Using essential oils

Oct 20, 2009 at 5:16 p.m. ET

The last time you ate a piece of citrus, did you notice the powerful scent of the rind? Essential oils capture this experience in a bottle, harnessing the best of nature's therapeutic and holistic compounds.

orange oil

the essentials of essential oils

The best essential oils are 100 percent pure, therapeutic grade, carefully extracted, translucent and easily absorbed into the skin. Avoid using synthetic oils, which do not have the same beneficial properties, and read all labels carefully for appropriate usage.

If you are not familiar with essential oils, their wide range of applications may surprise you.

Essential oils in your life

Here are five great ways to introduce your family to the many benefits of essential oils:

Deepen your defenses
As the weather turns chilly this fall and winter, we are keenly aware of the illness-causing germs around us. Staying healthy means plenty of hand washing and eating well, but essential oils can join your line of defense, too.

Oils such as lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree are often used in a diffuser to purify the air and kill bacteria and viruses. Don't have a diffuser? Try putting a drop of oil on a warm towel and apply as a compress.

Freshen up
There is nothing better than the smell of a clean house, but cleaning products can be expensive and loaded with chemicals. High-quality essential oils have disinfecting, deodorizing and degreasing properties that infuse your home with a fresh and crisp scent.

Try mixing water and white vinegar with essential oils of pine, lemon or citronella for an uplifting and effective cleaning experience.

Ward off pests
Repelling insects can be a huge headache, and many store-bought products are loaded with dangerous chemicals. Essential oils have been used for centuries to safely but sternly discourage insects from cozying up to their human neighbors. Oils of peppermint, melaleuca, thyme and lemongrass send the bugs running.

Try spritzing a room (or an outdoor space) with mixture of water and a few drops of oil. You can also mix topically safe oils (high grade, 100 percent pure) with almond or olive oil and smear it on exposed skin during a hike or camping trip.

Beautify on the outside
Have you checked out the ingredients in your favorite beauty products lately? Chances are, you can't pronounce, let alone identify, most of them. Essential oils are a great alternative to chemical-laden products.

Try making a scrub with crushed pomegranate seeds, sugar, olive oil and essential oil of geranium. A few drops of jasmine oil in a warm bath will ease stress and leave your skin feeling smooth. Peppermint oil added to shampoo or conditioner is a refreshing scalp treatment.

Sleep easy
Many factors can contribute to a restless night, including anxiety, congestion, discomfort or distraction. Poor sleep habits can affect health, mental clarity and emotional stability.

To improve your sleep and help your children drift off to dreamland, massage essential oils on temples, feet and hands, or diffuse in a living room just before bedtime. Chamomile, lavender, neroli and rose are excellent choices.