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The magic of essential oils

Juhi Dua
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July 26, 2006

Essential oils smell great. Even better, they are deemed to have therapeutic properties. If you're wondering how true that claim is, this should help.

The term 'essential' is intended to convey that the oil is the true essence of the plant it is derived from. Essential oils are highly concentrated natural plant extracts, made from a liquid distilled from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots or other parts. And, contrary to what 'oil' implies, they are not greasy at all.

9 popular oils and benefits

Most essential oils are available in 10 ml bottles, but some highly concentrated and expensive ones -- such as rose -- can be bought in 1 ml bottles too.

. Rose: Known as the queen of oils, this is ideal for skincare. It tones, cleanses and is useful for dry and aging skin. It is also known to have sensual and aphrodisiac properties.
Aroma type: Floral
Price: Approximately Rs 225 for 1 ml

. Peppermint: An energising oil with a penetrating aroma, this fights fatigue and muscle pain. When blended with Rosemary, it makes for an excellent morning bath. You can dab a few drops on your handkerchief while travelling.
Aroma type: Minty
Price: Approximately Rs 52 for 10 ml.

. Lavender: The most versatile of essential oils, lavender is relaxing, uplifts the spirits and helps relieve muscle pain. It is apt for rejuvenating tired muscles. It can also be used to treats burns, as it reduces scarring.
Aroma type: Herbal
Price: Approximately Rs 98 for 10 ml

. Tea tree: A powerful antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory, this is useful in tackling acne, cold sores, headaches, warts and burns. It is a useful cleansing agent for the skin and helps fight foot odour.
Aroma type: Herbal
Price: Approximately Rs 173 for 10 ml

. Eucalyptus: With its penetrating scent and antiseptic properties, this is widely used in baths and massage during the cold season for tackling congestion and muscle aches. It is also used for soothing erupting and blemished skin.
Aroma type: Camphorous
Price: Approximately Rs 29 for 10 ml

. Lemon: Fresh, citrus scented oil with antibacterial and tonic properties, lemon essential oil revitalizes and brings relief from cold. It is used liberally in beauty care, such as for dulling stained hands or to tone and condition nails and cuticles.
Aroma type: Citrus
Price: Approximately Rs 58 for 10 ml

. Patchouli: It has sensual, uplifting properties and can prevent sleep with its nerve stimulating properties. It protects dry, mature or blemished skin and is effective in treating dandruff.
Aroma type: Woody, musky
Price: Approximately Rs 173 for 10 ml

. Sage: A useful controller of the nervous system, it is considered useful in treating viral infections. It is also considered helpful for menstrual and digestive disorders, but should not be used during pregnancy.
Aroma type: Camphorous
Price: Approximately Rs 245 for 10 ml

. Thyme: A medicinal herb with a strong pungent aroma that is useful in combating cold conditions. It is also effective as a disinfectant.
Aroma type: Spicy
Price: Approximately Rs 173 for 10 ml

Pamper yourself

The most popular use of essential oils is in aromatherapy. This therapy uses essential oils to assist in the healing of physical and psychological ailments by utilising our rather neglected sense -- smell. Here are some simple aromatherapy methods you could try at home.

Rejuvenating baths

Add seven to eight drops of an essential oil such as lavender, lemon, rose or tea tree in lukewarm water and have a bath. This helps in de-stressing and refreshes you. For sensitive skin, dilute the oil in a base oil like sweet almond, apricot or peach kernel first. You could also pour some drops of essential oil on a wet sponge and gently rub it all over your body while you relax under a warm jet spray.

Fragrant moments

Wax candles already impregnated with essential oils, or lamps with the oils, are a delightful way of making your space fragrant.

Deodorising foot soak

To a tub of hot water, add four to five drops of peppermint or thyme oil and soak your feet for 10-15 minutes. Then rub your feet with lavender oil to rid it of tiredness. Deodorise your shoe rack with lemon grass and your shoes with two drops of pine or tea tree oil.

Essential oil therapy

Perfume your pillow with two to three drops of oil or sprinkle some on your bed. Choose a relaxing oil like lavender, tangerine or ylang ylang to tackle insomnia. Dr Dheeraj Mulchandani, resident doctor at Rajawadi Hospital in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, explains, "Steam inhalation of essential oils is very helpful in controlling respiratory problems (colds and flu), but should not be used by asthmatics. For colds, one could try two drops each of eucalyptus, mountain pine and lemon. For flu relief, try four drops of sage, a drop of tea tree and a drop of thyme."

For indigestion, peppermint oil is very effective when taken orally. It can produce the same results when massaged on the stomach. Oils like eucalyptus and tea tree act as instant relief oils that dull pain. Sarika, a Mumbai-based beautician, says, "Essential oils are handy tools for beauticians because of their instant soothing effect. For instance, a gentle massage using pure undiluted tea tree oil right after bleaching works as an instant solution for ridding the skin of red patches and rashes. It also relaxes the skin."

Safety tips

Although the use of essential oils is usually safe and beneficial, Dr Mulchandani warns that excess or regular usage should be avoided during pregnancy as it poses a risk of possible toxicity. "A patch test should be done while using an essential oil for the first time," he adds. "Also, avoid excessive exposure to these oils as they are concentrated and can cause headaches or other symptoms."

Where to buy them

Essential oils are available in department stores and beauty stores such as Beauty Centre on SV Road, Bandra and Crawford Market in Mumbai. Some ashrams stock up on them too. For instance, Auroville ashram in Pondicherry has its own brand called Maroma that it supplies to stores across India. Retail outlets also usually have a counter that sells specialty products like essential oils. Aroma Treasure, R K's Aroma Shop, Blossom Kocchar and Soul Flower are brands considered reliable and stocked by most stores. The price and quality can vary greatly and depends on the rarity of the plant, country and conditions it was grown in, quality standards of the distiller and quantity of oil produced. Of course, the brand you go for makes a difference too.

Do you use essential oils? What are the benefits? Share you experiences

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