Essential Oil Basics

by Linda Snow

As the essential oil trend continues to boom, more people are turning to this natural form of aromatherapy and healing. For those who have yet to join the oil trend, we asked Linda Snow, owner of Moon Drop Herbals, to provide insight, information and answers to basic questions and concerns about this natural method.

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy refers to the inhalation and topical application of pure essential oils from aromatic plants to restore or enhance health, beauty and well-being.

How does it work?

Aromatherapy works by absorption of aromatic molecules through skin and olfactory system which then bind to specialized proteins located in or on cells to integrate with the human body and psyche.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated phospholipids produced in plants and are what gives them scent. Their job within the plant is to attract pollinators, deter pests and protect from disease. Each essential oil has its own characteristic aroma and profile of chemical components that exhibit specific therapeutic properties. These chemical combinations can have the power to balance emotions, lift spirits, and evoke distant memories. Anyone who has smelled fresh lemon balm leaves warming in the sun, rubbed rosemary leaves between their palms, or brought lavender flowers to the nose for a deep breath of calm can attest to these powers. Other oils contain properties that have the potential to reduce inflammation, pain and tension; all oils have some level of antiseptic properties. It takes a tremendous amount of plant material to produce a very small amount of these precious oils, so from a sustainability stand point, they deserve our utmost respect and diligent care with each use.

Essential Oil Basics

What are the potential benefits of essential oils?

Used properly and in minimal proportions, oils can help us maintain our health, help heal minor skin and respiratory irritations, relax, balance, invigorate and enhance memory. When used improperly, however, essential oils can be skin irritants, can enhance the negative effects of sun exposure and even cause damage to the nervous system and other organs. Essential oils should be used sparingly or not at all on children under 12 years of age, women who are pregnant or nursing, or those in frail health without the advice and supervision of a trained professional in the field of health and aromatherapy.

Essential oils seem to be particularly suited for:

General well-being
Stress and anxiety related issues
Muscle and joint pains
Skin conditions
Respiratory health
Rest and relaxation
Energy and concentration

The extraction process.

A pure essential oil is obtained by extracting a plant’s volatile oil from various parts of the plant through the process of steam distillation. The exceptions are citrus oils, which are obtained by pressing the aromatic oil from the peel. Other methods of extracting plant properties include solvent extraction and infusion, and do not produce a pure essential oil since the final product contains additional ingredients. Essential oils do not contain all of the properties and constituents of the plant it came from. There are no vitamins, minerals  or most necessary nutrients found in essential oils.


Methods of use.

Essential oils are most effectively used in two ways: As a diluted topical application, and as an inhalation of the aromatic vapors.

Dilution involves mixing just a few drops of essential oils in salts, vegetable oils, or liquid soap to baths and showers to refresh and cleanse; applying preparations to skin for wounds, sprains, strains, muscle pain and tension; and making personalized skin care products for a wide array of common skin conditions.

Inhalation of essential oils is the most common method for mood and emotional support, respiratory conditions, and cleansing and purifying the air. Essential oils can be inhaled from tissues or inhalers, added to water, shaken and sprayed into a room, or diffused by heat or sonic vibration.

Safety and other considerations.

Before delving into the benefits of essential oils, equip yourself by purchasing a reputable book on essential oils and get to know a few good oils. Essential oils should be a complement to conventional medicine; always seek medical advice for serious health conditions. Professional organizations consisting of clinical aromatherapists advise that internal use by casual users without guidance of an adequately trained health care practitioner can be dangerous. Essential oils, improperly used or selected can cause serious irritation to the mucous lining of the digestive tract. Further, it is not known what internal damage could be caused by repeated use over time.

While choosing oils, be aware that the term “Therapeutic Grade” is not an industry-wide standard term and is not endorsed or regulated by any government agency. Consult a professional distributor or clinical aromatherapist for brand referral. When shopping, read ingredients and ensure that they are pure, 100 percent plant-based oil.

Suggested basic oils, their traits and potential benefits:

Cypress: Stimulates circulation, deodorizing, good for oily skin
Frankincense: Healing to the skin, tranquility, spirituality
Geranium: Cooling, grounding, feminine
Lavender: Relieves pain and itching, antidepressant, relaxing
Lemon: Cooling, cleansing, deodorizing, invigorating
Mandarin: Soothes the nerves, calms the skin, a kid-safe oil
Marjoram, Sweet: Helps relieve tension, very relaxing, cleansing (a gentler alternative to Oregano)
Peppermint: Cooling, analgesic, decongestant (careful!  Peppermint can irritate skin)
Tea Tree: Very Antiseptic, medicinal smelling, great for cleaning
Vetiver: cooling, grounding, masculine

Learn more about shopping for essential oils, uses and standards at

Disclaimer: The information contained on these pages are not intended to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose disease or ailments. Use caution and common sense when using essential oils and herbal preparations. Essential oils should not be taken internally or used undiluted on the skin. Essential oils should not be used on small children, women who are pregnant or nursing, the elderly, or those in frail health unless directed by a qualified healthcare professional.

Linda owns a local Botanical and Natural Ingredients shop on Grand Rapids northwest side. Visit for more information.




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