5 Must-Have Essential Oils You Need to Get a Strong Start
When you’re new to essential oils, it’s best to start small. Choose your must-have essential oils with help from an aromatherapist.
I don’t recommend starting your essential oil collection like I did.
As I cluelessly flipped through a catalog, I was at a loss. There were so many options and I wasn’t even sure what I would do with them. Getting started with natural remedies is rarely easy.
When I finally selected my first essential oils, I picked the $3-5 bottles. 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.
Now, as an herbalist and aromatherapist, I can only look back and shake my head. What I really needed was a small handful of must-have essential oils that were versatile, gentle, and yes, economical.
Contrary to a common essential oil myth, 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 essential oil 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 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 you also don’t need to default to the most expensive brand. Price doesn’t necessarily equate to quality.
How to Find a Quality Essential Oil Brand
Rather than give you a list of brand names, I like to give some quality indicators so you can make your own decision. Quality essential oil brands will likely
- 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 ethically wild-crafted plant material in the distillation or extraction process,
- label their essential oils with the source plant’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 and my printable guide The Essential Oils Quick Reference Guide.
I offer some specific brand suggestions on my Recommended Products page, but my list is far from 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 can meet many of the health needs you’re likely to face at home.
I’ll first share my top pick, then my top three, and finally, my top five to help you begin. Now, let’s start building your collection!
The Most Important 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). This 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.
You might have heard that lavender essential oil is estrogenic or can disrupt hormone levels, especially in preteens and teens. Thankfully, it doesn’t. This becomes quite clear when you carefully examine the evidence and look closely at the research which suggested the link.
I can’t think of a more versatile, economical, and gentle essential oil than lavender. 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 to your collection, 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 diffusing, especially when someone in your family is sick.
- Its aroma is bright, uplifting, and energizing.
- It has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties.
- Inhaling it during times of nausea or other digestive upsets can be very soothing.
You have to be careful applying lemon essential oil to your skin, though. Many citrus oils, including cold-pressed lemon, can cause severe sunburn reactions called photosensitivity or phototoxicity, even when the oil is diluted.
So if you want to use lemon essential oil on your skin, stay out of sunlight for a couple of hours, use it in very small topical concentrations, or use steam-distilled lemon oil (which is hard to find but safe for sun exposure).
If you’re not crazy about lemon’s scent, try a different citrus oil like sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), red mandarin (Citrus reticulata), or grapefruit (Citrus paradisi). They’re very interchangeable.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus, E. smithii, or E. radiata)
You might be surprised to see eucalyptus in my top three essential oils since there’s been some controversy surrounding it in recent years. In fact, some aromatherapists and essential oil enthusiasts even say that the oil isn’t safe for children under ten.
Here’s the reason. Eucalyptus, especially the species highest in the chemical eucalyptol (also known as 1,8-cineole), can cause problems for young children and even toxic when taken internally.
However, and this is key, problems only occur when the oil is used in concentrations much higher than what’s recommended in traditional aromatherapy. 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.
- When used for respiratory concerns, it’s a powerful expectorant with a longstanding safety record.
- It’s highly antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal.
- Because it’s warming, 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 children over ten. Since I have young children, I simply 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.
Like lavender, tea tree essential oil is incredibly useful.
- As a unique broad-spectrum antimicrobial, it can fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- It’s anti-inflammatory and has wound-healing properties.
- It can stimulate the immune system to help fight infection.
- Many skin conditions can be helped by tea tree, 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 by interfering with pain receptors.
- Because it’s antispasmodic and carminative (reduces intestinal gas), it can soothe digestive discomforts.
- It has decongestant and expectorant properties, making it a good companion to eucalyptus in older kids and adults.
- As a bonus, it offers some antimicrobial actions.
Peppermint contains a compound called menthol which gives it its characteristic scent, many beneficial actions, and quite a kick.
However, menthol can also make breathing difficult for babies and young children, 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 reactions. For 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.
Video: 5 Essential Oils For Your Home
I sat down with Renee of MadeOn Skin Care to talk about these 5 essential oils and why they make such a great starting place for your essential oil collection.
You can watch a video replay of our conversation, which includes a nice slideshow presentation and even a free download summarizing the top 5 oils (no opt-in required).
If you decide to try some of MadeOn’s excellent skincare products after watching the video replay, you can use the code THRIVE5 at checkout to enjoy a discount on your order.
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!
A smart strategy is so much better than stabs in the dark.
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!
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!
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.
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. 🙂
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?
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!
Whew! I have all these oils in my collection – I’m covered! 🙂
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. 😉
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!
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!
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!!
Oh. But be careful with how you use peppermint, it is very strong. Dilution is a must.
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.
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!
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.
Thank you for those encouraging words, Kristy, and for sharing in your group! I appreciate it very much. 🙂
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?
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.