiny pockets in the peel or rind. Not much can go wrong with this process, but it can not be used for all oils and the oils obtained by cold pressing are the most volatile of essential oils and can evaporate quickly when exposed to air.
- Solvent Extraction is used for plants/flowers too delicate to be processed with heat or pressure, and are soaked in a spirit of solvent (like hexane) that extracts the volatile elements. The solvent is then evaporated at high temperatures, leaving only the most fragrant constituents behind. This process produces what is called an “absolute”. If the solvent used, is not of highest quality, then the essential oil will not be, and the constituents will be lost or not completely pulled from the plant. The CO2 Extraction method is another type of solvent extraction. In certain conditions at a low temperature Carbon Dioxide or CO2 can be pressurized to become a liquid. This liquid then acts as a solvent and is used to extract the oil from plants. After extraction is completed, the extraction vessel is brought back to normal temperature and the CO2 rapidly converts to gas. This process is expensive and most company’s don’t use it.
- Know your Supplier-Unless you know what to look for in an essential oil, and have been trained in Aromatherapy or have Third party lab tests done, you will not know for sure if the essential oil has been adulterated or not. Ask your supplier if there is a third party lab testing, using the GC or MS method, done on their essential oils. Knowing more about your Essential Oil supplier will be the best way to get a pure essential oil.
- Learn what’s behind the cost- Most people seeking to buy essential oils will also understand that sometimes you get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean Essential Oils always have to be the most expensive to be the best. Learn about the plant, of the Essential oil, you are searching for. If it is hard to grow, has a limited growing season, or produces little oil, chances are it is worth more. Learn about the company that is supplying the Essential oil. A networking company may have great distributor rewards and discounts, but the products are generally marked up to compensate. Independent company’s have their setbacks too, and can have higher priced products as well. Seek out Essential oil prices that are in the middle. Not too high or not too low.
- Ask Questions- A fragrance oil manufacturer does not automatically make an essential oil supplier. The very first step to making sure you’re getting the most out of your suppliers of essential oils is to confirm that they are, in fact, selling you essential oils distilled from natural plants with no synthetic fragrance. Plants can vary in color and smell depending on the amount of water it had, the time of day it was picked, or the country it came from. If the color or smell is always consistent, chances are you have a fragrant or synthetic oil. Ask to have a sample of the essential oil, then evaluate it for yourself, using the above methods, or have it tested in a lab.
- Take advantage of a free education– Essential Oils are not always widely understood. Taking advantage of free educational opportunities from essential oil suppliers helps to ensure that you know and understand how to use them. Just remember that they are promoting their own products and some information may be biased.
Pure, Quality, Therapeutic Essential Oils and the
Research conducted on them.
Reuters Health found that two essentials oils (eucalyptus and Melaleuca alternifolia) were effective in treating MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections. In a study of 25 patients, twenty-two of the infections resolved completely when using the combination once a day for several months. And 10 of those patients were diabetic which normally makes wound healing quite difficult. The doctors also made an aerosolized version and found out that when it was sprayed on tuberculosis cultures, it killed the TB in 40 minutes.
Georgetown University showed that oregano oil was as effective as the traditional antibiotics such as streptomycin, penicillin, and vacomycin in inhibiting the growth of staphylococcus bacteria. Andrew Weil, MD. states the following: I expect that essential oils may someday prove a vital weapon in the fight against strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Lavender, thyme, and tea-tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oils have been used for centuries as antiseptics; their chemical compounds appear to kill microbes on contact.
Research done at Weber State University, on the essential oils of clove, lemon, cinnamon, Eucalyptus radiata, and rosemary show them to have a 99.96% success rate against airborne bacteria. Different bacteria cultures were sprayed in an enclosed area, and the essential oils were diffused for a given amount of time. After only 10 minutes of exposure, there was a reduction of 82% in Micrococcus luteus, 96% in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and 44% in Staphylococcus aureus.
Another study compared the effectiveness of essential oils to antibiotics – preliminary results showed cinnamon and oregano are comparable with Penicillin and Ampicillin in inhibitory activity against E. coli and Staph. aureus.
From a medical journal: TEA TREE OIL: THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE ANTIMICROBIAL HYPE Because of increasing resistance to antibiotics, interest in finding alternatives is strong. Tea tree oil (TTO) has been widely used in Australia for 80 years and is active against many micro-organisms. A pilot study of 30 MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) carriers comparing routine mupirocin nasal ointment and triclosan skin wash with TTO ointment and wash, showed one third were completely cleared by TTO but only 13% by conventional treatment.
In another trial of Tea Tree Oil in the treatment of herpes cold sores, the oil was found to assist healing to a similar degree as topical 5% acyclovir. The oil has about 100 components but 7 terpenes and their related alcohols constitute 80 to 90% of the whole oil. Several of these components have been shown to reduce levels of Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans. Terpenes are lipophilic and partition into the phospholipid layer of cell membranes, disrupting normal structure and function. Allen, P., LANCET 2001, 358 (9289) 1245 or: Janssen AM et al, 1987. Antimicrobial activity of essential oils: 1976-1986 literature review. Planta Med 53 (5) 395-398.
From the book, “Medical Aromatherapy: Healing with Essential Oils” by Kurt Schnaubelt, 1999, Frog, Ltd. North Atlantic Books Berkeley CA. Kurt Schnaubelt has a list of some basic research, including the following:
1960: Maruzella demonstrated antibacterial and antifungal effects of hundreds of aromatic compounds 1987: Deininger and Lembke demonstrated antiviral activity of essential oils and their isolated components 1973: Wagner and Sprinkmeyer in 1973 did research on a 170 year old blend of distilled oils still available in Germany. The effects of melissa and the other oils in Kosterfrau Melissengeist had been empirically known since Paracelsus (about 1500). They concluded that, with varying degrees of intensity, there was an inhibiting influence on all the bacteria tested, (Pneumococcus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphlococcus aureus haemolyticus, Neisseria catarrhalis, Streptococcus haemolyticus, Proteus vulgaris, Hemophilus influenza, Haemophilus pertussis, Candida albicans, Escherichia coli-Aerobacter group, various Corynnebacteria, and Listeria) and stated the large spectrum of this inhibitory action is as broad as or even greater than that of wide-spectrum antibiotics.
They also showed KMG has sedative and spasmolytic properties. 1995 Deininger et al. Demonstrated the broad spectrum of antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal activity of essential oils and their components as well as effectiveness for upper respiratory, gastrointestinal, and urogenital systems and for nervousness and arterial conditions.
Included many different bacterial species, aflatoxin forming fungi, quantitative proof of the antiviral effectiveness of different essential oil constituents with special attention to their cell toxic effects on human cells. Showed antiviral effects against herpes and adenoviruses with a broad spectrum of activity. Showed oils including Klosterfrau mellisengeist terpenes could be shown curatively and preventively in animal experiments after otherwise lethal herpes injections were administered, and induce a significant increase of immunoglobulins.
Schnaubelt lists even earlier basic science research showing it has been known a long time that essential oils have antimicrobial effects:
1800-2002: Numerous animal and in vitro studies – evidence that all essential oils are antiseptic, some more than others and that many are effective against certain fungi, bacteria and viruses. 1881: Koch demonstrated the bactericidal action of essence of turpentine against anthrax spores 1887: Chamberland demonstrated bactericidal activity of essences of oregano, cinnamon and clove on bacillus anthracis 1910: Martindale showed essential oil of oregano is the strongest plant-derived antiseptic known to date, 25 to 76 times more active than phenol on colobacillus.
GRAS and FA Certified Essential Oils List
GRAS: Generally regarded as safe
FA: Food Additives
Here is a list of Essential Oils Certified as GRAS and Food Additives by the FDA.
FA: Food Additives
Here is a list of Essential Oils Certified as GRAS and Food Additives by the FDA.
Citrus rind (all)
Laurus nobilis (Bay)
Essential Oils – Nature’s Powerful Anti-Viral Weapons
Clinical research has shown that essential oils are highly anti-viral and anti- infectious. In 1995, Dr. Jean C. Lapraz discovered that there are two essential oils in which no bacteria or virus could survive. This is a significant breakthrough since there are so many life threatening viruses and drug resistant bacteria. A recent study done at Weber University has proven that four essential oils will kill 100% of the bacteria and virus in any room where they are diffused.
Doctors once predicted antibiotics would vanquish infectious diseases. But the bugs are rapidly overwhelming today’s medicines. Bacteria naturally evolve to avoid antibiotics, a process first spotted just five years after penicillin’s debut in the 1940s. But resistance appears to have speeded up in the last decade, largely because antibiotics are being overused giving the germs more chances to mutate.
Dr. Valnet points out that pathogenic microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria do not become resistant to essential oils as they do to modern-day synthetic antibiotic drugs. He states, “Infectious microbes do not appear to become accustomed to the essential oils as they do to the many forms of treatment using antibiotics.” One reason virus and bacteria cannot mutate with the essential oils is because of the chemical constituents that make up essential oils. One essential oil can have anywhere from 200- 800 chemical constituents. It is impossible for a virus to mutate and adapt to that many chemical constituents. Drugs are made by isolating one or two constituents. A virus can easily mutate and adapt to the drug, making it useless.
Although the powerful medicinal value of essential oils is only now being rediscovered by modern medical science, it has actually been known for centuries. In fact, essential oils were considered more valuable than gold by ancient cultures, due to their phenomenal healing properties. Dr. Valnet states, “In recent years both doctors and the public have re-discovered the medical value of essential plant oils, but the idea of using their properties to maintain or regain health goes back to antiquity… The Romans had their knowledge of essential oils from the Greeks, who in turn had received it from the Egyptians… “Hippocrates, for example, tackled the plague epidemic in Athens by fumigating the whole city with aromatic essences of plant oils. Later, in the 19th century, it is known that perfumery workers always showed an almost complete immunity during cholera outbreaks.
“In tests conducted in France by Professor Griffon, Director of the French Police Toxicology Laboratory, the antiseptic effect of a blend of essential oils—including pine, thyme, peppermint, lavender, rosemary, cloves and cinnamon—was studied in order to test the ability of the oils to purify the air of harmful disease-causing bacteria. First, Professor Griffon set up a number of Petri dishes approximately 15cm from ground level in an open room, allowing them to stand for 24 hours, the germs from the air being collected naturally as they settled into the open Petri dishes. After 24 hours he analyzed the dishes, finding them to contains 210 colonies of various microbes, including numerous molds and staphylococci. He then sprayed the mixture of essential oils in the form of an aerosol into the air in the room. After only 15 minutes, only 14 colonies of microorganisms out of the original 210 were left alive. After 30 minutes, only FOUR colonies of the original 210 were left. Importantly, ALL of the potentially harmful disease- causing molds and staphylococci had been killed within the first 30 minutes.
In another French experiment, the number of pathogenic microorganisms in various locations were measured. In a forest, there were found to be five pathogenic microorganisms in the air for every one cubic meter. In an average apartment, there were found to be 20,000 microbes in the air per cubic meter. In public stores, there were found to be nine million microbes in the air per cubic meter. On the top of a work table there were found to be five million microbes per square meter. On a carpet, nine million. And in the air of a large hospital there were found to be on average 10,000 microbes per cubic meter. According to Dr. Valnet, when an inquisitive doctor put some of the microbe-laden air from the hospital into a flask containing just a few drops of essential oils, 40% of the microbes were destroyed in only 20 minutes, 80% in an hour, and 100% in nine hours!
These scientific studies have finally jolted a small number of far-sighted researchers within the American medicaland scientific community to sit up and take note of the incredible antimicrobial power of essential oils, particularly in light of today’s plague of deadly antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. As today’s growing plague of pathogenic, antibiotic resistant bacteria, mutating viruses, infectious fungi and disease causing parasites are becoming more &more of a threat, it is comforting to know we can have such powerful weapons as therapeutic grade essential oils.
Every family needs to know about them.
Essential oils are very concentrated, highly potent substances, and because of this, a working knowledge of how to use them is vital to your safety and success. The potential hazards of an essential oil depend on the quality, chemical compounds in the oil, the dosage and frequency used, the method of application, and age or integrity of the individual using it.
General Safety Guidelines:
- Always conduct a patch test; Skin test essential oil for sensitivity. Do not use if redness or irritation occurs.
- Read and follow all label cautions and warnings.
- Use only pure essential oils from plants; Avoid fragrance oils.
- Keep out of reach of children and pets.
- Do not use on babies, children or pets without consulting a Certified Aromatherapist and proper dilution.
- Keep away from flame, heat and ignition sources (essential oils have a high flash point and are flammable)
- Do not apply undiluted (neat) essential oils directly onto skin; dilute with a carrier oil.
- Do not ingest essential oils unless otherwise directed by a Certified Aromatherapist.
- Keep essential oils out of eyes, ears, nose (especially the mucous membranes), mouth, and any body opening, unless otherwise directed by a Certified Aromatherapist.
- Avoid prolonged exposure to essential oils, especially through diffusion or massage.
Do not use essential oils during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Even oils that are generally safe during this time may be too stimulating for women who are prone to miscarriage. Consult your OBGYN or Midwife before using any essential oils.
- Never assume an essential oil possesses the same properties as its plant. More is NOT better.
- If you have sensitive skin, epilepsy, heart or kidney problems, or any serious medical condition, do not use essential oils unless advised by a physician or medical professional that it is safe.
Please refer to the NAHA for Potential drug interactions before using essential oils:
In Case of Accident:
If essential oil gets into eyes: Immediately flush with cold milk or vegetable oil to dilute; if stinging persists, seek medical attention.
If essential oil gets on hands: Use vegetable oil to dilute; wash with soap and warm water; repeat if necessary.
If ingested: Call National Capital Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222
If ingested by a pet: Call the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 (payment may be required)
Recommended Books that will help with understanding the Safety of Essential Oils:
- “The Complete Guide To Clinical Aromatherapy and The Essential Oils of The Physical Body: Essential Oils for Beginners” by Elizabeth Ashley
- “Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals 2e” by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young
- “Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, 1e” by Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs