Essential Oil Facts

by Amelia Murray-Cooper

photography courtesy of Pexels

Sometimes the dreaded dorm room musk can be overwhelming. No one knows exactly where the odor originates, but almost everyone has caught a whiff of it.

Unfortunately, candles and incense are forbidden under residence hall policy, and other alternatives can be harmful. According to a 2016 study at the University of Melbourne, artificial air fresheners contain hazardous chemicals linked to adverse effects like respiratory problems, migraines and asthma attacks.

Instead of risking a fire or compromising your health, meet your new best friend: essential oils.

Smell Good, Feel Good

For those looking for a natural air freshener, oil diffusers are the way to go. Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to find a high-quality product. Amazon’s top user rated diffuser, the URPOWER 150 ml, sells for under $20. Affordable and reliable? Yes, please.

Kiana Carver (COM ’21) read about the positive effects essential oils can have on stress, and decided to try them out as an alternative to candles in her dorm.

“It seemed like a perfect way to keep my space smelling good while also being functional,” Carver said.

DIY room mists are another easy and effective option. Grab a small spray bottle around 8 oz, fill three quarters of it with distilled water, add 25 to 30 drops of your favorite oil blend, then top it off with a dash of witch hazel. Shake gently, and voila! An instant pick-me-up for a dull space.

Energizing Up

Sometimes, you need an extra boost to get through a late night. Instead of reaching for caffeine, try an invigorating oil to help you focus. They’re also perfect for that 8 a.m. class wake-up, so spritz some around your room to energize your morning routine.

In a study published in the 2008 International Journal of Neuroscience, participants exposed to peppermint oil showed enhanced memory and processing speeds. Similarly, lemon, eucalyptus and rosemary are known for their stimulating effects, creating an ideal environment for productivity.

Winding Down

After a long day, aromatherapy can provide much-needed stress relief.

In a 2012 study at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, lavender oil caused decreases of blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature among participants. Other soothing scents include chamomile and cedarwood, which can reduce anxiety.

Molly Cohen (SED '19) prefers using citrus oils in her diffuser.

“I either leave it on when I’m doing work in my room, or sometimes I like to have it on all night. I think they’re super relaxing,” Cohen said.

Beyond the Scent

Essential oils are also known for their natural health benefits. Some can be directly applied to the skin as spot treatments, mixed into massage oils, dropped onto bars of soap or added to bath water. Others can be consumed in small doses to boost wellness.

The FDA provides a list of essential oils approved for human consumption.

According to Ancient Medicine Today, oregano and thyme oils can help fight infections. Tea tree and manuka oil applied to skin can reduce redness and fight breakouts. Turmeric and frankincense are linked to anti-inflammation. Ginger and peppermint oils may aid with digestion.

These remedies may not work for everyone, so proceed with caution. Though oils are plant-based, they are still highly concentrated compounds. Be smart. Small doses and proper dilution are key, so follow product instructions carefully.

All Oils are Not Created Equal

Unlike makeup and other personal care items, there are no legal requirements for fragranced products to disclose all ingredients in America, according to the FDA. Product labels may claim to be organic, but it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth.

Avoid additives or oils sprayed with pesticides, as these may contain harmful toxins. One safe option is Aura Cacia, a brand certified organic by the National Organic Standards Board. Their Discover Essential Oils Kit, which includes eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint and tea tree oil, is an affordable yet versatile option for beginners.

With so many scents and techniques to choose from, essential oils may seem intimidating at first. However, once you get started, you’ll wonder how you ever survived dorm life without them.