5 Must-Have Essential Oils You Need to Get a Strong Start

Getting started with essential oils can seem quite intimidating and expensive. Skip the overwhelm and go for these five must-have essential oils that are both affordable and versatile.

5 Must Have Essential Oils You Need to Get a Strong Start

I don’t recommend starting your essential oil collection like I did.

As I cluelessly flipped through the catalog of one particular brand, I was at a loss. There were so many options I couldn’t even fathom how to choose! Getting started with natural remedies is rarely easy.

When I finally selected my first essential oils, I picked the ones that were $3-5 per tiny bottle. Price point was my decision-maker, not safety, usefulness, or even the oil’s scent.

It was kind of a blind stab in the dark. With a clothespin on my nose.

As an herbalist and aromatherapist, I certainly know better now. If I could go back in time, I would instead choose a small handful of must-have essential oils instead of trying to get as many oils as I could for the lowest price.

Contrary to one of the many essential oil myths floating around, you don’t need an extensive collection of essential oils when you’re just getting started. There’s so much you can do with just one, three, or five oils! And when you start with a few important essential oils instead of a large set, you’ll spend less money and avoid the overwhelm that comes with too many options.

When you’re getting started with essential oils, less really is more.

Essential Oil Quality: What’s the Best Brand to Use?

I realize you might want to stop me before I even get into the specific oils and I already know what you want to ask.

But what brand should I choose?

Let me be very clear. There are many quality essential oil brands. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to declare one brand superior to them all.

It’s important you understand terms like therapeutic grade, 100% pure, or the only ____ essential oils are marketing terms and claims that likely give you exactly no real information on the brand’s quality.

That’s not to say that quality is just another stab in the dark. There are brands that I wouldn’t recommend purchasing for any reason at all. Little bottles of “essential oils” sold in stores or online at prices too good to be true aren’t worth your money and may even be harmful.

But there’s also no need to default to the most expensive brand. Price doesn’t necessarily equate quality.

5 essential oils are all you need to get off to a strong start

How to Find a Quality Essential Oil Brand

Quality essential oil brands will 

  • provide batch-specific GC/MS reports for all of the essential oils they sell (these reports tell you what chemical constituents are in the oil and alert the brand to any adulteration),
  • use certified organic or wild-crafted plant material in the distillation or extraction process,
  • label their essential oils with the source botanical’s common name, botanical name, and country of origin,
  • have a commitment to environmental sustainability,
  • and promote safe, evidence-based use, free from hype claims and reckless application.

You can learn more about brand selection, as well as many other important topics, in my book Essential Oils: Separating Truth from Myth.

I offer some specific brand suggestions on my Recommended Products page, but my list is not exhaustive or all-inclusive. I update it as I become aware of other quality brands, so it’s worth checking every so often.

Getting Started with the Most Important Essential Oils

Like I mentioned previously, you really don’t need a huge essential oil collection when you’re getting started. In fact, I’d encourage you to stick with a small number of the most important essential oils, learn how to use them well, then add to your collection once you’ve mastered what you already own.

I’m convinced that most beginners only need up to five essential oils to get a solid start. But if money is tight or you’re a little uncertain about all this aromatherapy stuff, you can start with just one essential oil and go from there.

After considering safety, cost, and versatility, I’ve chosen five essential oils that have the most to offer families like yours. I’ll first share my top pick, my top three, and then my top five to guide you through starting your own collection.

Let’s start building your collection!

The Most Important Essential Oil You Can’t Be Without

lavender essential oil is the most important EO to have

By far, my top recommendation for anyone new to essential oils is to start with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). That might seem like an obvious choice, but you simply can’t go wrong with lavender! It’s a must-have.

Lavender offers an incredible array of uses:

  • It’s one of the few oils safe to use around infants.
  • You can occasionally apply it neat (meaning undiluted on the skin) on adults and older children.
  • It offers antimicrobial, antidepressant, vulnerary (wound healing), and nervine (toning of the nervous system) properties, to name a few.
  • It has a vast safety net.

I’ve heard it said, and have said it myself, that when wondering what oil to choose for a particular situation:

When in doubt, choose lavender.

You’ll find lavender in many of the essential oil projects I share, like my Blemish Blend and Headache Blend roll-on formulas.

2 More Must-Have Essential Oils You Don’t Want to Miss

If you want to add a couple more essential oils as you start your collection with lavender, my next two suggestions are lemon (Citrus limon) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus or E. radiata).

Lemon (Citrus limon)

Lemon is another highly useful, nontoxic oil for the home. It’s a great choice for cleaning solutions and diffusion, especially when sickness is going through the home.

  • Its scent is very uplifting and energizing.
  • It has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties.
  • Inhaling it during times of nausea or other digestive problems can be very soothing.

You have to be careful applying lemon essential oil topically, though. Citrus oils can cause bad reactions called photosensitivity or phototoxicity if you go out in the sun after applying them to your skin, even when diluted. So stay out of sunlight for a couple of hours after using lemon topically, use it in very small topical concentrations, or skip it topically altogether.

If you’re not crazy about lemon’s scent, you can opt for a different citrus oil like sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), red mandarin (Citrus reticulata), or grapefruit (Citrus paradisi).

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, E. smithii, or E. radiata)

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Some people may be surprised that I include eucalyptus in my top three essential oils since there’s been some controversy surrounding it. In fact, some aromatherapists and essential oil enthusiasts go so far to say that the oil shouldn’t even be used around children under ten.

Here’s the deal. Eucalyptus, especially the species highest in the chemical eucalyptol (also known as 1,8-cineole), can be very problematic for young children and even toxic when taken internally.

However, and this is key, problems occur when the oil is used in concentrations much higher than what’s recommended in traditional aromatherapy. But when you use it at safe doses, there’s nothing to fear.

Eucalyptus’s actions and benefits are simply too valuable to skip it entirely.

  • It’s a powerful expectorant and has a longstanding record of efficacy and safety when used for respiratory concerns.
  • It’s highly antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal.
  • It can even offer relief to sore muscles and joints.

If you have little ones in the house, you will need to keep some extra safety guidelines in mind when using eucalyptus.

  • It’s best to skip all species of eucalyptus for babies and toddlers under 2.
  • For kiddos ages 2-10, use the species Eucalyptus radiata or E. smithii instead of the standard E. globulus. They’re lower in eucalyptol.
  • You can use any eucalyptus species for anyone over ten. Since I have young children, I just keep E. radiata around and use it on everyone.

Along with using eucalyptus for respiratory support, I often add it to homemade antimicrobial blends.

The Last 2 Essential Oils to Add to Your Collection

For a really well-rounded starter collection of essential oils, my next two recommendations are tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and peppermint (Mentha piperita).

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

When it comes to wound care and thorough disinfecting, you can’t be without tea tree oil. In fact, it plays an important role in many of the salves I make, like my healing first-aid salve with plantain and skin soother salve.

Tea tree essential oil is so useful because

  • It can effectively fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which is quite unique.
  • It offers anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties.
  • It can stimulate the immune system to help fight infection.
  • It can benefit many skin conditions like dandruff, topical thrush, and acne.

Like almost every other essential oil, you need to dilute tea tree oil in a carrier oil before applying topically. This might seem counterintuitive if you’re treating a pimple (We want power! And drying! No extra oil!), but it’s still necessary. Tea tree oil isn’t as mild as lavender essential oil, and applying neat too frequently can lead to reactions in the future.

You get effective, safer results when you dilute.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

Peppermint, like lemon, is a very energizing oil with many helpful uses. It’s probably best known for its ability to soothe headaches when properly diluted and applied topically, like in my Headache Blend roll-on formula.

You might reach for peppermint to take advantage of one of these actions:

  • It’s an analgesic, which means it reduces pain when applied topically.
  • It can aid digestion as an antispasmodic and carminative (reduces intestinal gas).
  • It has decongestant and expectorant properties, making it a good companion to eucalyptus in older kids and adults.
  • It offers some antimicrobial actions.
5 must-have essential oils Lavender, Lemon, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, and Tea Tree

Peppermint contains a compound called menthol which gives it its characteristic scent, many beneficial actions, and quite a kick, if you will. It can also make it hard for babies and young children to breathe, so it’s best avoided for them. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) can be a suitable substitution since it is lower in menthol, but it’s not completely interchangeable.

If you use peppermint essential oil too freely, you can end up with uncomfortable sensitization reactions. Personal example: topical peppermint relieves headaches for me, but diffused peppermint can trigger headaches if I’m exposed to too much for too long. Always take care to dilute appropriately and keep dosage within recommended safe zones.

Putting Your Essential Oil Collection All Together

To recap, the most important essential oils you need to get off to a strong start are:

  1. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  2. Lemon (Citrus limon)
  3. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, E. radiata, or E. smithii)
  4. Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
  5. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

With these five must-have oils, you’ll have a great collection that will meet the vast majority of your needs without buying too many oils at once. You’ll save money and be more confident, too!

Strategy is much better than stabs in the dark. With plugged noses.

If you really want a strong start with essential oils, be sure to check out my book, Essential Oils: Separating Truth from Myth. It breaks down 25 common essential oil myths and gives you solid information instead, so you’re not left at the mercy of Facebook threads and Pinterest graphics. Available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF.

Do you own any of these oils? Is there one you use often that isn’t on my list?don't have to be confusing long banner

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    1. What future reactions does using tea tree oil neat potentially cause? I’ve been using it that way for about a year now and am starting to worry! Thanks for all this wonderful info!

      1. Hi Amy! I’m glad you found the article helpful. I wouldn’t worry yet about using tea tree neat for a year, but it is good to understand what can happen. 🙂 Using any essential oil neat over a prolonged period of time can lead to sensitization. When this happens, your body becomes excessively sensitive to an oil or even just one component of the oil and reacts with redness, itching, swelling, or other inflammatory symptoms when exposed. If you haven’t noticed any of these reactions yet, you’re likely fine. Just start diluting from here on out. Best wishes!

    2. Hi, Kristy. Thank you for this well written article. I would like to add that if you can find a blend comparable to Thieves by YL or Plague Defense by HEO those have been a huge help to us. It has knocked out food poisoning more than once for us. Also it is great to take (orally or rubbed on the feet) when coming down with a sickness. Happy oiling everyone.

      1. Those blends are definitely very helpful! For this post, I wanted to stick with single oils to keep things simple, and even combining some of these can give a similar effect to those blends. I made my own blend similar to Thieves, On Guard, Plague Defense, etc., and it’s one of my favorites just because I love how it smells! The citrus and cinnamon is just delightful.

        I do recommend oils be used topically or diffused since safety when taking internally requires some extra training or a consultation with an advanced aromatherapist. It’s just too easy to burn mucus membranes or do other damage longterm. 🙂

    3. I am wanting to begin my EO collection. I’ve been thinking about ordering a kit through Doterra or Young Living just to start out and then expand using other companies such as your favorite Mountain Rose Herbs or Native American Essentials. I am aware that each of the later companies also have kits, but I believe you get more for similar prices (Including a diffuser!) I have friends who use each companies and through them I know that Doterra and Young Living do work ,thanks to them letting me use samples. Do you think this is a wise decision, or should I skip the MLM companies altogether?

      1. You know, Abbey, it’s really totally preference. I personally have nothing against MLM companies, especially being a consultant myself for a direct sales company (Lilla Rose). I have friends that I love and respect who sell for DT and YL, as well. For me, though, I opted to not join one of the MLM essential oil companies for a few reasons, some having to do with blogging and wanting to be a natural living educator. I think you could do just fine either by starting with one of the direct sales companies, if you wanted, or just picking a few oils from a provider that you like. I’m not really familiar with what comes in the different kits offered by DT or YL, so I can’t really compare the overall cost. This post on essential oil myths might give you some more to think about as you decide which way to go. Whichever way you go, I just encourage you to seek out the safest, best practices as you use your oils. Best wishes!

      1. Yahoo! I wish I had just started with these instead of buying random oils that I still have lurking in my cabinet but uh… never use. 😉

    4. How neat, these are the five essential oils I own along with one blend. I agree, peppermint is stout! I found that out the hard way!

      1. Stout… I like how you put that! 😉 Yes, I learned some EO lessons the hard way, too. They are definitely useful substances, but need to be recognized for how strong they really are!

    5. Right on Kristen! I also use frankensence with orange or lemon oil for anxiety. Peppermint is great in shower to uplift and it also is great to be used to keep away unwanted pests. We had carpenter bees on our front porch. I put peppermint oil on small pieces of cheesecloth and pushed it into the holes and no more bees!!

        1. Yes, absolutely. For the most part, all essential oils should very rarely if ever be used neat (undiluted), though lavender may be occasionally. Proper dilution is always important to avoid various negative side effects.

      1. That’s a great tip for the bees! We sometimes get them near our deck, even though we keep it painted. They can be such stinkers!

    6. Thanks for this great post, Kristen! I wish I would have had a resource like your article when I was first starting out with essential oils many years ago. You’re right… it can feel quite overwhelming!

      This is a valuable resource, I’m sharing in my Natural Living group! Thanks for your time in putting together such an informative article.

      1. Thank you for those encouraging words, Kristy, and for sharing in your group! I appreciate it very much. 🙂

        1. Kristen, I am new to your site. Your article on oils is very interesting. I have read many articles on oils in the last year and I have bought several, but I have not yet read an article on how to actually use them. Do I rub them on my skin, bath with them, ingest them?

          1. Hi Karen! Welcome to my spot on the web. I’m glad you’re here, and you’ve come at a great time. I’m right now in the middle of “Essential Oils Month” where every post this month covers a simple project you can do at home with essential oils. The first project was a pillow spray, and there are lots more coming.

            It wasn’t so many years ago that I heard of people using essential oils, but also had no idea what exactly they meant. I understand right where you are! I do not recommend ingesting them without some basic training and education from certified aromatherapists. Your best options for home use are to inhale them, dilute a drop in 1 teaspoon of oil and apply topically, or add them to cleaning solutions. If you stay tuned this month, you’ll also get info on some really excited resources to help you better understand oils. My subscribers will get notified first, so you can join my list if you don’t want to miss out.