Essential oils are basically a form of lipids which contains volatile aroma constituents found in plants. They go by various names including volatile oils, ethereal oils, aetherolea or simply put oils of plants. The oil is called essential oil in the sense that it contains the essence of plant fragrance and hence are most physiologically active.
Chemically essential oils are made up of chemicals that have a low boiling point and are thus aromatic to humans including but not limited to alcohols, aldehyde, ketones, phenols, ethers, esters, etc. In the living plants, these essential oils are used as hormones for growth, reproduction, and plant pheromones for the smell which attracts pollinating insects protect the plants from predators and protection against bacterial, fungal, viral invasion.
The use of aroma in Ayurveda is an important tool for prevention and healing. Practitioners use it for protecting the vital force, prana regulation, digestion (Agni), increase the resistance to diseases. Traditional Ayurvedic practices include fumigation by burning neem leaves, use of holy basil or rose petal in water while bathing and burning incense sticks during meditation which provides calming, cooling, and soothing effect. The major use of essential oil can be enlisted as:
• Therapeutic use through smell, bath, massages, etc.
• Use in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, cream, lotion, etc.
• For flavoring food and drinks
• For adding scents to incense and household cleaning products, diffused by a nebulizer
• Used for massage
• Mainly used in skin disease as treatment
Blending is an art of combining two or more essential oil together for synergistic effect. An important principle of blending is to avoid using oils with opposing properties, as one will negate the effect of the other. For example, if oil is calming and cooling to the body or the surrounding, it should not be blended with the oils that are heating and stimulating as this would be contradictory.
Essential oils are not the same as perfume or fragrances. Perfumes are created artificially in a chemist’s lab, while essential oils are a product of nature. Fragrances are made to otherwise mimic the natural smell. Of course, the synthetically created fragrance products do not offer the same therapeutic benefits as the actual essential oil offers. Only the pure unadulterated essential oils should be used for aromatherapy.
The oils if not used consciously they can cause several hazards. Potential dangers of essential oil are sometimes relative to its level or grade of purity and even related to the toxicity of specific chemical components of oil. One of the main uses of essential oil is their use on aromatherapy. These oils generally should not be applied directly to the skin in their undiluted or neat form. Direct contact with
these oils might cause contact dermatitis. They cause irritation to skin and allergic reaction and over a long time has a hepatotoxic effect.
Children are especially susceptible to the toxic effect of essential oil than adults because of their thin skin and immature liver. Estrogenic and androgenic activity had been reported by in vitro study of tea tree oil and lavender oil. Some case reports have suggested the oil may be implicated in some cases of gynecomastia. Internal use is not advised in pregnant women as it might cause an abortion even in a small dose.