Essential Oils: What You Must Know

They claim to help everything from a headache to your mood. Here's clarity at last.

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “There’s an app for that.” These days it seems the same could be said about essential oils.

“Got a cold? There’s an oil for that.”

“Feeling stressed? There’s an oil for that.”

“Need to clean your house? There’s an oil for that as well.”

And, while many of us think essential oils are something only those looking to go “off the grid” are using, we would be wrong. Essential oils are now mainstream. You can find them in grocery store aisles, at the salon, in gyms, online, and of course, at your local health food store. There’s a strong possibility a few of your neighbors are also selling them through home-based network marketing companies, touting how well the oils work to help manage their own kid’s ADHD or allergies.

If you find yourself asking, “What is an essential oil anyway?” it’s defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a “natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.”

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But how “essential” are these oils? And is there a way to tell which ones may work better than others?

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The Food and Drug Administration oversees the industry and says on its website that aromatherapy products are regulated depending mainly on how they are intended to be used. Claims about cures, healing or other medicinal properties are not permitted.

The FDA sent warning letters, in fact, to two of the most popular essential oil brands back in October, Young Living and doTERRA. Officials claimed their products were being marketed as unapproved drugs. The companies were ordered to remove all health claims and take corrective actions, or face serious legal consequences.

oil-eucalyptus While research may not yet support essential oils as a complimentary therapy to treat a variety of more serious health conditions, people using the oils stand by their anecdotal experience.

“I’m trying to live a cleaner lifestyle across the board. For years I have been vegan and watch what I put in my mouth and on my body. It’s become part of my lifestyle,” said Melissa Heath of St. Clair Shores, Michigan.

There are many essential oil companies out there, and some offer their own proprietary blends for various symptoms. Some claim to be a higher quality, which can also mean a higher cost.

The bottom line, for Heath, is that “there’s a lot of science supporting this. It’s not just some throwback to the ’60s. I don’t think people realize that.”

Her sentiment is echoed by Leah Young of South Lyon, Michigan.

“When I had kids, I realized there’s so many chemicals and outside toxins coming into my house and into my family that I wanted to keep them as fresh and healthy from the get-go as I could,” she said. “I’ve been using oils for 13 months and I haven’t had a cold.”


Heath agrees, saying if she feels a cold coming on, oil goes on the bottom of her feet, her wrists and in a diffuser.

“Literally, within hours, I don’t feel like I’m catching a cold,” Heath said.

If you’re new to essential oils, here are a few things to consider:

‘No Such Thing as Therapeutic Grade’
If you just like the scent, quality may not be as critical and you could save money and buy whatever you like. But if you’re looking for some homeopathic remedies and are interested in better health naturally, you will want the best quality of oil. Finding that may be a treasure hunt.

Jade Shutes, a certified herbalist, said, “There is no such thing as ʻtherapeutic gradeʼ (or grade b, c, or d) in the sense that some organization or higher power has bestowed it on an essential oil line. A grading system does not exist for essential oils. It is a product of marketing and marketing alone.”

Shutes’ remarks were made in a report called the Quality of Essential Oils published by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

When seeking a quality essential oil, look for words on the product’s bottle, such as genuine and authentic, plant derived, preferably organic or wild crafted, and unadulterated.

Oils Won’t Treat Everything 
“A lot of people think, ‘I’m gonna rub this oil on and I’m gonna lose weight and be beautiful,'” Heath said. “It’s not a magic pill. It doesn’t work instantly.”


When it comes to using the oils appropriately, she adds that there is actually a lot to understand. Heath recommends “The Secret Healer” by Elizabeth Ashley as a good resource for beginners.

Talk to Your Doctor First
While many western doctors dismiss any value in essential oils, it is still important to talk with your doctor and let him know what oils you are using or considering. Some oils can adversely interact with different medications.

Also, if you’re pregnant, keep your doctor in the loop. Some oils are fine for you, but may harm your baby.

“My very favorite is orange. I find it to be so uplifting, and studies have shown that it’s used for anxiety,” said Heath.

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