[WELLNESS] Essential Oil Beginner Basics

A couple of years ago, I started diffusing essential oils before bed each night, to which Jesse gave me the “another-strange-hobby-of-yours” kind of look.  It was shortly after that, that I came home from work to find him using the diffuser himself, asking which types of oils he should use given his current mood/goals/health.  We both became hooked to this method of natural healing, making our own massage oils, linen sprays, injury ailments, and diffusing them nightly.  Essential oils are an incredible medicine offered up by nature.  The healing properties they offer make them a great form of nature-based medicine and something we found worth incorporating into our daily routine.

What is an Essential Oil?

Essential oils are highly concentrated, naturally occurring liquids comprised of volatile aroma compounds pulled from various parts of plants, typically through distillation or cold pressing.  Oils can be found in a variety of plant components including flower petals, bark, leaves, roots, etc.  Note that fragrances are different from essential oils and often contain artificial substances.  In aromatherapy, it is critical to remember that essential oils are highly concentrated, as misuse can be potentially dangerous.  That one tiny drop could be the equivalent of 20-30 glasses of tea made from the same plant!  Always study up and consult a physician before starting a new wellness / health-related regiment.

Essential Oil Uses

Essential oils can be used for wellness in a variety of ways.  Some of these include:

  • Diffusion using an essential oil diffuser
  • Steam inhalation (by putting your head over a bowl with 3 cups of boiling water and 3-5 drops of essential oil)
  • In a bath by adding them to epsom salts
  • For a massaging oil – mix with an organic carrier oil base (Jess and use almond oil as our base, these handy glass pump bottles, and then switch up our mixture of EOs each time we run out of the oil)
  • Similar to a massaging oil, you can mix with a lotion base and create a customized lotion for your current mood (we have a calming one, an energizing one, etc.)
  • Mixed with water in a mist bottle
  • Diffused in a roller bottle with an organic carrier oil of your choosing

These are just a few of the many, MANY ways to incorporate essential oils into your daily life.

What to Consider When Buying Essential Oils

When buying essential oils, there are a few key things you want to consider:

  1. Purity: Look for an oil that is 100% pure (not a blend), meaning it contains no additives or fillers.  This also means to avoid bottles that have jojoba or another oil added if 100% pure is what you are looking for.
  2. Therapeutic Grade: For starters, there is no such thing as a certified therapeutic grade essential oil.

    According to Burfield and Kirkham (2006-07), “many aromatherapists have unfortunately become unwitting victims of a marketing ploy by essential oil traders that advertise “approved” essential oils of ‘therapeutic grade’. Let us be quite clear on this – there is no such thing as a ‘therapeutic grade’ essential oil, and no quality standards for the authentication of essential oils specifically exist in aromatherapy.”

    You’ll find bottles out there claiming to be “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade,” or some similar certification, but it’s important to note that this type of terminology often used can be misleading.  There’s no governing body overseeing the grade classifications of essential oils, although it has become widely believed that this is a standard.  It doesn’t make those products good or bad, it just means the classification may carry little weight in this instance.  Confusing, right?  Essential oils can, however, be deemed Certified Organic.  It’s okay, if I’ve lost you.  What I’m getting at here is that you still need to do your own research.  Find a brand you can trust over time and continue buying through them.

  3. Price: Essential oils can get pricey, as it can take a large amount of each plant part to get enough oil to fill a small essential oil bottle (ie. think about rose petals).  Note, though, that buying the most expensive essential oil doesn’t always mean the highest quality.  But, like most items when shopping, if the price seems like a steal, that’s probably a good indication you aren’t getting the highest possible quality or you’re getting a lot of additives.  Also keep in mind that all essential oils will vary in price, as the cost to extract the oils from each plant varies.  (ie. What you pay for lavender will be completely different than what you pay for, say, Frankincense.
  4. Terminology: Be cautious when buying anything that contains words like “fragrance,” “imitation,” or “perfume.”  These words are often used when some type of unnatural chemical compound was used in the creation of the oil, making it a non-natural oil.  (Note: above info about essential oils vs. fragrances).  Also look for the Latin name and/or country of origin to be listed.  This can help in ensuring you are buying the correct oil and to do the extra research (if you choose) to see that it’s from a desirable region for that specific kind of oil.
  5. Appearance: Oils should come in a blue or brown tinted glass bottle.  Clear bottles can cause the EO to spoil, and plastic bottles could be partially dissolved by the EO, thus ruining your oil.

The School for Aromatic Studies has a great post that goes into more detail about how to look for quality oils.  Some brands they recommend include: Lunaaroma, Stillpoint Aromatics, Floracopia, Aromatics International, and Pompeii Organics.

My two cents on quality: I’ve heard a few essential oil professionals talk about the quality vs. the intended use of the oil, noting things like the quality of the oil you topically doesn’t need to be as high of a quality as one you ingest.  For starters, ingesting oils is a whole separate realm of natural healing that should always be well researched ahead of time, better yet, under the care of a functional doctor (or equivalent).  (Ingesting certain essential oils can actually be lethal.)

But second, (and this is a personal opinion) I aim to ensure the quality of what I put on my skin is the same quality that I would be willing to ingest.  When using essential oils topically, your skin absorbs the oils, which eventually enter your bloodstream.  I (personally) want to give my skin (and blood) the same high level of quality I aim for in my food.  I’ll admit, I’ve had my slip ups during times of feeling broke, but I always understood in doing so I’m reducing my chances of receiving healing benefits, and maybe save those oils for a refreshing, odor-removing spray of some sort, saving the good ones for the massage oils I make.

There’s so much to learn in the realm of essential oils, but starting slowly with one oil at a time can make the journey less daunting.  Jess and I’s first oil (and still personal favorite) was lavender.  In the upcoming posts, I’ll share some ridiculously simple recipes, DIYs and quick remedies you can make with essential oils at home.  Stay tuned!


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