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a beginner’s guide to essential oils

aromatherapy essentials

You don't need to jump on a plane to be transported to a blossoming European rose garden, nor do you need a spa appointment to feel your stress melt the oil out of your pores. It's not at all necessary to take sleeping pills to help you fall asleep, and it's possible to cut down on the amount of coffee you need to get through the day—all with the help of essential oils.

With just a few drops of oil, you can make a little magic happen. Whether you’re trying to assuage a headache, relax at the end of the day, or simply make your home smell amazing, essential oils are the simple answer to reinvigorating your senses. These aromatherapy essentials are easy to pick up in specialty shops or health food stores, but their many applications and purposes can be a little confusing for the beginner oil user. We spoke to three experts about how to use these all-natural oils to transform your everyday experience. 

What is aromatherapy?

"Aromatherapy (a.k.a., 'aromatic plant medicine') is a complementary and alternative care modality that is a powerful support to our own bodies' innate ability to heal itself," says Amy Galper, Executive Director of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. "Using essential oils, which are the highly concentrated and highly volatile aromatic molecules extracted from aromatic plant material, is an easy and beautiful way to de-stress and be proactive about our preventative care.”

Aromatherapy can be used not just to de-stress, but also to combat some minor health problems, like allergies and headaches—making them a great option for people seeking more natural remedies. “Essential oils have also long been used in many cultures to address a variety of ailments, including depression, nausea, headaches, and bacterial or viral infections just to name some," say Amy Lindwall and Fannie McWatt of EVER Brooklyn, an artisanal essential oil shop. These holistic oils also operate on an psychological level, working as mood-lifters.

What can essential oils be used for?

The uses of essential oils are seemingly unending. “I use essential oils on a daily basis for so many different reasons," says Shaby Tavakol of New York essential oil shop Enfleurage. "A drop of our organic peppermint oil in my coffee in the morning to promote digestive relief, a dash of bergamot dropped in the shower to wake me up and transcend me to the orange blossom groves in Italy, rose otto to balance my skin after I wash my face, a couple of drops of wild lavender on my pillow at night to help me fall asleep, a drop of thyme and cinnamon bark in a spoonful of honey when I feel a cold coming along, et cetera...”

Each essential oil has its own benefits, so depending on your specific ailments or desires, you can select the best oil for your lifestyle and apply it in whichever way works best for you. Essential oils can be used not just for aromatherapy, but also for "alternative medicine, massage, acupuncture, skin care, candle and soap making, flavoring, and perfuming," says Tavakol.

How do you apply essential oils?

Essential oils have two common application methods: dilution and diffusion. "Blending them with a carrier oil like jojoba, grapeseed, or coconut is best for body applications when you need quick absorption," say Lindwall and McWatt. Alternatively, a few drops of essential oil can be mixed with unscented body lotion or hand cream for foolproof dilution.

Diffusers can spread essential oils through a room, so this technique is best for enhancing the aroma of your home. The Jasmine Aroma Diffuser, stocked by Enfleurage, is a water-based diffuser that spreads a fine mist of the oil. Each different oil used in a diffuser can have a different result. "When congested, diffuse eucalyptus. When restless, diffuse lavender or marjoram. When cleaning, diffuse lemon to cleanse the air," says Tavakol.

Alternatively, an inhaler can be used for diffusing on-the-go or for a targeted mist. "These are perfect for treating sinus infections, allergies, and asthma, and other applications where you need quick relief," say Lindwall and McWatt. "It’s the fastest route for getting the essential oils into your bloodstream."

What are the benefits of using essential oils?

While essential oils have a multitude of purposes, as a whole they are a great product to help you relax, combat minor ailments, and overall, get more in touch with nature. "Our daily lives consist of routines," says Tavakol. "From the moment we wake to the time we lay our heads for rest, there is a lot of chaos that can happen between the 17-plus hours we are awake. I strongly feel that the ritual adornments of essential oils can take an average day to one most decadent."