Essential oil (from the Latin word essentia, "nature of a thing") is a concentrated extract of the aromatic compounds of a plant. It is obtained by steam distillation, CO2 extraction or cold expression of the plant. Distillation, the most popular method of production, involves mixing the plant in water and heating the mixture to form steam. This vapour loaded with essence will then be recovered and cooled to recover the essential oil.
Essential oils and their origins
Aromatherapy as we know it was born in the 1920s thanks to the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé.
However, the existence of these plant essences goes back much earlier. In antiquity already, mentions of fragrant and aromatic oils could be found in certain documents.
Egyptian papyrus from 2,800 years ago relates the use of essences and perfumes extracted from aromatic plants in pharmacology and body embalming. At that time, distillation was already used in an ancient form.
But the Egyptians were not the only ones to benefit from the properties of these plant essences. Indeed, Eastern civilisations such as China and India had also integrated them into their daily lives for cosmetic and therapeutic uses.
The benefits of aromatherapy
Nowadays, the benefits of essential oils are no longer doubted. They are useful for treating the small aches and pains of everyday life and for stimulating the immune system, thus playing both a preventive and curative role.
The properties of essential oils are many and varied depending on the plant used and cover a wide range of problems.
Essential oils: their therapeutic properties
The therapeutic properties are the most well known and sought-after. These are natural alternatives to antibiotics from the pharmaceutical industry. For example, we find the following properties:
Antiseptic (fight against bacteria)
Anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation)
Anti-toxic (acts as an anti-poison)
Analgesic (reduces pain with a sedative action)
Expectorant (helps to clear the bronchial tubes of excess mucus)
Hypo- and hypertensive (regulates blood pressure)
Immunostimulant (strengthens the immune system)
Depurative (purifies the blood)
Digestive (facilitates digestion)
Sedative (reduces stress)
And many others
Essential oils: their cosmetic properties
In addition to their medical effectiveness, essential oils are also widely used in the cosmetic field.
They have, among others, the following properties:
Antiperspirant (against perspiration)
Aphrodisiac (acts on the libido)
Tonic (tones the body)
Healing (accelerates healing)
Deodorant (reduces odours)
Guide to the use of essential oils
You can enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy but not just any way! It is important to know the precautions for use before starting to use these vegetable oils. Indeed, aromatherapy is not considered to be an alternative medicine and self-medication can be dangerous. Not all essential oils have the same instructions for use and while some can be ingested and incorporated into food, others are reserved for diffusion or skin application.
Certain rules must be observed for safe use.
Always look at the instructions for use before use!
The use of essential oils must be moderate and is always counted in drops, never in spoons. It is preferable not to exceed 3-4 days of use without medical advice.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding it is recommended not to use essential oils without medical advice.
Do not administer essential oils to children without a doctor's approval.
Do not use essential oils in people with allergies, asthma, hypersensitivity to essential oils and people with a history of epilepsy or convulsions. For those with allergies, it is recommended to carry out a preliminary test before use.
Avoid contact with the eyes, nose, ear canals and ano-genital areas.
In case of accidental absorption, call the Poison Control Centre directly. Never drink water!
Essential oils are not meant to be injected.
It is important to wash your hands after any skin application.
Essential oils are not water-soluble. They do not dissolve in water. Be sure to dilute them first (in liquid soap, vegetable oil, cream).
Make sure to close the bottles tightly and keep them out of the reach of children.
The shelf life of essential oils is generally 5 years but some of them have a shorter shelf life.