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Oil from lavender can be used to relax the body after a long day at work. The clean, fresh scent fires off chemical reactions in the brain that signal the body to relax.

Words by Olivia Albers

Imagine coming home after a long day of work to the aroma of fresh citrus, mint or cinnamon. The stress of the day starts melting away immediately.  Sure, there are  other options for relaxation like yoga classes or massage therapy, but their prices can be cringe-worthy and scheduling around a busy schedule might be difficult. Not to worry. There’s a better, more fragrant way to relieve some stress for a fraction of the price: essential oils.

Essential oils are natural oils extracted from plants and trees. Oils from fruits like lemon or lime can come directly from the fruit’s rind. Vegetable oils include coconut oil, olive oil or grapeseed oil to name a few. Pungent spice extracts come from the leaves and stems of lavender, spearmint, peppermint, jasmine, thyme and oregano. Oil manufacturers use steam distillation and cold-pressing to produce the highest yields of oil from any of these natural sources.

The strong fragrances of essential oils can have a calming effect on the part of the brain that controls emotion and mood. The smells connect with the human olfactory and limbic systems, triggering chemical reactions in the brain that can reduce levels of stress and anxiety. However, oils fire off various reactors and can affect each person differently. The popularity of essential oils continues to rise, and oils are increasingly marketed as a natural way to relax the body.

Types Of Oils

Cindy Corwin, certified clinical aromatherapist and owner of Healing Essentials in Cedar Falls, Iowa, has used essential oils with her patients for years. Her top picks for relaxing oils are lavender, bergamot, lemon and frankincense. Corwin considers lavender the “Swiss Army Knife of essential oils.” It can help “the body kind of relax and shift into a different gear, a lower gear,” she says.

Many of Corwin’s clients have difficulty relaxing. For them, she diffuses oils like bergamot or lemon. The diffusion process involves adding drops of essential oils into water, which is then put through a diffuser. The diffuser acts like a humidifier as water is atomized into the air, and the oil’s scent is spread throughout a room.

“[Frankincense] is the only essential oil that is rejuvenating and relaxing at the same time,” Corwin says. “It is actually stimulating the immune system to help the body fight off illness, but it also has the chemical components to help the body relax.”

However, no oil works universally. Corwin says the best way to find the right oil is to sample a few and see which one the body reacts positively to. “The one that resonates with you, that’s typically what your body needs,” she says.

Purchasing Oils

The price of essential oils varies depending on the brand and type. Corwin says a 7.5-milliliter bottle of lavender oil should cost around $14, while other oils like frankincense can run up to $29 a bottle.

“I’m always going to suggest a higher-quality oil just because it’s been proven to be safe,” says Tiffany McSkimming, an essential oils distributor. “You get that one ingredient from the plant and that’s it.” There are also cheaper options to choose from, which can cost between $10-15 for a 15-milliliter bottle.

When it comes to selecting a brand of oils, McSkimming says research is key. No FDA regulations govern labeling essential oils. Bottles could be diluted or chemically altered, so consumers need to be cautious. “Most reputable essential oil companies are bottling their essential oils in dark blue, dark green or dark brown bottles,” Corwin says. When essential oils are exposed to sunlight or heat, they start to degrade. The darker bottles prevent some of this breakdown. Corwin, too, suggests finding a trustworthy essential oils company or individual seller before making a purchase.

McSkimming uses the book The Reference Guide for Essential Oils to figure out which oil she wants to use throughout her day. This book provides readers detailed information on more than 100 essential oils.

According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the most commonly used essential oils are chamomile, sage, varieties of eucalyptus, fennel, frankincense, geranium, ginger, helichrysum, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, mandarin, neroli, patchouli, and peppermint.

How To Relax With Essential Oils

Essential oils can be used in a variety of different ways. They can be applied directly on the skin — usually just one or two drops on the temples, hands or feet. Edible oils can be dropped onto the tongue, swallowed in self-made capsules, or added to food, such as salad dressings. Oils can also be dissolved in water or used as a spray to produce aromas.

McSkimming says diffusion or topical treatments are used most often. “If you’re going to consume an oil, you want to make sure it’s a higher-quality one,” McSkimming says. Look for oils that have gone through only one process of being distilled; the more times an oil is distilled, the lower the potency.

Essential oils are an easy, cost-effective way to handle some of life’s stressful moments. For the beginner, McSkimming recommends using only one or two drops per application. A little goes a long way. Adding them to a relaxation routine at the end of a stressful workday might help melt worries away, restore and rejuvenate the body and leave the house smelling nice in the process.