More than just fragrant, essential oils have been used for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, and modern research shows they have proven, measurable effects on a range of conditions—from skin irritations to mood disorders.

There are dozens of oils, so choosing the right ones can be overwhelming. We’ve compiled some of the best-researched selections for a variety of needs. Stock up on these eight essentials.

8 Top Essential Oils

1. Lavender

From Lavandula angustifolia, a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean, lavender has long been used for a variety of skin conditions, including burns, cuts, and acne. It’s also known for its ability to promote relaxation and sleep, and fight depression. In one study, inhaling lavender combined with chamomile and neroli significantly reduced anxiety, and improved sleep quality and duration. In other studies, sniffing lavender increased slow-wave sleep patterns associated with deep sleep, an effect that was pronounced in women. For stress relief and restful slumber, combine lavender with chamomile, neroli, clary sage, rose, or bergamot. Sprinkle it on pillows, spray it in your bedroom, or keep a bottle in your bag for a quick sniff during stressful times.

2. Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree OilFrom Melaleuca alternifolia, a tall shrub native to Australia, tea tree oil has proven antibacterial and antiviral properties and can protect against C.

Tea Tree Oil

From Melaleuca alternifolia, a tall shrub native to Australia, tea tree oil has proven antibacterial and antiviral properties and can protect against C. albicans overgrowth (yeast infections). Studies show that applying tea tree oil to wounds and skin irritations helps fight infections, reduces inflammation, and speeds healing. It’s also an excellent topical remedy for acne. Tea tree oil isn’t safe to ingest, so use it topically or as a mouthwash. For breakouts and acne, dab a drop of tea tree oil directly on zits to clear them up and soothe redness. To ease inflammation and speed wound healing, dilute tea tree oil with coconut oil and smooth over skin. For oral candida, add a few drops to a glass of water, then swish and spit. You’ll also find tea tree oil in vaginal suppositories for yeast infection relief.

3. Peppermint

Distilled from Mentha piperita, a hybrid plant that grows throughout Europe and the United States, peppermint oil is traditionally used to improve digestion, treat respiratory ailments, promote energy, and enhance mood. It also has significant antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, and studies show that it can relax the gastrointestinal tract, ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and relieve nausea and abdominal pain. Other studies show that peppermint boosts memory, increases alertness and energy, reduces sleepiness, and improves cognitive and physical performance. For nausea or indigestion, blend a few drops with a tablespoon of honey or agave, then add to hot water and sip as a tea. For instant energy and alertness, sprinkle peppermint oil on a handkerchief, or take a sniff directly from the bottle.

4. Eucalyptus

A type of evergreen tree native to Australia, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) has powerful anti-bacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects, and can improve immune response. Eucalyptus oil is traditionally used for respiratory ailments, and studies show that it’s effective in easing bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other conditions. To open sinuses and clear congestion, add a few drops to a pot of steaming water, lean your face over the pot (don’t get too close, to avoid burning skin), cover your head with a towel, and inhale deeply. Or add a few drops to a diffuser; combine it with oregano, tea tree, thyme, or rosemary for extra pathogen-fighting potential.

5. Rose

Rose usually made from the Damask rose (Rosa damascena), rose oil comes in several forms.

Rose

Usually made from the Damask rose (Rosa damascena), rose oil comes in several forms. Rose otto is the essential oil derived by steam or water distillation of rose petals; the water liquid that remains is called rose hydrosol. Some rose oils are extracted using a solvent, yielding what’s called rose absolute. While all are common in aromatherapy, rose otto is the preferred (though more expensive) form. Traditionally used to ease stress, soothe grief, and calm anxiety, rose oil is also considered an aphrodisiac, lifting mood and improving libido. It’s an excellent essential oil for skin conditions, especially dry, sensitive, or mature skin, and can also help tame acne and blemishes. To soften, smooth, and heal skin, add a few drops to your regular moisturizer, or dilute one-to-one with sweet almond oil and apply directly to skin. Or inhale right from the bottle to relieve sadness and improve mood.

6. Lemongrass

From Cymbopogon citratus, a tropical plant native to South Asia, lemongrass is rich in flavonoids and phenolic compounds that have potent antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that it can reduce skin inflammation, treat infections, heal wounds, and control bacterial growth, and is helpful even against drug-resistant bacteria. It’s also been shown to help relieve arthritis pain, reduce gingivitis, improve oral health, and calm anxiety when inhaled. For inflammation and joint pain, add lemongrass oil to sweet almond oil or jojoba oil and massage into skin. Add a few drops to warm water and use as a mouthwash, or inhale directly from the bottle to ease anxiety and boost mood.

7. Clove

Derived from the clove plant (Syzygium aromaticum) native to Indonesia, clove oil is one of the richest sources of eugenol, a compound with powerful analgesic and antiseptic properties. It’s traditionally used to treat infections and relieve pain, and for its instant numbing effect in toothaches. Studies show that eugenol helps protect against C. albicans, E. coli, and other pathogens. It’s extremely effective in fighting athlete’s foot and ringworm, and can ease itching, calm inflammation, and tame acne.

Clove oil is also a powerful tool for overall dental care, and studies show that it relieves tooth pain, inhibits decalcification of teeth, and kills oral pathogens. For candida and other infections, add a few drops of clove oil to warm water and use as a mouthwash, or use whole or ground cloves in a tea. To soothe skin conditions, dilute clove oil with coconut or jojoba oil. For tooth pain, put a few drops on a cotton swab and apply directly to the affected tooth for instant relief.

8. Rosemary

From the Rosmarinus officinalis plant, an aromatic shrub related to the mint family, rosemary essential oil is traditionally used for its mood-boosting and memory-enhancing effects. Studies show that inhaling rosemary can increase cognition, concentration, memory, and recall. It can also improve accuracy and performance on mental tasks. Rosemary also appears to bind to heavy metals, which have been associated with amyloid plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, and inhaling rosemary and other essential oils may improve brain function in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s also excellent for improving mood, increasing energy, and reducing stress. In one study, people who inhaled rosemary had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. To enhance memory and cognitive performance, combine rosemary with lemon, lavender, or orange oil in a diffuser. For instant energy and mood-boosting, sprinkle a few drops on a handkerchief or take a whiff right from the bottle.

3 Different Ways to Use Essential Oils

Essential oils are used in one of three ways: inhaled, applied directly to the skin, or ingested.

Essential oils are used in one of three ways: inhaled, applied directly to the skin, or ingested. In general, inhalation is best for mood effects, such as stress relief or energy boosting. For skin conditions, topical applications are most effective. Some ways to use them:

  1. For inhalation: Combine essential oils with water in a spray bottle and spritz your room. Or use a diffuser—a small device that disperses scent via steam. Spray essential oils on your pillowcase, add to a sink or pot of warm water to steam your face, or sprinkle a few drops on a cotton ball, handkerchief, or tissue and inhale. You can also take a whiff directly from the bottle. Just be sure not to touch your nose to the opening, and don’t exhale into the bottle—moisture degrades the oils.
  2. Topically: Add a few drops to a carrier oil, such as jojoba, sweet almond, or coconut oil. You can also sprinkle essential oils into bathwater, use in compresses, mix with your regular moisturizer or, in some cases, apply directly to skin. Most should be diluted to avoid irritation, unless you’re using a cotton swab to apply directly to a blemish, insect bite, or sore tooth.
  3. For systemic relief of nausea and digestive issues, and to heal candida: Use a few drops in teas; they won’t mix with water, so stir a few drops into a tablespoon of honey or agave, then add to hot water. Some essential oils, including cypress, eucalyptus, birch, white fir, and cedarwood, should never be ingested. Check the bottle first before consuming essential oils. 

More Ways to Use Essential Oils in Your Daily Life

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