Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Essential Oils 101

By Lisa Sussman, PsyD
Health Psychologist

What do lavender, peppermint, lime, cedarwood and clove all have in common? They are essential oils! What are these potent drops which burst with aroma? Essential oils are volatile, aromatic compounds that are found in the leaves, stems, bark, flowers, and/or peels of plants and trees. They protect the plants/trees and help them in their survival. Essential oils have a long history of human use dating back to biblical times, and even further before that! Today, many people use essential oils as a tool along with nutrition and exercise to promote their wellness and self-care. There are many research studies which show that essential oils can help the body and mind in a number of ways. You may find information on the studies done on specific essential oils at or

Each essential oil is comprised of hundreds of chemical compounds which give them their versatile uses and multiple purposes. They are naturally anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and because the molecules are so tiny, they can be absorbed into the skin, pass through cell barriers, and in some cases, pass through the blood-brain barrier. Essential oils are much more potent than herbs. For instance one drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea! Essential oils have their own intelligence and vibration, and as they help plants, they can help humans, supporting the body to function optimally physically and mentally.

Using a good quality, therapeutic grade essential oil is a must. Although many essential oils are considered GRAS, or Generally Regarded as Safe for Consumption by the FDA, they are not regulated by the FDA. You need to do your homework to make sure the essential oil is safe to use. The three things to consider when choosing an essential oil are purity, potency, and testing. Purity means the essential oil is free of toxins, fillers, and pesticides, and that it contains only what the bottle says it is. Potency refers to the strength and chemical constituents of a given oil. This can vary with where the plant is grown and harvested, the condition of the soil, and the species of the plant itself. Testing refers to the multiple methods of analysis that the essential oil is subject to before getting the green stamp to be sold, and can include tests such as mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, sensory evaluation, and third party testing.

Certain types of essential oils are known for their different properties and historical uses. For instance, lavender, and most florals, have a calming effect on the skin and in the brain. Mints, such as peppermint help focus, uplift mood, and have a cooling effect. Citrus oils, like lemon and orange, serve as gentle cleansers, in and out of the body, while they uplift. These are just samples of the many properties and uses of essential oils. Go to your nearest bookshop or search online to browse all of the books about essential oils and how to use them. You can learn as much as you’d like about different essential oils and the ways they can be used to support your health.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what essential oils are, how they work, where to look for studies about the benefits of essential oils, and how to check for a good quality essential oil that is safe to use. In my next blog, I will describe the three methods of essential oil application: aromatic, topical, and internal.


  1. Very informative! I have had excellent results working therapeutically with essential oils and find them to be a wonderful addition to my both physical and emotional health protocols. I completely agree that the oils need to be the best on the market as there is no regulation in the industry. Well written, thank you!

  2. Awesome information!! The power of Essential Oils is so amazing that sometimes is hard to believe! I love that you pointed out the importance of being selective and make sure the essential oils you use are pure and therapeutic grade. Thank you for explaining this so clearly! Now, time to experiment and include the into your routine to create a healthier lifestyle!

  3. Thank you for this, Dr. Sussman. My family and I have been using the oils for four years now, with very positive results. I myself have MS, and literally cannot get out of bed in the morning without breathing in Pepperment Oil. This Essential Oil benefits the nervous system, and it releases my spasms enough for me to move. I know it is important to purchase high quality oils. Your information about how to discern quality is very helpful.

  4. An essential oil is completely without leaving a stain or residue Pure Essential Oils are also known fragrance of the plant from which it is derived. Essential Oils typically evaporate completely without leaving a stain or residue.