Much more than a wellness fad, people have used essential oils for over 5,000 years. In ancient medicine, these oils—which are made from the distilled extracts from plant flowers, leaves, bark, roots, resin and peels—were used in aromatherapy practices to treat many ailments and invigorate the body. From China to India and from Greece to Rome, many ancient cultures were masters of essential oils.
Then, in the late 1920s, French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé used lavender oil to heal a burn on his hand, thus uncovering the science supporting aromatherapy. He then studied the properties of lavender to discover new ways he might be able to help wounded soldiers during World War I.
In the 1980s, essential oils became a mainstay in natural cosmetic product manufacturing, frequently appearing in candles, lotions and soaps. Today, these powerful oils are used by nutritionists, aromatherapists, and many others to naturally heal the body.
I’ve long been a fan of essential oils and incorporate them into my daily wellness routine. Getting started with using these oils is simple, so there’s no need to be overwhelmed by the variety of oils on the market.
Here are my favorite essential oils, based on their versatility and ease of use.
Peppermint essential oil is one of the most versatile essential oils in the world. Many people think of peppermint as just a breath freshener, but did you know it can relieve headaches, improve IBS symptoms, and increase exercise performance? The cooling menthol of this popular oil also helps reduce pain and inflammation, and it can even protect you from the sun.
Peppermint oil is safe for ingestion, which increases its options for use. For aromatherapy, put five to 10 drops in a diffuser or place it below your nose in a carrier oil such as coconut oil. To add a subtle mint flavor (and tons of health benefits) to your diet, add a drop or two in a smoothie or your favorite dessert recipe. Or, to invigorate personal care products, try my DIY recipe for homemade body scrub or this refreshing foot soak.
With abundant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, lavender oil is a popular natural remedy to improve sleep and decrease emotional distress. It can also be used along with peppermint oil to relieve headaches and improve the appearance of skin.
When you combine it with other oils such as clove, cinnamon and tea tree oil, lavender oil can fight bacteria on the skin, including Candida albicans and Staph aureus, which can cause bacterial and fungal infections. Lavender oil may also promote the healing of wounds by accelerating granulation tissue formation and increasing collagen synthesis.
While lavender isn’t recommended for internal use, you can use it topically or for aromatherapy. I like using it in my diffuser to help me fall asleep, especially when combined with other calming oils like cedarwood or frankincense. To heal chapped lips, combine lavender oil with shea butter and apply, or try my homemade lavender soap bar for a total body treat.
Often referred to as the “king of oils,” frankincense or Boswellia is one of the most potent and medicinally useful essential oils on the planet. It’s main benefit is boosting the immune system by stimulating its activity and killing germs that cause infection.
Perhaps the most touted health benefit of frankincense is its ability to fight cancer. Additionally, a 2011 clinical trial found that frankincense was more effective than steroidal treatment, the conventional method, in reducing brain swelling after radiation of cancerous brain tumors, making it a good adjunct treatment for this dangerous complication of brain radiation.
On top of its cancer fighting powers, frankincense oil might improve memory, increase male fertility, ease digestion and help you sleep.
My favorite way to use frankincense oil (other than by diffusing it) is using it in a skin cream along with lavender or pomegranate oil.
Well known for its skin benefits, tea tree oil is an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial essential oil. Like lavender, it seems to be able to improve the speed of healing and prevent topical fungal infections. It also fights antibiotic resistance and is a popular option for naturally treating colds.
Tea tree oil is not recommended for internal use, but it makes a great addition to a DIY acne treatment, body lotion, hair serum and foot scrub. It’s also great to add to laundry and homemade cleaning supplies, since it kills bacteria and fungi.
Lemon is one of the most popular essential oils, and for good reason. Its citrusy fragrance stimulates the body and mind and improves digestive issues like diarrhea and nausea. You can also combine it with tea tree oil to reduce acne breakouts and improve skin issues such as blisters and cold sores.
As you might expect, lemon’s naturally disinfecting properties make it a great alternative to bleach and other chemical-laden household cleaning products, but you can also try it in a homemade astringent to naturally balance the skin’s pH.