Essential oils—or “EOs” to the devoted—are trendier than ever. They’re popping up everywhere from yoga classes to cocktail parties to cleaning products, and make up an industry that’s expected to hit $11 billion by the year 2022. Derived from the roots, leaves, flowers, barks, and peels of select plants, these aromatic oils are believed to boast a host of health benefits, including diminished anxiety, a happier mood and a more radiant complexion.
Where to start with essential oils, however, can be dizzying. With this in mind, we’ve created an A to Z guide of the most popular essential oils around—and how they might be a boon for your health:
Arnica: A go-to for busy moms, avid athletes and everyone in between, arnica oil is considered a natural solution for muscle aches and soreness. What’s more, research demonstrates that “mountain tobacco,” as it’s also known, accelerates bruise healing.
Bergamot: With its bright, citrusy scent, bergamot—which comes from Citrus bergamia fruits (a hybrid of oranges and lemons)—is relied upon to reduce stress and uplift a negative mood. In addition, bergamot contains flavonoids that may organically support cholesterol levels. (A word of caution: Bergamot essential oil may render your skin photosensitive, so stay out of the sun when using it.) †
Chamomile: Feeling antsy, irritable and frustrated? Chamomile essential oil may be just the ticket. Thought to increase feelings of well-being and decrease nervous tension, it’s used to relax—both at bedtime and when you’re struck with menstrual cramps.
Cinnamon: Beloved for the cozy feeling it evokes, cinnamon essential oil is best used for an emotional lift, in that it soothes anxiety and promotes ease and comfort. Furthermore, it’s used to combat constipation and safeguard skin against insects. †
Clary Sage: Need to sharpen your mental skills for a meeting or presentation? Reach for clary sage. Frequently used to bolster attention and improve memory, the essential oil is also called upon to decrease menstrual cramps. †
Eucalyptus: If you’re feeling congested, elect eucalyptus. A key ingredient in Vicks, this mint-scented essential oil may loosen mucus and quiet a cough. Bonus points? Eucalyptus essential oil may help lower joint pain and functions as a natural breath-freshener. †
Frankincense: Don’t let its ancient name fool you, as frankincense has more than one modern application. Studies have revealed that the oil may be helpful for those with arthritis, asthma and psoriasis. What’s more, the oil, with its fresh, woody scent, is believed to slow and deepen breathing—indicating precisely why it’s commonly used in meditation.†
Geranium: This pleasant, floral oil—with a scent as lovely as the geranium flower—is typically used to reduce fluid retention, curtail cellulite and balance hormones.†
Ginger: Fresh ginger, ginger tea, ginger ale—all are used to tackle tummy woes. The same holds true for ginger essential oil, which is used to alleviate heartburn and relieve gastrointestinal distress.†
Grapefruit: Grapefruit essential oil smells as ah-mazing as the fruit—and offers just as much zing. Used to reduce jet lag and mental fatigue, the sweetly-aromatic essential oil is also a popular ingredient in skincare.
Lavender: Lavender is as soothing as it is diverse. In addition to promoting a good night’s sleep, it’s used for minor wounds such as bruises, cuts, scrapes and sunburns. The fresh floral scent is also used for PMS and to shrink the pain of headaches.†
Lemon: Are you a mother-to-be? Consider lemon essential oil. A small study published by the National Institutes of Health found that expectant mothers who smelled lemon were less nauseous in the days to come than women who didn’t. This citrusy essential oil is also used to fight fatigue and boost mental clarity. Additionally, lemon is perfect for your homemade cleaning products, in that it contains antiseptic and antibacterial properties.†
Orange: Similar to other citrus-based essential oils, orange essential oil may be a boon for those suffering from anxiety and the exhaustion that comes with it. One study also found that orange essential oil may soothe the symptoms associated with PTSD.†
Patchouli: No longer just the domain of the counter culture, patchouli has gone mainstream. The earthy essential oil is called upon to lessen depression, manage appetite, and assist with skin conditions such as dermatitis, acne and dry, cracked skin.†
Peppermint: Need a pre-workout pick-up? Opt for peppermint. Most commonly used for a burst of energy, this candy-cane scented oil is also utilized to elevate alertness and improve memory. Also notable? It’s used by some to curb chocolate cravings.†
Rosemary: Rosemary doesn’t just take a meal from good to great: the camphor-scented essential oil is used to increase circulation and soften stress-related tension. Research also shows that rosemary oil may be helpful in stimulating hair growth in those who suffer from the autoimmune condition, alopecia.†
Sandalwood: With its woodsy, even exotic aroma, sandalwood essential oil—derived from a tree that’s deemed to be holy, and the most expensive EO on the market—is used for grounding, focusing and balancing. One to try: Now Essential Oils’ Sandalwood blend.
Tea Tree: Also known as melaleuca, tea tree oil has long been one of the most favored essential oils around. Functioning as a powerful antiseptic, it’s used to calm insect stings and reduce mild to moderate acne. †
Vetiver: Relied upon in traditional medicine in South Asia and West Africa, vetiver—which is taken from a perennial bunchgrass native to India—is used as a home remedy for burn relief, acne, wounds and cuts. It’s also used to improve overall body function, and, for those who live in tropical climates, to repel termites. †
Ylang-Ylang: Even the most assured among us may need a surge of confidence once in a while. When in need, reach for ylang-ylang essential oil (pronounced EE-lang, EE-lang), which is used to stimulate self-esteem and promote inner harmony.
A final word: Quality is critical when it comes to essential oils. Similar to vitamins and minerals, essential oils are unregulated, meaning you could get a less-than-stellar product if you don’t do your homework. Look for therapeutic-grade essential oils, and ensure that the supplier you’ve chosen is upfront about how they source and extract their plants. Also, go with an EO that has not only gone through purity testing but is also organic and unsprayed. In return, you should receive what you paid for: A superior product that contains the unalloyed “essence” of the healing botanical.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.