Essential oils are natural oils that retain the characteristic fragrance and properties (i.e the very ‘essence’) of the plants from which they are extracted, typically via steam distillation, solvent extraction or expression.

Highly fragrant and very concentrated, essential oils have been used for centuries in natural therapy techniques such as aromatherapy, thanks to their curative effects.

Despite centuries of use and powerful therapeutic properties, many people are still unfamiliar with how essential oils actually work and what they are. In some cases this lack of knowledge results in them being given an undeservedly bad rap.

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Three fundamental truths about our bodies

In order to understand essential oils and incorporate them into your lifestyle, it is important to acknowledge three fundamental truths about our bodies and the many substances that naturally exist within them.

First of all, natural oils contain many powerful organic compounds that are commonplace in traditional medicine. One example is Eugenol a compound that clove oil is very rich in, which forms the very backbone of the pain management medications commonly used in dentistry.

It follows that essential oils when applied to the skin deliver similar benefits by naturally working with the body to harmonize its normal functions and neutralize bodily crises, such as anxiety or pain.

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Secondly, over 80% of what we put on our skin is absorbed and assimilated into our bloodstream for better or worse. Via the transdermal pathway, essential oils can permeate the layers of the skin in the same way your moisturising cream delivers active ingredients to your body.

In the subcutaneous skin layer, active compounds can enter the bloodstream and directly affect the nervous system. The active ingredients of essential oils go directly to work in the brain and nervous system.

Essential oils can be incredibly effective at permeating the body so much so that oils like eucalyptus are being investigated for use as penetration enhancers for medications.

Finally, it is important to note that the nasal passageway of sensory perception links directly to our brain. The olfactory system in the upper part of the nose attracts aroma compounds.

Your olfactory system is connected to the part of your brain that controls emotion: the limbic system. When lavender essential oil is diffused into the air, for example, the odor is transported as fine particles to the olfactory nerves in your nasal cavity.

Receptors then transmit the sensory information to the limbic system. The busy limbic system, which regulates smell, emotion and memory, is responsible for forming our positive and negative associations toward scents.

For example, the smell of rose hips may involuntarily remind you of an old boyfriend’s devotion in your early years of your relationship. The smell of hops, on the other hand, may remind you of his unfortunate drinking habits and the break up that followed, causing you to tense up.

In this fashion, scents can affect our psychological wellbeing in a big way, and it’s helpful to understand and embrace the impact our sense of smell can have on how we feel.

Applying essential oils properly is just as important as picking the right ones

Start by massaging four to five drops of oil between your toes and onto the bottom of your feet and work your way upward, massaging oil onto your pulse points the wrists, temples and backs of your ears.

Finish by inhaling deeply from your hands. In the event that topical application isn’t practical, diffusing oils with an aromatherapy diffuser in your home or office is a simple way to experience their benefits.

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