The 10 Actually Essential Essential Oils

The experts weigh in

When it comes to the world of homeopathy and natural skin care, essential oils are basically miracle workers.

Essential oils hold properties that can benefit the skin, body, and mind in a number of ways—from relieving stress and anxiety to regulating hormones, boosting our immune systems, healing skin ailments such as acne and rosacea, and more. These oils can be used in various ways, whether in aromatherapy through the use of an inhaler or a diffuser, mixed with a carrier oil and applied directly to the skin, sprinkled in your tub along with your favorite bath salts, or, in some cases, even ingested directly.

The real question is, though, how do we know which ones are right for us? There are more than 90 oils out there, many with similar benefits, so where should we start? The essentials, of course.

We turned to the experts—aromatherapists and natural skin-care specialists—to find out which essential oils are actually, well, essential. Click through the gallery below to check out the top ten that they swear by.

Please note: When working with essential oils, it’s extremely important to do your research beforehand. You should always check the best usage for each oil, as they are powerful and have the potential to be irritating to the skin and dangerous to ingest.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

You’re probably familiar with lavender being used for its relaxing and calming properties considering it's the scent of choice for tons of bath and body products. While it’s true that lavender is a great option for relief from stress and anxiety, you probably didn’t know that it can also be used for antibacterial purposes.

“We use lavender for our stress relief and anti-anxiety blends since it’s known for its calming properties, but it’s also great as a hand sanitizer when mixed with aloe gel,” says Fannie McWatt, Ph.D, certified aromatherapist and co-founder of EVER Brooklyn. “It’s perfect for small cuts and scrapes because of its antibacterial properties.”

Negin Niknejad, founder of JustBe Skin Line, who uses blends of essential oils in many of her skin-care products, agrees that lavender is one of her favorites. “It’s extremely soothing for the skin and great for blemishes, which is why we use it in our Blemish Spot Treatment and Rejuvenating Face Oil,” she says.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Tea tree oil is one of the most popular essential oils and is found in a number of products—from luxury to drugstore—due to its disinfecting and healing properties that benefit the skin and immune health.

Dominique Caron, founder and owner of Apoterra Skincare, is all about this wonder oil. “Tea tree oil is gentle on the skin,” she says. “It’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, a decongestant, and stimulates the immune system. It’s a great addition to a steam, an inhaler, or a diffuser when fighting a cold or the flu, and adding a drop to gargle does wonders for a sore throat. You can also use it in toothpaste and mouthwashes to promote healthy gums, and it’s proven to work well against acne and is a great cure for athlete's foot.”

Got eaten alive by mosquitos at last weekend’s barbeque? McWatt suggests using tea tree oil to relieve those itchy, pesky bug bites.

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)

Eucalyptus is what McWatt refers to as “the essential workout oil.” Its properties include relieving inflammation, which helps soothe tired and aching muscles. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to your bath or foot soak to relieve soreness and pain after an intense workout. It also is known to work as a decongestant and helps clear the respiratory system, so it comes in handy during flu and allergy season as well.

Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)

Looking for an all-natural way to help relieve the woes of that time of the month? McWatt stresses that clary sage oil is a must-have for all women. “Its claim to fame is hormone balance. Use it to help with mood swings, anxiety relief, and any other excuse for an escape.” Yes, please.

Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)

Citrus oils—whether orange, grapefruit, or lemon among many others—are a perfect addition to brighten one’s day. “We love sweet orange for its versatility,” says McWatt. “It can pick you up when you need it, but also fill you with warmth for a good night’s rest.” When used in aromatherapy, citrus is known to soothe tense muscles and alleviate depression. They also contain anti-aging properties when applied externally (with a carrier oil).

Rose (Rosa damascena)

While many love rose oil for its beautiful, floral scent (which is why you’ll see it in so many perfumes and body products), Niknejad stresses that it’s also an ally for all skin types, whether your skin is mature, sensitive, blemished, normal, dry, oily, or you suffer from rosacea. “It’s cooling for the skin and regenerates skin cells,” she says. “It’s the Queen Herb!”

Caron also swears by this floral oil. “Personally, I always need some nearby,” she says. “While it's known for it's anti-aging and skin tonic properties, I really love if for its emotional support. I kind of think of rose as a comfy blanket—it wraps me up and makes me feel cozy with myself. It’s great support, especially for women.”

But let’s be real, who doesn’t love the smell of roses? We would carry it around and diffuse it all day, even if it didn’t have any other benefits.

Cedarwood (Juniperus virgiana)

Cedarwood is a nifty oil that has properties comparable to tea tree but is especially helpful when it comes to colds and the flu. “It’s great for treating respiratory concerns and coughs since it's an expectorant and a decongestant,” says Caron. “Use it in a chest rub, inhaler, or diffuser.”

This oil also has great skin-care benefits, according to Caron. “It’s great for use as an astringent or antiseptic wash when it comes to skin care, especially for acne,” say says. “The scent is also calming, and is said to give its user stability and strength—making it perfect for a fragrance blend.”

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

While you’re probably familiar with peppermint’s cooling properties thanks to its high menthol content (I mean, who doesn’t love chewing peppermint gum when you need a bit of a refresh?), its oil has a ton of other purposes. “It helps improve circulation, making it a go-to for foot scrubs and butters,” says Caron.

Did you know that peppermint oil can act as a coffee replacement for those looking for a caffeine-free boost throughout the day? “I love peppermint because it is my go-to for a pick-me-up when I’m feeling tired,” says Caron. “Add it to a carrier oil and put it in a roll-on to bring with you on the go, or add a drop underneath your tongue—but please, only use high quality, pure oils. It’s also a digestive aid, so try adding a few drops to a carrier oil and rub into your abdomen to help digestions along. The scent also helps relieve nausea.”

“At home, it can also help deter ants from coming into the hallway,” says McWatt. No bugs and no toxic chemicals? A dream come true for anyone with a New York City apartment.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct camphor)

While rosemary may be a favorite herb to cook with, its oil has many health benefits, such as improving your respiratory health. “Rosemary is great for improving your breathing, especially when you have a chest cold,” says McWatt. “Just add a couple of drops in the corner of your shower and breathe in. While you’re in there, you can also add a couple of drops into your palm full of shampoo to stimulate healthy hair follicles." 

According to Niknejad (and Shakespeare), rosemary also enhances your memory. Scientists have reported that taking a whiff can help increase your memory by 75 percent.

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

Frankincense is essential for those prone to headaches, helping ease and prevent migraines when rubbed into the temples or used with aromatherapy methods, such as a diffuser. Both McWatt and Caron agree that the scent of frankincense is also calming and helps one focus, making it great for use with meditation. “A dab behind the ear does wonders,” says McWatt.

Caron also opts for frankincense for skin-care benefits; it holds powerful anti-aging properties and also helps reduce inflammation and dryness.