What are essential oils, and can Christians use them?
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that are often marketed for use for therapeutic benefit. When inhaled through the nose, the scent molecules travel from the olfactory nerves to the limbic system in the brain which helps control emotions. Essential oils are often used with the intent to relieve stress, calm anxiety, ease depression, increase focus, and help with sleep. Essential oils can also be absorbed into the skin when diluted in a carrier oil. This method is sometimes used with the intent to relieve headaches, help with digestion, and improve skin ailments.
Essential oil companies cannot claim to cure any medical conditions. Essential oils are also not highly regulated by the FDA, so potency, purity, and ingredients vary widely across brands. Furthermore, not every oil is right for every condition nor for every body, and some even interact with certain drugs. Oils should only be used after consulting with a medical professional and under the supervision of someone trained in essential oil use. With the correct precautions in place, many people have found essential oils to be beneficial in relieving certain ailments.
Beyond the potential medicinal use of essential oils, some people fear their connection to false religions, witchcraft, and new age practices. While some of these religions may use incense or oils, it is important to remember that God Himself commanded the use of incense and aromatic infusions in God-ordained worship (Exodus 30:22–38; Leviticus 2:1–2). So there is nothing inherently sinful about using aroma or oils, as long as their use is done for the glory of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31). Along the same lines then, it is important that when using oils a person not start incorporating nonbiblical practices like reiki, transcendental meditation, séances, etc. Remembering that plants and their oils were created by the one true God of the Bible and that He deserves the glory and focus of our worship will help protect against this pitfall.
On the other side of the spectrum, some people are so enthralled with the potential benefits of essential oils that they forget to give glory to the Creator and, instead, inadvertently idolize the creation. While essential oils can help people with different conditions, it is important to remember that "the LORD [is] your healer" (Exodus 15:26). God designed the human body and while a number of different treatments (including essential oils, pharmaceuticals, surgical intervention, and other treatments) may effectively treat an ailment, it is ultimately God who is responsible for that body recovering or not. We see this even in the James 5:14 instruction to those who are sick to call the elders to pray over them and anoint them with oil. Though oil is used, it is evident that the Lord is responsible for the healing, not the oil, which is why the elders are instructed to pray to God for healing.
In short, as long as a person acknowledges that God is our healer, depends on Him as the Creator of the human body and all living plants, and recognizes His sovereignty over His creation including medical treatments, then using essential oils can be done in a God-honoring way and should not be feared or forbidden.
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