Aromatherapy Oils

Annette McDermott
Aromatherapy oils

Aromatherapy helps support overall wellness. It's a great way to reduce stress and support healing. With so many essential oils available for aromatherapy, it may overwhelm you to figure out where to start. Once you know the most popular oils and what they're used for, you can harness their benefits. It's almost impossible to count the number of essential oils and their combinations. However, the following oils stand out from the pack.

Bergamot

Bergamot oil is made from the rind of the citrus fruit of the bergamot tree. Bergamot is well known as a flavoring in Earl Grey tea.

Uses

Bergamot fruit has an uplifting scent used in aromatherapy to reduce stress and anxiety. The oil may also have antibacterial properties and is being studied as an alternative to statin drugs. According to a 2013 study, patients awaiting surgery given bergamot essential oil aromatherapy experienced less anxiety than patients in the control group.

Safety and Cautions

Inhalation of bergamot to reduce anxiety is safe for short periods. According to Drugs.com, bergamot oil is very phototoxic, which means it reacts with the sun's ultraviolet light. Using bergamot on the skin may cause rashes, blisters, sunburns, and other skin irritations.

Purchasing

You can purchase bergamot essential oil in several sizes from Bulk Apothecary.

Cedarwood

Cedarwood oil comes from the red cedar tree, a juniper. It has an earthy, balsam scent.

Uses

In aromatherapy, cedarwood oil is used to promote strength, focus, confidence, and overall well-being. It's also used to relieve cold symptoms, although this use is not supported by scientific research.

Cedarwood oil has a calming effect, which may help reduce depression and anxiety and induce sleep. In a 2003 study, motor activity decreased and sleep increased in rats that inhaled cedrol, a main component of cedarwood oil.

Safety and Cautions

Undiluted cedarwood oil may cause skin irritation.

Purchasing

Plant Therapy offers cedarwood oil in several sizes, up to 16 ounces.

Chamomile

Chamomile oil is made from either Roman or German chamomile flowers. It has a fruity, floral scent.

Uses

It's known for being soothing and sleep-inducing. It's often used in massage oils and blends well with other essential oils such as lavender, geranium, bergamot, and rose.

Safety and Cautions

Chamomile essential oil is one of the few oils considered safe for aromatherapy use in children. Even so, it should be used sparingly and only under the guidance of a trained practitioner. According to Drugs.com, pregnant women should not use chamomile in any form since it may stimulate uterine contractions. Chamomile may also cause allergic reaction, such as contact dermatitis. If you take warfarin or cyclosporin, you should not use chamomile.

Purchasing

Chamomile essential oil is available at most natural health stores. You can also purchase a .5 ml bottle online at Rocky Mountain Herbs.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon invokes comforting memories of Grandma's apple pie and holiday baking so it's not surprising cinnamon essential oil is popular in aromatherapy. It has a warm, spicy, comforting scent.

Uses

Many people use cinnamon oil to induce calm and ease anxiety. It's also used as an aphrodisiac.

Many aromatherapy enthusiasts diffuse cinnamon oil throughout their homes to help ward off cold and flu viruses during the winter. And for good reason. According to a 2007 study on rats with influenza, inhaling trans-cinnamaldehyde (a compound of cinnamon bark) significantly increased survival rates.

Safety and Cautions

According to WebMD, cinnamon bark may irritate your skin and mucous membranes. Some people may experience burning of the nasal passages when it's inhaled. Those with breathing problems like asthma may experience difficulty breathing or wheezing and should not inhale cinnamon oil.

Purchasing

When choosing cinnamon oil, look for varieties made from Ceylon cinnamon, which comes from cinnamon tree bark. It has a truer cinnamon fragrance than oil made from cinnamon leaves. You can buy Ceylon cinnamon bark oil in many sizes at Bulk Apothecary.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus essential oil

Eucalyptus oil is made from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree native to Australia. The distinct smell of eucalyptus is widely recognizable. It has a minty, camphor-like scent which people either love or hate.

Uses

Eucalyptus oil is used in diffusers or inhaled to help open nasal passages, improve breathing, and relieve cold and flu symptoms.

Eucalyptus oil may be used in topical liniments to reduce pain, but research shows inhaling it may also help. According to a 2013 study, inhaling eucalyptus oil decreased pain and blood pressure in patients recovering from total knee replacement surgery.

Safety and Cautions

Undiluted eucalyptus oil may irritate your skin.

Purchasing

You may purchase a .25 ounce bottle of organic Aura Cacia eucalyptus oil from Thrive Market.

Frankincense

There's a good reason the Magi gifted frankincense to the baby Jesus. For thousands of years, the spice has been revered for its healing qualities. Frankincense oil comes from the resin of Boswellia trees grown in Africa and parts of the Middle East. It has a woody, pine aroma that is somewhat sweet.

Uses

It's often burned as incense in religious ceremonies and is found in many perfume blends. In aromatherapy, frankincense oil is used to help you stay centered, relaxed, and calm, and helps you get in touch with your spiritual side. It's a great oil to diffuse during meditation or prayer.

Safety and Cautions

Frankincense is safe to use, but may cause irritation when used undiluted on the skin.

Purchasing

Aura Cacia sells .5 ounce bottles of frankincense on Amazon.

Geranium

Geranium oil gets its distinct, strong, leafy scent from the flowers and leaves of geranium plants. Geraniums are known as the "poor man's rose."

Uses

In aromatherapy, geranium oil and rose oil are often used interchangeably, although geranium oil is much cheaper than its rose counterpart. Geranium oil is used to invoke feelings of tranquility if you're depressed or anxious. Ironically, it's also used to stimulate the brain and uplift. When diluted with witch hazel, geranium oil makes a great toner to help open your pores and calm and hydrate skin.

Safety and Cautions

There are no known side effects of using geranium oil in aromatherapy. As with all essential oils, geranium oil may cause skin irritation when used undiluted.

Purchasing

Mountain Rose Herbs offers geranium oil in .5 ounce bottles up to 16 ounce bottles.

Ginger

Ginger is a warm spice with an earthy, sharp scent. Ginger oil is extracted from fresh ginger root.

Uses

Aromatherapists use ginger oil in massage to boost circulation and help relieve pain. The oil is energizing and helps improve mood, libido, and confidence.

Consuming fresh ginger is known for taming tummy troubles. According to research, inhaling ginger oil may also be beneficial. Researchers found both ginger essential oil and a blend of ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom helped reduce nausea and the need for nausea medication after surgery.

Safety and Cautions

WebMD reports ginger is "likely safe" when applied to the skin short-term but may cause irritation. Ingesting ginger during pregnancy is controversial. Since essential oils are absorbed by your skin, talk to your doctor before using ginger oil in aromatherapy if you're pregnant.

Purchasing

Ginger oil is widely available. Rocky Mountain Botanicals offers organically grown ginger root oil in a 15 ml bottle.

Jasmine

Jasmine flowers

Jasmine oil is extracted from jasmine flowers. It's a key ingredient in many perfumes, thanks to its sensual, romantic, and sweet floral scent.

Uses

Aromatherapy enthusiasts use jasmine oil as an aphrodisiac and mood-enhancer. It's also used to ease anxiety and promote rest. A 2010 study found the scent of jasmine helps relieve anxiety and promote sleep as well as barbiturates, such as valium and propofol. A separate study showed jasmine had a sedative effect.

Safety and Cautions

Jasmine may cause allergic reaction. It is an emmenagogue, which means it may induce bleeding. It should not be used topically by pregnant women.

Purchasing

You can expect to pay more for jasmine than many other essential oils. You may purchase up to four ounces of organic jasmine extract from Eden Botanicals.

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most calming scents available and one of the most popular in aromatherapy. Lavender oil comes from the leaves and flowers of the lavender plant and is very versatile.

Uses

It's often used in baths, diffusers, lotions, massage oils, and sachets. Lavender oil promotes relaxation and calm. It soothes frayed nerves and may help you sleep. According to a literature review published in the Natural Medicine Journal on the safety and efficacy of lavender, studies show lavender aromatherapy is effective in managing depression and anxiety.

Safety and Cautions

Lavender oil is one of the few essential oils considered safe to use in small quantities on the skin undiluted; however, it may still cause skin irritation in some people.

Purchasing

Good quality lavender oil is easy to find in natural health stores and many pharmacies. You can purchase a 10 ml bottle online at Puritan's Pride.

Lemon

Lemon oil is made from the fruit of the evergreen lemon tree. It has an invigorating, uplifting scent.

Uses

In aromatherapy, lemon oil is used to relieve anxiety and depression, refresh your senses, and boost your mood. One study showed lemon oil had the strongest anti-stress effect on mice performing three tasks when compared to lavender oil and rose oil. Research also shows the scent of lemons may help relieve nausea and vomiting in some pregnant women.

Safety and Cautions

Other than the potential of skin irritation when applied undiluted, lemon oil is not known to have any adverse side effects when used in aromatherapy.

Purchasing

Amazon offers several brands of organic lemon oil including this organic variety from Now Foods.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass oil has the same lemony, citrus scent as lemon oil but with woody, earthy notes. It comes from the leaves of the tropical lemongrass plant.

Uses

The oil is a great natural insect repellent. In aromatherapy, lemongrass oil is used to help cleanse the air, relieve stress and anxiety, and promote sleep. According to Dr. Josh Axe, inhaling lemongrass oil may also relieve headaches, as well as cold and flu symptoms.

Safety and Cautions

Lemongrass oil is generally considered safe to use in aromatherapy and on the skin when diluted. If you have sensitive skin, the oil may cause burning or irritation. Some people experience lung problems after inhaling lemongrass oil. If you have any problems breathing after inhalation, get emergency help.

Purchasing

Edens Garden offers a 10 ml bottle of organic lemongrass oil, which may be used for aromatherapy.

Mandarin

Mandarin oil has an uplifting, citrus scent that invokes happiness and calm. Pure mandarin oil is cold-pressed from the peel of the fruit of the mandarin tree. Mandarin fruit tastes and smells similar to an orange. Mandarin leaf oil is made from the leaves and twigs of the mandarin tree using a steam distillation process.

Uses

Mandarin oil is sometimes used in aromatherapy to help overactive children settle down. It's also used to lessen insomnia caused by restlessness.

Safety and Cautions

Mandarin oil is safe to use and has no known side effects. Allergic reaction is uncommon but possible. According to certified aromatherapist Lea Harris' website, mandarin leaf oil is phototoxic, but pure mandarin oil is not.

Purchasing

Florocopeia sells a half-ounce bottle of cold-pressed, organic mandarin essential oil on their website.

Neroli

Neroli oil is one of the most expensive oils used in aromatherapy. It's extracted from the flowers of the bitter orange tree and has a pleasant, sweet citrus aroma. Neroli oil is an essential ingredient in many perfumes and colognes.

Uses

Neroli oil is used in aromatherapy to help calm the mind and promote relaxation. According to the website of Suzanne Bovenizer, CMT, CST, neroli oil helps relieve the negative states of depression, anger, anxiety, and shock. The oil is also used to calm heart palpitations and stomach distress caused by anxiety.

A 2014 study found inhaling neroli oil helped relieve menopausal symptoms, increased sexual desire, stimulated the endocrine system, relieved stress, and improved quality of life in postmenopausal women.

Safety and Cautions

Neroli oil may cause increased sun sensitivity. According to WebMD, some people experience headaches when using neroli oil.

Purchasing

You may purchase 1 ml of organic neroli oil from Amrita Aromatherapy.

Patchouli

Patchouli

Patchouli became popular during the hippie decades of the 1960s and 1970s. It has an almost intoxicating aroma that is musky yet sweet. It's used in perfumes and incense. Unlike other essential oils that deteriorate over time, patchouli's quality improves with age.

Uses

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola's website, patchouli oil is used in aromatherapy to help treat depression, anxiety, and stress. It's also used to promote relaxation.

Safety and Cautions

Patchouli's aroma is intense so a little of the oil goes a long way. Patchouli oil may cause photosensitivity and allergic reaction when used topically. It's considered safe to inhale, but inhaling large quantities may cause a sedative effect.

Purchasing

Patchouli may be harder to find in natural health stores than other essential oils. You can order a 10 ml bottle online from Puritan's Pride.

Peppermint Oil

The scent of peppermint oil is known for being invigorating and uplifting.

Uses

Peppermint oil's high menthol content may cause a cooling or warming effect when massaged into the skin. As a result, the oil is often added to massage oils and pain-relieving liniments. Some people get headache relief by applying peppermint oil to their temples or behind their ears. One study showed 52% of migraine sufferers experienced significant improvement within two hours of menthol gel to the base of the neck and skull and beside and behind the ears.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint oil applied to the skin may cause a rash. To prevent dangerous breathing spasms, never apply peppermint oil to the face of an infant or young child.

Purchasing

A four ounce bottle of high-quality, peppermint oil is available from Thrive Market.

Rose

Rose essential oil

The scent of a rose is sweet and intoxicating. Rose oil may be used in perfumes, body lotions, and massage oils or added to your bathwater to soothe skin and lift your spirit.

Uses

Roses are synonymous with love, and rose oil is often used in aromatherapy to induce romance and relaxation. A 2009 study found inhaling rose oil had a relaxing effect on humans and decreased systolic blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, and breathing rate. Participants who inhaled rose oil reported feeling more calm, more relaxed, and less alert than those in the control group.

Safety and Cautions

Rose oil is safe to inhale or use topically when diluted. Rose otto oil is the preferred oil for aromatherapy since it is more concentrated.

Purchasing

You can buy a 2.3 ounce bottle of organic rose otto oil from Amazon.

Rosemary

Rosemary is probably best known for being a culinary herb, but its strong, invigorating herbal fragrance makes it an aromatherapy favorite. Most rosemary oil is extracted from the leaves of the rosemary bush, which is part of the mint family.

Uses

Rosemary oil is used in aromatherapy massage to help nourish the skin. It's also a great memory booster. According to aromatherapy expert Robert Tissand's website, researchers found people who smelled rosemary oil remembered to do things 60 to 75 percent more than people who did not smell the oil. A separate study showed aromatherapy with essential oils including rosemary improved cognitive function in dementia patients.

Safety and Cautions

Rosemary oil may irritate your skin when used undiluted.

Purchasing

You can order up to 100 ml of organic rosemary oil from Plant Therapy.

Sandalwood

Sandalwood oil is another warm, fragrant oil used in perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, and incense. It comes from the roots and wood chips of sandalwood trees which, according to Eden Botanicals, are becoming scarce due to over-harvesting.

Uses

Sandalwood oil is used in aromatherapy to relieve anxiety, increase mental clarity, and boost libido. Results from a small study found patients undergoing palliative care suggested sandalwood oil is effective in reducing anxiety, although more study is needed.

Safety and Cautions

Sandalwood is not a known skin irritant, but it may cause allergic reaction in people with sensitive skin.

Purchasing

Mountain Rose Herbs sells several sizes of sandalwood oil harvested responsibly from Australia.

Ylang-Ylang

Ylang-ylang flower

Ylang-ylang essential oil is derived from the flowers of the ylang-ylang tree. Its distinct aroma is often described as being delicate, floral and slightly musky, although some people find the scent difficult to describe.

Uses

Ylang-ylang oil is mainly used for relaxation and easing anxiety. According to a study on 29 men, the inhalation of ylang-ylang has a sedative effect, which reduces heart rate and blood pressure and relieves arousal levels. Results of a separate study showed ylang-ylang oil had a relaxing effect and may help relieve depression and stress when used in aromatherapy.

Safety and Cautions

There are no known negative side effects of ylang-ylang oil, although it may cause allergic reaction in some people. You can purchase up to 16 ounces of organic ylang-ylang oil from Mountain Rose Herbs.

What You Should Know

Aromatherapy essential oils are meant to be used externally. They are inhaled or, if applicable, diluted with carrier oils and applied to the skin. In most cases, they should not be ingested or applied to open wounds. Ingesting essential oils may be dangerous and lead to toxic side effects.

In general, pregnant women, breast-feeding women, and children should not use essential oils. However, some non-toxic oils such as lavender, lemon, frankincense, chamomile, and ylang-ylang may be safe to use in aromatherapy under the guidance of a trained practitioner. For more information, consult the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy's safety guidelines.

Essential oils should be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to the skin. Some carrier oil options are:

  • Grapeseed oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sweet almond oil
  • Shea butter
  • Cocoa butter

Before using any essential oil on the skin, do a patch test to check for irritation. Oils are not created equal. Some are made from synthetic fragrance and perfumes, not plant extracts. Avoid oils that have the words, "fragrance," or "perfume," on the label. Only purchase oils from reputable manufacturers.

Natural Wellness Boosters

Essential oils help naturally boost your mood, relieve stress, and promote wellness. As you become comfortable with them, experiment with different combinations to determine what works best for you. The effectiveness of many essential oils is not well-studied, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence they work.

As modern medicine catches up to folk medicine, it may turn to aromatherapy as a viable alternative treatment. No matter which oils you ultimately use, learn as much as you can ahead of time and consult a trained practitioner if you have questions or concerns.

Aromatherapy Oils