As you enter your neighbor’s home, you inhale a sweet long breath of lavender-scented goodness. Expecting an herb garden just around the corner, you are instead greeted by the most beautiful of essential oil diffusers. You can't quite tell if it's truly the most beautiful, because right at the same moment, your judgement is impaired by soothing plant power.
A Plant Power That's Essential. Or Is It?
The Oxford dictionary defines essential as, “1. Absolutely necessary; extremely important. 2. Required for normal growth but not synthesized in the body and therefore necessary in the diet.” (1) But what is an essential oil? Why is it called essential? Clearly, if essential oils fit one of these two definitions, we would all be inhaling, eating and applying them to our skin as often as possible.
Stop right there, and don’t take a metaphorical step further until you read this.
The True Meaning of Essential
Our bodies have expert capabilities when it comes to staying nourished. Give a body potatoes and it turns those starchy carbohydrates into glucose energy. Give it carrots and it’ll break down that orange beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is good for healthy skin and eyes. Your body is a constant hive of activity. It’s adaptable and clever. But it’s not perfect. It’s not a computer. This means your body needs to be given many essential (there’s that word again!) nutrients in order to survive.
Before we delve into the world of essential oils, let’s first take a look at a true to meaning example of essential. An example that demonstrates the Oxford dictionary definition of absolutely necessary — essential fatty acids (EFAs). If you haven’t heard of EFAs, I’m willing to bet a pretty penny you’ve heard of omega 3 or cod liver oil. These are one and the same. They are a family.
Omega 3 is an EFA naturally found in fatty fish like salmon. It is called essential because your body has no backup manufacturing system for this vital nutrient. Without consuming several omega 3 rich dinners our bodies would gradually become deficient. That’s bad news because omega 3 keeps your heart healthy, fights inflammation and helps prevent cancer (2).
Now Let Us Look at Essential Oils
Do we have the same biological need for essential oils? Does the wording essential still mean that our bodies require essential oils to be healthy?
Calling an essential oil essential is a little like nicknaming your other half Brad Pitt. Your body has no essential need for essential oils. So, why is an essential oil called essential? Good question. Essential oils are called essential because they’re nicknamed from the phrase “essence of.”
All essential oils are, first, oily and second, a concentration of all the ingredients needed to make a plant smell exactly like it does when swaying gently to the breeze of a sunny day.
Lavender essential oil is the essence of everything that makes lavender smell like lavender. It’s a blend of all the ingredients that are essential to making the oil smell of lavender and not bathroom air freshener.
What Does This Mean For You?
Many believe essential oils have magical healing powers. While there are some interesting and active components of essential oils being studied, it’s best to remember an essential oil is still a fragrance.
Would you eat, drink or liberally apply fragrance to your skin? Probably not.