All about essential oils

They’re more than just a pretty scent.

Young Living Oils are a recommended brand and can be found at Crystal Cave in Vineyard Haven. —Lexi Pline

Essential oils make everything smell better — your beauty products, homes, candles — they may even keep mosquitos at bay, prevent acne, or lull you to sleep. Scent alone plays a vital role in the healing powers of essential oils — our memories and emotions are strongly linked to our olfactory nerves. But beyond their smell, many people around the world use and believe in the health benefits of these oils. So what are they?

Essential oils are the essence of the plant, distilled or pressed to perfection, which impart tiny beads of oil used to promote health and wellness. These oils are called essential because they imbue the very essence of the plant from which they were derived. 

A brief history

Historians name Egypt as the birthplace for essential oils, but there’s proof of their use in other ancient cultures including France, China, India, Greece, and Rome. Anointing oils are found in bible stories — the three wise men, for example, brought aromatic resins like frankincense and myrrh to Mary as they were the anti-bacterial agents of the day. The term aromatherapy was coined in France in 1937 by French Chemist and perfumer Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, according to

One famous herbal concoction has a wild backstory. During the Dark Ages, four French criminals avoided the bubonic plague by soaking clothes in special plant oils with vinegar solution. By placing the cloths over their mouths and dousing their bodies with the preparation, the “thieves” kept disease-free while they robbed the highly contagious bodies of plague victims. Once caught, their jail sentence was lessened if they shared the recipe. “Thieves oil” is now a popular essential oil blend used for cleaning and boosting immunity. 

There are many ways to integrate essential oils into your life. They act as a viable alternative to chemical room sprays, plug-ins, and dryer sheets. And while their health benefits are rooted in little scientific proof, essential oils are said to mend a myriad of ailments. 

There’s an oil for that

Essential oils are gifts from the plants we love. Use them often to enhance your wellbeing:

  • Tired? Lemon essential oil can help liven your mood.
  • Low memory? Rosemary essential oil can help you remember.
  • Sore muscles? Use a carrier oil (a base oil, like vegetable oil) and mix with eucalyptus, lemon balm, lavender, and menthol. Rub onto the affected area.
  • Looking for a natural household cleaner? Mix orange or lemon essential oils with water.
  • Mold or musty problem? Mix lavender oil and water in a spray bottle.

Drops of essential oils can be added to laundry or a bath, and can even be used on the skin, although never neat — mix with a carrier oil if using on the skin. Diffusers are the best way to have your house reap the benefits of essential oil aromatherapy.

Look for the real thing

Essential oils are not fake fragrances. Don’t be fooled by the small dark bottles and imitation names that you might find in a big box store. Look for the real thing on the label. 

If the label reads ‘pure and organic’ you’re on the right track. Check if the oil is a carrier oil, and if not, the label will read ‘undiluted.’ If the oil is cheap in price, it might be cheap in quality, too. Be wary of the terms ‘therapeutic’ or ‘food grade’ as they often point to companies that do not require their sales force to be certified aromatherapists. These brands may have excellent oils and information that come with their high prices, but essential oils should be certified organic from the plants they are made from and nothing else.

Recommended brands

Reputable companies include Mountain Rose Herbs, Plant Therapy, Eden’s Garden, doTerra, and Young Living Oils. All of these brands can be ordered online. On-Island, shop Healthy Additions and Reindeer Bridge Holistics. Conroy Apothecary has non-organic essential oils that are non-GMO and paraben free. If you’re not sure, ask if the oils are steam distilled, sustainably sourced, cruelty free, and have quality tested ingredients without fillers. 

Ask a certified aromatherapist for more information, and do your research before using essential oils. Pregnant or nursing mothers, babies, pets, or people getting sun exposure should be careful or avoid using essential oils. I do not recommend ingesting essential oils. 

Suzanne Roberge is a licensed Master Aesthetician and Certified Aromatherapist.