Essential Oils FAQ
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are the volatile aromatic oils derived from plants, meaning they are easily evaporated. Plants secrete these oils for various purposes to protect the plant from insects, fungus, bacteria or to attract insects to pollinate the plant. They are the "essence" of the plant.
How are essential oils made?
Most essential oils are distilled using giant kettles of steam which causes the oil to evaporate and rise through a series of tubes where it is condensed and collected. Because oils and water do not mix, the water from the steam is naturally separated from the oil. The resulting water retains trace amounts of the oil and are called hydrosols. Some oils are "cold pressed" meaning the plant is simply pressed and oil is extracted that way. These are primarily citrus oils. Essential oils are extremely potent, and it often takes pounds of plant material to make one small bottle of essential oil.
Are essential oils safe?
For the most part, yes. The safest way to experience essential oils is through inhalation (either inhaling directly from the bottle or by using a diffuser).
Because essential oils are so potent, they should be handled with care. The majority of oils will not cause any damage if applied neat (undiluted) to the skin, but some oils are described as "hot" and can irritate or burn the skin. I do not recommend use of undiluted oils on the skin because even if they do not irritate your skin now, overtime and prolonged exposure, your skin may come to see it as an irritant and you may become allergic. If you want to apply to your skin, always dilute to 10% or less essential oil in lotion or carrier oil.
A few oils are phototoxic, meaning if the oil is applied to the skin and then exposed to the sun, a serious sunburn will easily result. These are most of the citrus oils, especially lemon and grapefruit.
For more on essential oil safety, consider purchasing Essential Oil Safety by Tissarant.
Or visit the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy's safety resource page.
Is doTERRA the only quality essential oil provider?
No, there are many companies that produce a high quality product. I enjoy oils from Young Living, Snow Lotus, and Original Swiss Aromatics. If I need an oil today, I think AuraCacia is a fine, easily available product. I like doTERRA because they offer a great product and make it really easy for everyday people to engage with essential oils. They also have a great membership benefits program.
There are many, many low quality essential oils out there too. Some warning signs to look for. "Fragrance oil" means it comes from a lab, not a plant. Also cost can be a big indicator. If all oils from one company are the same price, or if oils that are traditionally very expensive (like rose, melissa, or jasmine) are selling for $10 or less, you can't be sure what you are actually buying. If you want to explore oil companies further, consider joining the Blue Tansy Analysis group on Facebook or view the independent test results they have already conducted on their Google Drive.
How do I know that doTERRA is a quality product?
Every bottle of doTERRA oils comes with a batch number, which you can enter on the website sourcetoyou.com and get the official Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry (GS/MS) report. This is a detail of all the chemical compounds and percentages in that particular oil. If you are interested in organic chemistry this may already give you a lot of information. If not, you can use a book like Essential Oil Safety and compare the percentages to the standard compounds and percentages for that oil. Each batch of oils will vary slightly due to weather and soil conditions when the plant was growing.
How do you know which oils will have a specific therapeutic property?
There are several ways to determine the property of an essential oil. First we look at its use in nature. For example, frankincense is a resin that a tree exudes when its bark is cut. The resin covers the opening and helps repair the tree. So frankincense has similar properties for humans is used for cellular repair, wound healing and is an anti-inflammatory. We can also look to the chemical compounds from the GS/MS report. All compounds can be divided up into several groups (hydrocarbons, alcohols, ketones, etc). All the compounds in a group, tend to have the same properties.
Lastly we look to the thousands of years of history from people using plants medicinally.
Join the oil of the month club to explore each oil in more depth.
Or if you are interested in diving deep, consider the certificate course at Bastyr University.
How do you know which oils will have a specific emotional response?
Much of essential oils emotional response can be tied to our memories. The olfactory system (sense of smell) is one of the most primitive senses. When a scent is encountered the brain shoots it to the memory and emotion regions of our brain, bypassing the thinking and analysis part of our minds. Emotions are often triggered without the brain really understanding "why?" or what to "think" about it. Because each of us has a different set of memories and associations, two people may not experience the same emotional response to one oil. For example, most people react to the scent of orange with a light and happy mood. It often reminds us of summer, and carefree times of youth. However, if you grew up in an orange grove and associate the scent with hard work, long hours, hot afternoons, you may have a negative response to orange.
I encourage people to close their eyes and clear their minds, then inhale an oil and ask yourself what emotion or memory comes up for you. Write down your thoughts and compare them with friends, books or online material. It can be fascinating work.
Where can I find professional studies on the efficacy of essential oils?
New research is always being conducted on essential oils by medical professional and universities. Visit the National Institute of Health website and type in the essential oil you want to learn about. For example, "lavender essential oil", which returns over 1,000 articles.