What Are Essential Oils, and Do They Work?

Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy,

Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine that employs plant extracts to support health and well-being.

However, some of the health claims associated with these oils are controversial.

This article explains all you need to know about essential oils and their health effects.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants.

The oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor, or “essence.”

Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence.

Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.

Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use.

The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.


Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that retain the natural smell and flavor, or “essence,” of their source.

How do essential oils work?

Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy, in which they are inhaled through various methods.

Essential oils are not meant to be swallowed.

The chemicals in essential oils can interact with your body in several ways.

When applied to your skin, some plant chemicals are absorbed (1Trusted Source2Trusted Source).

It’s thought that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, research in this area is lacking (3Trusted Source4Trusted Source).

Inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is a part of your brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory (5Trusted Source).

Interestingly, the limbic system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions (6Trusted Source7Trusted Source).

The limbic system also plays a role in controlling several unconscious physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. As such, some people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect on your body.

However, this has yet to be confirmed in studies.


Essential oils can be inhaled or diluted and applied to the skin. They may stimulate your sense of smell or have medicinal effects when absorbed.

Popular types

There are more than 90 types of essential oils, each with its own unique smell and potential health benefits.

Here’s a list of 10 popular essential oils and the health claims associated with them:

    • Peppermint: used to boost energy and aid digestion
    • Lavender: used to relieve stress
    • Sandalwood: used to calm nerves and help with focus
    • Bergamot: used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema
    • Rose: used to improve mood and reduce anxiety
    • Chamomile: used to improve mood and relaxation
    • Ylang-Ylang: used to treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions
    • Tea Tree: used to fight infections and boost immunity
    • Jasmine: used to help with depression, childbirth, and libido
    • Lemon: used to aid digestion, mood, headaches, and more

There are over 90 commonly used essential oils, each associated with certain health claims. Popular oils include peppermint, lavender, and sandalwood.


source: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-are-essential-oils#what-they-are

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