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We need essential oils now more than ever. In self-isolation, our emotions are in a toss; there is anxiety, a sense of confusion, and turning to essential oils can bring a sense of harmony, joy and ease, all of which seem lacking in our present setup. 

Essential oils also have many antiviral and antibacterial properties, and above all, they come with many cleansing properties. They are known to resolve respiratory problems and are mostly used to uplift spirits and create a sense of peace. These are energising and even keep the bodies from getting infections by boosting our immunity.

The beauty community though looks at essential oils cautiously – some say the phytonutrients work for our skin, bodies, and olfactory senses while others say that sensitive-skin can get in trouble around them as they can be concentrated, inflammatory, and reactive. 

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We decided to investigate and look into ways in which essential oils are helping us, and looks like they will be a big part of our lives from now on. 

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are the most aromatic or volatile constituents found in plants and contain their life force. They can be derived from all parts of the plants – that’s what makes them so interesting. Perfumer Neha Vij, founder and creative head of Auro Candles explains, “The flowers produce essential oils that often have sedating, narcotic or relaxing effects on the body. The leaves often have healing and cooling properties coming from the green colour of the chlorophyll. The roots contain many of the earth properties of the plants and can be very grounding.”

Based on this information, we can use the essential oils for the purpose of healing and self-care too. “Our olfactory system is directly connected to the brain and can calm or trigger emotions. Oils like rosemary are said to energise your mind and body, thus you feel fresh and relieved. Sandalwood works towards calming down, a reason why it is used in prayers and temples,” adds Vij.

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How do they work?

Vij states, “When we smell essential oils, the vapour stimulates small hair-like extensions of our olfactory nerve, which further stimulates the part of the brain which respond to emotions, desires, and memories. This process is called neuro-associative conditioning, which is your body’s ability to link a healing response to a particular smell. It also explains why smells have the power to trigger a specific memory wherein we feel comforted and loved.” 

How do essential oils help at a time like this?

In a time like this, when the virus is spreading at an alarming rate, keeping our immune systems strong and healthy is important. “Essential oils are a natural way through which we can take care of ourselves. Various essential oils have many antiviral properties, they also work on making our immune system strong. By using essential oils and incorporating them in our lifestyle, we stay comparatively active and healthy because essential oils tend to boost our energy and help us get rid of infections,” says aromatherapist Dr Blossom Kochhar, also the founder of Blossom Kochhar Aroma Magic.

How can you use essential oils?

Essential oils can be used in various forms according to Dr Kochhar. “We can use them in our bath water by adding a few drops in our bucket. It can also be used in a shower by taking a few drops on your towel and rubbing it on your body. They can also be used in diffusers or by simply taking 2-3 drops on your palms and inhaling it. You could also take it on a tissue and carry with yourself wherever you go,” she adds.

Jhelum Biswas Bose, author of ‘Phoolproof’ and practising aromatherapist, cautions, “Don’t burn essential oils in a diffuser through the day, that will just be a waste of precious essential oils. You can burn it for half an hour in a day, and if it is a pure essential oil, the scent will stay on for a good time. Except for lavender and geranium, don’t use essential oils directly on the skin. My go-to carrier oils are coconut and olive oils – mix and use them for maximum effectiveness”.

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The one thing to remember about using essential oils? Make sure you dilute. There are pure plant carrier oils such as argan oil, baobab oil, black currant seed or tamanu oil and all of these oils help to cleanse, heal, uplift, and moisturise. Also look out for oils that are healing, moisturising, and cleansing. “Stick to noncomedogenic oils and avoid ones like coconut oil and jojoba that clog the pores as they are too thick and prone to causing your breakouts. 

A quick hack by Vij: You can also pour a few drops on to a cotton ball and tuck into the corner of a room, refresh the cotton as required. 

Which essential oils are popular?

Lavender oil is one essential oil you must have in your home, according to Bose. Lavender is a versatile oil that takes care of minor cuts, burns, and injuries. It also soothes stomach ache or headache. Rub a bit on the temples and you will improve your sleep quality. And just like tea tree oil, it has antiseptic properties that help in keeping those zits in control.

“If you are tired and stressed out, it will relax you. If you are depressed it will uplift you. Just put a few drops on your pillow for a good night sleep,” adds Vij. Bose suggests to let your nose guide you. “Today during a meditation session, I wore petrichor – the smell of rain on earth – to keep me grounded.” Besides lavender, which is a top favourite, eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree, lemon, thyme, and basil are close runner-ups.

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Essential oils for beauty rituals

If you have dry, cracked feet, treat yourself to a foot soak. Add 2 drops of either Lavender, Eucalyptus or Peppermint to a bowl of warm water. Submerge your feet and let them soak for 15 min. 

“Inhalation is one of the fastest ways to bring change and transformation to thoughts and feelings as inhalation of essential oils stimulates the limbic system, which stores memories, emotions, and desires,” adds Vij.  Pour boiling water in a bowl and add two drops of essential oils to it. You can use two drops of pure eucalyptus oil for sinus, lavender for clarifying face, rose for a feel-good factor or lemongrass to feel energised. Make sure the water is steaming, put a towel over your head, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Don’t be too close to the steam. 

On my dry patches, beauty geranium works as an excellent skin clarifying oil,” explains Bose.

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Which oils work for Indian skin?

Geranium helps balance the skin’s sebum and gives you great moisture. Known for their antibacterial and antiseptic properties, the scent is known to reduce anxiety and acne spots. Clary sage is great for those who have dull or dry skin and it also reduces tension. Lavender is known for its calming, relaxing properties while Rose is deeply hydrating, smells beautiful and helps combat fine lines and wrinkles. 

In times of isolation, how do they connect us with nature and bring joy?

“Essential oils are substances extracted directly from nature. By using essential oils we, in a way, take nature’s resources in order to treat ourselves. While we use these oils regularly, it gives us a refreshing feeling and builds a connection directly with nature,” says Dr Kochhar. Meanwhile, perfumer Vij shares her favourite DIY room spray. Get a glass spray bottle. Fill it with 3/4 cup of water and add two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol. Add 10-15 drops of Auro’s Yoga essential oil blend. You can add lemongrass, lavender or rosemary to make your own blend too. 

Best essential oils in the market today:

Nykaa Naturals Geranium Essential Oil, Rs 450

WOW Skin Science Lavender Essential Oil, Rs 499

Clay Pure Sandalwood  Essential Oil, Rs 895

Blossom Kochhar Aroma Magic Peppermint Essential Oils, Rs 275

Bon Organics Essential Patchouli Oil, Rs 755

Forest Essentials Blended Essential Oil Kashmiri Nargis, Rs 1,195

Juicy Chemistry Peppermint Essential Oil, Rs 300

Kama Ayurveda Orange Essential Oil, Rs 450

Khadi Essentials Pure Bulgarian Rose Essential Oil, Rs 795

Auro Candles Spicy Grapefruit Diffuser Oil, Rs 850

Aparrna Gupta

Gupta is a beauty enthusiast, always ready to unravel the journey behind the bottle. Drawing from her decade-long experience as a beauty editor at The Times of India and Verve magazine, this literature post graduate from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University, continues her tryst with beauty as she consults with brands on content and product development. Her blog immerses her readers into the luxurious universe of fragrances, wellness and skincare. Her articles have been featured in Vogue India, Harper’s Bazaar India, Femina and L’Officiel India.