Essential Oil Basics: What Is It and How Can It Benefit You?

Are you a woman who wants to reduce stress and remove toxic chemicals from your home, but don’t know where to start? 

As a nutritionist and personal trainer, I often found myself recommending essential oils to help my clients as well as my loved ones reach their goals and feel better every day.

Learning a few essential oil basics and discovering the benefits of essential oils can help you start on your journey to a healthier, more natural lifestyle.

With their healing properties and aromatherapy benefits, essential oils are a great way to improve your health, wellbeing, and overall quality of life.

From reducing anxiety and stress levels to detoxifying the air in your home, these powerful plant extracts are an incredible tool for taking control of your life.

Let’s dive into this essential oils guide for beginners and see if essential oils are right for you and how they may help you achieve greater wellness and balance in your life!

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from plants that are composed of a unique blend of volatile, aromatic and active compounds.

These active compounds in essential oils have a variety of therapeutic benefits and can be used to improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

EOs are known for their calming effects on the body and mind, helping to reduce stress levels and promote relaxation.  

They can also help cleanse the air from airborne pollutants like bacteria, mold, and dust, which can help to improve your overall health. 

It’s no wonder these plant extracts have been used for generations for healing, cleaning, and therapeutic remedies!

A couple of essential oi bottles surrounded by medicinal and fragrant flowers.

How are essential oils made?

Essential oils are made through a variety of processes, such as steam distillation, solvent extraction, and cold pressing. These processes extract the aromatic and chemical compounds found in plants to create a highly concentrated oil which can then be used for various purposes.

Each process has its own unique benefits and uses depending on what type of plant material is being used. For example, steam distillation is often used to extract essential oils from leaves and flowers while cold pressing is better suited for extracting citrus fruit peel oils.

How do essential oils work?

Essential oils are made up of tiny molecules that quickly enter the bloodstream through inhalation or absorption in the skin. These molecules interact with receptors in your body to produce different effects, such as calming the mind or helping to reduce inflammation.

Each plant is made up of unique compounds that react to the body differently.  Some of these compounds are anti-inflammatory while others are cleansing.  Some work to detox and relax the body while others work to strengthen the body. 

For different health issues, there is likely to be an essential oil with just the right compounds that will help re-balance and heal that particular condition, including hormonal imbalance!

In the Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, author David Stewart, PhD, DNM says: “Essential oils are multi-dimensional, filled with homeostatic intelligence to restore the body to a state of healthy balance. When body conditions change, oils adapt, raising or lowering blood pressure as needed, stimulating or repressing enzyme activity as needed, energizing or relaxing as needed. Oils are smart.”

Plants are amazing and intelligent as they help the body support itself as they’re made to do.  It’s no wonder why essential oils have been such a common treatment for many diseases and ailments for thousands of years!

What does the research say about essential oils?

Research on aromatherapy has demonstrated that essential oils have the potential to promote physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Studies have also shown that using essential oils for massage or inhalation can reduce stress levels, improve sleep quality, and support digestion!

Additionally, some studies have indicated that essential oils may help to reduce pain symptoms and support the immune system.

Research on essential oils is ongoing, and there are continual studies being conducted to determine the therapeutic effects of these plant-based compounds.

While more research is needed, we can use what we already do know about essential oils to enjoy their benefits and reap the rewards.

And what we know is that essential oils are pretty nifty and all-around helpful tools for overall wellness and healthy living!

How are essential oils tested for quality?

Potency and purity are two very important things to keep in mind when choosing essential oils.

Be sure the essential oils you use are tested by a third-party laboratory to ensure that the product has the potency and purity it claims.  These tests check for things like contaminants, bacteria, and chemical composition.

They also verify that the oil contains the stated percentages of active compounds such as terpenes and other molecules used in traditional aromatherapy.

This ensures that the product you are using contains only what it says on the label and is of a high enough quality to be therapeutic.

This is why I use and trust only particular essential oils like the ones from Rocky Mountain Oils and doTERRA.  

The oils must not only be pure and potent, but the company also must be willing to give me the test results for each batch of oil so I can know without a doubt that they are the real deal! 

And, in my opinion, that kind of honesty in a company is amazing and deserving of respect.

Are essential oils safe?

Essential oils are generally quite safe and incredibly beneficial when used correctly and responsibly. However, it’s important to remember that essential oils are potent and powerful substances, so proper dilution and use is key.

You should also keep the following safety tips in mind when using essential oils:

  • Do not ingest essential oils unless it’s of the highest quality and you’ve done your research as many essential oils should never be ingested.
  • Do not use essential oils on babies or pets without first talking to a trained aromatherapist.
  • With a few exceptions, always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before applying them to your skin.
  • Keep essential oils out of reach of children and pets.
  • Never diffuse oils in an enclosed area with pets or children and always give them a way to remove themselves from the aroma of the oils.
  • Avoid contact with eyes and sensitive areas, such as ears, nose, and other delicate parts of the body.
  • Store essential oils in cool, dry places away from direct sunlight.
  • Discontinue use if you experience any discomfort or adverse reactions.
  • Be aware that some essential oils can cause photosensitivity and should not be used before exposure to UV rays.
  • Do not use an essential oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding without consulting a qualified aromatherapist or healthcare professional.
  • Be mindful of certain oils that may be toxic to cats and other animals, such as tea tree, pine, and wintergreen.
  • Consult your doctor if you have any chronic diseases and are considering using essential oils.
  • Use common sense and caution when handling essential oils and always read the label before use.

Essential oils can be a great addition to any holistic wellness routine, but safety should always be a high priority.  

So do your research and exercise caution!  And when in doubt, speak with a qualified aromatherapist or healthcare provider.

By using essential oils responsibly and safely, they can be an effective, natural tool that helps you achieve your physical and emotional wellness goals and enjoy the wonderful benefits they offer without worry!

Why use essential oils? – Link to EWG

There are many reasons why you should consider using essential oils, but perhaps the main reason is to take advantage of their therapeutic benefits. 

Essential oils can help soothe and balance your emotions, improve sleep quality, boost immunity, reduce inflammation, support digestion, and even promote relaxation.

Plus, many essential oils are packed full of antioxidants that help protect against environmental stressors like pollution.

It’s also important to note that our skin is our largest organ.  And being that it’s so porous, it doesn’t take much for things to leak through into our body.

Nearly all mainstream beauty and cleaning products contain harmful ingredients like SLS, ammonia, phthalates, xenoestrogens (these can disrupt our delicate hormones causing them to become unbalanced), and other toxic chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin and cause harm to the body. 

But it’s not just the touch of these toxins that can hurt us, it’s the smell too!  Just as the compounds in essential oils travel through our nasal track and penetrate the brain, so do these toxic chemicals. 

If you actually look at the studies and the ingredients of these products in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep and Healthy Cleaning database, you will see just how many of these common household products contain potential cancerous compounds, endocrine disruptors, and increased aging (and who wants that?)

However, when you swap these items for natural products that showcase the power of essential oils, you don’t have to worry about these harmful ingredients because they’re all-natural and derived from plants!

So, it’s completely up to you whether or not to add these oils into your life, but essential oils are one of the purest products that can be used to replace a bunch of synthetic and harmful toxic ingredients in your house. 

Woman reading a book on her bed while diffusing oils.

What are the benefits of EOs and how can they help me?

There are many benefits to using essential oils.  I’ll break the benefits into a few main categories for easier reading (because there are just SO many to list!)

Emotional Wellness

  • Promotes relaxation
  • Improves sleep
  • Uplifts mood
  • Releases tension
  • Decreases stress
  • Gets you energized
  • Helps you focus

Physical Wellness

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Relieves headaches
  • Supports the immune system
  • Supports the liver
  • Supports healthy muscles and joints
  • Kills bacteria, funguses, and viruses
  • Supports digestion
  • Protects against seasonal threats
  • Improves performance
  • Reduces nausea
  • Moisturizes skin and reduces acne, wrinkles, and fine lines
  • Repels insects
  • Acts as a first aid for many ailments (scrapes, sprains, bruises, bites, and more)

Household Wellness

  • Disinfects and cleans surfaces
  • Cleans windows
  • Cleans floors
  • Adds natural fragrance to your laundry (in place of chemically heavy dryer sheets)
  • Deodorizes rooms
  • Removes the need for chemical cleaners
  • Provides a welcoming aroma

Overall, there are countless advantages to using essential oils.  Not only do they keep you and your home healthy, but they also provide natural remedies to help you feel your best.

Essential oils are a great way to care for yourself and your family, as well as reduce the number of toxins in your home. 

Always be sure to do your research before using essential oils, and remember to consult with a certified aromatherapist if necessary.

How do you use essential oils?

There are three main methods of using essential oils: 1) topically, 2) internally, 3) aromatically.  Each method has a time and place and depends on the issue at hand.

No matter which way you choose to use them, essential oils can help you and your family achieve greater wellness. Thankfully, adding them into your life is easy to do and the benefits are many! 

Topically

When using essential oils topically, you can use them neat (directly on the skin) or mixed with your favorite carrier oil. In most cases, using along with a carrier oil is best as it helps to ensure the oil is spread evenly on your skin and doesn’t evaporate before it’s able to be absorbed by the body.

As a bonus, using a carrier oil will also help the essential oils to last longer, and who doesn’t want that?

If you’re looking to alleviate a skin, muscle, organ, joint, or bone issue, then you likely would want to apply the essential oil directly over the area and/or on the bottom of your feet (reflexology foot points). This way, the oil, along with its powerful compounds, will go through your skin and hit your bloodstream where it will quickly aid the affected area.

A massage is another great way to use essential oil topically. Adding 3-4 drops of an essential oil or a blend of oils to a carrier oil and using it for massage can be very relaxing and beneficial for sore tight muscles, stress release, or skin conditions.

A few of the types of carrier oils that can be used:

You can really choose to use any of your favorite face and body oils or lotions to help spread essential oils around to get their maximum effect.

Internally

Ingesting certain high quality essential oils in small amounts can be an effective way to get their benefits into your body.

If you’re feeling under the weather or need to build your immune system, consuming the oil internally would be ideal. This method is best for acute issues such as indigestion and seasonal threats as well as strengthening your liver pathways and immune system with daily oils like lemon.

Many people find that adding 2-3 drops of an oil in a vegetable or gelatin capsule can help them manage digestive issues or provide better mental clarity. Others may add their favorite oil to their water or tea for additional flavor or immunity boost.

Please note there are essential oils that should never be ingested so please do your research to understand the risks or work with a trained aromatherapist before taking any essential oil internally.

Aromatically

Diffusing is another great way to take in essential oils, especially if you’re looking to get the benefits of the oil quickly. 

Adding a few drops of an oil or blend of oils to a diffuser will disperse the scent throughout your home or office and allow everyone in the space to reap the therapeutic benefits.

Inhaling the oils helps to get them into your bloodstream through your olfactory system right away. This part of the brain affects many different systems in the body including the endocrine, autonomic nervous system, immune, and neurotransmitter systems to name a few.

Whether you’re looking to increase your energy, rid that fog over your head from sickness or a hormonal imbalance, calm your nerves and balance your emotions, or fall and stay asleep, breathing in essential oils can help tremendously.

The aroma of the essential oil will usually affect your mood, help you relax and/or focus, or make you feel energized. 

So if you’re looking for a mental or emotional change, then diffusing the oil aromatically should be your go-to method. 

How should essential oils be stored?

Essential oils should always be stored in dark colored glass bottles or containers to protect them from sunlight and temperature changes. 

You should also store your essential oil bottles in cool, dry locations away from any direct heat source, including sunlight.

It’s also important to keep your essential oils tightly sealed to avoid evaporation and oxidation. 

Perfect storage conditions for essential oils are refrigerator-like temperatures, with an average temperature of 59°F (15°C). Essential oils should not be exposed to extreme cold or hot temperatures.

Do essential oils expire?

Essential oils do not technically “expire” as their chemical makeup will remain roughly the same for up to 10 years with proper storage. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that essential oils can start to lose potency and many can even go rancid and oxidize over time. 

As a general rule, most essential oils should be replaced every 2-4 years.

Choosing the right essential oils

There are many things to consider when choosing the right essential oil for your personal needs so it’s important to research the oil and decide what your goal is for using it. 

Consider essential oil basics like:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What scent does the oil have and do you know what it smells like?
  • What is its chemical composition or constituents?
  • Are there any potential skin sensitivities or allergies you may have?
  • Does the company you’re looking to buy from give you direct access to the quality tests done on the batch your particular bottle of oil came from?

Once you have these answers, you can then decide if this particular oil is the right one for you.  

It’s always important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to essential oils and that different body chemistries will react differently to each oil.

A woman adding essential oils from her large stash of options to a diffuser.

Best essential oils for beginners to start their collection

When first starting your essential oil collection, it’s good to consider both single oils as well as blends. 

From my personal experience, single oils offer the most flexibility as you can mix and match to your heart’s content.  

However, blends can make life easier because they take the guesswork out of whether or not it should work for your particular situation. Plus, you typically don’t need as many bottles on hand and there are plenty of blends available to cater to every need imaginable.

Popular single essential oils

Grab this single oil essential kit to try out six popular single oils at a fraction of the cost!

Favorite essential oil blends for wellness and travel

I personally love this Everyday Blends Kit as it allows you to try out several of the most popular blends above at a great price point.  This way you can easily get your feet wet and find a few favorites!

Beginner-friendly recipes using essential oils

Acne Spot Treatment

  • 3 drops frankincense
  • 3 drops lavender
  • 3 drops tea tree
  • 2 drops geranium
  • 3 drops rosehip seed oil (or carrier oil of choice)
  • Witch hazel

Add oils to a 10ml roller bottle and top with witch hazel.

Clarifying Facial Serum

  • 4 drops lavender essential oil
  • 4 drops frankincense
  • 1 drop tea tree
  • Rosehip oil and/or Jojoba oil

Add essential oils to a 1 oz amber bottle.  Top the bottle with a 1:1 ratio of rosehip oil and jojoba oil (or substitute with carrier oil(s) of your choosing).

Room Deodorizer Spray

  • 15-25 drops of pure essential oils of your choice
  • 2 Tbsp witch hazel or vodka
  • Distilled water

Add oils to a 8 oz glass spray bottle and top with distilled water.  Shake well before use.

All Purpose Cleaner

  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water
  • 30 drops of essential oils (lemon, grapefruit, orange, tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, Purify, and/or peppermint are all great options for cleaning)

Add all ingredients to a 16 oz bottle and shake gently before use.

What EOs brand should I buy?

When it comes to essential oils, it’s important to choose a brand carefully. Quality matters when using essential oils since they are so potent and can have powerful effects on the body.

In my opinion, Rocky Mountain Oils is one of the most reputable brands for high-quality therapeutic grade essential oils that you can trust. 

Their products are tested rigorously for purity and potency and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You can even grab the batch number from your personal bottle and see the test results on their website!

Plus, they make FANTASTIC blends!  I’m in love with so many of them, it’s a little ridiculous 😉 

I also love and trust doTERRA essential oils and they are the brand I originally started using 7+ years back.  

However, I have personally found that their oils tend to be a bit higher in price and they don’t offer as many oils and blends to choose from.  But they, too, allow you to see the quality test results for your particular bottle of essential oil so as far as their quality, it’s definitely near the top and worth giving a try!

With both Rocky Mountain Oils and doTERRA, you know you’re getting only the best quality oils every time!

Key takeaway: beginners guide to essential oils

Essential oils are a powerful and natural way to help improve your overall health, mood, and well-being. With so many different ways to use essential oils, anyone can reap their therapeutic benefits with just a few drops of an oil.

Doing your research to understand essential oil basics and how they work is the key to unlocking their potential.  With any new health product, it’s also important to start slow and build up as your body adjusts to the changes.

Please keep in mind that individual reactions to essential oils vary from person to person, so it’s best to start with a low dilution and work your way up as needed.

Most importantly, have fun experimenting and exploring all the different benefits that essential oils can offer you! 

FAQs

Do essential oils actually work?

Yes, essential oils do work. Research is still ongoing to determine their exact mechanisms of action, but studies have shown that they possess numerous therapeutic benefits and can provide both emotional and psychological support. Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, topical application and even internally as a natural form of medicine. Although not all essential oils work the same for everyone, many people have experienced positive results in regards to improved health and moods when using them correctly and safely.

What is the ratio of essential oil to carrier oil?

The ratio of essential oil to carrier oil depends on the application and desired effects. Generally, a 2% dilution is recommended for topical use, which equates to 18 drops of essential oil per ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil according to this chart. For aromatic applications like diffusing or inhalation, 1-3 drops of essential oil per ounce of water is considered safe. Remember that everyone’s skin sensitivity and preferences are unique, so it’s best to start with a low concentration and adjust as needed.

How much lavender is needed to make essential oil?

It takes approximately 60-70 pounds of lavender flowers to make one ounce of lavender essential oil. Depending on the method used, it can take anywhere from 10-120 hours to extract one pound of lavender essential oil. The distillation process yields a large amount of plant material byproduct which goes unwasted and is used for other products such as bath salts and potpourri.

Is olive oil an essential oil?

No, olive oil is not an essential oil. Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile substances extracted from plants with specific therapeutic or medicinal benefits. Olive oil is a vegetable oil that is primarily composed of fatty acids and has many other healthful uses.

Can I use an essential oil as a regular perfume and will the scent last long enough?

Yes, essential oils can be used as an alternative to traditional perfumes. However, the scent of essential oils will not typically last as long as a synthetic perfume so you may need to reapply throughout the day if desired. To get longer lasting effects, consider mixing your favorite essential oil with a base carrier oil like jojoba.

What is the basic difference between essence fragrance and aroma?

Essence fragrances are man-made chemicals created to imitate the natural scents of certain plants, flowers and fruits. Aromas come directly from plants, using extracts obtained through distillation or cold pressing in order to capture their natural scent. Essence fragrances typically last longer than aromas, but aromas are more authentic due to the extraction methods used in production.

What is the difference between oil and essential oil?

The main difference between oil and essential oil is that oils are made from fatty acids, whereas essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from plants. Essential oils contain the plant’s distinctive aromatic compounds, which provide unique therapeutic and health benefits when applied or used aromatically.  On the other hand, fatty acids come from a variety of sources including animals, nuts and plants and can provide many additional health benefits when consumed.

Can I diffuse essential oils in hot water without using a machine?

Yes, it’s possible to diffuse essential oils in hot water without using a machine. All you need is to place a few drops of your chosen essential oil into the hot water and allow the steam to circulate the aroma of your preferred oil around the room. It’s important that you don’t boil and overheat the oil as this can alter its chemical composition and therapeutic properties.

How many drops of essential oil are in a 10ml roller bottle?

Depending on the recipe and the included essential oils, you can expect around 5-10 drops of essential oil per 10ml roller bottle with the rest being a carrier oil.  It is important to note that different essential oils can have different concentrations and should be used accordingly. Additionally, you should always patch test any blend before using it topically as some oils may cause skin irritation or sensitization.

Read More on All-Things Wellness Anywhere Tips:

My Wellness Anywhere Toolkit

  • Rocky Mountain Oils – essential oils for energy, stress-relief, immunity, first aid, natural cleaning, better sleep, pain relief, & more!
  • Femme Royale – the most comfortable fitness outfits & my all-time favorite backpack-turns-weightlifting bag, the Empack, perfect at home & anywhere!
  • Trulean – the best travel packets of clean protein powder & wellness-boosting drink mixes.
  • Suspension Trainer – a fun & portable piece of workout equipment that enables you to workout in your hotel room or outside in nature!
  • Loop Bands & Tube Bands – super lightweight strength-training bands that can be brought anywhere without taking up much space or weight.
  • Pure Wave percussion massager – best percussion massager for releasing trigger points & relaxing muscles, including all the hard-to-reach areas!
  • IntelliRoll foam rollers – favorite foam rollers for daily use that hits all the right spots with their one-of-a-kind design.
  • Thrive Market – amazing online grocer for stocking up on all your healthy & travelable snacks at a discount!
  • Prep Dish – nutritious meal-planning service that saves you stress, time, & energy and guides you on prepping your entire week in just a couple hours.
  • Cook Once, Eat All Week – all-time favorite cookbook that provides 26 weeks of healthy meal plans that can be prepped & cooked in bulk each week.
  • Just Thrive – the best spore probiotic for keeping your gut health in-check no matter where you are in the world.
  • Empower yourself and become your own wellness advocate by joining the next ​​Nutritional Therapy or Health Coach class​​ and use code TWANUTRITION to receive a special bonus gift!
  • Expedia – great place to book your wellness travels & accommodations.
  • Viator – best place for booking experiences that compliment your travels.

Want to learn more simple & sustainable wellness tips? Check out My Resources page where you can grab all my best guides & trainings created just for you!

Pinnable image of amber glasses of essential oils surrounded by white and pink flowers with the words essential oil basics overlayed on top.