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Hello, and welcome to your crash course on essential oils. We’re happy to have you, whether you stumbled here by chance or because you’re seeking more information on the age-old plant extracts that have become increasingly popular over the years. 

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Because of their widespread prevalence in both the beauty and wellness spaces — not to mention the fact that there are countless conflicting opinions out there — we figured it was time to enlist the help of experts to create a comprehensive guide to essential oils and all the ways you can use them to your advantage.

Let’s jump right into it, shall we? We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

First things first, what are essential oils?

Simply put: Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile plant extracts obtained through different extraction methods, including steam distillation, which is the purification of a liquid via heating. A few popular elixirs include rose oil (which is derived from actual rose petals), lavender oil, and tea tree oil, but believe it or not, there are actually thousands of known essential oils with about 300 available commercially, all of which boast different health and lifestyle benefits, according to Adam Friedman, a dermatologist based in Washington, D.C.

“Aromatherapy can be beneficial in the management of certain symptoms such as anxiety, pain, nausea, and insomnia,” says Megan E. Voss, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing and director of integrative therapy, pediatric blood and marrow transplant at the school’s Masonic Children’s Hospital. Patients in intensive care who engaged in deep breathing with essential oils reported less stress and better sleep than patients who did not, according to a small study at one hospital, led by researchers at Eulji University in South Korea.

Of course, says Voss, “aromatherapy is never used as a curative treatment for any illness.” But if the empty shelves at Whole Foods are any indication, there’s certainly something to it for soothing the stresses of everyday life

How are essential oils used?

Great question: Essential oils can be used in many ways, and not just for skin care. “Essential oils can be diffused for inhalation, applied topically, or used for cleaning,” says New York City-based certified acupuncturist Mila Mintsis, who specializes in pain management and anxiety disorders.

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