The essential on essential oils

I’m obsessed with oil. I’ve been mocked by my near and dear’s for years for being so greased-up with lotions and mosturisers and unguents of all sorts that I’m (literally) impossible to get ahold of, and it is true, I can think of nothing worse than being dry or flaky. Ugh.

Granted I am usually all lubed up with body butters and Aesop face creams, not actual lashings of oil, but in recent months I’ve added essential oils to my daily rituals, and for those who are grease avoidant, this one’s also for you. All of the goodness, none of the slickness.

My daily routine is nothing if not a protracted love letter to oil: I eat it, swish it around my mouth every morning, polish my body with it, massage it into my scalp, and scent my home with it... magical stuff. I’m going to go ahead and assume that you don’t, at this point, need me to list the benefits of massage again, but you mightn’t be quite as well-versed in the ways of essential oils.

Scent is potent. Our sense of smell is 10,000 more powerful than any of our others. When you inhale an essential oil, that scent is carried by olfactory nerve cells in your nose to the limbic system, which governs emotion and memory, as by intimacy, passion… all that lush stuff. Other senses, like touch, have a more prosaic route to the brain via the spinal cord, and this is why scent is linked most strongly to the subconscious mind, and to memory.

Throughout history certain oils and scents have been revered for their ability to ground, to heighten meditation, to calm, or stimulate... and modern science validates what herbalism has long held, which is that slow wave and theta brain activity significantly increase during exposure to certain scents (like frankincense and lavender), and that inhaling these actually impact physical markers like blood pressure and pulse rate.

What are essential oils though?

They’re, duh, the fragrant essence of a plant. They’re often found in a plant’s outer layers, like in the rind or peel of a lemon, and they’re intended to help their plants adapt and thrive in their environments. They have their own potent little blends of vitamins, hormones, antibiotics, and antiseptics which make them messengers, catalysts of biochemical reactions, and protectors from parasites and diseases. Nuts.

But why are they so expensive?

Essential oils can be ingested, diffused or inhaled, or applied to your skin, and they are, when they’re pure and potent, pretty expensive. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find essential oils you can fully trust, and any Amazon trawl will attest to this, but the best things to look for are organic, distilled essential oils, as well as brands that offer up a wealth of information: country of origin, method of growth, and process of extraction. If you see oils like rose, jasmine, neroli, or tuberose (all of which are very expensive to make) being sold inexpensively it is likely to either be a synthetic reproduction, impure, chemically-extracted, or full of rubbish filler. Check ingredients on store-bought scents. Those reed diffusers that are now widely sold are usually the worst and full of a laundry list of really unpleasant chemicals.

The primary difference between natural and synthetic scent molecules is their frequency. All living organisms operate at a frequency measured in megahertz (MHz) that indicates health and potency. The human body, for instance, vibrates at a significantly higher frequency when healthy than when it is sick. Essential oils are alive, and each one resonates at its own frequency. Pure rose oil is said to have the highest frequency, and is often recommended to calm and soothe the heart, or for the skin thanks to its antiviral, anti-aging properties, and its ability to reduce redness.

What should I be doing with them?

But seriously, currently, I’m dropping a few drops of peppermint and rosemary into the sesame oil I use every morning for oil pulling. It just makes the whole thing a slightly zingier and more aromatic experience, plus both oils have wonderful antiseptic properties.

My favourite ritual currently is using this Awakening oil from Panpuri on my hair after I’ve showered. I work two or three drops through damp hair instead of conditioner or leave-in product and my hair’s never been shinier, softer, or more fragrant.

I also like Panpuri’s Soothing lemongrass, patchouli and bergamot blend to diffuse at home and I’ll often mix up blends to suit mood; sandalwood and patchouli when it’s cooler, or things like lavender at bedtime.

When I feel a cold coming on I’ll knock back two drops of oregano oil; it is frickin’ strong though so don’t take too much or direct into your mouth, this shit burns. I recommend using it in food, or dropping some into a soup. It’s also quite a strong natural antibiotic, so limit use to when you’re actually feeling poorly.

I’ve started using two drops of rosemary oil in my massage oil, said to be energizing, an analgesic, and to help with muscle pain (plus I love the smell).

Lavender for everything: calming, balancing, and good for stress. I drop lavender into the diffuser, use it for massage, and have even put two drops in my mascara to help it last longer (heard this tip on the That’s So Retrograde podcast and it works).

I also use orange or vanilla oils in my coffee scrub, depending on whether I want to smell like a creamsicle or pudding. You can also zest a small amount of a citrus rind into most desserts, yum.

Which oil is right for me?

Follow your nose.
If you’re drawn to a particular scent, it’s the one for you. It is that simple. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine traditions prescribe specific scents for specific constitutions and needs. Your body is smarter than you think, so let it be your guide.