Essential Oil Books

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 at 8:23 am

Yesterday, I posted a very long review of the current state of research on essential oils. My conclusion was that

“There’s a lot of buzz about essential oils these days – and essential oils show some promise for enhancing health. But, the current state of research is such that an evidence-based practitioner should be extremely cautious about making any recommendations regarding essential oils. We simply don’t know enough.”

Those who read yesterday’s post will likely be unsuprised to find that my reviews of the following books about essential oils tend to be critical, especially of the health claims made within.

Even while I am skeptical regarding supposed health benefits of essential oil use, I tend to think that most essential oils, when diluted minutely and administered either topically or by inhalation (such as being diffused into a room), are unlikely to be dangerous. There are few documented adverse effects of essential oils in their usual uses, so I would feel much more comfortable using them in the “usual ways” than in some novel dilution or route. (I would be extremely cautious of using essential oils internally, as this is NOT a common use and therefore more of an unknown as far as potential toxicity goes.)

The Essential Oils Book: Creating Personal Blends for Mind & Body by Colleen K. Dodt

This is the first book I read on using essential oils – and the subtitle accurately represents what you’ll find within. The bulk of the book is “recipes” for essential oil blends to be used as cosmetics, bath blends, cleaning solutions, and the like. There are a wide variety of recipes, some using specific oils (particularly the ones for use on the body) and others simply giving direction to add “15 drops essential oils” (generally the cleaning or room freshening recipes).

The author is clearly fond of aromas and she shares her enthusiasm not only by encouraging the use of essential oils but also the use of fresh and dried flowers and herbs. That was fun. On the other hand, the author also seems pretty flaky and frequently mentions pseudo-scientific things (which might just be the state of aromatherapy at this point) like detoxifying for weight loss.

The third chapter describes around 30 essential oils, giving its information in loose headings: “Nature”, “Benefits”, “Suggested Uses”, “Blending”, and “Cautions”. Some oils contain all these headings, others only a few. Often information that seems to best fit under one heading appears under another. Sometimes cautions that I read of other places aren’t given here. And, of course, very few of the claims can be supported by scientific literature.

Nevertheless, I found this to be a useful introduction into how essential oils can be (and are) used in a variety of ways both in personal care and in the home.

Essential Energy: A guide to aromatherapy and essential oils by Nikki Goldstein

This full-color “artsy” book ended up being a fascinating blend of historical and practical information about aromatherapy. The first chapters describe the use of aroma throughout history (and throughout the world) and how smell and touch work together to accomplish aromatherapy’s magic. This book too describes a list of around 30 essential oils, giving historical information, “benefits”, “safe use”, and “cautions” for each one in addition to giving the common name, the botanical name, the source of the essence, where the plant is cultivated, what the aroma is like, and which perfume note the essential oil has. Finally, the author describes multiple ways to use essential oils (massage, aromatherapy baths, infusions, compresses, etc.) and lists a variety of ailments along with the essential oils that are purported to treat them.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m skeptical of many of aromatherapy’s claims, feeling that there simply isn’t sufficient scientific evidence to encourage (or discourage) the use of aromatherapy. The “practical” portions of this book tend to make me more skeptical, as they give wildly improbable and unscientific potential mechanisms for aromatherapy’s action (smells don’t purify the blood, the liver does.) Furthermore, I struggle with all the contradictory results – oils that are both stimulating and relaxing? But that says more about the state of the science on aromatherapy than it does about this particular book.

For those interested in learning about the history of aromatics or in the steps to do a full-body aromatherapeutic massage, this would be a good resource. I enjoyed reading it.

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Reader Comments (4):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    Interesting! I tend to have a negative reaction to what I call fake smells – colognes, candles, cleaners, etc. – so I wonder how the aromas of these would affect me. Since they are from the oils themselves and not synthetic they might not be a problem. Still, as I said on the previous post, I am skeptical of them and the claims people make for them.

    • bekahcubed says:

      I tend to react negatively to “fake smells” as well – going past Bath and Body Works at the mall sends me into paroxysms of sneezing. The advantage of essential oils for people like us, I think, is that we could mix the pure oils to fragrance our own products just to the amount we desire and/or find nonreactive.

      While I haven’t really used essential oils in a therapeutic way, I started exploring making my own fragrance blends in high school (because of the aforementioned reactions to fragrances.) In general, I’ve found that I haven’t had the same hay-fever type symptoms with the essential oils I’ve used as I do with a lot of fragranced products. I understand that many people who have problems with fragranced products have that because of an allergy to one of the more common preservatives – but I had testing and was not found to be allergic to that preservative. So who knows what my problem is! I’ve used rosemary, grapefruit, peppermint, spearmint, lemon, bergamot, and lavender either in water (for spritzing), in oil (for rolling on) or in lotion (I get aquaphilic ointment – a base cream that pharmacies sell) without having adverse effects. Of course, even with this, it’s valuable to make sure the dilutions are minute – and I avoid any of the citrus oils (grapefruit, lemon, bergamot, etc.) in lotions since they can make the skin more sun-sensitive.

  2. Tom Kruse says:

    With any claim of health benefit, I like to know the “why and how” of the cellular interaction, to understand what is actually happening. As a physical therapist, I have been using small amounts with coconut oil (topically) more for an aromatic effect when appropriate, during manual techniques. I haven’t noted any unexplained healing effects from the oils, but I’m trying to create “good smells” associated with the patient’s experience of healing to create a positive memory.

    • bekahcubed says:

      That’s a great approach, Tom. Because the scientific study of essential oils is so new, I don’t know that there is a lot of understanding of mechanisms (we don’t even have a lot of definitive evidence of effects, much less mechanisms!) What gets me about the popular literature on aromatherapy/essential oils (as well as what I heard at the Young Living party I attended) is that the mechanisms proponents are suggesting are biologically nonsensical (the aforementioned “detoxifying” and “blood purifying”, lots of mention of how “essential oil molecules are so small they can permeate every part of the body”, etc.).

      I love the way you’re using essential oils. Some of the interesting research I did come up with as I was exploring individual oils on PubMed involved diffusing essential oils (I think it was lavender in that case, which several okay quality studies have indicated acts as a CNS depressant) into a dental waiting room to relieve dental anxiety. While the sample sizes were pretty small, it did appear that the fragrances were helpful in relaxing patients. How much neater to be using smells to help patients create positive associations with healing!

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