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?

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CECELW 9/18/2020
I use essential oils for anxiety. Did nothing for me other than make the room smell nice Report
CD26166109 8/14/2020
I have found no scientific studies showing they are effective
I have tried them myself, also, and only ended up smelling awful. Report
JAMER123 7/10/2020
I love the fragrances of essential oils but have found out that many of them are harmful to your dogs and cats and can be lethal. My most loved fragrance is lavender but no longer use it due to having a dog. We lost one in Jan. before I had the toxic list. Report
CHERYLHURT 5/17/2020
They smell nice, but the rest is all hype Report
CECELW 5/3/2020
I have tried using essential oils for anxiety, pain relief, etc...I never got relief. I do enjoy the scent's. I add a few drops in my heated container with a bit of wax. Smells lovely! Report
PATRICIAAK 4/24/2020
:) Report
NENEBFIT 3/25/2020
I have had no success with essential oils, but I love the smell of lavender. I’ve also noticed how smooth my complexion is when I eat an avocado several times per week. I’d much rather get the benefits by eating it over using an oil. Report
LIDDY09 2/28/2020
thanks Report
KHALIA2 2/16/2020
I learned something! Some of these I have NEVER heard of! Thanks for sharing this one! Report
ACERESOLA1 2/3/2020
I am a HUGE believer in essential oils. I use them daily on all my family including pets. I started using them when my son was three. He had allergies so badly that his nose was stuffed constantly and he would cough nightly while it drained. We had his adenoids removed per doctors suggestion. This worked for a week. Then the coughing ensued. My friend introduced my to essential oils. I did some research and started using a blend known to combat allergies. If I used them twice a day on his feet, no coughing. If I didn't use them for more than a day, coughing. After that, I tried using them for everything. For my family, most things worked. I haven't had too many bad experiences. 99.9% have been positive. That being said I educated myself a lot the first year of using. I listened to podcasts and read material. Went to training's and asked for advice. I love my oils and refer people to use them all the time as an alternative to prescription medication. Report
ANHELIC 1/31/2020
Thank you Report
GRALAN 1/23/2020
I enjoy bergamot from Earl Grey Tea as a stout steeped hot tea poured over ice cubes to make iced tea, a splash of milk and little sweetener. It goes great with BBQ. Report
GMACAMI 1/15/2020
interesting article and comments Report
CHERYLHURT 12/23/2019
They smell nice but nothing else Report
MUSICNUT 12/11/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
GENKI_LADY 11/19/2019
This is bunk- don’t waste your money. I still can’t believe that Spark interviewed a single naturopath and passed it off as gospel.

Learn more about what studies actually say about essential oils:
sential-oils-in-the-ambulance/ Report
ROBBIEY 11/18/2019
good ones Report
KITT52 11/4/2019
good article Report
Been disappointed everytime I try some, so have quit spending money on them. In particular, the ones said to be sleep inducing, and the ones that rid you of headaches. The only essential thing about them, was that the makers get rich! Report
I've started using black chamomile and bergamot bath jell. One thing is certain but I'm somehow allergic to drinking chamomile but it works great on the outside of my body. For me inside, it's like a poison and I end up in the ER, however; I will sing the praises of it on the outside! Cheers!! Report
Love my Young Living Oils. Purity of your oils is key! Report
They smell nice. Report
I have Never found any that worked! Report
I love my essential oils. I don't use them like I should, but know people who swear by them. Report
I love using them in my diffuser Report
Smells nice! Report
I have mixed results with essential oils. Report
I haven’t found a single one that does anything. Report
Lavender oil is an essential in our household, especially when our adult autistic daughter is home. We see a noticeable calming effect on her behaviour if she's stressed and we put lavender oil in the diffuser. We also put some drops of pure lavender oil on a handkerchief and pop it on top of her bookcase so she doesn't know it's there - works a treat on her sleep schedule and she sleeps like a log. I love mint, frankincense, citrus family and rose (but the last is expensive!). Report
Firm believer. I cant do without them! Report
I haven’t found any that work. Report
The most important essential oil of all is Tea Tree Oil. It helps control dandruff. Report
Thanks for the article. It was very informative. Report
I have used essential oils for several years. Every year I make sure I have eucalyptus on hand because my nose will plug up at night and the eucalyptus opens it so I can breathe. I have used peppermint for a bad headache and it always gets rid of it. I have to remember to dilute it with a carrier oil, though. I diffuse thieves when I have a cold (and my cat loves it when I do that -- he can leave the room when he wants). With anything, and when learning about them, what works for some won't work for others. You have to find which ones work for you. Report
I use a lot of essential oils for various things. Also just for the fragrance as well. I have a friend that has bad asthma and makes up a group of essential oils and it relieves her breathing problems. I use it for my husband's colds. Works well. Report
Great article! Report
Thank you for this great info! Report
My son got me a diffuser for Valentine Day's & I've used it daily since I received it.
I love the peppermint & orange oils the most. Report
I have often wondered it they work. I get headaches quite frequently and have wondered if oils would work for that. Report
Be sure to use a high quality oil such as doTerra or Young Living. Report
In my experience, some do work. Depends on the person. Report
Scam as far as my experience Report
Thanks for the article, interesting read Report
I don't eat peppermint at all - but the smell of it relaxes me and opens up congestion from allergies. I love it. Report
Very interesting Report
I have tried various essential oils for sleep and so far I haven't found any that work. Report
I've done extensive investigating to find high quality brands that don't use multi-level marketing (MLMs jack up the price due to the selling structure). I'm not sure I'm allowed to post brand names I recommend so I won't. I did find an online community that does independent testing on select oils to determine purity. Even several popular MLM oils were found to contain impurities. I love all citrus-y oils and blends to alleviate anxiety. I could care less if it's just a placebo effect as long as it helps me. My favorite carrier (used to dilute EOs when applying to your skin) is food-grade hemp oil - it has a ton of beneficial properties. It has a slightly nutty/seedy scent that is easily masked by whatever EOs you mix it with and absorbs pretty quickly. Hope this might help any newbies. Report
thank you Report
I use Young Living and Dotera oils topically and in a diffuser for the aroma while sleeping. I have seen many more benefits in 10 years of use than was discussed here, and no side effects. Laughed at the part about consult physician, they wont have a clue or will dismiss it. For muscle soreness, bruises, inflammation, distraction while praying, or anxiety, certified essential oils are The Best. Report
I have a de-stress blend I keep in my backpack, along with some peppermint oil for when I get migraines (I put it on my temples). And lavender in Epsom salts is like a spa experience... Report