Essential Oils 101

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I’ve had so many comments recently asking me about essential oils, so I thought I’d give you a quick “101” on why I’m obsessed with them, and how they work, which seems to be the eternal question. I’m a big “smell” person – Just as some people are “visual learners” and others are “auditory learners,” I am a “smell-learner!” I think my daughter is too, because I’ve noticed that from a really early age one of the first things she does when encountering a new product, is to sniff it. It can be anything from a new book/pencil to a new dress – It’s scent has got to be checked out! Our olfactory response is way more powerful than most of us realize. The smells we take in from our environment can have a profound effect on many of our bodily systems, most notably our nervous system.

My home is always filled with beautiful, natural fragrances from essential oils. I can’t live without them. I take them on airplanes, and have to bring natural oils with me when I’m going to be staying in a hotel room because certain essential oils remove the mustiness of a sealed-up room, and help me to relax. Pure essential oils are so potent in their therapeutic powers, that in Europe they are used to treat clinical depression and severe anxiety.

I also love to use them in many of my DIY skin care recipes because some of these oils have amazing anti-aging benefits. Check out my You Tube Channel for tons of recipes.

I want to address a bunch of questions that I’ve had from my community, in the hope that they might help you, too. So, here goes:

1. What is a “pure” essential oil? It’s a highly concentrated botanical oil, which has been extracted or distilled from a plant (flower, twig, seed, herb, or fruit). Each oil may have several benefits including being anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-spasmodic, etc. The word “pure” is often misrepresented, so you need to read your bottle label very carefully and make sure that there are no other ingredients in there. You can often tell if an oil is “pure” by sniffing it – it should be pretty strong. A weak scent alerts me to the fact that it may be heavily diluted with a plant oil. Another word that is used is “therapeutic” but if an oil is certified organic, you can be sure it will be both pure and therapeutic. Never believe a brand that says they are the only brand that carries pure/therapeutic oils (especially if the brand is not certified organic). 

2. How do essential oils work? Great question. It helps me to think about the parts of the body essential oils can effect.

  • The brain: Take a whiff of lavender essential oil and try NOT to be relaxed. Or, if you’re looking to go the other way, try peppermint and try NOT to be energized. Because the olfactory function is so closely linked to the brain, there’s no doubt that essential oils and your nervous system play in harmony.
  • The body: This is a no brainer, but different oils can have different effects on your body
  • Emotions: Tied to the brain, but this is on a more personal level.
  • The immune system: Seriously. The elusive immune system … Essential oils are one of the few products PROVED to boost this coveted gem.
  • Your detox system: Think lymphatic system, which can always use a little boost, right?

3. How do you use an essential oil? Well I am so glad you asked, the brilliant Hope Gillerman, founder of H. Gillerman Organics, shared her own list:

  • Inhale (through breathing): Perhaps the most popular way. Hope showed me two new favorites: A few drops on a tissue, or a few drops in a brandy snifter. Just introducing the scents to your body has a HUGE effect.
  • Topical: As in, applied directly to the skin. But know your oils! Some you will want to dilute, some are fine as-is.
  • Bath/Heat/Spa: Sounds luxurious right? But just a few drops in the shower can make a huge difference!
  • Environmental aroma: Think a diffuser!
  • In lieu of perfume: Which is SO wonderful!
  • In skin care: Which every Gorgeously Green gal knows!

4. Why are they so expensive? PURE and especially organic essential oils are expensive because it takes a lot of plants and a lot of work to make a tiny amount of oil. For example, it takes 60,000 roses to make just 1-ounce of Rose Absolute Oil. Keep in mind that you will only be using a few drops of oil at any given time, so even a small bottle will last you for a very long time. Their shelf life, when kept in a cool, dark cabinet, is about 1 year. So, buying a few bottles of oils you know you’ll use is a great investment. Keep in mind that the shelf-life of different oils varies greatly. I recommend sticking a little sticker on the bottom of your bottle with the date of purchase on it. It’s hard to tell if an oil is no longer usable, but the best way to tell is to sniff it: Because it’s an oil, it won’t go “bad” or rancid, but it might lose it’s strong smell.

5. How do you distinguish “pure” from not pure? Great question! I always talk about “pure” oils because there are so many oils on the market that are heavily diluted with a cheap plant oil. The product you are buying may have a tiny trace of the original essential oil in it. This is why it’s super important that you buy your oils from a reputable company. There are quite a few great companies here in the U.S. and I’ve researched many of them. Mountain Rose Herbs is my go-to for oils because they are a small company in Oregon with an outstanding commitment to sustainability and organic farming. Sustainability is SO important to me because the demand for these oils is growing, and we need to protect the land they come from, and nurture the supply.  They have a huge selection of both organic and non-organic oils, and their prices are fair. I also love H. Gillerman blends. If you want really good quality blends that have been specially formulated for specific conditions and healthy issues, I highly recommend the H. Gillerman rollerballs and dropper blends.  I steer away from MLM brands who give the hard sell. Pure essential oils are almost always sold in dark, glass bottles to protect them from the light, which can degrade or oxidize them.

Tip: If you want to make sure an essential oil is really pure, I do recommend buy one that is certified organic. This cuts out a lot of the guess work. I also like to support organic farming and agriculture. These oils will be more expensive for sure, but you are investing in something that is likely to be what you really want. Remember the upfront investment will go a long way because you will typically only use a few drops per remedy or use.

6. Are they safe to put straight on our skin, and/or ingest? It depends on the oil, and you have to look up the safety/toxicity of each individual oil that you are interested in. Be mindful that certain oils can be very toxic to ingest. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone put an undiluted essential oil directly onto their skin.  Never assume that because something is “natural” it is safe. This couldn’t be further from the truth – many compounds that come from nature can be irritating and/or toxic. For example, quite a few people are allergic to Lavender Essential oil. I always recommend a patch test before using oils on your skin or ingesting them: Simply dilute 3 drops of essential oil in 3 tsp of a vegetable oil, and gently rub over a small patch on your inner wrist. Cover with a band aid and  leave for a few hours and check that you don’t have a reaction such as reddening or swelling of your skin. Keep in mind that Essential Oils should ALWAYS be diluted in a plant carrier oil before being applied to the skin because these oils are very strong.

7. What about cooking with these oils? Yes – I love to use a few choice Essential Oils in certain dishes. My favorite oils to use in a culinary way are: Lavender (Lavender & White Chocolate Cookies!), Orange, Lemon. However, be VERY cautious – EO’s are very strong, so one drop will do the trick. And keep in mind that most essential oils are not safe to ingest.

8. How should I use the these oils? There are many ways in which you can use them, including: diffusing them for room scent, adding to a base oil for skincare/massage, applying in a base oil to the skin for medicinal or perfume purposes, and adding to foods. It all depends on the therapeutic use you are employing, and the benefits you want from the oil. If you are new to using essential oils, I recommend purchasing a good diffuser, and experimenting by adding a few drops of an oil you like to a little water in the diffuser. You can also add a few drops to a clean Brandy glass and that will diffuse the scent beautifully.

9. How Should I dilute my EO?

You rarely want to apply an undiluted essential oil straight onto your skin. The dilution for adult should be approx either 1 or 2%. This would translate as either 6 or 12 drops of EO per ounce of base/carrier oil.

Check out these specific contraindications:

* Citrus oils and Angelica make your skin very sensitive to ultraviolet light, so never use these oils on your skin in the day.

* If you have epilepsy, do not use: Sweet Fennel, sage, hyssop, or rosemary.

* If you have high blood pressure, you should avoid: hyssop, rosemary, sage, and thyme.

*If you are pregnant and want to use oils,  you should avoid: clary sage, hyssop, clove, juniperberry, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme, wintergreen and majoram, however, I recommend staying away from Essential Oils when pregnant.

Basic Home Care Kit

Here are the oils that I recommend you invest in to build your own care kit:

Tea Tree: This is one of my big go-to oils because of it’s incredible antiseptic action – it is 100 times more powerful than carbolic acid! It is also anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal. The Aborigines have been using it in medications for centuries, and it is used in many Australian hospitals in place of regular anti-bacterial agents, because it guards against the spread of super-bugs.

Lavender: This oil is very good for treating burns and scalds. It is also a natural antibiotic, antiseptic, and an anti-depressant. It stimulates the immune system, and is great for alleviating stress.

Peppermint: Aside from helping to keep ants and fleas at bay, Peppermint is a great digestive aid, so is great if you suffer from heart burn, gas, and/or bad breath. It is my go-to oil for headaches, and also really helps with focus.

Chamomile: There are different types of Chamomile, and I usually use Roman Chamomile because it’s great for treating anxiety and insomnia. It is highly anti-inflammatory. Chamomile is wonderful for children because it’s gentle and safe enough to be used in low concentrations to treat anxiety and for babies/children who have trouble sleeping.

Eucalyptus: This oil is hugely effective in treating coughs, colds, and all respiratory conditions. It’s very versatile – cooling the body in Summer, and protecting it in the Winter.

Geranium: Geranium is my all-time favorite oil because it lifts my heart! It works profoundly on emotion, and is wonderful for helping anyone to deal with depression and/or pain. I use it for it’s anti-aging properties in skin care formulations, too.

Rosemary: Rosemary is physically and mentally stimulating, so perfect to use in the mornings to get you going. It’s antiseptic and often used for scalp conditions. It’s also great for migraines, coughs and flu.

Thyme: Thyme has very powerful anti-viral properties. When colds/flu are around, you always want to have Thyme oil to diffuse in every room. Thyme must be used very carefully, and NEVER be applied directly to the skin.

Lemon: I use Lemon Essential Oil a great deal in blends. It’s antiseptic and anti-bacterial. It can treat insect bites and tension headaches, and can be used for flavoring.

Clove: Clove is a very powerful oil. Traditionally used for toothache, it can also be very effective in the treatment of asthma, nausea, and for sinus problems. It can also be used in culinary dishes.

If you want to learn more about incorporating Essential Oils into your life and Wellness Routine, I highly recommend Hope Gillerman’s book, Essential Oils Everyday

I am beyond excited to announce that Hope (the most informative aromatherapist I’ve ever met) will be joining us for our upcoming Hello Gorgeous Wellness Retreat. If you are interested in hearing more about this retreat, please send an email to She will organize a 15-minute phone conversation with you to find out if we all feel this retreat will be a good fit for you.



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Sophie Uliano is New York Times best-selling author and leading expert in the field of natural health and beauty, who takes a down-to-earth approach to beauty focusing on what's truly healthy. Join my masterclass to get started.