The 5 Most Versatile Essential Oils You Can Own—And 5 You Can Skip

These oils are must-have multitaskers to add to your wellness arsenal.

July 31, 2017
eucalyptus oil
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If you’re intrigued by essential oils, but totally overwhelmed, you’re not alone. The onslaught of smells and bottled promises in your natural supermarket can be paralyzing.

Where do you even start? We talked to three aromatherapy experts—Hope Gillerman, founder and formulator of H. Gillerman Organics and author of Essential Oils Every Day, Amy Anthony, a certified aromatherapist with a private practice in Manhattan, and Sharon Falsetto, a certified aromatherapist in Sedona and author of Authentic Aromatherapy.

Collectively, their top picks can treat everything from anxiety and depression to migraines and fatigue—talk about multi-functional. 

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Lavender

After you fall in love with lavender’s smell—the fresh floral scent is totally intoxicating—you’ll crush on its benefits, and there are plenty: pain relief, wound healing properties, and anti-inflammatory perks. Plus, “it’s one of the few essential oils that may be used ‘neat’ on the skin for burns and stings,” says Anthony.

It also works as a relaxer, de-stressor, sleep aid, and, according to one study, can boost calming theta and alpha brain waves, the same ones triggered by yoga and meditation. Studies have also found it can benefit migraines and PMS, plus it has one more trick up its sleeve: “Lavender is a really great aphrodisiac, it can make you feel more sensual,” adds Gillerman. (Here are 7 more cool things we never knew lavender could do.)

To use it, simply add 1-3 drops to a cotton ball and tuck it into your pillow for sweet slumber, suggests Anthony. 

Buy now: Aetos Organic Lavender Essential Oil

One to skip: Skip rosewood which is on the endangered list; lavender, on the other hand, is sustainable. 

citrus
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A citrus scent you love (sweet orange, red mandarin, grapefruit)

An uplifting citrus scent is a must-add to your arsenal, but since the bright aromas have similar benefits, you don’t need lime, lemon, tangerine, and clementine crowding your medicine cabinet. But which one is best? Cold-pressed from peels and rinds, many citrus oils can increase UV sensitivity, so go for the least photosensitive one (sweet orange, red mandarin, or grapefruit fit the bill) that you enjoy the most.

“Sweet orange can be used for skin care, digestive issues, travel sickness, or as a mood lifter,” says Falsetto—but it should be diluted before applying to the skin. Gillerman gives a nod to grapefruit: “Of all the citrus oils, it’s the most gentle on the skin, and it’s great for fluid retention and as an anti-depressant,” she says. For Anthony, the sweet scent of red mandarin wins out: “It’s one of the only oils that many aromatherapists consider safe to use during pregnancy,” she says. (Check out these 7 mistakes you're making with essential oils.)

To use, combine a few drops of your favorite citrus with distilled water in a spray bottle for an uplifting room deodorizer.

Buy now: Aura Cacia Organic Sweet Orange Essential Oil
Miracle Botanicals Red Mandarin Essential Oil
Aura Cacia Organic Grapefruit Essential Oil

One to skip: Lemon essential oil, a photosensitive oil that can make you think of Pledge.

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peppermint
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Peppermint

If you’ve ever had a yoga teacher give you a quick neck and shoulder rub with a peppermint oil blend, you already know its skin-tingling superpowers. “Peppermint stimulates and relaxes at the same time,” says Gillerman, who puts it on the back of her neck for a postural lift and applies a few drops in a circle around her belly button for better digestion.

Peppermint also gets props for focus: “It definitely increases alertness and is a great study aid,” adds Anthony. One study found that inhaling peppermint improved sports performance, increasing speed, reaction time and confidence. That said, it’s not for everyone; skip it around little ones or people with compromised breathing, like asthmatics, warns Anthony. (Here are 7 more scents that boost productivity and help you focus.)

“Unless you are using it in a diffuser, always dilute it with a carrier oil before applying to the skin, as it can cause skin irritation,” says Falsetto, who combines a few drops of peppermint and lavender with apricot or peach kernel oil for a muscle-soothing blend.

Buy now: Aetos Organic Peppermint Essential Oil

One to skip: Black pepper oil has similar benefits, but can have a pungent, off-putting odor. 

eucalyptus essential oil
JGI/Jamie Grill/ Getty
Eucalyptus

“Eucalyptus is the oil of inspiration,” says Gillerman. “It works on your mood, your immune system, your muscles, and acts as a decongestant.” The anti-viral oil from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree can treat coughs, insect bites, and research suggests it may even help prevent plaque and halt halitosis. (Check out the essential oil diffuser that everyone's obsessed with.)

Major bonus: Whether transforming your shower into a Zen-like eucalyptus steam room (put 5 drops on a washcloth in the shower) or inhaling from a tissue, it instantly transports you to the spa. You can also put your face over a bowl of bowling water with a couple drop of eucalyptus (squeeze your eyes tight) to clear nasal congestion. But like peppermint, skip it around kids.  

Buy now: Aura Cacia Organic Eucalyptus Essential Oil

One to skip: Oregano oil also works as a decongestant, but skip it if you want a spa-like smell.

neroli
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A floral scent you love (neroli, geranium, chamomile)

“We’re always dealing with transformation and flower oils help us feel grounded and centered,” says Gillerman, who suggests exploring and smelling different flower oils to find your match. For Gillerman, it’s neroli (a.k.a. orange blossom, shown above), but there’s also calming Roman chamomile, an anti-inflammatory that works as a wound healer and pain reliever—“it's a bit cooling and could be nice in a bath blend for someone who is trying to break a fever, or as a cold compress on the head,” says Anthony. (Here's what types of essential oils you should be buying organic.)

Geranium is great too, and “can be used for a variety of complaints from stress to soothing insect bites,” says Falsetto, who mixes a few drops into unscented lotion. 

Buy now: Aura Cacia Neroli Essential Oil In Jojoba Oil
Aura Cacia Roman Chamomile Essential Oil In Jojoba Oil
Aura Cacia Organic Geranium Essential Oil

One to skip: Jasmine because of its steep price tag.