What Are Essential Oils?

The oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor, also called its “essence.”

Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence.

Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.

Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use.

The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils

How to Choose The Right Essential Oils

Many companies claim that their oils are “pure” or “medical grade.” However, these terms aren’t universally defined and therefore hold little weight.

Given that it is an unregulated industry, the quality and composition of essential oils can vary greatly.

Keep the following tips in mind in order to choose only high-quality oils:

  • Purity: Find an oil that contains only aromatic plant compounds, without additives or synthetic oils. Pure oils usually list the plant’s botanical name (such as Lavandula officinalis), rather than terms like “essential oil of lavender.”
  • Quality: True essential oils are the ones that have been changed the least by the extraction process. Choose a chemical-free essential oil that has been extracted through distillation or mechanical cold pressing.
  • Reputation: Purchase a brand with a reputation for producing high-quality products.

Bottom Line: High-quality oils only use pure plant compounds extracted by distillation or cold pressing. Avoid oils that have been diluted with synthetic fragrances, chemicals or oils.

Here are Some of the Most Popular Essential Oils

Lavender Oil

Lavender essential oil is sedative, antispasmodic, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, anesthetic, anti-carcinogenic, immune boosting and antiviral. It’s perhaps the most versatile, gentle and effective essential oil out there, thus explaining its ubiquity. (Trust: The hype is real.)

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is antiviral and anti-inflammatory. It kills oral bacteria for up to two weeks, treats gingivitis, heals mild to moderate dandruff, kills the influenza virus and has been shown to slow and even reverse the growth of tumors in mice. Tea tree oil also works like benzoyl peroxide to treat acne. It takes longer, but causes fewer side effects, while being less drying than benzoyl peroxide. It’s a great spot treatment and can even help heal rosacea.


Eucalyptus essential oil’s minty, camphor-like aroma is definitely not for the weak. Even if you’ve never smelled it directly, you’ve probably smelled something like it, such as Vick’s VaporRub or TigerBalm. Consider eucalyptus essential oil to be the OG Vick’s VaporRub.

Aside from clearing up chests and colds, eucalyptus essential oil is a pesticide and has the ability to kill fungus, bacteria, insects, mites and weeds. When sprayed into the air at fifteen-second intervals for one hour, it also kills 99 percent of influenza virus particles. Eucalyptus has even been shown to kill the drug-resistant parasite that causes malaria through both direct contact and vapor, without harming the red blood cells that contain the parasite.


Rosemary essential oil is a stimulant. When inhaled, the aroma of rosemary has been shown to increase heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate and boost your immune system. It has also been shown to increase brain wave activity and aid the part of your nervous system that controls organ function. But while it stimulates many bodily systems, it also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s commonly found in skincare, especially natural products, because it not only has topical benefits but also will extend the shelf life of a product exponentially.

Lemon Oil

Lemon essential oil is a powerful antibacterial, astringent and antiseptic agent, which makes it a great ingredient in DIY home cleaners. It also contains a high concentration of D-limonene, a compound that assists in diminishing the appearance of wrinkles, promoting circulation and toning the skin. In fact, recent research showed that D-limonene exhibits powerful skin-repairing and anti-inflammatory properties. Just be careful because lemon essential oil can make the skin highly photosensitive.

Cinnamon Oil

Once the most precious and exotic essential oils of them all, cinnamon oil is a great therapeutic oil. In aromatherapy, cinnamon essential oil can be used to help clear up chest colds. Applied topically, it can soothe muscle aches and pains, thanks to its antispasmodic and analgesic properties. It’s also an antiseptic and makes a powerful natural preservative. It is antibacterial and antimicrobial, as well as being anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.

Lemongrass Oil

Lemongrass essential oil is antibacterial and anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and can be a potent insect repellent. Its anti-fungal properties are especially helpful in combating the nasty yeast associated with dandruff. One study noted that participants who used a dandruff tonic with a ten-percent concentration of lemongrass oil saw a significant reduction in dandruff in as little as a week.

Clary Sage

Clary sage essential oil is antibacterial, astringent, antiseptic and can help improve circulation. It has been lauded for its ability to regulate hormones and its scent is thought to have antidepressant effects, making it a fantastic “time of the month” treatment. In fact, a 2014 study of twenty-two postmenopausal women in their fifties — some of whom were depressed — showed that breathing diffused clary sage helped to alleviate participants’ depression by lowering cortisol levels and improving thyroid hormone levels.

Sweet Orange

Sweet orange essential oil is “feel-good” oil; its zesty aroma can actually help reduce anxiety levels. One study showed it slowed down participants’ pulse rates and breathing rates, while they also reported feeling more cheerful and vigorous. Quick heads up: Make sure you purchase sweet orange oil and not bitter orange since bitter orange oil is very photo-toxic.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint essential oil is a stimulant, antispasmodic, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-fungal and antioxidant. It is an effective treatment for headaches: Participants in one study reported a significant reduction in the pain of their tension headaches within fifteen minutes, and the pain continued to drop for the following hour. It can help soothe nausea, improve concentration and memory, and is an analgesic, which means it numbs and kills pain on the skin.