Table of Contents:
The History of Essential Oils
With the advent of Integrative Medicine into western culture, an ever increasing amount of scientific research is proving that the use of Plant Essential Oils, which have been around since 4500 BC, have legitimate uses for alternative medicinal purposes. Ancient Egyptians utilized aromatic oils to make mixtures of different sources of herbal preparations such as Aniseed, Cedarwood, Pine, Fir, Frankincense, Myrrh, Peppermint, Lavender and Rose for aromatic use and medicinal ointments. The first recorded use of Essential Oils (EO) for therapeutic use was between 3000 and 2000 BC for traditional Chinese and Indian medicines (1). “In particular, the recorded history about China and India listed more than 700 substances as being effective for healing”. (a) Closer to home, the process of distillation spread to Europe during the Middle Ages, and isolation of essential oils by distillation was described during the 11th to 13th centuries. By approximately 1500, the following products had been introduced as medicinal treatments: oils of Cedarwood, Calamus, Costus, Rose, Rosemary, Spikenard, Frankincense, Turpentine, Sage, Cinnamon, Benzoin, and Myrrh. Europeans continued experimenting and distilling oils such as Lavender, Juniper, Laurel, and Eucalyptus using them widely for combating illness.
Around the mid-sixteenth century, the alchemical theories of the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (who established the role of chemistry in medicine and published Der grossen Wundartzney (Great Surgery Book) in 1536 and a clinical description of syphilis in 1530) played a role in stimulating physicians and pharmacists to seek essential oils from aromatic leaves, woods, and roots. These distilled products quickly became a specialty of the European pharmacies. It
pretty much boils down to the Biomedical culture and the resources for funding research not supporting the thorough study of non-pharma or holistic alternatives. Nor are they interested in providing evidentiary resources that can offer healing through lifestyle, personalized nutrition, alternative & holistic medicines and the incorporation of such therapies as acupuncture and essential oils. With that said, there is research out there - and as a fresh generation of scientists arise in the world of Integrative Medicine, we will see more and more evidence of the healing properties of many of Earth’s treasures.
Since all of us here at Ravenscroft Escentials are huge advocates of all things holistic, and meticulously create our blends with healing in mind, we felt sharing some of the science behind the scents and evidence-based essential oil therapies would be helpful.
To put it simply, Essential Oils (called ‘essential’ because they carry the ‘essence’ or ‘life force’ of the plant) are the pure extracts of botanicals. According to Britannica, “Out of the vast number of plant species, essential oils have been well characterized and identified from only a few thousand plants.” The oils are stored as microdroplets in the glands of plants and then extracted by various methods. The constituents of an essential oil are created by specialized plant cells, which secrete them into very tiny sacs or glands, either on the surface of a leaf or flower, or deeper inside the plant tissue.
The methods of essential oil extraction are Steam Distillation, Solvent Extraction, CO2 Extraction, Maceration, Enfleurage, Cold Press Extraction, and Water Distillation.
The aim of distillation – or extraction – is to cause the glands containing the essential oils to release their contents. (b) Extraction describes the general process of separating essential oils from plant matter. Various parts of a plant
(flowers, bark, leaves, resin or fruit) are extracted by several different methods to capture the compounds that produce the scents and concentrated liquid forms of each plant's medicinal qualities.
Let’s cover the two most widely used methods:
Steam distillation is the most common extraction technique for essential oils. The plant materials are placed in a still, where pressurized steam is passed through the biomass; the heat from the steam ruptures the plant structures that hold the essential oils, releasing constituent compounds.
Cold Press Extraction (or Expression) is usually used for the extraction of citrus fruits such as Bergamot, involving the entire fruit. After being thoroughly washed, the fruit is placed in a container where the surface (or rind) is agitated or pierced so the oil sacs on the underside of the rind rupture, bringing the oils to the surface - the botanical material is then sprayed with water, and finally, the solids of the fruit are put through a centrifuge & the essential oil is separated from the water.
Only using organic botanical species when extracting essential oils is vital to avoid any contaminants or pesticide residue being left behind in the extraction process - especially in CO2 Extractions.
Ravenscroft Escentials meticulously sources
the highest quality organic oils from
ethically & organically grown botanicals
Most reading this do not need a scientific research study to know that certain smells create both psychological and physiological responses within us. Walking down a scented candle aisle can calm your nerves & make you smile, driving by an outdoor BBQ can make you salivate & the scent of your lover’s skin can… well, get your juices flowing so to speak. :)
The fourth of our senses, the sense of smell (our olfactory system), plays a much more important & magnificent role in our daily lives than most could fathom.. The sense of smell is a powerful and glorious gift and can most certainly be a tool for holistic healing.
Your ability to smell also plays a crucial role in your health. If your ability to smell
diminishes, it can affect your diet and nutrition, physical well-being, and everyday safety.
“It’s estimated that the number of odors that people can detect is somewhere between 10,000 and 100 billion, or even more,” says Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a taste and smell researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. (c)
Because the regions of our brain that process smells, emotions and memories are so intimately connected, scent has the ability to trigger very powerful emotions. According to Omar Danoun, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health, “the power lies in the architecture of the brain.” Our other senses travel through the Thalamus (the communication hub of the brain), but smell goes directly to the brain’s emotional center, including the areas responsible for processing emotion and memory. A scent in the form of molecular particles travels through the nose and into the olfactory bulb in the brain where they are processed. From there, brain cells carry information about the smell to the almond-shaped region of the brain that processes emotions (the Amygdala), and then to the learning and memory center of the brain (the Hippocampus).
A 2008 study found that the mothers in the bath with Essential Oil of Lavender were much more relaxed and touched their infants more than the mothers in the control group (plain water), & that the infants cried less and slept better with the lavender oil, and saliva cortisol (stress hormone) levels in mothers and infants were significantly decreased. (2) The National Library of Medicine (NIH) published
a 2017 study on The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy for Depressive Symptoms which states “essential oils are lipophilic, they can easily be carried to all organs in the body. In inhalation aromatherapy, the inhaled air containing essential oils can not only reach the circulation system via the blood capillary network in the nose and the bronchi in the lungs but also stimulate brain areas directly via the olfactory epithelium”(d) According to Dr. Alan R. Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago, "The quickest way to change a mood state -- quicker than with any other sensual modality -- is with smell." With well over 15 years of scientific study of aromatherapies, Hirsch and his colleagues have concluded that specific odors can change your mood and behavior. (e) For example, essential oils such as Rose Otto, Ylang Ylang, Jasmine and Geranium have been shown to relieve depression. (f) Lavender, Sandalwood & Frankincense have been successful in helping with anxiety and PTSD. While Rosemary, Vetiver, & Sage are used for mental clarity and focus, insomnia has been resolved without the need of prescription medications with essential oils such as Lavender. Studies have shown lavender significantly increases blood melatonin levels naturally & not only increases SWS (Short Wave Sleep), but also stage two sleep, or “light sleep”. This is where our bodies heal and memories are cataloged. (g) If you’ve ever used Vapor Rubs on yourself or your children, you know essential oils such as Menthol (peppermint & spearmint oils) are wonderful for clearing up respiratory issues, but did you know peppermint is also a top choice for relieving headaches and migraines? So are Roman Chamomile and Essential Oil of Basil. The Earth has been filled with an abundance of plants, flowers, herbs, roots and resins, which when extracted and used in combination with other healthy lifestyle choices, are capable of a plethora of healing modalities in a natural and non-addictive way, all through simply taking a long …deep… inhalation.
- Baser K. H. C., Buchbauer G. Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology and Applications. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press; 2010. [Google Scholar]
- Jane Buckle PhD, RN, in Clinical Aromatherapy (Third Edition), 2016
The Science Behind The Skin: How Do Essential Oils Work Topically?
As passionate believers in the multi-faceted healing benefits of using organic essential oils topically, we would love to share some evidence-based topical uses for these heavenly extracts.
When you apply essential oils topically to the skin, hair, nails or any other part of the body, the oils are absorbed and provide a localized effect & then travel to the bloodstream providing a systemic effect. Our skin is permeable (meaning things can pass through it), and because essential oils can penetrate very quickly, it is extremely important that pure essential oils be combined with a carrier oil (such as Jojoba, Almond, or Coconut oil) before being applied to the skin. Essential oils
can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 12 hours to be fully absorbed into all the cells of the body and 3 to 6 hours to be expelled or metabolized in a normal healthy adult. Because essential oils have extremely small molecular size in addition to their lipid soluble qualities, they can be especially beneficial when applied topically.
As a sensory organ, our skin (cutaneous membrane) holds the key to our third sense, touch, and has the vital job of protecting all of our other organs and tissues from physical, chemical and pathogenic (biologically harmful microorganisms) attack . It makes up about seven percent of our body weight and consists of three unique layers: the Epidermis, the Dermis and the Hypodermis. (1)
The first and most superficial layer of skin, what you can see and where you
actually place your essential oils, is the Epidermis - and this thin first layer is actually further subdivided into four or five sublayers, depending on the location of the body.
Each and every cell in our bodies has an outer cell membrane which consists of two layers of fat & since this first layer of our skin is made up of billions of these cell membranes it is both lipophilic (attracted to other fats) and hydrophobic (repelling water). Think about it this way, it’s a good thing our skin isn’t attracted to water or we’d blow up like balloons every time we took a shower or went into the ocean. Essential oils however, are made up of volatile lipids (fats) and being lipophilic as well, they are very attracted to our skin!
The Epidermis acts as a barrier, a gatekeeper so to speak, and is very protective of what it allows to pass through to the next layer. It also regulates water leaving the skin - or we’d all look like raisins! Now, unlike essential oils which are welcomed through the epidermis ‘gate’, the molecules in most carrier oils are too large to pass through. So, while the healing properties of the essential oil continue on their journey, the carrier oil stays put for a while. It provides back-up support for the “gatekeeper” by acting as a temporary sealant of sorts - it minimizes the evaporation of the essential oil(s) and temporarily stops our naturally occurring internal hydration from escaping. This moisturizes the first 2-3 layers of keratinized skin cells, which is why our skin feels so soft and smooth afterward! The journey of an essential oil however, continues through to the dermis where it meets the nerves (touch & pain receptors), lymph vessels, capillaries, veins, arteries - which then carry it through the bloodstream to the internal organs. Once it has made its rounds, so to speak, is then eliminated via the liver, kidneys (urine), lungs (exhalation) and secreted back out through the skin (sweat).
Keep in mind that everyone’s skin differs somewhat and every essential oil has its own unique compounds, so there are several different factors that affect the absorption of essential oils into our bodies. The surrounding environment also plays a role. For example, although essential oils evaporate quite rapidly when applied to warm skin & a percentage is lost before penetrating the upper layers of the epidermis, the significantly increased rate of penetration in warm surroundings makes it worthwhile.
A sauna application, a few drops in a hot bath, warming massage oil, or
application with warm hands… all of these increase the temperature of the skin which dramatically increases circulation & permeability; our skin drinks in all the goodness like a bee to a honeysuckle!(1) However, beyond these varying factors, all of our skin is structurally the same & essential oils follow the same path from contact to elimination out of the body.
Okay. So let’s take a look at how these plant extracts can be used for healing. We will use the example of how a blend of specific essential oils & how each of their complementary properties may be used as a non-pharmaceutical pain reliever.
First we will look at Lemongrass. A 2014 study sites that this oil is a “potent anti-inflammatory and antifungal drug” & showed that Lemongrass Essential Oil (Cymbopogon citratus), -LGEO-which contains a potent anti-inflammatory & antibacterial compound called citral, clearly confirmed that LGEO inhibits the skin inflammatory response, without the gastric side effects of naproxen. “Steam distillation produces EO plus hydrosols or aromatic waters, which are often used against inflammatory diseases and microbial infections. LGEO has considerable commercial importance because it is used in the manufacturing of fragrances, flavors, perfumery, cosmetics, detergents, and pharmaceuticals. Biological research has shown that the various chemical compounds in EO possess antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, and mosquito repellent properties.” (1)
A 2017 study concluded that the application of LGEO on patients with rheumatoid arthritis decreased their pain levels from 80% down to 50% within 30 days. Another study by Australian researchers focusing on Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine found that lemongrass oil not only helped
with headaches & migraines, but that one of its compounds, eugenol, “has similar abilities to aspirin,” and that “Eugenol is thought to prevent blood platelets from clumping together.” This study continued to show that it also releases serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, sleep, appetite, and cognitive functions. Dr. John Horowitz, with the Vein & Vascular Center of Florida, says “Lemongrass promotes blood circulation, making lemongrass oil a great choice for those with varicose veins. Use of this oil can help prevent blood from pooling in the vein and becoming stagnant. Because stagnant blood can lead to larger issues—such as blood clots and venous ulcers—this can be an ideal oil for keeping your venous health stable until you can see a specialist.”
Two other essential oils famous for pain relief are Peppermint & Wintergreen. According to Dr. Jill Seladi-Schulman (4), one of the compounds found in Wintergreen oil, methyl salicylate, has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties similar to aspirin and is often used as an anti-inflammatory and topical pain reliever.
Additionally, a 2010 study of adults with muscle strains showed that this compound provided a significant amount of pain relief compared to the placebo group (5), and another study in 2012 found it effective for severe headache relief. Wintergreen has also been shown useful for nerve pain (especially sciatica)(6) & for those suffering from chronic low back pain, a 2014 study on ‘The Potential Clinical and Public Health Benefits of Topical Herbal Remedies’ stated that “A combination of wintergreen oil and peppermint oil is commonly used because it is believed to give far better pain relief than either wintergreen oil or peppermint oil alone.” According to a research article by Healthline on the effectiveness of essential oils for neuropathy, “Peppermint essential oil is known to relax muscles, control muscle spasms, and act as a pain reliever.” Researchers in a 2002 study found that the topical application of peppermint oil helped a 76-year-old woman
with neuralgia. She had been resistant to other standard therapies, but saw almost immediate pain relief after applying topical peppermint oil. The study found that relief lasted four to six hours after application, much like the pain relief found in taking most OTC pain relievers, but without the tummy upset. These two oils, along with helichrysum, marjoram, spruce and clove have also been shown to help with fibromyalgia.
And finally, when considering how to relieve pain, we must remember that circulation plays a large role. Anywhere we have pain, we essentially have stagnation, and oils such as Cypress and Fir Needle are wonderful for bringing circulation to the area applied - while essential oil of Hyssop opens up the area for healing by providing oxygen to the cells.(7) Essential Oil of Frankincense can help reduce arthritic discomfort and nerve pain because of its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and nervine qualities. Juniper is another amazing essential oil which helps reduce the severity of joint pain, muscle aches, and muscle spasms because of its antispasmodic, anti-rheumatic, and analgesic properties. According to a 2019 study, “The anti-inflammatory potential of Juniper was empirically established and transmitted in the folk medicine of different countries throughout Europe (Mascolo et al., 1987; Tunon et al., 1995)” and has “…been used traditionally for the treatment of migraine, rheumatic arthritis and gout.”
We could go on and on listing essential oils that are used for pain relief; from chronic low back pain and migraines to nerve pain or muscle spasms, but hopefully we’ve covered enough to encourage our readers to do their own research and look for complementary and alternative options for healing.
NOTE: Because Essential Oils are powerful extracts, it is important to ensure the essential has been diluted in a carrier oil (such as Jojoba or Coconut Oil), before any topical use. Additionally, it is recommended to do a patch test in order to avoid any potential allergic reaction.
Essential Oils for Skin Care? They’re all the rage right now. But they come with questions such as, “Can essential oils be used for anti-aging?”, or “How can an essential oil help my acne?” or “Can an essential oil really impact collagen production?”
Well, with the expertise of over 22 years devoted to researching, educating,
sourcing, and combining essential oils, Ginger Ravencroft has been sharing her unique and effective Beautiful Facial Blends long before these ‘trending’ facial oils even existed. But we’re glad they exist because it means the world is waking up to the healing and rejuvenating properties of essential oils for skin care!
There are numerous essential oils that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which means they can help to reduce inflammation in the skin. Inflammation can contribute to the development of wrinkles and other signs of aging, so reducing inflammation may help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. According to this 2010 study, inflammation and bacteria which lead to acne can be effectively treated with essential oils such as Rose, Lavender, Jasmine, & Roman Chamomile. Each of these oils has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-aging properties. Topical essential oils with antioxidant properties have become increasingly popular in recent years as people seek out natural and plant-based skincare options. Many essential oils are believed to have these properties, which means they can help to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells and contribute to the development of wrinkles and other signs of aging. Antioxidants are important for the skin because they help to protect against free radical damage, which can lead to premature aging, inflammation, and other skin problems. Studies have shown that many organic essential oils are free radical scavenging and therefore beneficial in the fight against these issues. (a) Let’s explore some of the top essential oils that are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and how they can benefit the skin.
One essential oil with strong antioxidant properties is Frankincense oil. This oil is derived from the resin of the Boswellia tree and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Frankincense oil is known for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects, which can help to soothe and calm the skin (1). It is also rich in antioxidants, which help to protect against free radical damage and keep the skin looking youthful and healthy (2). Another essential oil with antioxidant properties is Rosemary Oil. It is often used to treat acne, as it helps to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation. (b)
Next, is the ever popular Lavender oil, which is another essential oil that is known for its antioxidant properties. This oil is derived from the lavender plant and provides calming and soothing effects on the skin. It is often used to treat various
skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, severe acne and psoriasis, as research has shown that it helps to reduce inflammation and irritation. One of the top choices for flare up and cystic acne. Rose oil is often used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne, scars, and aging skin. One of the most sought after essential oils, it regenerates the skin by increasing cell turnover, helps to improve skin texture and reduce inflammation. It is also rich in antioxidants, which again, help to protect the skin from environmental stressors and keeps skin looking luscious. Finally, Roman Chamomile oil is often used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne, rosacea, and dermatitis, as its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties are calming to the skin as they reduce inflammation and irritation. As you can see, each of these oils have benefits way beyond smelling heavenly.
Essential oils may also be able to stimulate the production of collagen, which is a protein that helps to give the skin its structure and elasticity. As we age, the production of collagen decreases, which can lead to the development of wrinkles and other signs of aging. Some essential oils, such as frankincense and myrrh, are well known to have collagen-stimulating properties, which may help to improve the overall appearance of the skin. But did you know that the topical application of Carrot Oil Is 20 times more effective when applied to our epidermal layer than if we ingest collagen.
It is supremely logical that as our physical bodies were created from the earth, our preventative care and healing should likewise come from the earth. As this generation continues to awaken to how nature provides and that we can respectfully share her resources for complementary and alternative options for our health, they will eventually demand that more funds be directed towards research. Until then, Ravenscroft will keep doing what we’ve been doing for over two decades; blending and sharing the wonderful, healing and organic life-force of essential oils.