Whole Story

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Essential Oils: Big Benefits in Small Bottles

Updated October 21, 2016

They may come in tiny bottles, but essential oils pack a big punch. A few drops of these potent powerhouses can have benefits for both the mind and body. Here, the lowdown on these wonder workers and how to use them:

What are essential oils?

First, the basics. Essential oils are aromatic extracts that are extracted from plants and botanicals,” explains Amy Galper, Executive Director and Founder of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. Many essential oils are obtained via steam distillation; the plant material is enclosed in a special piece of equipment called a still (picture a vegetable steamer) that captures the steam and transforms it back into water. At that point, the oil from the plant floats on top and can be skimmed off.  Other essential oils, namely those that come from citrus, are extracted through physical pressing.

How do you use essential oils?

While you can apply fixed oils (plant-based oils made up of fatty acid chains like jojoba, rosehip, avocado, coconut, olive, and grapeseed oils) directly to your skin, you should never (ever!) do the same with essential oils. These are concentrated plant essences, and can cause irritation — particularly for those with sensitive skin,” cautions Villecco.

Always mix them with another unscented plant-based oil (known as a carrier oil); Galper suggests olive oil or coconut — about three to five drops of essential oil per one tablespoon of the carrier oil should do it. And, it’s always worth testing the blend on a small area first, says Villecco.

If you want to reap the aromatherapy benefits without applying anything to the skin, something as simple as taking a quick whiff directly from the bottle may do the trick, says Galper. Alternately, put a few drops on a cotton ball and keep it in a zip-top bag that you can easily stash in your purse or car. Or, mix and match a few different oils to create a DIY diffuser blend, refreshing body mist, or face mist that will leave your complexion glowing.

Essential oils are also a great addition to any shower or bath; mix with a tablespoon of bath salts, or make your own body scrub with just a few simple ingredients. And the aromatherapy benefits go way beyond personal care. Combine essential oils with baking soda and vinegar for a DIY cleaning spray, use them to refresh a grimy yoga mat, or create a natural room scent.

What are the benefits of essential oils?

Now that you know what they are and how they’re sourced, let’s talk about the benefits of essential oils, which are, in a word, endless. Galper calls them the quintessential holistic tools: “They work with the physical body when applied topically, and when you smell them they impact your emotional and spiritual self. It’s truly a mind-body, experience” she says. Jody Villecco, Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods Market adds: “They can soothe stress, benefit your mood, increase alertness, and enhance your general well-being and relaxation.” So, whether your issue is physical, mental, or both, essential oils can offer a solution. Below, just a handful of the beneficial capabilities of some of the most common essential oils:

  • Ginger: Rub this onto sore muscles (using a carrier oil, of course); it’s great for improving circulation, says Galper. Mentally, it’s grounding and centering, strengthening your connection with yourself and others. Our favorite: Aura Cacia Ginger Essential Oil.
  • Lavender: Commonly known for its relaxing properties, this is incredibly calming, both for mind and body, and is choice for soothing skin. Pick up EO Pure Essential Oil French Lavender.
  • Frankincense: It also helps still your mind when dealing with excess thoughts and worry.
  • Eucalyptus: Mentally, it’s a good option before a big meeting or event, since it keeps your mind clear, too. Try 365 Everyday Value Eucalyptus Oil.
  • Mandarin: As a rule, essential oils from all citrus fruits are uplifting and energizing, great for getting out of a funk (try mixing them with cocoa butter for an energizing body cream). They’re also astringent and can absorb excess oil in the skin.

Cocoa Citrus Body Butter Recipe

How do you shop for essential oils?

No matter what you’re using them for, be sure to look for the following on the bottle to ensure you’re buying only high-quality essential oils:

  • The plant name (the hard-to-pronounce Latin one, not the layman version). This is the only way to know that the oil is coming from the exact species of plant you want it to, says Galper.   
  • The origin or source. “Essential oils are agricultural products with natural variations that differ from place to place,” explains Villecco. Where the plant is grown can affect its aroma.
  • A third party certification. There are multiple ones out there, but certifications like USDA organic can help you feel confident that you’re getting the real deal, points out Galper. 

Want more beauty and body care inspiration and advice? Check out Whole Body department page, along with our latest Whole Body blog post — 5 Must-Try Fall Makeup Ideas

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125 comments

Comments

Amie says …

I just made a homemade raw honey face mask to which I added lavendar oil! I got the recipe from the Whole Foods website. Aside from soothing my skin, the aroma was very calming while preparing and applying the mask. I am grateful to Whole Foods for offering some essential oils in the 365 Everyday Value brand to help with affordability.

Dr. Tim Garcia says …

Essential oils are wonderful for therapeutic use and contain the amazing healing properties of plants. Lately, there has been so much information on the cannabidiol oil,CBD for simply amazing results for cancer, epilepsy, anxiety, pain, etc.. Just recently, CBD oil, which has no psychoactive properties (THC) has been made legally available in all 50 states. Now you can ease many conditions without prescription drugs Does Whole Foods carry CBD oil. If not please see www.medicannab.com. My Best, Dr. Tim

Donna Walsh says …

Do you sell Kakadu Plum Extract

Joy McConnell says …

what good uses are oil of rosemary

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DONNA - Our exact product options differ between stores. I would suggest checking with your local store to see if they have this extract in stock.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JOY - You can use it a variety of ways due to the popular evergreen scent. Some use it for their scalp or mixed with coconut oil or another type of oil to rub on the skin.

Carolina Schickler says …

I'd like to know wich essential oils you have can be use to make soap in a cold process and why? I have bougth some of them before from you, but I want to know which are the best for this making soap process. Thank in advance you for your comments. Angel Soap Carolina Schickler

candi stafford says …

can essential oils be used in hot tubs/spas?

Marcia Stein says …

Do you carry key lime essential oil?

phyllis sumner says …

was curious am interested in how and what different oils do what. how to use them.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CAROLINA - I would suggest reaching out to your local store directly to see if they have oils that would be recommended in particular or if any essential oil would work.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CANDI - I would get in touch with your hot tub provider to see if this is possible based on your manufacturer recommendations.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARCIA - The options will differ between stores, check with your local store to see if they have this in stock.

Alice says …

yes, I use the eucalyptus oil in the steamer when my daughters are congested. I have been using it since they were babies and it works very well for us. Love it thank you

Nicole says …

I have a lavender essential oil i love in pure format. I'd like to make my own spray. How do you recomend I do this? Right now I have been applying a drop of the oil to my wrists but i'd also like to scent the area i am in at the time.

Jane says …

I dab a few drops of lavender on my Woolzies and use on no-heat in the dryer instead of dryer sheets. Leaves clothes so soft and fragrant! Be careful, though. My daughter had a very bad experience when she used bergamot oil directly on her skin and then was in the sun. Yes, you need a carrier to dilute oils, but beyond that, bergamot is severely phototoxic. (Just google it, and you'll see.) She had terrible burns that might even have left her scarred for life. Not fun!

Darlene CICHORACKI says …

I really like essential oils

Kathy Doebling says …

I used lavender oil on a bad burn and it never scarred. Lemongrass to decrease cholesterol.

Edie says …

I use essential oils every day. I make my own health and beauty products by blending various essential oils in coconut oil or plain shea butter for skin, hair, and to help ease joint/muscle pain. I have several books on essential oil uses, to which I regularly refer when deciding which oils to blend together. Some of my favorites are lavender, ylang ylang, rosemary, lemongrass and frankincense.

Marti Peters says …

Is Castor Oil considered an essential oil?

Ellie says …

I make my own deodorant and use Frankincense to give it a light fragrance. If you have greater needs to prevent odor, Tea Tree and Oregano oils are good as well.

Juli Ibarra says …

Can you add peppermint essential oil to coffee grounds before brewing?

Ida Payne says …

THANKS MUCH, KEEP IT COMING...

Kathy says …

Do you carry Lemon Esential oil?

Sue says …

I put a few drops on 2 or 3 cotton balls and put them in my vaccum cleaner bag each time I change the bag. Scents the entire house

Janelle Slavick says …

I have heard of the benefits of warm lemon water to start the day. Would adding lemon oil to water be a benefit?

Von Wells says …

Ouse Peppermint oil mixed with water and cotton and place on a lid and leave on window seal replace once a week keeps bugs away

Sheila says …

I purchased coconut oil. The temparature in my house is very warm or cool. The oil goes back and forth from solid to liquid. Is it still effective?

Kim says …

Peppermint Oil is great if you're feeling sluggish or have a headache. I put it in a hot tub and soak! Ahhhh...

R. Harris says …

Question...Do you sell an oil called Positively Motivated??? I met a women at a work conference and she was wearing it. She told me that she got it from Whole Foods and it was in the oil section. I called my local Whole Foods and they said that they did not have it, but to try another store....not all stores are the same.

patricia murray says …

where can I find the oil frankincense and how do you use it

Debby says …

I use Peppermint oil,Rosemary oil and Euclayptus oil,10 drops of each into a small spritzer bottle with distilled water. I spray this on my neck wrap and heat the neck wrap in the microwave and wear it on my drive into work. I have found doing this proactively has helped decrease my neck tightness and neck pain for the day. I also feel this combination of oil puts me in a very good frame of mind to start what can be a very stressful day :)

molly says …

Essential oils are very beneficial when used correctly. I am a fan! But, one thing I would like to share is that I was advised by a master herbalist not to ingest them as they can be toxic.

Karen says …

I am looking for lemon oil or lemon addititve to mix with water insead of using fresh lemon each day. I want to start drinking lemon water each morning but I want to try to cut down on the amount of work involved. Thank You.

Davis Powell says …

Do you still have body massage oils. I used to buy them at Whole foods years ago.

Lauren says …

From where/what types of sources and how are Whole Foods' essential oils harvested? Are the oils derived and distilled from natural sources (i.e., regions to which those particular plants are native) or are they planted particularly for the purpose of harvesting for essential oils?

Sandra Wilson says …

Do you guy sell Mustard seed oil?

Joyce Dyrector says …

Do you sell Grapefruit Oil?

G Usher says …

Will explore their goodness

Jo says …

Do you carry Chamomile Oil ? If so size & price

Ceanna says …

I want to buy some essential oils for my hair and reasons as such, but i don't know which oils to buy. I would appreciate it if someone could tell me what oils are best for hair growth

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

HELLO! Our oil options and prices will differ between stores. Check with your store directly for the options they have in stock and pricing. They'll be happy to help!

Geri says …

I need tea tree oil to make a natural kitchen disinfectant. Does WF sell it?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GERI - The availability will differ between stores. Check with your local store directly to see if they have this in stock.

Michelle says …

Can I you any type of rosemary too regrowth my eyebrows and sides of my hair.

Michelle says …

can peppermint oil help with skin discoloration in African American women.

Vickie Yogues says …

Do you sell ginger essential oil. I have read that it is good for osteoarthritis.

carolyn says …

do you carry ingest able essential oils? thx!

Dorothy Miller says …

I do not understand the concept. Please explain. Dorothy Miller

Kathy says …

Do you sell Kakadu plum oil in your store in Valancia, Ca.? How much does it cost. Thanks you for your answer.

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