Essential oils are concentrated oils that are extracted from the leaves, flowers, bark or roots of plants. They are called ‘essential’ because they contain the very ‘essence’ from the plant that they were extracted from.
Using essential oils safely
Essential oils are very strong and concentrated, and if used incorrectly they can cause side effects like skin irritations. They also have some medicinal action and may aggravate health conditions.
Here are a few general pointers to use them safely:
- Never take the oils orally.
- Essential oils should never be used undiluted.
- Avoid sensitive areas like the eyes and mucous membranes.
- Those suffering from high blood pressure and epilepsy should use some oils with caution (specifically rosemary, basil and peppermint).
- Although it’s unlikely to cause harm, it’s generally recommended that you avoid essential oils in the first 3 months of pregnancy, and that you use them with caution after that. Some oils should be avoided completely. If you do wish to use essential oils while pregnant it would be a good idea to consult with an aromatherapist. The good news is that there are some essential oils that can be used quite successfully during labour and birth, something worth looking into.
- Avoid essential oils in babies younger than 6 weeks.
- Use weaker solutions for babies over six weeks, children, the elderly and those that are ill.
- Make sure that you seal your bottles well after use and that you store them in a cool, dark place.
- Do some research and choose good quality products. Beware of imposters! A ‘fragrance’ is just a chemical mix that smells nice. It will not have any of the health benefits of an essential oil.
How do you use essential oils?
You can dilute and then use essential oils in the following ways:
- As aromatherapy. Permeate your home with smell by using a burner or ultrasonic diffuser. The latter is more expensive, but much easier to use and it will make your oils last longer as well.
- As a massage oil or lotion. Make a blended oil by mixing an essential oil into a carrier oil or Vitamin E lotion. Use 15 drops to 30ml of oil for grown-ups, and 6 drops (and a maximum of 3 oils) for babies and children. Massage relaxes, improves circulation, stimulates the release of toxins from the body and provides a sense of well-being.
- Steam inhalation. Add 2-3 drops of an oil, or a cap full of a blended oil to a basin full of hot water. Keep your eyes closed and inhale.
- Bath water. Add a cap full of your blended oil to your bath. You can also add a few drops of the oil directly (5 drops for grown-ups and 2-3 drops for babies and children), but it will evaporate very quickly and will be less effective.
- Use a hot compress for muscular pains or cramps, or a cold compress for muscular injury and inflammation. Add 2-3 drops of an oil or a capful of a blended oil to hot/cold water, wet a facecloth, wring out extra water and apply to the affected area.
- Applying neat. The only two oils that will occasionally be applied directly to bites, stings or small cuts and grazes are lavender oil and tea tree oil. These are so versatile that they should probably be the first two oils that you buy for your essential oil collection.
What are carrier oils?
These are vegetable oils into which you dilute your essential oils to produce a blended oil. Use good quality, cold-pressed oils.
- Grapeseed oil is a fine, smooth oil that is rich and nourishing.
- Jojoba oil is gentle and soothing, and a good choice for a sensitive skin.
- Sweet Almond oil is light, odourless and easily absorbed – one of the most popular oils for all skin types.
Good essential oils for babies and children
Some oils are known as ‘children’s oils’ because they’re gentle and effective for treating common health problems in children:
- Lavender: for restlessness, crying, insomnia and colic; good first-aid oil for minor burn wounds, grazes and insect bites.
- Mandarin: for hyperactivity, restlessness and tummy ache.
- Neroli: colic, fretfulness and insomnia.
- Orange: a similar oil to neroli, but more invigorating.
- Roman chamomile: colic, nappy rash, eczema, teething and irritability.
- Tea tree: infectious skin conditions and fungal infections, asthma, colds, flu, bronchitis, and to stimulate the immune system.
- Benzoin: tight congested chest.
- Eucalyptus: respiratory congestions (this oil is best used in a burner, humidifier or on bedding as it’s very strong).
How to use these oils for the above conditions:
The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ideas to try:
- Nappy rash: Add 3 drops each of lavender and tea tree oil to baby’s bath water. You can also mix these two oils into a carrier oil and apply to the affected area, or even add a drop to baby’s bum cream (remember that these two oils don’t need to be diluted as much before use).
- Make a chest rub to treat congestion and coughing for children older than 6 months by adding 3 drops eucalyptus and 3 drops of orange oil to 50ml of carrier oil, and rubbing it over the chest and back.
- Treat motion sickness by adding 4 drops peppermint oil and 2 drops ginger oil (or lemon if you find ginger too strong) to a carrier oil and massaging it to the nausea acupressure point (located about 3 fingers above your wrist on the inside of your arm, between the bones and tendons).
- Give your shampoo aroma power by adding 1-3 drops of essential oils before applying it to your hair. You can treat dandruff (bergamot, lavender, rosemary and tea tree), regenerate (patchouli) or stimulate growth (bergamot and rosemary).
- Headache and migraine mix: blend 10 drops lavender and 5 drops peppermint oil into a carrier oil and massage your neck and shoulders, or add a capful to your bathwater.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.