What are Essential Oils and do they work? – A skeptical perspective

Welcome back to Man Versus Oils – A place where we discuss all things Essential Oils and their uses in the everyday lives of men.

In my previous posts I highlighted a couple of things..  Firstly, I am a new convert to Essential Oils and secondly, I am still a little skeptical that thay are as good as people say they are.  From what I have seen to date, they have some benefits. Sure!  But what are essential oils and do they work?

I may not be able to answer the second part of this question from my own perspective just yet (or there would be no need for this whole shebang), but there is plenty of research out there so let’s get us some edumancation – see what I did there?.

What are Essential Oils?

Let’s keep this short…  Essential Oils are basically oils that distilled from shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes, fruit, rinds, resins, or herbs.  An oil is “essential” in the sense that it contains the “essence of” the characteristic fragrance or aroma of the plant from which it is derived.

Essential oils are generally extracted by distillation using steam. However other processes such as expression, solvent extraction, sfumatura, absolute oil extraction, resin tapping, wax embedding and cold pressing can be used.  For those of you interested in what these all mean – and what man doesn’t? –  you can find it all on my how essential oils are created (well… not yet cos I haven’t done it yet but I promise it will be here soon).

Oh, and in preparation for your next trivia night, there are about 90 different essential oils on the planet (give or take…).

What types of Essential Oils are there?

The true powers of essential oils come from their natural composition.  True Essential Oils contain many different compounds which perform their own functions within nature.  Plants actually use them themselves for any number of reasons such as an insect repellant and for self healing.

All essential oils in the world fall into one of four categories: Authentic, Manipulated, Perfume, or Synthetic:

  • Authentic   –  the real stuff.  Authentic oils are 100% pure, with no added synthetics. They have been grown and produced without any chemical exposure and they are not blended with any other plant species.   Use these ones!
  • Manipulated – the nice smelling stuff.  Manipulated oils are enhanced or changed to make the final product smell more pleasing, less earthy and also to reduce the cost of producing the oil and hence selling for cheaper. This is done by either removing some of the heavier molecules or by introducing another species to enhance the aroma.  I have smelt an authentic oil that smelled like fertiliser so I do understand why there may be an interest in this type of oil but at the end of the day, it is still not pure.
  • Perfume oilsthe fake nice smelling stuff. Perfume oils, in most cases, were once pure essential oils that are mixed with synthetics or solvents to enhance the aroma. These oils smell nice in a diffuser but have no actual benefit – real or perceived.
  • Synthetic oilsthe cheap fake stuff.  Synthetic oils are fake essential oils. They contain nothing that is natural and often smell nothing like the original plant.  The ethical makers will typically label these as “scented products” however many do not often selling them as essential oils. The biggest issue with these is also that what you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body, so if you’re trying to get away from chemicals then you really need to ensure that you are using  an authentic oil.  How can you tell the fake from the real… well, like most other things in this life.. you get what you pay for and these products are cheap!
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How are Essential Oils used and what are the risks?

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There are a number of ways that essential oils can be used.  Before you read on however, please be aware that there are some risks to each use listed which is one reason I maintain some level of skepticism in regard to Essential Oils.  I will discuss some of these briefly as we go through each method of use and in more detail as we start to explore their real life man-uses.  Anyway…

1.  Inhalation:  Often referred to as Aromatherapy, essential oils are added to oil burners, diffusers or hot water.

Uses: Used to assist with mood, breathing and odour management.  

Risks: Headaches and dizziness if used for too long.

2.  Baths:  Oils are added to a warm to hot bath (come on guys, we are amongst friends, who doesn’t love a good bath)

Uses: Soothing sore muscles and skin irritations, mood

Risks: Skin irritations, headaches etc. (from steam)

3. Massage:  Oils are massaged or rubbed into the skin

Uses: To assist with muscle soreness or stiffness

Risks: Skin irritations – there are many oils that should not be put in direct, or undiluted contact with the skin

4. Spray:  Added to a spray bottle

UsesCleaning, in the garden

Risks:  Stained benches/furniture, dead plants, some pose risks to animals

5. Ingestion: added to food or drink – this is a controversial one for sure

Uses:  added to food or drink

Risks:  Proponents will say that there is no real difference to ingesting via the skin.  Those against will say that they should not be taken at all.  There are also some oils that all agree should never be swallowed.  Short answer – do your homework!

It should be noted here that many of these risks can be mitigated with the correct research and use of the oils – and by using only 100% pure Essential Oils.  I will however ensure that, as we explore the manly use of oils within this site, that all risks are highlighted and instructions outlined for the correct use of them in our findings.  After all, a man has gotta stay safe.

Note: I use Young Living oils myself as they are guaranteed authentic Essential Oils.

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What is a Carrier Oil?

In many cases, Essential Oils are used along the addition of Carrier Oils.  Carrier oils are vegetable oils used to dilute essential oils for use. The best carrier oils are cold-pressed and made from plants as these hold onto more of their beneficial properties.  Some of the most common carrier oils are:

  • Coconut Oil  – the most popular carrier oil

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  • Olive Oil
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Sweet Almond Oil
  • Argan Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Moringa Oil

I have to be honest here, as long as they are pure, any version of these oils will do. Do not use animal based oils such as butter.  Fractionated oils  (or liquide oils) are probably best for blending especially in colder climates however a jar of 100% pure coconut oil from the supermarket will work just as well as the super expensive ones from the trendy organic health food shop – especially if you want to make a paste.  Organic… A whole other kettle of skepticism which I am sure I will explore one day…

Other things you should know

And finally,  as you move into the world of essential oils you need to have an understanding of the implications and risks of some of their uses.  Here is a quick list of things to keep in mind:

  1. Essential oils are extremely concentrated – for example it takes 50 lemons to make 15ml of Lemon essential oil and 1 pound of peppermint leaves for the same amount of Peppermint essential oil.
  2. Water does not dilute essential oils – you need a carrier oil to do that.
  3. ALL oils should be considered ‘hot’ – Different people are alegric or sensitive to different things.  Take care when using any oil for the first time, regardless of whether it is considered ‘hot‘ or not.
  4. Whether to ingest is a minefield – As a matter of honesty, I am currently in the ‘no’ camp when it comes to ingestion, however I am willing to undertake some serious research (which to date I have not done).  When it comes to the ingestion (consumption) of essential oils, there are some extremely passionate people on both sides of the fence.  The FDA calls them safe – in very loose language and does not regulate their use.  Company websites are choc-a-bloc with recipes and tips on how to add them to food but I would be very careful before I used them in this manner.  Oh, and if kids are involved – REALLY have a good think about it – and revisit the info above about how concentrated they are.
  5. Research is there – but limited – there has been a lot of research undertaken on the uses and benefits of essential oils, some on humans but much in petrie dishes and on mice.  The evidence is there, but almost without exception the reports will discuss the need for more studies to be undertaken.  With that in mind, there was a time when herbal medicine including essental oil was the way of the world, but in modern times, research is trying to re-catchup!
  6. Essential oils are NOT substitutions for a good doctor – there are plenty of sites out there that highlight the things that Essential oils can cure – some scary scary things – things that actually led to FDA warning letters to be delivered to essential oil manufacturers!  DO NOT go down this road  – research is not there yet – if you have an illness – go to a doctor.
  7. Essential oils cannot make you high – sorry guys.

Do they work?

Well, that is what we are going to find out I guess.  There are a lot of people in this world that swear by them – and a lot that do not think they do anything at all.  Greater minds than yours truly have also spent lots more money than I have undertaking all kinds of tests to prove effectiveness one way or the other.  I have outlined previously that I think they definitely can be of use.  But I want to know more and test more… And now that we have a basic idea of what we are looking at, we can check them out together…

And on that note – I am outa here so until next time…

Have Fun

Paul

Need some stuff to help you with your use of essential oils?

Oh, and you might need some carrier oils with that…

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4 thoughts on “What are Essential Oils and do they work? – A skeptical perspective”

  1. This blog was very informative and actually just what i needed to hear! I am trying to make my own detergent and cleaning products and you can use essential oils with them! I will be sure to make sure they are authentic 😉
    Thanks for the great information! I was intrigued to find out about how they were made, so that was very informative for me too 🙂

    Reply
  2. Hi Paul,

    Thank you Paul for answering what are essential oils.I honestly didn’t know what they really were.. I know man has spent most of his time on this planet looking to mother nature for his cures. So, there must be something good about them but I also believe they are over hyped sometimes.

    Which one would you recommend to maintain mental energy? I enjoyed reading this article and I am looking forward to your next one on your verdict of essential oils and to see if they do work. I am also glad you are taking a skeptical perspective on this as there are too many that seem to through up an almost ‘holistic’ aura around such products.

    Thanks again Paul.

    ~Philip (Scam Witness).

    Reply
  3. Hi, Paul. Many thanks for the information. I have been using essential oils off and on for many years now. Different ones for different purposes. I think that the authentic ones are fantastic and have many benefits. My favorite is Tea tree oil which is well-known for its powerful antiseptic properties and ability to treat wounds, which is why it’s one of the top antibacterial essential oils. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.
    Kind regards
    Andrew

    Reply
  4. I use them for their smells. Don’t really care about all those health benefits. I’m quite skeptical. But as long as there’s no harm in them, I will keep using them just for the smell. I would guess it’s quite difficult to actually test if they have any benefits due to the placebo effect. Would love to see what you come up with. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

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