Whilst essential oils are a mainstay of aromatherapy in most traditional cultures, it seems the modern world caught up to the wondrous benefits of plant extracts these past 10 years.
As their popularity continues to grow, it is important to know that essential oils are not completely innocuous. In fact, many essential oils have adverse effects that go from a mild skin irritation to poisoning. That is why they should be used with caution.
You will find here a brief guide detailing the uses for the most common essential oils and which ones to avoid in case of pregnancy, sensitive skin or sun exposure.
*Avoid during pregnancy
+May cause photosensitivity
#Avoid if you have sensitive skin
Angelica Root+: An African herb introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it became popular as a treatment for the Plague. It aids in digestion, is antispasmodic, and helps regulate menstruation.
Basil*#: A herb used to treat nausea, motion sickness, indigestion, constipation, respiratory problems, and diabetes. It improves blood circulation.
Bergamot+: A fresh, sweet citrus scent known as a confidence builder and mood enhancer. Bergamot is beneficial for oily and troubled skin thanks to its cleansing properties.
Black Pepper*#: A pungent aroma that is comforting and energizing. Black pepper supports and stimulates the digestive system and is useful topically to soothe aching muscles.
Carrot Seed: Rich in antioxidants. Used as a detoxifier and liver booster and to stimulate and rejuvenate the skin. Used topically to keep wrinkles at bay and to fight age spots.
Chamomile, German*: Also known as blue chamomile. It has a high content of Azulene—the active organic compound of chamomile that gives it its blue color. Azulene is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Used topically to reduce inflammation.
Chamomile, Moroccan*: Known as Blue Tansy. Like German chamomile, Moroccan chamomile contains Azulene, which turns the essential oil blue. It is used topically to heal burned, irritated, or damaged skin. Moroccan blue chamomile is rich with antioxidants as well as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Diffusing or inhaling this essential oil helps soothe anxiety and nervous tension. Moroccan blue chamomile is very rare to find in high quality so beware of cheap knock offs.
Chamomile, Roman*: A calming essential oil that is commonly diffused as an antidepressant. It is used for its skin healing properties in body care products as well as aromatherapy. Roman chamomile has a very pleasant, soothing, apple-like aroma.
Cedarwood, Moroccan: It has a soft, woody and "pencil-like" smell and has a faint undertone of sandalwood. It is most beneficial for acne, oily skin and problem skin due to its astringent and soothing properties. Also, commonly used for scalp treatments in Morocco to treat dandruff.
Cinnamon Bark*#: Effective in treating external as well as internal infections. Cinnamon bark helps destroy germs in the gallbladder and bacteria present in staph infections.
Citronella#: Popularly used as an insect repellent. Its antifungal properties make citronella great to treat insect bites. It is used to help prevent colds, fevers, and headaches.
Clary Sage*: This herb has been used for centuries to support female hormonal health. Clary sage helps relieve PMS, menopause, and stress.
Clove Bud*#: A spice used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to support a healthy digestive system. It promotes circulation and oral health and supports cardiovascular health.
Eucalyptus*#: One of the oldest native medicines used in Australia. Eucalyptus is known for its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, decongestant, deodorising, antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
Frankincense: Used for millennia as religious incense, it has a woody and strong smell that can be camphoric but pleasant. Traditionally used topically as a skin tonic and to help with sores, wounds, scars and skin inflammation.
Geranium, Morocco: Used topically to help treat acne, dermatitis and eczema thanks to its cicatrisant properties. In aromatherapy, it is used to help relieve feelings of stress and anxiety, by working on the adrenal cortex, which has a balancing effect on the hormonal system.
Ginger#: Helps ease indigestion and nausea, promotes digestion, supports overall digestive health, and stimulates heat—both topically and internally. Ginger's heating properties make it a warming essential oil to use in the winter.
Grapefruit+: An astringent, digestive aid, and lymphatic stimulant. Grapefruit’s energising ability is known to increase appetite, improve concentration, and boost the immune system.
Helichrysum: A clarifying, stimulating, and grounding scent that makes it ideal to diffuse when studying or doing homework.
Jasmine, Moroccan: A warm, exotic, floral scent that relaxes, soothes, uplifts, and promotes self-confidence. Jasmine is used topically to help fade scars. It is important to note that unlike most essential oils, Jasmine essential oil starts it journey as a flower concrete, which is made by solvent extraction, after which a flower absolute is obtained from the concrete, by separation with alcohol. The essential oil is then produced off the absolute by steam distillation. It is both rare and expensive in good quality.
Juniper Berry*: An earthy, sweet, and woodsy scent that can be diffused to create a peaceful aroma.
Lavender: A flowering plant in the mint family that is known for its skin healing properties and use as a sedative. It is one of the most widely used essential oils in aromatherapy for its calming, soothing effects.
Lemon*+#: A bright and cheerful aroma. Believed to aid blood flow by reducing blood pressure which is why it is used in cases of nosebleeds. Also used internally to help bring down fever, relieve throat infections, bronchitis, asthma and flu.
Lemongrass*+#: Lemongrass is not related to lemon essential oil, but it has a subtle citrus and herbal scent. Used as tonic, to revitalise the body, relieve symptoms of jetlag, clear headaches and help combat nervous exhaustion.
Lemon Verbana, Morocco*+#: Used to support the digestive system and address cramps, indigestion and congestion. Topically used to soften and depuff the skin.
Lime*+#: A bright and refreshing citrus scent. Lime is energizing and supports radiant skin.
Marjoram: Woodsy and spicy aroma. Has a warming effect on the body. Helps soothe muscles after exercise.
Myrrh*: Botanically related to frankincense essential oil. It is used for mouth and gum disorders, such as mouth ulcers, gingivitis, and sore throats. Used topically to treat skin ulcers, bedsores, chapped and cracked skin and eczema. Should not be used during pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant.
Neroli, Moroccan: As one of the essential oils with the most sedative effects, it is useful for treating depression, anxiety and shock. On the skin, it can help regenerate skin cells and is useful to prevent ugly scar tissue, promote a smoother skin, fighting stretch marks and broken capillaries. It is also a prized ingredient for perfumery due to its fragrant notes. There is a shortage in Neroli and many Neroli oils sold in the market are Petit Grain essential oil or diluted.
Nutmeg*: A sweet, warm, spicy scent like the spice commonly used in cooking. Comforting and soothing, it helps boost energy.
Oregano, Moroccan*#: First used in ancient Greece as a treatment for bacterial infections and wounds on the skin. Oregano essential oil is a powerful cleanser and antioxidant. Diffusing oregano essential oil helps maintain a healthy immune function.
Palmarosa: Smells a bit like rose essential oil and is cheaper making a favourite amongst aromatherapy practitioners. Used topically, it moisturises the skin and helps balance production of sebum which makes it particularly suited for acne skin types.
Patchouli: The hippie herb, its musky and herbal scent helps relax the body and create a peaceful environment. Used topically to stimulate the growth of new skin cells. In wound healing, it promotes faster healing.
Petitgrain, Moroccan: Strengthens nerves and the nervous system and acts as a sedative that relieves insomnia. Petitgrain also prevents body odor, making it a wonderful essential oil to use in natural deodorants.
Peppermint, Moroccan: An aroma that invigorates the mind and senses while inspiring a sense of peace. Used topically, peppermint oil creates a cool, tingling sensation on the skin—ideal for use on a hot summer day.
Pine: Great for reducing inflammation, pine is a popular choice for those with psoriasis, eczema, acne, joint pain, arthritis, and other inflammations of the skin and body. It aids in curing respiratory problems and stimulating the body, thereby improving metabolism.
Rosemary, Moroccan: Best known for aiding in improving the memory and helping in preventing hair loss. Considered a symbol of love, rosemary sprigs are traditionally used in wedding ceremonies.
Rose, Moroccan: A beautiful, strong, floral, sweet scent that is intoxicating and highly romantic. Rose helps bring balance and harmony with stimulating and uplifting properties that create a sense of wellbeing and self-confidence. Rose has been used in skincare for thousands of years and is perfect for treating dry and/or aging skin.
Sweet Orange: A calming scent that has a wide variety of benefits ranging from use as an antidepressant, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, and diuretic. It also helps maintain hormonal balance.
Sandalwood: Promotes mental clarity, boosts memory, helps with endometriosis, and is a mild astringent. Between Indian, Hawaiian, and Australian varieties of sandalwood, Australian sandalwood is produced in the most sustainably and environmentally friendly manner.
Tea Tree: A great essential oil for boosting the immune system and healing almost all topical infections and diseases. Tea tree oil also works fantastically in household cleaners.
Thyme, Moroccan*: Ancient herb used to strengthen the nerves, aid memory and concentration. Also used to boost the immune system and help fight colds, flu and infections.
Vetiver: Deeply relaxing and comforting, inhaling or diffusing vetiver helps calm the mind and dispel anger. Used topically to soothe general aches and pains, especially rheumatism, arthritis and muscular pain.
Yarrow: Known for its sweet aroma and deep blue colour, it is used to treat allergies and to alleviate stress. Used topically to treat wounds as it staunches blood flow.
Ylang Ylang: Has a euphoric and sedative effect on the nervous system. Used as an aphrodisiac aid. Topically used to soothe and balanced over-dry and overly-oily skin types. Used in many eastern cultures on the scalp to promote hair growth.
If you would like to dig deeper into this, we recommend these reads:
Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033
Essential oils: renewal of interest and toxicity https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b9c2/c2fb939d648cf13e9bf1fcc136e52ba8acc5.pdf
Caution: All essential oils need to be diluted whether for use topically or internally as they are extremely concentrated botanical extracts. Misusing them can be harmful. Research them before use or better yet, speak to a qualified naturopath to guide you.
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