Do Essential Oils Live up to the Hype?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Even if you've never used essential oils, you probably know someone who swears by them. Derived from plants, these highly concentrated oils can be applied topically on the skin or inhaled through aromatherapy—all with the goal of enhancing physical and mental wellness.
Aromatherapy has been promoted as a treatment for a wide range of ailments, from stress and anxiety to chronic pain, insomnia and dementia. Many massage therapists mix essential oils with lotions to help relax or energize. Many celebrities tout topical oils as beauty aids—Blake Lively applies coconut oil to protect the ends of her hair, Lupita Nyong’o applies avocado oil and Hawaiian kukui nut oil to improve the appearance of her skin and Cate Blanchett scrubs her face with a mixture of olive oil, macadamia oil, grapefruit juice and sea salt for a healthier complexion.
Although it may be tempting to turn to essential oils as a holistic, natural alternative to traditional medicine, not all oils are created equal. "With any herbal medicine, quality is of utmost importance," says Dr. JoAnn Yanez, executive director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. "You want to ensure that the substance is free of chemicals, additives and has quality control to ensure that what is in the supplement is what is on the label."

Do Essential Oils Really Work?

Do essential oils live up the hype, or are they just hocus-pocus?
Gayle Nicholas Scott, assistant professor at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Virginia, shared her expert insights with Medscape. According to Scott, essential oils appear to be safe for most people to use, with the exception of people who have poor circulation, cuts or wounds in the skin, asthma or epilepsy. However, she points out that the studies surrounding essential oils are limited.
"More large-scale, well-designed, randomized, controlled trials are needed to define the role of essential oils in medical care," Scott told Medscape. "Essential oils should not be used in place of established medical therapy to treat, cure or prevent disease."

10 Trending Essential Oils

With well over 100 different essential oils, it's easy to get overwhelmed when deciding which to try. We threw together this quick cheat sheet of some of the most popular oils and their purported benefits. Although research is still limited, many people have shared their positive experiences.
  1. Avocado: Extracted from the pulp of its namesake fruit, avocado oil was used as a skin moisturizer before gaining popularity in recipes. It’s high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which the American Heart Association recommends as a heart-healthy alternative to saturated fats.
  2. Bergamot: Derived from the fruit of the bitter orange tree, bergamot oil has a floral, citrus-like aroma. It's often used to relieve pain, reduce fever, heal the skin and alleviate chest congestion.
  3. Chamomile: Many believe that this sweet-smelling floral oil can help to reduce stress and aid in sleep.
  4. Coconut: Although there's nothing wrong with using coconut oil to flavor food in moderation, SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand says there's not enough credible research to support the claims that it aids in weight loss, brain function or heart health.
  5. Eucalyptus: With a clean, fresh scent, eucalyptus works well in homemade cleansers. It's also thought to reduce congestion from colds and the flu, freshen breath and relieve joint pain.
  6. Frankincense: This oil is often applied topically to the skin to reduce acne and reduce signs of aging, and is also used in bath solutions as a stress reducer.
  7. Lavender: In addition to having a sweet floral fragrance, many believe that the oil from the lavender flower induces relaxation and sleep. It's also said to reduce inflammation and treat skin conditions.
  8. Lemongrass: Its light, fresh scent makes this oil an ideal additive to household cleaners. Many also claim that lemongrass oil helps to boost mood levels.
  9. Peppermint: In addition to flavoring foods and desserts, peppermint extract is often used to alleviate symptoms of the cold, flu, digestive problems and headaches.
  10. Sandalwood: Known for its pleasant woodsy fragrance, sandalwood oil has been used as an antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory and a stress reducer.
If you're considering incorporating an essential oil into your skincare, culinary or aromatherapy regimen, Dr. Yanez says it's best to talk to your doctor first. "As with any medicinal herbal use, you should consult a medical professional to ensure that the herbs are being used safely and appropriately, and are not interacting with other forms of treatment," she says.

Do you use any essential oils? Have you noticed any benefits?