Essential oils have been used historically for a variety of alternative treatment methodologies, but they are also now being sold for home users in mainstream retail outlets. These oils can be used both topically and for aromatherapy purposes.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated aroma compounds that are plant-based. They are sometimes called “ethereal oils” or “volatile oils”. The reason they are called essential is because they carry the “distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant”. The oils are collected through steam distillation. Mainstream uses of essential oils are in soaps, cosmetics, perfumes, to scent cleaning products, and to flavor drinks and foods. They are also used in alternative care practices for medicinal uses. Because some oils could have pesticide residues, many aromatherapy practitioners will only use oils that are organically produced.1
Why Use Carrier Oils?
Carrier oils help dilute the essential oils, as some can cause skin irritation in their “undiluted or neat form”. There can be allergic reactions as well, so carrier oils do need to be blended in. Carrier oils are vegetable-based, and they are typically olive, almond, grapeseed, and hazelnut, as these are more neutral oils. The general ratio is “0.5-3% (of) essential oil disbursed in a carrier oil”.2
Alternative and Chiropractic Uses for Essential Oils
Aside from flavoring or scenting commercial products, essential oils are used in the field of aromatherapy. They can also be placed in carrier oils and used in massage, candles, incense, or diffused in air nebulizers. Essential oils are not typically meant to be consumed orally, as many of them can be dangerous when they are concentrated. The most popular essential oils in medicine are menthol, capsaicin, anise, camphor, and eucalyptus oils. They can assist with medical problems such as bronchial and respiratory problems, as decongestants and expectorants, and as local anesthetics. Other oils, such as agathosma and juniper are used as diuretics. Camphor and turpentine oil can create a numbing sensation on the skin, while menthol can have a cold/heat sensation. Clove and eugonol can also be local anesthetics; they and thymol are also known as antiseptics. Lavender is popular in aromatherapy for relaxation. Rose oil is a common scenting agent. Medical advice should be consulted in the case of using these concentrated aroma compounds during pregnancy and with epileptic patients, and these oils can be toxic to animals. Some oils, such as citrus, are “photosensitizers”, which can increase the risks when skin is exposed to sunlight.3 Because chiropractic is one of the fields that is based on the body’s ability to heal itself, some chiropractors may use or recommend essential oils. The range of uses includes massage, skin care, vaporization, hair care, foot/hand baths, compresses, and air freshening. Of course there are many recipes patients can use at home to create products with these oils, and safety recommendations can be provided.4
Research on Essential Oils
Dr. Robert Pappas, an essential oil chemist, founded Essential Oil University, EOU, which tests essential oils analytically in order to report their breakdowns. Dr. Pappas provides an “online chemical reference database” for these oils. The hope is that this free resource will not only educate people on essential oils, but that development of “therapeutic grade” standards can be achieved.5 Dr. Pappas has published research on some of the essential oils in recent journals.6