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Updated 12 June 2013

Know your essential oils

The therapeutic properties of essential oils are endless – they can be sedative, relaxing, energising, aphrodisiac and soothing.

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Aromatherapists make use of essential oils that are extracted from various parts of a plant. Essential oils are the aromatic life source of a plant. When extracted, they and are very concentrated, so much so, that they must only be used in their diluted form and, even then, in very small quantities.

The therapeutic properties of essential oils are endless – they can be sedative, relaxing, energising, aphrodisiac and soothing.

Essential oils are either absorbed into the skin or inhaled, but they are never to be taken internally. Here's how you can use them:

In the bath: Follow the instructions on the bottle, but generally blend no more than 10 drops of essential oil to about 20ml of vegetable oil or neutral foam and add to running bath water.

As a body lotion: Add five drops of essential oil to 10ml of a neutral, unscented body lotion.

As a facial moisturiser: Add two drops of essential oil into 4ml of neutral, unscented lotion.

As a massage oil: Blend 10-12 drops of essential oil to 30ml of carrier massage oil.

In an oil burner: To scent a room, mix three or four drops of essential oils with a little water in the dish. Then light the tea candle underneath. An oil burner is also known as a "vapouriser".

For an air-freshner: Add two drops of essential oil to 150ml warm water in a clean spray bottle.

Here is what some of the most popular essential oils can do for you:

Essential oil Key actions Indications Caution How to use
Basil Uplifting, awakening and soothing Increase concentration, clarity of mind and enthusiasm Do not use for prolonged periods of time or during pregnancy In the bath or as a massage oil
Bergamot Powerfully uplifting For stress and depression A photosensitiser, so don't use before sun exposure and use in small amounts In the bath or as a massage oil
Camomile Very relaxing and soothing Sleep-inducing and soothes and protects the skin against free radicals that cause ageing   In the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products
Cardamon Restorative Alleviates fatigue and apathy   In the bath or as a massage oil
Clary sage Soothing and restorative Clears the mind   In the bath, as a massage oil or in haircare products
Cypress Revitalising, astringent and decongestant Eases menstrual cramps and hot flushes Avoid in the first three months of pregnancy In the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products
Eucalyptus Antiseptic and highly decongestant Respiratory aid for colds, also healing and pain-relieving for cuts and wounds   In the bath, as a massage oil, as a vapouriser or in hair and skincare products
Frankincense Restorative, calming and relaxing Tones lined, slack skin and is often used in skincare preparations   In the bath, as a massage oil or as a vapouriser
Geranium Relaxing and antidepressant Mood-lifting and relieves aching muscles and premenstrual fluid retention If you have sensitive skin, avoid using at high concentrations In the bath, as a massage oil, as a vapouriser or in hair and skincare products
Grapefruit Cleansing, refreshing, detoxifying and purifying Relieves nervous tension and relaxes muscles Do not use before exposure to sun In the bath and as a massage oil
Jasmine Very soothing, aphrodisiac and antidepressant Boosts self-esteem, lifts depression and pessimism and soothes aching muscles and tension Do not use during pregnancy or if you have sensitive skin In the bath or as a massage oil
Juniper A powerful diuretic, antiseptic and astringent that is revitalising and detoxifying Used for the treatment of acne or cuts and wounds Only use in extremely small quantities (less than 10% of blend) and never during pregnancy In the bath, as a massage oil, for vapourisation or in skincare preparations
Lavender Highly antiseptic, soothing and healing Can be applied undiluted to the skin for the treatment of burns, bites and spots and it minimises scarring Do not use in the first three months of pregnancy In the bath, as a massage oil, as a vapouriser or in hair and skincare products
Lemon Astringent, healing, reviving and uplifting A mood booster Do not use before exposure to sun In the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products
Lemongrass Antiseptic and antibacterial Purifies the air, relieves headaches (if blended with a carrier oil and rubbed into the temples) and is a great natural insect repellent Use with care as it can cause irritation No more than three drops diluted with carrier oil  for a bath. Also used as massage oil
Lime Uplifting, reviving, refreshing, antiseptic Helps relieve anxiety and fatigue and stimulates circulation thereby aiding detoxification Do not use before exposure to sun In the bath and as a massage oil
Mandarin Calming and relaxing Gives a sense of serenity and can be used on children Do not use before exposure to sun In the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products
Majoram Strongly sedative, warming and comforting Combined with lavender to ease insomnia and, when used as a steam inhalation, chest and respiratory problems too   In the bath or as a massage oil
Myrtle Detoxifying and decongestant Treats respiratory problems and detoxifies body tissues   In the bath and in haircare products
Neroli Profoundly uplifting, also antiseptic and regenerating Calms nerves, good for stress and boosts mood Do not use before exposure to sun In the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products
Orange Calming and antidepressant Skin tonic and a hair strengthener Do not use before exposure to sun In the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products
Patchouli Anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and antiseptic Treats skin disorders such as acne, eczema and athlete's foot. Also relieves anxiety   In the bath, as a massage oil or in skincare products
Peppermint Antiseptic and stimulating Relieves pain Do not use in the first three months of pregnancy In the bath or as a massage oil
Pine Energising, decongestant and toning Clears out respiratory tract during a cold   In inhalations, baths, for massage, vapourisation and haircare products
Rose Astringent, anti-ageing, aphrodisiac and relaxant Relieves stress, restores confidence and moisturises dry skin   In baths, massage and skincare
Rosemary Stimulating, revitalising and antiseptic Clears the mind and aids concentration Do not use if you are pregnant, epileptic or have high blood pressure In inhalations, baths, for massage, vapourisation and hair and skin products
Sandalwood Balancing, aphrodisiac and antiseptic Helps with coughs and sore throats   In baths, massage oils, inhalations and perfume
Tea tree Antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and invigorating Treats skin problems (especially acne), controls dandruff, develops a positive mental outlook and builds confidence   In baths and hair and skin products
Ylang ylang Relaxing Tones skin and induces a sense of wellbeing   In baths, massage oils, hair and skincare problems


Tips for the safe use of essential oils

  • Store all essential oils in dark glass bottles and keep them out of direct, because they are damaged by heat, light and humidity.
  • Essential oils should not be taken internally, they are only for external use.
  • Always blend essential oils with a carrier oil or a neutral, unscented lotion before applying to the skin. (Lavender is the only exception to this rule as it can be applied undiluted to soothe insect bites and stings as well as burns and spots.)
  • Do not let essential oil get into your eyes. If this happens by accident, rinse with milk or vegetable oil and go and see a doctor immediately.
  • Many essential oils are photosensitisers, which means that they increase the skin's reaction to the sun, making it more likely to burn, For this reason, you should not apply essential oils before going into the sun.
  • Certain essential oils may also irritate sensitive skins. If irritation occurs, stop using the oil immediately.
  • Is is not advisable to use essential oils for a prolonged period of time, because they can build up in the body.
  • Essential oils should be kept out of reach of children.
  • Essential oils are flammable and should therefore not be used near naked flame. For this reason, candles and oil burners (vapourisers) should be placed on heat-resistant surfaces and should not be left unattended. Avoid using metal candle- holders and burners that get very hot.
  • Pregnant women should not use essential oils, without first consulting a doctor.
  • Aromatherapy massage should not be performed on people who are ill or who have torn muscles or broken bones.

 - (Photo of essential oil from Shutterstock)

 
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