Essential oils in my book are a source of huge fun as it feels like a beautiful fragrance has been trapped in a bottle. Essential oils can be extracted from a wide range of plants (flowers, seeds, leaves, peel). They evaporate very easily (volatile) and generally have a strong scent (aroma based oil). As essential oils are highly concentrated in aroma and are volatile, they are in most instances diluted in a carrier oil. A carrier oil essentially ‘carries’ the essential oil to the skin or hair. A suitable carrier oil will have little to no fragrance of its own for example jojoba oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil etc. An alternative to using a carrier oil in hair care is to add the essential oil to hair conditioner.
Each essential oil will have its own distinct fragrance and some you may love, some you may not. However, essential oils do have functions beyond enjoying fragrance! Here are 4 reasons to consider them in your routine:
1. Supporting Hair Growth
A mix of thyme, rosemary, lavender and cedarwood oils in a carrier oil were shown to improve hair regrowth in some patients experiencing hair loss (19 out of 43 showed improved regrowth – Arch Derm, pp2349-1352, 1998). This is not acceleration of hair growth but rather supporting hair to regrow. For faster growth, a study performed on mice showed that Jujuba oil (also know as jujube or red date oil) stimulated minimally faster growth of around 1 – 1.5 mm more per month compared to no essential oil use. As this is a mouse study, there is no evidence that the same would work in humans.
2. Antifungal and antibacterial
Some oils are known to be active against ringworm and therefore can be considered antifungal. Spice and herbal based oils seem to be the most effective in this function. Examples include, cinnamon oil, fennel oil, lemongrass oil, wild basil oil, Brazilian cherry oil (Mycoses, pp 333-336, 1993). Basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, clove and sage oil are known to have some antibacterial activity.
Tea tree oil gets a special mention in this category as it has a pretty vast repertoire including antifungal, antibacterial and even some antiviral activity. Additionally, it is known to reduce swelling (anti-inflammatory) so is useful as a treatment for any bumps (Clin Microbiol Rev, pp 50-62, 2006).
3. Physical Sensations
Some essential oils can induce a physical effect. Peppermint oil for example induces a tingling sensation on skin or scalp in the case of hair care. Although it is widely and erroneously reported that this tingling is linked to follicle stimulation (no evidence of that yet), it can be a pleasant sensation for some. Ylang ylang is known to increase skin temperature which some may experience as a warm sensation (Phytotherapy Research, pp 758-763, 2006).
Aromatherapy is a pretty self explanatory word with an aroma inducing a therapeutic effect. Scientifically, fragrances like lavender and rosemary oil are known to have positive effects on mood which is a huge bonus if you have serious detangling ahead of you. Lavender oil is considered relaxing while rosemary has been linked to improved alertness (International Journal of Neuroscience, pp 217-24, 1998). Peppermint and eucalyptus oil are also considered relaxing (Cephalagia, pp 228-234,1994). This list is based on those that have been scientifically studied, there is no harm in using an oil whose fragrance you like for example vanilla, orange peel, rose oil etc.
Ladies, do you use essential oils in your regimen? Share your experiences!