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.
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.
A Quick Note on Essential Oil Quality
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.
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 1 Essential Oil You Can’t Be Without
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.
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)
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.
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:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lemon (Citrus limon)
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, E. radiata, or E. smithii)
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- 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.