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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. Summary: 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 always 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. It’s thought that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, certain research in this area may be lacking and developing. 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. Interestingly, the limbic system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions. 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 100% confirmed in certain studies. Summary: 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.