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What is an essential oil? Essential oils are substances that can be extracted from a plant, flower or other source—and were dubbed “essential” because they were believed to represent the very essence of fragrance and flavor. Once isolated, the oils can be used for beauty, cleaning, relaxation and more! The possibilities are endless. Just be sure to consult with your doctor or a wellness professional before putting oils on your skin or defusing them in your environment.

Here are some tips to help you better understand how these oils can play an essential role in your life.

Pick Purity, Store Correctly Essential oils are generally not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and quality and purity can vary. Make sure to pick oils that don’t include any synthetic ingredients, which can dilute the oil’s natural attributes. Then, store them well. Exposure to too much light, heat or oxygen can render oils less effective. You’ll find that most are packaged in light-deflecting amber glass, and if stored properly in a cool, dark environment, essential oils can last about three years.

An Essential Step: Dilution Despite what you may have heard, it’s recommended not to ever put an undiluted essential oil on your skin—this can cause a reaction and potentially the onset of an allergy. First, you’ll want to mix it with another oil, called a “carrier” oil, like olive, almond, jojoba or coconut oil. The most commonly used dilution is a 2% dilution, or 12 drops of your essential oil for every 1fl ounce, or 30mL, of carrier oil. Dilution for diffusion depends on your model of diffuser, so always follow the package instructions.

Note: Wear gloves and do not get undiluted oils on your skin. Always read the instructions on your oil to be aware of any unique guidelines.

Selecting Essential Oils Which oil you use depends on what you’re looking to accomplish—whether it’s a little relaxation, skincare, or making your home clean and fragrant.

Aromatherapy with Essential Oils Want to add an amazing (or relaxing) aroma to the air? First, you’ll need a diffuser that will steam the oil and release it into the air. Opt for a machine that gives a fine mist and then follow the diffuser’s instructions when adding your oil. Let the diffuser run for short increments, about 30-60 minutes. Use the oil that speaks to your needs most: Can’t sleep? Diffuse chamomile essential oil. Have a headache? Peppermint may give you relief. Feeling anxious? Devotees swear by the calming effects of frankincense or ylang ylang (or a combination of the two!). For a boost of energy, try orange or cinnamon. Or, create a quiet and spa-like atmosphere by diffusing some eucalyptus.

On Your Skin Many people love adding essential oils to their lotions and skincare oils because it brightens their skin. However, dilution is more important than ever if you plan to “wear” essential oils, and it’s important to be aware of any potential allergies, so consult with your dermatologist first. Once you’ve gotten the “all clear,” discover the oil that’s best for you. For treating acne, try tea tree oil or helichrysum, an oil beloved for its antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. If you’re prone to oily skin, lemongrass might offer a solution, though be aware that this potent oil should be strongly diluted. Finally, find relief by mixing lavender with a carrier oil to sooth inflamed or irritated skin.

In Your Home Understanding any potential allergies in the home is incredibly important, and if someone in your home has a breathing condition like asthma you should speak with a doctor before using or diffusing oils. In addition, pets may be sensitive to oils in the air and around the home. Once you’ve done your research, you can use oils as part of your cleaning routine. Oils like lemon, lavender, peppermint tea tree, lemongrass and rosemary are trusted for their calming and antibacterial properties, while eucalyptus is a natural germicide. To clean with oils, make your own cleaning spray by mixing the oil of your choice with equal parts white vinegar and water. Or, add drops to your woolen dryer balls to freshen laundry.

So what are you waiting for? Diffuse the situation by finding the oils and aromas that add a little (and essential) relaxation, beauty and cleanliness to your everyday life.