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Medical Uses of Essential Oils

By Jessica Palmer ; Updated August 14, 2017

One might wonder how aromatherapy or essential oils work. The name suggests they are something you smell. Some may question whether scents have medicinal value. However, the chemistry behind it is sound, and essential oils are not just fragrances. They can be used for topical applications.

Aromatherapy, or essential oils, form the base of many household favorites. For example, tea tree oil supply the medicinal taste in old-style Listerine. Vicks Vapor Rub contains rosemary. Essential oils have many therapeutic uses, although one of the most important uses is in treating or preventing infection.

From Burns to Infection

Medical use of essential oils developed by accident when in 1928 a French chemist working for a cosmetics firm was injured in an explosion. He dipped his hand in a vat of lavender oil, and according to Charla Devereaux, in her book, "The Arometherapy Kit," discovered his hand healed in record time without scarring.

Lavender oil remains the best treatment for burns. A drop of lavender applied directly to the wound will relieve the pain. Lavender soothes, not only burns, but troubled spirits. Medical facilities use it to treat insomnia. A few drops of lavender on a pillow case can help fussy babies sleep.

Rosemary and camphor oils contain the medicinal ingredients found in many sinus remedies. One sniff and the scent is immediately recognizable. A few drops in bowl of hot water open clogged sinuses. The oils can be added to the water in a standard vaporizer. Placing an open bottle of rosemary under one’s nose and inhaling is sufficient to receive its effects.

Like many essential oils, camphor and rosemary are antiseptic and antibacterial. Tea tree is antibacterial, antifungal and anti-viral. Added to a bucket of cleaning solution, tea tree can destroy cold and flu viruses on household surfaces.

Chamomile oil takes away the sting of nettles and soothes minor skin irritations. It is also antiseptic and antibacterial. It is so safe it can be used on children, and like lavender, chamomile has calming effects.

Certain oils invigorate and rejuvenate. Lemon oil stimulates. Added to the a foot bath, it revives sore feet. Lemon added to a cleaning solution kills bacteria and mold, like tea tree, but has a much more pleasant aroma.

Many essential oils have preservative properties. They have been used for millenea. Combined with myrrh, Egyptian priests used frankincense to preserve mummies’ skin. A drop or two added to lotions--face, foot, hand or body--will help preserve living tissue too. Frankincense is still a staple in the perfume industry, used to preserve the scent.

A Little Goes A Long Way

The medicinal effects of essential oils are so concentrated that most should not used directly on the skin. The only three exceptions are lavender, chamomile and tea tree. All others must be diluted in water or in another oil, referred to as a carrier oil. The most common carrier oil is olive oil. Jojoba is also popular. Calendula oil, derived from the marigold, has anti-inflammatory properties. Sweet almond, avocado and coconut are also recommended.

Essential oils can also be diluted in water, but they won't mix as well. Like any oil, they float on the surface. Added to hot water they evaporate quickly. The rosemary used in a facial steam may have to be replenished, and a carrier oil is recommended for a bath since it slows the process of evaporation.

Essential Oils an Economical Alternative

The primary advantage to essential oils over than the store-bought products is that one can obtain the benefit in a number of different ways. A few drops of lavender can be added to a bath to replace bath soaps, placed on a pillow case as a treatment for insomnia, used as treatment for a burn or on irritated skin. A drop placed on a light bulb will clear the air in an entire room. Thus, a bottle of lavender can replace a number of products--from special soaps to burn ointments to room deodorizers. The product that boasts lavender may not contain the essential oil, but a manufactured scent, negating the benefits. By keeping a few bottles of selected essential oils around, one can literally throw out any number of specialized products.

Essential oils are good for the environment, too. Essential oils may appear expensive, but since they are used a drop at a time, a single bottle replaces several products, resulting in less packaging. As natural substances they are easily assimilated back into the ecosystem without harming it.

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