Learn the Essentials

You often see the term "essential oils" thrown around by the beauty and grooming industries—essential oils are in your moisturizers, your conditioner, and maybe even your shaving cream. But what do you really know about them? We asked an expert for a simple guide to understanding these aromatic potions—find out what they can do for you below!

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Here at Sweet, we've already sung the praises of many essential oils (such as carrot seed, myrrh, and sandalwood) for their ability to provide better looking skin and healthy hair, not to mention their refreshing, invigorating fragrances. But there are so many more essential oils out there, each with their own distinct benefits—it's worth taking the time to get to know them intimately.

Citrus and rose oil aromatherapy. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images
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Susan Griffin Black, co-founder of body-care brand EO Products, knows a lot about essential oils. They're not only the basis of her wellness collection, she also studied the chemistry of perfumes as well as aromatherapy, which inspired her to spread the knowledge of essential oils through cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and more.

Certified Organic Lavender Deodorant Spray, $7, eoproducts.com.
Smooth Wild Rose & Coconut Conditioning Serum Hair Treatment, $13, eoproducts.com.
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Here, Black gives a brief overview of how essential oils work, and shares the three essential oils that everyone should incorporate into their beauty routine.

What Are Essential Oils, Really?

Essential oils have some similar qualities to traditional oils (the silky feeling and liquid form, specifically), but they are distinct in other ways. "Essential oils are the concentrated essences of plants," Black says. "They're volatile compounds, which means they evaporate quickly—as they evaporate, we smell them and that part provides the aromatherapy."

There are many types of essential oils on the market, here are a few of them. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

How Do They Come to Exist?

Before essential oils are bottled for sale, they are carefully extracted via a variety of methods. "It takes tons—literally thousands of pounds—of plants to produce a little bit of essential oil," Black says. There are three ways that these plants are processed. "Steam distillation is where hot steam is passed through the plant matter to separate the essential oils," Black says, adding that this is the most common method. "Expeller pressing" is when high pressure is used to press the essential oil out of the plant (this is mainly used for citrus). And finally, there's "solvent extraction." "This method is only used for delicate plants such as jasmine or rose that can't withstand the other techniques," Black explains.

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Lavender oil is one of the most common ingredients in products that help you wind down and relax. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

How Do They Work?

While these oils are called "essential" they're not cure-alls, though they can have some impact on the appearance and feeling of your skin and hair. Overall, the aromatherapy aspect is the most important. "The action of the oil depends on what's in it," Black says. "Some oils are great for clarifying skin and hair, while others help with tone. Most of all, [the scents of] essential oils change the way you feel and alter your mood."

Although these oils come from natural plants, they should be used with caution. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

How Do You Use Them?

The most important thing you should know about essential oils is that they are potent and should not be used directly on hair and skin without buffers. "First rule of using essential oils is dilute, dilute, dilute, whether it's with air (in a diffuser), water (in a spray bottle), or oils (found in complementary skin-care products)," Black says. You can dilute formulas with carrier oils, which include jojoba oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter—they "carry" essential oils safely and efficiently onto the body. 

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"I always suggest patch testing (putting a small amount of the diluted oil on your inner arm and watching it to make sure there's no reaction) before using a new oil in your skin care," Black says.

What Are the Essential Essentials?

Every single substance on the essential oils list (which is far too long to include here) definitely has worthy attributes. For example, carrot seed oil is rich in vitamin A, which helps protect skin against wear and tear, while rosemary oil's antioxidant nature can nourish the scalp to promote healthy hair growth. Below, Black gives her list of the top three oils you should consider having in your possession.

French Lavender Oil by Uncle Harry's, $12, uncleharrys.com.

1. "Lavender should be the first on anyone's list. It's great for just about anything. Lavender is great for skin, and its scent relaxes people," Black says. Lavender calms down skin irritation and is great to inhale before resting. 

Geranium Oil, $14, eoproducts.com.

2. "Geranium is a wonderful oil for skin and hair. It's also very balancing, so if you're feeling off balance, use a little geranium," she says. Geranium is antibacterial, so it can also help protect cuts against infection.

100% Pure Essential Eucalyptus Oil by Boots Botanics, $9, drugstore.com.

3. "Eucalyptus is so refreshing! It really clears the air. Anytime you feel a little stuffy either physically or emotionally, use a little eucalyptus on the shower floor in the morning," Black says. 

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