Essential oils are extracts derived from various plants, usually through distillation via water/steam or other methods such as cold pressing, combined with a carrier oil that makes the extract safe to use directly on the skin. Pure extracts are very potent and can cause irritation, rashes, or other more serious ailments if not diluted with a carrier such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, or almond oil (or if the user has an allergy to any of the ingredients). Essential oil compounds keep the same natural scent of the original plants.
Essential oils are most commonly used in an alternative medicine practice called aromatherapy, in which the user will inhale certain scents for specific wellness purposes. The intake of scents can be accomplished through diffusers, spritzers, bathing salts, creams/lotions, and more. Some of the most popular essential oils are peppermint, lavender, sandalwood, rose, chamomile, lemon, and tea tree, but there are nearly 100 different "essences" available on the market.
Essential oils may also be applied directly on skin or clothing for the same therapeutic effect. When applied to the skin, some of the plant essence is absorbed. (Essential oils should never be swallowed unless they are labeled as "food grade"!) Essential oils can also be used in the home as an antimicrobial cleanser (e.g. peppermint, tea tree oil), laundry freshener (e.g. lemon), mosquito repellant (e.g. citronella), and in homemade cosmetics.
While few studies have been conducted to conclusively prove the scientific effectiveness of essential oils, many people around the world use them with generally positive results. Essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat skin conditions, congestion, and infection; improve mental health issues such as stress and anxiety; aid in relaxation; and relieve the symptoms of sleep disorders and migraines.
It's a scientific fact that our sense of smell affects the limbic system, which is the part of your brain connected to emotional response. So it's no wonder the Bible speaks of aromas and incense quite a lot. God told the Israelites to make anointing oil with myrrh, fragrant cane, cinnamon, and cassia with olive oil as the carrier oil (Exodus 30:22-33). In the very next verse, we find the description of the incense to be used in the tabernacle and temple, including spices, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense.
Speaking of frankincense (which is extremely fragrant if you've never smelled it!), it was added to grain offerings (Leviticus 2:1-2) as a "soothing aroma to the Lord." And, of course, the wise men brought frankincense and myrrh to the young Jesus (Matthew 2:11). During Jesus' ministry, the woman who washed His feet in nard, an extremely costly ointment, "filled [the house] with the fragrance of the perfume" (John 12:3).
During Old Testament times, plant-based medication was looked upon with ambivalence because it was closely related to pagan religious practices. The Israelites were encouraged to rely on God as their Healer (Exodus 15:26; Jeremiah 46:11). Today, using plant-based extracts to help alleviate various physical or mental health ailments or as a household cleanser/freshener is not considered intrinsically "New Age" or pagan.
That said, if the use of essential oils goes against a Christian's conscience, they should avoid using it themselves (James 4:17), while giving others the freedom of their own personal convictions.
Essential oils are a tool that can be used in good conscience by Christians (1 Corinthians 8), provided they are not personally convicted against it or combine the use of essential oils with unbiblical practices. Although there is nothing unbiblical about using essential oils, anyone who wishes to use them should take proper precautions regarding allergies, respiratory disease, or other existing conditions that may be exacerbated by inhaling or touching these kinds of compounds.
Essential oils are derived from plants and most commonly used in aromatherapy, in which the user will inhale certain scents for specific wellness purposes. These "essences" may also be used topically or even in household cleansers and fresheners. While using essential oils is not unbiblical, always take proper precautions about potential adverse allergic reactions. Essential oils are a tool that can be used in good conscience by Christians (1 Corinthians 8), provided they are not personally convicted against it or combine the use of essential oils with unbiblical practices.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.