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How and Why You Should Be Using Essential Oils

Essential oils are pure extracts of plants, which means they've been around as long as plants have. Though you may be unfamiliar with essential oils, the truth is that you probably have used them at one time or another, especially since they're found in many household cleaning products. The way they are extracted depends on the plant part and type of oil.

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Charlynn Avery is an aromatherapist and educator for Aura Cacia, a brand of Frontier Co-op, and she travels the country instructing the public on the safe and effective use of oils. She explains the differences in how some of these oils are extracted: "Citruses, such as sweet orange, lemon and lime -- used in many cleaning products -- are extracted in a cold-press process to get the essential oil from the peel."

"With oils found in flowers, such as lavender or rose that are used in perfumes and cosmetics, the most common extraction method is steam distillation." In that method, the petals of the flower are heated and water and oil are collected. Because the essential oils and water are different weights, they’re able to skim the oil from the top of the water.

Things to Look For
When purchasing and using essential oils, it's important to remember two things: the purity and the power of essential oils. There are many ways to create synthetic fragrances, many of which can cause headaches for those who are sensitive to scents, so the purity of the essential oil is important. Check that a company does the proper testing to make sure the oils are pure by reviewing the ingredient list and avoiding oils that have terms such as "botanical fragrance" on their labels.

The power of essential oils is important to note. "Because they are concentrated extracts from plants, essential oils are 75 to 100 times stronger than dried herbs," notes Avery. This means that the oils need to be diluted before they are used. It's important to dilute a small amount to test on your skin before use.

Making Your Own Products
The dilution of essential oils is really what the DIY oil craze is all about. Once you recognize that you've been using essential oils in many store-bought products, you can begin to make your own green products at home. This includes cleaning products, skin care, self-care, fragrances and more.

Water isn't the only way to dilute essential oils. Yes, it can be used to make a mist or toner spray, but if you like to make your own perfume, for example, you can use grain alcohol. According to Avery, the best method is to pair the oil with a fatty substance such as almond oil, which creates great skin care products like lotions and body butters.

 Choosing the Best Oils
When asked about the two best essential oils to try out, Avery recommends lavender and peppermint.

"With lavender, it is the number-one essential oil across the board and has a lot of diversity of use," she says. "Additionally, it's known for its calming effects, and if we smell it the body sparks a relaxation response." You can make your own cleaning products or skin balms or even use it to scent the carpet before vacuuming because it also has cleansing properties.

Peppermint falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, which is why Avery suggests this oil as another option for beginners: "This oil is more stimulating and wakes us up. It's good for giving energy without caffeine." The cooling properties of peppermint make it perfect to try out during the summer season. Avery suggests that if your feet are hot and achy, you can make a peppermint foot cream to rub into your feet. It's also a good scent for preventing motion sickness, so keep a peppermint spray handy in the car.

– Ashley

Readers — Do you use essential oils to make your own beauty or cleaning products? What are you favorite oils to use? How do you choose oils? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Ashley Lauretta is a freelance writer and fitness enthusiast based in Austin, Texas. Her writing appears in Women’s Running, Women’s Adventure, Competitor and more. Ashley is a proud alumna of the University of California, San Diego.

Connect with Ashley on her website and follow her on Twitter.

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