Confessions of an ‘oilbularyo’: The healing power of essential oils

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Essential oils have been used therapeutically for centuries. There’s no substantial scientific evidence to prove its efficacy yet its popularity has grown abundantly in recent years. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Businesswoman, wife and mother of three, Margie Duavit is a self-professed “oilbularyo.”

Upon entering her house in Greenhills, the scent of peppermint and ylang-ylang gushes out of her ultrasonic diffuser. She whips out a pouch filled with little vials containing oil blends she concocted herself. There’s one for every ailment.

She points to one of her favorites, Thieves, which is a blend of five different essential oils. “This is what I use for my allergic rhinitis and skin asthma. I used to see a dermatologist for years to get allergy shots, now I just use this,” she says. “It works, I’ve been off medication for a year.”

She pulls out another set of essential oils and starts talking about each of its uses and benefits. “I put a few drops of lemon oil in my drinking water, it helps with digestion and weight loss. I also use it as an aromatic, a few drops in my diffuser works great as a mood uplifter,” she says. “But for a calming effect, I like to use lavender.”

Duavit uses pure essential oils on her kids too. “I once had to apply peppermint on my daughter’s nape and temples while on the plane. She was nauseous. It worked. It calmed her down.”

Diptych 2.jpg Margie Duavit, an avid essential oils user, attributes the recent interest on the product to a more conscious attitude on being healthy. “We have so much chemicals in our body, around us, in our households, what we put in our body,” says Duavit. “If we can lessen a bit of those chemicals in our lives, it can make us healthier.” Photos by CLAIRE CELDRAN

Her husband has also picked up the habit. “He uses grapefruit when he has a hangover. He rubs it on his skin right above the kidney and it works.” As a guide, she reads the book “An Essential Oil Reference Guide.”

Duavit’s affinity with essential oils began three years ago when she purchased a starter kit from a friend. She opened the box and felt immediately overwhelmed with what she saw. A variety of oils labeled with different names. Not knowing how to use them, the box sat in storage. It was only a year ago when she decided to give them a try.

She found a support group for people like her who wanted to learn about them. The more she used them, the more fascinated she became. She expanded her knowledge even more by taking a class called “Kanaw It All” — kanaw meaning “mix” in Tagalog. There she learned how to mix the oils into chemical free products like soaps, make-up removers, foot powder, bug sprays, hand sanitizers, and cleaning solutions.

Essential oils have been used therapeutically for centuries. There’s no substantial scientific evidence to prove its efficacy yet its popularity has grown abundantly in recent years. This growth is attributed to the rising number of women like Duavit who’ve tried them and attested to its healing benefits.

In the Philippines, some alternative medicine practitioners recommend essential oils to their patients. Lea Bernardo, a doctor of psychoneurology and integral health has been personally using essential oils for eight years. She believes in its capacity to help a person’s mental health.

“I put a few drops of lemon oil in my drinking water, it helps with digestion and weight loss. I also use it as an aromatic, a few drops in my diffuser works great as a mood uplifter."

“I recommend them as a tool or aid but not a form of medication to assist my patients’ well being,” she says. “When used in aromatherapy by inhalation, it contributes to your moods. When used topically, it is infused into your bloodstream and you get the benefits of the oil.”

Celebrities have also joined in on the bandwagon. On an Instagram post, Kris Aquino names fellow celebrity and Congresswoman Lucy Torres for gifting her with a starters set. Kris posted, “Now truly obsessed with using pure essential oils for wellness … I’m impressed with healing using an all natural method.” The celebrity posted this alongside a photo of her ailing foot before and after using essential oils.

Lucy Torres can also be found posting about her essential oil habit. On her Instagram account she posts a photo of her oils with the caption, “I will write down some of my thoughts in my journal, spray my pillow with my favorite sleep mist, and diffuse some oils, Tonight is a mix of joy, lavender, and frankincense.”

In an article in The Philippine Star, Lucy wrote more about her oil habit. “Witchery, the husband and child call it” she wrote. “I laugh along when they laugh at me and go on my happy way. A potion here and there, a natural cure for every ill or ail, imagined or not.”

Hollywood celebrities such as Katy Perry, Emma Stone, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Gwyneth Paltrow have also said they use essential oils in their health and beauty regimen.

Diptych 1.jpg Since Margie Duavit received an essential oils 'starter kit,' she has learned how to mix the oils into chemical free products like soaps, make-up removers, foot powder, bug sprays, hand sanitizers, and cleaning solutions. Photos by CLAIRE CELDRAN

The use of essential oils has gained popularity not only in adults but children as well. Joey Downs, an energy healer and life coach to children diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, anxiety and anger management issues, incorporates essential oils into her therapy and recommends them to her clients.

“I think there are a lot of healing powers in them. I myself have been using them for years,” she says. “I noticed the soothing and calming benefits it gives my kids before going to school or taking a test.”

There’s a number of certified aromatherapists in the Philippines. These are trained individuals who can prescribe you which essential oils to use depending on your concerns. Despite this, many learn on their own, adhering to articles found on the internet and local support groups for guidance. Today, more people are trying it, liking it, and recommending it. The word is spreading fast. Its popularity is gaining momentum — a manifestation that people strive to live healthier lives.

It’s established that there’s great interest in the healing benefits of essential oils but to discerning consumers, one may ask, are they safe to use?

An article published on Time Magazine talks about studies made by doctors and researchers who say the inhalation and application of essential oils isn’t beneficial and may even lead to unwanted side effects. The article cites a study made by Dr. Edzar Ernst, former chair of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter in the U.K. which says that “aromatherapy doesn’t help patients with hypertension, anxiety, pain and symptoms of dementia.”

“When used in aromatherapy by inhalation, it contributes to your moods. When used topically, it is infused into your bloodstream and you get the benefits of the oil.”

However, another research from the University of Vienna’s Gerhard Buchbauer suggests otherwise. It says that “essential oils have the power to activate [the] central nervous system in ways that may increase attention, sharpen thinking, and improve sleep.”

There have been numerous studies made to establish the health benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy. However, scientific results have been inconclusive to this day (a lot of the positive effects of essential oils can be attributed to many variables, according to studies). But medical experts do not advise patients to avoid them entirely. Instead, they caution and advise children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and patients with health conditions to seek professional help before usage.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence to substantiate its benefits, a number of those who use essential oils swear by its healing powers. With a more conscious society these days when it comes to what our bodies consume, it’s no doubt that people are looking to alternatives to what is commonly available in the market or drugstore. Instead of going for chemical-laden products, there is an option to use essential oils. Whether it’s effective or not is up to the consumer to decide.   

“We have so much chemicals in our body, around us, in our households, what we put in our body,” says Duavit. “If we can lessen a bit of those chemicals in our lives, it can make us healthier.”