The popularity of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has increased over the past few decades, and essential oils are a part of that.

In fact, according to the Global Aromatherapy Market Analysis, Companies Profiles, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast to 2024, the global aromatherapy market is projected to grow by 8 percent between 2017 and 2024.

But what exactly are essential oils? For those new to this trend, these incredibly potent oils — some of which have been around for centuries — are extracted from plants to capture their flavors, scents, and overall beneficial properties.

They make for a great addition to your skin, hair, and healthcare collection, and can also be used for aromatherapy.

Before you begin Before getting started, there are a few basics to remember when working with essential oils:
  • When applying oils topically, always use a carrier oil. These are oils used to dilute essential oils, like coconut or jojoba oil.
  • Always do a patch test before applying anything to larger areas of your skin.
  • Many essential oils are toxic and shouldn’t be taken by mouth unless under the specific care of a healthcare professional.
  • Buy “pure” essential oils. There are all kinds of knock-off versions and perfume oils that don’t contain the same benefits.

If you’re looking to get into essential oils, but aren’t quite sure where to start, we’ve compiled an extensive list on some of the most popular and beneficial ones. Keep reading to see which oils can best meet your needs.

Types of essential oils

Lavender

This incredibly popular oil has all kinds of benefits. This subtly floral scent can help people to relax and sleep. Moreover, breathing it in has been found to help with alleviating headaches, while the use of the oil topically may help reduce the itching and swelling from bug bites.

Safety: There are a few known side effects. These include nausea, headaches, chills, and vomiting. It can also irritate the skin if you have an intolerance.

Roman chamomile

Featuring a combination of a light floral and herbal aroma, this oil has the potential to put your mind at ease when diffused and inhaled through steam. While this oil is great for calming the mind, it’s equally as useful on the skin, and has been found to treat conditions like inflammation and eczema.

Safety: Anyone allergic to daisies, marigolds, and ragweed should avoid using this oil altogether.

Rose

When the sweet, floral scent of rose oil is inhaled, it’s been shown to help reduce anxiety. Its antioxidant properties have also been found to help treat acne and improve complexion for an overall younger look.

Safety: Skin irritation can occur when used topically, so make sure to use more of the carrier oil if you want to reap the skin care benefits of rose oil.

Hyssop

This earthy, herbal, and sweet-scented essential oil can be used on the skin to help to minimize scarring, decrease inflammation, and act as an overall healing agent.

Safety: Don’t use hyssop if you’re pregnant or have a history of seizures.

Ylang ylang

This flowery oil emits a spicy but sweet aroma, and has been suggested as an aid in relaxation, a self-esteem builder, and it even may act as a repellant toward certain insects. It’s frequently found in cosmetics and promises a laundry list of beauty benefits, including the treatment of combination skin and promotion of hair growth.

Myrrh

This sappy-smelling essential oil is said to treat skin issues by relieving acne and cracked skin, and may even help treat athlete’s foot.

Safety: Myrrh should never be taken orally. If you’re using it topically, take note that it’s been found to cause dermatitis. More serious side effects include heart irregularities and lower blood pressure. It can also increase the risk of miscarriage if taken by people who are pregnant.

Vetiver

The smoky, sugary scent of vetiver is often used in tranquil aromatherapy to boost your overall mood and calm your nerves. As for its antioxidant benefits, it’s been found to help promote skin health and heal scars.

Safety: Since it’s nonirritating and non-sensitizing it’s a great topical alternative for those who can’t handle other essential oils.

Frankincense

The aroma of this one may smell like the holiday season to you, but it also has all kinds of astringent, digestive, antiseptic, and disinfectant properties.

It may prevent oral issues like bad breath, toothaches, cavities, and mouth sores, and one study even suggests it can help improve skin health.

Safety: Aside from potential skin sensitivity, users can rest easy knowing there aren’t any major side effects from using frankincense.

Grapefruit

Even though this is also derived from a citrus fruit — the peel to be exact — it has more of a bitter and fresh scent, and is a popular oil to use in a diffuser. It’s been said to have antifungal properties that may help reduce any harmful bacteria within.

Safety: Again, similar to lemon, avoid UV rays from the sun when applying topically.

Cedarwood

Earthy and naturally woody-smelling, cedarwood is used for a number of topical beauty treatments. Studies have shown that these benefits include fighting acne, treating eczema, and reducing dandruff. On top of all this, it also allegedly helps to reduce arthritis and relieve coughing.

Safety: It’s important to note that none of these benefits comes from ingesting the oil. It’s not safe to consume cedarwood oil and if done so can result in vomiting, nausea, thirst, and damage to the digestive system.

Tip

  • Text "POISON" to 797979 to save the National Poison Help Hotline number and the American Association of Poison Control Centers' online tool to your smartphone. If you can’t access a phone or computer, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Peppermint

When you inhale the minty herbal scent of this oil, some evidence has shown that it can relieve IBS symptoms. Likewise, a limited amount of evidence has found that this oil can help with headaches and indigestion.

When applied topically, you’ll immediately sense a cooling effect. This can help with things like muscle pain (and potentially help to increase exercise performance), sunburn relief, and itchy skin conditions like poison ivy or insect bites.

Safety: Peppermint essential oil shouldn’t be ingested as it can cause serious side effects like heartburn, headaches, an irritated esophagus, and mouth sores. So if you need to freshen your breath, just stick to actual mints.

Spearmint

This other minty option is quite similar to peppermint in both aroma and benefits, therefore it can be used as an alternative. You will find that spearmint oil has a bit of a sweeter kick to its aroma and has been found to have antifungal properties.

It also provides the same cooling effect as peppermint when applied topically, which makes it equally as useful for warding off unwanted insects and relieving bug bites.

Safety: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with your doctor before using spearmint oil.

Basil oil

The essential oil extracted from basil has many topical and internal benefits. It’s been shown to be both antiviral and anti-inflammatory, so it could work as a cold and flu remedy and muscle relaxer.

It’s also been found to treat acne, and one older study even found that it worked as a way to reduce stress. You can also add it to hair treatments to get rid of buildup and enhance shine.

Safety: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with your doctor before using basil oil.

Melaleuca

You probably know this oil by its more commonly used name — tea tree oil — along with its easy to identify medicinal scent. It’s typically used as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral treatment, in addition to treating hypersensitivity.

Thanks to these benefits, it’s been shown to help treat eczema, reduce reactions in people allergic to nickel, and even treat staph infections and bug bites.

Safety: You should only inhale or apply this oil topically — never ingest it. If you do, you could experience digestive issues, hives, or dizziness.

Tea tree oil comes in a variety of strengths. Be sure to dilute it, if it’s pure. It’s also possible to be allergic to tea tree oil — and any other oil for that matter.

Lemon

This citrusy oil is loaded with antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation, fight against anemia, boost energy levels, and relieve nausea.

Safety: You can use it on your skin to nourish it, but remember: Because it’s incredibly photosensitive, you should only use it at night and wash it off in the morning. Don’t expose skin to sunlight when using lemon oil topically.

Arborvitae

This lesser-known oil emits a woody scent and is said to help repel bugs and reduce stress. Its main draw is its supposed ability to promote a healthy, glowing complexion.

Safety: If you inhale too much, too quickly, it can potentially irritate your lungs and respiratory tract. Don’t take it orally as it’s been shown to be toxic.

Orange

It’s no surprise that this oil — packed with vitamin C — has tons of skin care benefits when applied topically. This oil is found in a variety of beauty products and touts promises to make skin appear brighter, smoother, and clearer.

As for health-based benefits, studies have found that orange may help treat anxiety and aid in some pain relief.

Safety: This bold and zesty citrus oil isn’t without its downfalls. Dilute it well. Never apply directly to your skin or you may experience redness and swelling, and be sure to avoid direct sunlight right after application.

Helichrysum

This oil — which smells like a mix of honey and hay — features antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to promote internal and external health. When applied to the skin, studies have found it can help treat athletes foot, acne, and psoriasis.

Safety: It’s generally considered a safe oil and has been said to produce little to few allergic reactions, making it an ideal option for those with skin sensitivity.

Cassia

Derived from the cinnamomum cassia plant, this oil has a similar warm and spicy fragrance to actual cinnamon, though it’s a bit sweeter. Unlike the cooling effect of the minty oils, cassia oil warms the body, which can leave people feeling tranquil.

Safety: That said, anyone who’s pregnant shouldn’t use this oil.

Oregano

This spiced essential oil has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal benefits that may help treat athletes foot, bacterial infections, psoriasis, and warts. One study found that it has strong antioxidant properties and could help treat fevers and respiratory symptoms, too.

Its sharp, spicy scent with hints of herbal tendencies can be used in aromatherapy, or applied topically to reap its benefits.

Safety: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should talk to your doctor before using oregano oil.

Essential oil accessories

Once you’ve found the right essential oils for you, why not invest in a few accessories? From drawers to store your bottles and diffusers, to items to help you enjoy your essential oils on the go, there’s plenty of items to choose from.

A drawer for your oils

If you find that your essential oil bottles are starting to take over too much counter space, an organizer of sorts is definitely in order. This box can act as a great way to keep track of all your bottles, while being a pretty addition to your home’s décor. You can find several sizes here.

Carrying case

Whether you only have a select few oils that you use on a daily basis, or find yourself traveling with a few you really love, this small bag will help keep up to 10 of them in place.

Mini diffuser

Ever need a bit of aromatherapy on the go? This oil diffuser plugs into your car so you can calm yourself on the way to a big meeting, or boost energy levels on the way to a dinner. You can find it here.

Ultrasonic diffuser

For those who don’t want a big, bulky diffuser, this sleek white model is pleasing both aesthetically and therapeutically. Just plug it in and steam will emit in a beautiful light mist for all to enjoy.

Necklace

If you’re someone who likes to take their aromatherapy everywhere they go, this cool, funky locket is exactly what you need. It comes in three shades — rose gold, antique bronze, or silver — with a replaceable pad of your essential oil choice on the inside. You can find it here.

Droppers and accessory bottles

For all those DIY types out there, these glass bottles are a great way to store the essential oils you love to use in your favorite recipes. The droppers make it so easy to measure, while the dark glass helps the oils keep their potency. Not to mention, they’ll look amazing on any shelf.

Takeaway

While there’s still a good deal of research that needs to be done to fully back and support essential oils as a way to treat various health issues, there are still a number of benefits worth exploring.

From alleviating insect bites to making your home smell great, essential oils offer a wide range of potential benefits.

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Emily Rekstis is a New York City-based beauty and lifestyle writer who writes for many publications, including Greatist, Racked, and Self. If she’s not writing at her computer, you can probably find her watching a mob movie, eating a burger, or reading a NYC history book. See more of her work on her website, or follow her on Twitter.