How ‘essential’ are essential oils?

Scented candles are soooo last year. Anyone who’s anyone now proudly owns an oil diffuser and boasts of its gazillions of positive effects. I personally only have, erm, 4! Two in the house, one in the car, and my most favourite of all…my mobile diffuser that plugs into my laptop, so wherever I’m working I have my favourite scents to accompany me. I wouldn’t be without my oils, I actually think they’d be my desert island luxury, so I was chuffed to bits when Bea started putting oils out in the studio (strangely enough I’m now early for classes as I make sure I allow a minute or two to douse myself in oils before my Pilates begins).

Not just a nice to have, essential oils and the global aromatherapy market is seriously big business. It’s anticipated to reach $2.35 billion by 2025. Oils’ rising popularity is part of the contemporary appetite for wellness, an embrace of holistic healthy-living practices.

So what exactly is aromatherapy?

“Aromatherapy harnesses the power of plants to treat and improve physical and emotional wellbeing. Essential oils are administered via massage, bathing, air dispersal (using a diffuser or oil burner) or inhalation. An essential oil is the volatile part of a plant that you smell as soon as you pick it; it is extracted by steam distillation. Production is labour intensive (it takes 60,000 rose blossoms to distil one ounce of rose oil), but use of 100%-pure essential oils is said to be crucial in aromatherapy. Oils that are diluted or synthetically manufactured lack restorative benefits, apparently, and can cause harm”.

The main reasons I use essential oils are to unwind (chamomile, lavender, clary sage are recommended for this); but equally, to give me a bit of a pick me up, an injection of energy when I really need it. As a relaxant or as an energizer, I can honestly say I find oils hugely effective.

However, I also use oils medicinally. My experience has always been positive, but my evidence purely anecdotal.

I was told many years ago that using an oil diffuser at home is a really good way to keep cold, flu, and other nasty germies at bay. How? This is how it was explained to me:

Many essential oils are anti-microbial and when introduced into the air in vapor form, the organic compounds within the oils come into direct contact with airborne pathogens before they can invade your body. What’s more, some diffusers also double as humidifiers which will help to keep your airways moist and healthy so you are less susceptible to any microbes that do make it into your body.

It makes perfect sense to me, but while recent research has found links between aromatherapy and improved aspects of health, parts of the scientific community remain sceptical. For example, Dr. Edzard Ernst, former chair of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, has published two studies on the subject. Ernst found no “convincing” evidence of aromatherapy’s health benefits in relation to a series of ailments.

So, the jury remains out. There are those hard core advocates who walk around wearing t-shirts branding slogans like “Essential Oils. Heck yeah” and “There’s an oil for that” and “I’m silently assessing your oil needs.” And at the other end of the scale you have your violent non-believers who only have eyes for the negative press coverage:

The Independent: March 2018

“Exposure to lavender and tea tree oils could be causing young boys to develop breasts, as they contain chemicals which can mimic the effect of female hormones, scientists have warned”.

The Telegraph:

Women buying ‘essential’ oils blamed for rise in house fires.

I sit just below the t-shirt wearers, and attest to the very positive impact aromatherapy has on my life. I only buy my oils from reputable vendors and whilst I think it’s good to be open-minded to recommendations, I also think it’s important to do your own research. For example, maybe think twice before handing over your hard-earned cash for a small vial of “Dragon Time”, an oil which is sold online and apparently promotes “feelings of stability and calm during cycles of moodiness.” Or “Brain Dust”, a £40 oil that promises to “align you with your cosmic flow to ensure great achievement”. Wow, quite a claim!

If it’s the more authentic oils you’re looking for, and to learn about oils in greater depth from the very well regarded Melinda Brecheisen, please come along to our Essential Oils talk at the mytime Pilates studio on: Thursday 10th May 7.30pm or Friday 11th May at 1pm.

Please contact Beatrix if you’re interested.

See you there xx







I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.