Essential oils are the extracted volatile, aromatic compounds found in the leaves, flowers, bark, stems, roots, resin, and seeds of plants or pith of citrus fruits. They are commonly thought of as just a nice smell, but they are in fact powerful, hold many benefits, and must always be used with intelligence and respect. Understanding the basic safety principles associated with essential oils will allow you to use them to truly enhance your life.
There are dozens upon dozens of essential oils readily available on the market today, so it is very important that you know what you’re looking for and understand how to identify an essential oil that is pure and therapeutic from those that are synthetically created. Unfortunately, most essential oils that you’ll find in pharmacies and various shops in the mall are nothing more than synthetic fragrance, which contains petrochemicals, therefore making them totally useless for anything more than just adding a nice smell to a room or a bath.
While I personally have over 60 essential oils in my collection, you only need about ten different essential oils to start with. Beginners often make the mistake of thinking they need to buy everything, but the bottles just end up gathering dust on a shelf. It is much more advisable to slowly build your collection of oils as you begin to learn and understand more about how to put them to work in your life. Keep in mind that they can be overwhelming for someone who’s new to this as they don’t normally come with instructions.
Here are the top ten oils – six individual oils and four blends – I would recommend you start with.
All citrus oils are incredibly purifying. They work wonders for neutralizing odor and purifying the air in your home or office. Their citrus aroma is uplifting and can inspire a happy, focused, and balanced mood. Lemon is an outstanding degreaser and sticker remover too. A single drop on a pesky sticker that won’t come off will solve your problem. It’s also one of my favorite oils to add to my DIY all-purpose cleaning spray.
From a health perspective, one drop of lemon in a glass of water drunk a few times a day can support lymphatic cleansing and kidney and liver function, as well as help with heartburn and reflux.
Known as the “Swiss Army Knife” of essential oils, lavender is a must-have in every home. While it is mostly thought of for – and excels at – helping with sleep and relaxation, it should also be your go-to for anything skin related. Sunburns, mosquito bites, rashes, diaper rashes, cuts, scrapes – you name it! A drop of lavender diluted in a carrier oil will immediately take the sting or burn away. It will promote healing, prevent scarring, and is an antihistamine so will reduce the swelling and inflammation that results from things like mosquito bites. A drop of lavender in a glass of water can also help to relieve allergy symptoms and support you in times of high anxiety.
This is my all-time favorite essential oil. Known as the “oil of the buoyant heart”, it’s a powerful stimulant and pick-me-up. If you suffer from motion sickness, keep peppermint in your bag and breathe some in when needed; it will reduce (if not totally eliminate) any feelings of nausea. A drop of peppermint oil in a glass of water is also great at reducing symptoms like indigestion, gas, bloating, and other GI-related issues. Finally, it’s also an incredibly useful oil for cooling the body’s temperature, especially on a hot summer’s day.
Peppermint is a very useful oil if you are weaning your baby. That being said, if you are breastfeeding and don’t wish for your milk supply to dry up, use peppermint sparingly or avoid altogether. If you wish to use it anyway, just pay attention to your milk supply and, if you notice any changes, stop using the oil immediately. Every woman is different, so just be informed and pay attention to the signs in your body to make the best decision for you and your baby.
Melaleuca (Tea Tree)
This is another must-have oil for anything skin related thanks to its antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, antiviral, analgesic, and decongestant properties. Use this oil for its healing properties along with lavender for cuts, scrapes, and rashes. If you’re suffering from an ear ache, put a drop of melaleuca and lavender on a cotton ball and insert it into your ear.
Known as “The King of Oils”, this is the oil to turn to when you’re not sure which oil to use. In fact, “When in doubt, frankincense” is a common term used in the oil world. With its immunostimulant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and restorative properties, it’s a must-have in every home.
If you suffer from severe headaches, apply diluted peppermint oil to your temples and in a halo around your hairline, then add a thumbprint of frankincense rubbed on the roof of your mouth at the back of your palette. Repeat every 20 minutes until you find relief.
Highly antibacterial, this is the oil to turn to if you’re sick. For instance, I make my own veggie capsules with one drop each of oregano, lemon, melaleuca, and frankincense oils, plus a blend called ‘OnGuard’, when I’m really not well. This combo has never let me down. You can also dilute the same five oils with a carrier oil and apply the mixture to the soles of your feet.
Note that oregano essential oil is different from oil of oregano, which is actually made of 80 percent olive oil. Oregano essential oil is much stronger and should only be used when necessary. If you are ingesting it, it’s a good idea to supplement with a probiotic as the oil can kill the good bacteria with the bad.
This is a proprietary blend of essential oils created by doTERRA. It is known as a “Protective Blend” and contains the essential oils of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary. This blend of oils is best used during times of seasonal and environmental stress. Back-to-school season can mean a lot of germs coming back home with your kids, which is why I recommend diffusing OnGuard around your home during this time, as well as applying it topically to the bottom of your children’s feet morning and evening. If you have a sore throat, gargling ‘OnGuard’ will help to numb the pain and disinfect the area.
This is another one of doTERRA’s proprietary blends and is known as the “Respiratory Blend”. Containing the essential oils of laurel, peppermint, eucalyptus, melaleuca, lemon, ravensara, and cardamom, this blend of oils is most useful in times of congestion. It’s very supportive if you’ve got a cold, are struggling with allergies, suffer from asthma, or if someone in your home snores! Upon inhaling this oil, you will feel your airways immediately open up and begin breathing better.
Similarly, in times of emotional stress, when your chest can feel “heavy” and breathing can seem difficult, this is the perfect oil to help you find your breath and also calm down.
Note that this oil cannot be ingested or used internally.
doTERRA’s “Digestive Blend” contains the essential oils of ginger, peppermint, caraway, coriander, anise, tarragon, and fennel. In times of digestive discomfort, add a drop to a glass of water and drink. You could also dilute with a carrier oil and rub the mixture on your belly in clockwise motion, being sure to get into your navel. This is a great oil to use for babies and children who have diarrhea, constipation, trapped wind, or any other digestive issues.
This “Soothing Blend” by doTERRA is made with the essential oils of wintergreen, camphor, peppermint, blue tansy, blue chamomile, and Helichrysum. It is best used to treat sore and aching muscles, whether after a tough workout or a long day spent hunched over a computer. Diluting and applying ‘Deep Blue’ topically to any aching area will provide immediate, soothing relief. It’s also a great tool for mothers whose little ones are going through growing pains. Dilute and massage onto your child’s legs before bed to help them (and you) get a restful night’s sleep!
Note that this oil cannot be ingested or used internally.
How to Use Essential Oils
There are three ways to use your oils: aromatically, via inhalation; topically, diluted with a carrier oil and applied to desired area; or internally, either placed under the tongue or taken with water or in a vegetable capsule. However, they must never be used internally for children.
To enjoy essential oils aromatically, you can put a drop in your hands, rub them together, and cup them over your nose and mouth, gently breathing in. Ideally, however, you would use a cool mist diffuser.
Another less common but very effective way would be to purchase empty inhalers from Amazon, to which you can add your essential oils to take with you on the go. Sufferers of motion sickness, pack a peppermint-oil stick for the ride!
When using essential oils topically, it is imperative to dilute them for your safety – but also to allow you to get the most bang for your buck. You can use the carrier oil of your choice, but some recommended ones include fractionated coconut oil (my personal preference), sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, and so on.
For beginners, the recommendation is one drop of essential oil to one teaspoon (5ml) of carrier oil. That’s heavily diluted and, as you get more familiar, you may intuitively choose to dilute a little bit less.
By diluting your oils properly, you are preventing skin sensitivity as well as extending your oils. The carrier oil also literally pushes your essential oil deeper into your tissue and allows you to cover more surface area. Never use your oils neat (undiluted) unless you are an experienced user and know from experience that you will not suffer from sensitivity. An example of neat application would be on a skin eruption like a pimple, in which case you would apply melaleuca directly on to the spot but not rubbed all over the entire face.
Citrus oils are photosensitive, which means they increase your risk of burning when you’re in the sun. Do not apply a citrus oil onto your skin if you’re going to be spending time in the sun. Allow for 12 to 24 hours before you do.
To use an oil internally, simply dilute with water. You just need one drop in a glass of water. If you haven’t achieved the desired result, wait 20 minutes and have another glass of infused water.
Many brands of essential oils are not safe enough to be used internally, which is why I recommend going with a reputed brand, like doTERRA. If you come across an essential oil that says “for topical and aromatic use only,” question that. It’s very likely that it has been extended with petrochemicals or other toxic materials.
When deciding how and where to administer your essential oils, common sense goes a long way. If you have a sore neck, for instance, topically applying your oil of choice to your neck would make sense. If you have a stomach ache, you would take the oils internally as well as apply them topically to the stomach. If you are looking for emotional support, aromatic usage is preferred. Use your intuition and know that you can’t really get it wrong. Also, having someone who can support you and answer your questions as you start out will be incredibly useful for you.
How to Store Your Essential Oils
Store your oils in a cool, dark place in amber bottles. Most oils come in dark bottles already. I keep mine on my kitchen counter, away from direct sunlight, so that they are readily available all the time but also stored appropriately. Essential oils are volatile oils, which means that they evaporate quickly. In the Middle East, it’s wise not to keep them in your car.
You can also store your citrus oils in the fridge to keep them longer.
Marlene Bunston is a Canadian fitness professional who has lived in Dubai for 11 years. Together with her husband, she created and opened Business Bay CrossFit over four years ago. Marlene is passionate about finding more ways to support her body towards becoming the healthiest version of itself.