Essential oils are concentrates of powerful aromatic compounds, obtained by steam distillation of aromatic plants, rich in active ingredients. These have been used for centuries to heal, but it is only in recent decades that "modern aromatherapy" has allowed us to use them fully and safely. The analysis of their biochemical composition and the properties of the aromatic molecules they contain have allowed researchers and therapists to specify the benefits and dangers of each essential oil and each chemotype.

This article was updated on 01/12/2023

Which essential oils for which use?

We often start by looking at essential oils by looking for a natural solution for a problem. Essential oils are indeed very versatile and can be useful in many cases. However, there are hundreds of them, with just as many possible uses, which may explain why it is sometimes difficult to get started with aromatherapy. For the same problem, many essential oils can be considered. The question that then arises is: which essential oil to use?

To answer this question, Compagnie des Sens has set up a powerful tool giving all the essential oils useful for more than 200 health problems, with the most effective and suggested synergies. It also allows you to select the risks to be excluded, the users and the desired route of use, to find the essential oil best suited to the situation.

The 6 essential oils to have at home

There are hundreds of essential oils. In this page we present to you 30 essential oils for aromatherapy. But if you have never used an essential oil in your life, we recommend that you start with these 6 stars of aromatherapy: Tea Tree, Peppermint, Ravintsara, Petit Grain Bigarade, Gauthérie Odorante and True Lavender.

Tea Tree essential oil

Effective in the fight against many infections, thetea Tree essential oil is broad-spectrum antibacterial and antifungal, antiviral, immunostimulating, antiprotozoal & antiparasitic.

  • Latin name: Melaleuca alternifolia (Maiden & Betche) Cheel.
  • Distilled part: leaves
  • Most effective in cases of: Acne, Mycoses, Skin infections, Angina, Digestive infection
Ravintsara essential oil

Perfectly suited to the whole family, theRavintsara essential oil is a very effective antiviral and immunostimulant in the ENT sphere, essential to get through the worries of winter.

  • Latin name: Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J.Presl.
  • Distilled part: leaves
  • Most effective in cases of: Viral ENT epidemic, Flu, to boost Immunity
Peppermint essential oil

Queen of the digestive sphere,peppermint essential oil is an essential part of aromatherapy. The menthol it contains provides powerful analgesic, stimulating and anti-microbial properties.

  • Latin name: Mentha x piperita L. var piperita.
  • Distilled part: Tops
  • Most effective in cases of: Headache, Migraine, Bad breath, Nausea.
Fragrant wintergreen essential oil

Composed of more than 95% methyl salicylate,wintergreen essential oil is the oil of athletes. It is an exceptional skin anti-inflammatory and analgesic.

  • Latin name: Gaultheria fragrantissima Wall.
  • Distilled part: leaves
  • Most effective in cases of: Aches, Lumbago, Back pain, Tendonitis, Osteoarthritis
Petit Grain Bigarade essential oil

Coming from the leaves of the sour orange tree,essential oil of Petit Grain Bigarade has remarkable effects on the central nervous system, thanks to its antispasmodic and sedative properties. It is therefore essential against stress.

  • Latin name: Citrus × aurantium ssp. amara (Link) Engl.
  • Distilled part: leaves and small branches.
  • Most effective in cases of: Anxiety, Stress, Palpitations, Oily Skin.
Lavender Officinale essential oil

Lavender essential oil True or Fine also known as Lavender Officinale is an essential oil very well tolerated, especially by children. It is renowned for its skin, analgesic, calming and even healing properties.

  • Latin name: Lavandula officinalis Choice or Lavandula angustifolia Mill.
  • Distilled part: flowering tops
  • Most effective in cases of: Insect bite, Itching, Headache (children), Anti-lice, Psoriasis, Burn, Sunburn

The dangers of essential oils

Very powerful products

We can never say it enough, aromatherapy is indeed a natural medicine, but it should not be considered as an alternative medicine. Essential oils have efficiency based on 3 pillars :

  • they are composed of numerous aromatic molecules, each having their own properties, giving essential oils combined modes of action that are sometimes very interesting;
  • their bioavailability is very good: when an essential oil is placed on the inside of the wrists, it only takes a few minutes for the aromatic molecules to be present in the blood;
  • unlike many natural remedies, essential oils are very concentrated in active ingredients, which is what makes them so powerful.

Very variable toxicity

Essential oils are therefore very powerful, and therefore present certain toxicities. This toxicity, however, varies greatly:

  • she depends of each essential oil (some are very flexible to use, others less);
  • she depends of each user (children and pregnant women, for example, are sensitive users);
  • she depends of each mode of use (the oral route and the cutaneous route, for example, are more or less sensitive to each toxicity).

What you need to know before each use

For a specific benefit sought, before using an essential oil, it is therefore important to know for sure:

This information is normally given systematically and for each use in aromatherapy books, serious advice sites or in certain well-trained pharmacies. If you do not know the answer to these three questions, we recommend that you find out before using essential oils.

Precautions for use for sensitive users

Prohibited to children and babies?

When we talk about essential oils, we often hear that they are prohibited for children and babies. Although they are powerful natural products, certain essential oils can still be used by children and/or babies, but with appropriate methods of use. Here are some rules of use specific to children and babies:

  • No essential oils in the first 3 months;
  • Up to 6 years, avoid the oral route, unless specially prescribed;
  • Up to 6 years, dilute essential oils used on the skin in a vegetable oil;
  • Respect dosages specific to the age of your child: do not copy a synergy for adults;
  • Check the contraindications of each essential oil, some are clearly prohibited for children (list here) and for babies (list here).
  • As always with essential oils, when in doubt, refrain.

Prohibited to pregnant women?

It is excessive to say that the use of essential oils is prohibited for pregnant women, but this use requires more precision and precautions. Here are again some rules specific to pregnant women:

  • No essential oils in the first 3 months of pregnancy;
  • Avoid the oral route entirely;
  • Dilute essential oils used on the skin in a vegetable oil;
  • Respect dosages specific to your condition: do not copy a synergy not specific to pregnant women;
  • Check the contraindications of each essential oil, some are clearly prohibited for pregnant women (list here), such as those containing ketones.
  • As always with essential oils, when in doubt, refrain.

Other sensitive users

Children and pregnant women are not the only people who should be extra careful with essential oils. Here are 3 specific user guides for:

How to choose a good quality essential oil?

Essential oils are natural products. Since nature is not a factory, it does not produce anything standard: there is therefore a very great diversity in the quality of essential oils that can be found on the market. Indeed, the quality of an essential oil depends on multiple factors, of which here is a non-exhaustive list: the precise variety of the aromatic plant, the soil, the cultivation method, the weather conditions, the harvest conditions, and of course the distillation process.

All these factors have a considerable impact on the quality of essential oils, and therefore also on their effectiveness and their potential toxicity. Their organoleptic quality may be impacted, for use in cosmetics or perfumery, but also and above all their therapeutic quality. It is therefore essential to choose the correct bottle for any therapeutic use.

Organic essential oils or not?

Today in France, multiple aromatherapy brands choose organic for part of their range of essential oils. However, few of them present a 100% ORGANIC range, the price difference for certain essential oils being very significant between the two. So the question is: is it that important?

Yes, the use ofaromatic molecule that it wishes to have in each essential oil in order to guarantee its effectiveness, as well as the publication of its analyzes for each of the batches that it sells to you. This transparency and systematic analyzes assure you that you are dealing with a serious and expert brand in the field.

Authoritative labels?

2 labels are often used in France to promote the intrinsic characteristics of essential oils: HECT and HEBBD. These labels have some weaknesses: they do not publish any precise specifications, belong to commercial players in the sector, and above all are not linked to any external verification or audit.

  • HEBBD stands for “Botanically and Biochemically Defined Essential Oil”. This label therefore aims to guarantee that the manufacturer knows precisely the plant that has been distilled, however it does not guarantee that this choice is optimal, nor that the essential oil is chemotyped. Unfortunately, in most cases, the bottles thus labeled do not indicate the place of origin of the lot sold.
  • HECT means “Chemotyped Essential Oil”. Unlike HEBBD, the manufacturer indicates the place of origin and these oils are truly chemotyped. However, there is no guarantee that the choice of this chemotype is optimal with regard to the expected properties and toxicities of the essential oil (in particular those cited in the scientific bibliography).

To ensure that your essential oil is chemotyped and of therapeutic quality, rely especially on the information that the label and the manufacturer's website are able to tell you. No label can be a reference on the market today.

The 4 points to check when choosing a quality essential oil

To be sure of the therapeutic quality of an essential oil, we therefore recommend checking the following points:

  • an ORGANIC label (AB, Cosmos or other);
  • the precise mention, in latin, of the species and subspecies of the distilled plant;
  • the origin of the essential oil, mentioned on the bottle;
  • the mention of the batch number on the bottle, as well as communication on the website of the results of chromatographic analyzes of each batch, compared to the expected.

Why use essential oils?

The benefits of essential oils are multiple and their fields of action are very diverse. This is not surprising, there is tens of thousands of aromatic plants around the world, each of them secreting essential oils for very specific reasons. In addition, each essential oil contains around a hundred different aromatic molecules, with around ten main aromatic molecules, and a multitude of aromatic molecules present in tiny concentrations! This incredible biochemical diversity results in a great diversity of properties and potential benefits, which are very difficult to summarize. However, we can roughly summarize the fields of application of essential oils in this way:

  • For ENT and respiratory disorders, via antiviral, antibacterial, expectorant properties, etc.
  • For nervous disorders, via calming (or even sedative) or stimulating properties, via analgesic properties, etc.
  • For skin disorders, via anti-inflammatory, healing, spasmolytic, circulatory properties, etc.
  • For joint and muscle pain, with analgesic, anti-inflammatory properties, etc.
Of course, these rough scopes are not exhaustive. There are hundreds of health/wellness issues that essential oils can effectively address.

Essential oils for skin care

Essential oils are very useful for skin care and in dermatology: they contain a multiplicity of active ingredients, and their use through the skin is very simple, which makes them excellent candidates. Here is a non-exhaustive list of skin problems for which they can be very effective:

  • Against theacne, use antibacterial, analgesic and healing essential oils, such as Tea Tree, Rosat Geranium, Noble Laurel, Palmarosa or True Lavender.
  • In case of'skin allergy, use antiallergic, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory essential oils, such as Annual Tansy, Camomile or True Lavender.
  • In case of sunburn, use skin tonic and astringent, anesthetic and healing essential oils, such as Rosat Geranium and Aspic Lavender.
  • In case of mycoses, use antifungal, anti-inflammatory and healing essential oils, such as Tea Tree, Noble Laurel, Rosat Geranium and Palmarosa.
  • In case of'herpes, use antiviral, anti-inflammatory and healing essential oils, such as Niaouli, Tea Tree or True Lavender.
  • Against the cellulite, use hypolipidemic, lipolytic, draining and diuretic essential oils, such as Lemon, Sea Cristus or Atlas Cedar.
  • To get rid of a scar, especially use Italian Helichrysum, which is strongly healing, but also anti-inflammatory and regenerative essential oils such as Patchouli and Rosemary with Camphor.
  • Against the warts, use anti-infectious and dermocaustic essential oils such as Cinnamon, Mountain Savory, Tea Tree or Lemon.

Essential oils for muscles and joints

Among essential oils, there are products that are very effective for many joint or muscle problems. These essential oils are widely used by athletes, but also by people whose age is starting to take its effects. The reasons for this success are multiple. On the one hand, certain essential oils have powerful anti-inflammatory, analgesic and muscle-relaxing properties. On the other hand, the great effectiveness of essential oils through the skin makes it possible to act directly on the area concerned, without going through the digestive system. Here are some examples of common applications:

  • Against theosteoarthritis, use anti-inflammatory and analgesic essential oils to relieve pain (this does not correct the underlying problem), such as Lemon Eucalyptus, Sweet Wintergreen or Nutmeg.
  • In case of cramps repeatedly, use musculotropic spasmolytic, analgesic and decongestant essential oils, such as Lavandin Super, Fragrant Wintergreen, or Red Myrtle.
  • To appease the body aches, use essential oils that regulate the parasympathetic, muscular antispasmodic and rubefacient systems, such as Noble Laurel, Fragrant Wintergreen and Lavandin Super.
  • In case of'sprain, use anti-hematoma, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and musculotropic spasmolytic essential oils, such as Italian Helichrysum, Super Lavandin, Lemon Eucalyptus and Peppermint. 
  • Against one back pain, stuck back or lumbago, use joint analgesic, relaxing and anti-inflammatory essential oils, such as Odorous Wintergreen, Scots Pine, Lavandin Super or even Roman Chamomile.
  • In case of torticollis, use anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, neuromuscular relaxant and circulatory tonic essential oils such as Lemon Eucalyptus, Camphor Rosemary, Wintergreen or Vetiver.

Essential oils for the nervous system

By nervous system, we mean the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), but also peripheral (nerves, receptors). Certain essential oils will interact strongly with these systems, sometimes helping to regulate it, sometimes stimulating it, sometimes even short-circuiting it. These essential oils intended for our the nervous system are mainly used via the skin, via the bloodstream, but also via the respiratory route, allowing the sensory receptors of smell to be touched. Here are some examples of common applications:

  • In case of anxiety attack, emotional shock, use hypotensive and anti-arrhythmic, calming and antispasmodic essential oils, such as Complete Ylang Ylang, Roman Chamomile or Exotic Verbena.
  • To promote the concentration, use essential oils that regulate sympathetic, tonic and general stimulating systems, such as Noble Laurel, Peppermint and Black Spruce.
  • In case of'hyperactivity, use calming, antispasmodic and muscle-relaxing essential oils, such as Roman Chamomile, Petit Grain Bigarade, Green Mandarin.
  • In case of severe fatigue, use invigorating and stimulating, balancing and antispasmodic essential oils, such as Peppermint, Black Spruce, Scots Pine and Basil.
  • In case of neuralgia, use local analgesic and strongly spasmolytic essential oils, such as Roman Chamomile, Peppermint and Lemon Eucalyptus.
  • Against the insomnia, but also to improve the quality of sleep, use antispasmodic, calming and anxiolytic, or even sedative, oils, such as the essential oil of Greenland Ledon, Shelled Marjoram and Petitgrain Bigarade.
  • Against the stress, use calming and relaxing, spasmolytic and anxiolytic, hypotensive and antiarrhythmic essential oils, such as Petit Grain Bigarade, Complete Ylang-Ylang and Lemongrass essential oils.
  • In support of a depression, and appropriate monitoring, use parasympathicotonic, calming and anxiolytic, endocrine harmonizing essential oils, such as Neroli, Shelled Marjoram, Fragrant Verbena, Little Grain Bigarade.

Essential oils for the digestive system

The properties of certain essential oils, used orally or through the skin, help support our digestive system against many everyday health concerns: antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, detoxifying essential oils, etc. Here is an overview of some common applications of essential oils:
  • In case of'aerophagia, use antispasmodic gastric and intestinal, choleretic and cholagogue, antibacterial and anti-fermentative essential oils, such as Tropical Basil, Caraway, Coriander (seeds) or Lemon.
  • In case of constipation, use stomachic essential oils, spasmolytic of the smooth muscles of digestion, carminative and tonic of the digestive system, such as Tarragon, Bergamot, Coriander and Ginger.
  • For a detox, use decongestant, draining and hepatic detoxifying, anti-oxidant, aquaretic and diuretic essential oils, such as Lemon, Rosemary Verbenone, Peppermint and Juniper.
  • In case of diarrhea, turista, use powerfully anti-infectious essential oils in the intestinal sphere, spasmolytic and carminative, such as Chinese Cinnamon, Basil, Peppermint and Cardamom.
  • Against one gastroenteritis, use major anti-infectious, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory, immunostimulating and analgesic essential oils, such as Chinese Cinnamon, Tea Tree, Cardamom, Tarragon or Peppermint.
  • Against the travel sickness, use antispasmodic essential oils for the digestive organs and carminatives, such as Peppermint, Cardamom, Lemon or Petit Grain Bigarade.

Essential oils for the ENT & respiratory sphere

Natural defenses of aromatic plants, essential oils are for the most part anti-infectious: their very broad spectrum of action against viruses and bacteria makes them suitable tools for sometimes poorly defined problems, such as influenza. They are particularly used a lot on the eNT sphere, by skin application or by inhalation.
  • Against one angina, use antiviral and antibacterial, analgesic, immunostimulating and anti-inflammatory essential oils, such as Niaouli, Tea Tree or Ravintsara.
  • In case of'pollen allergy, use antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic essential oils, such as Annual Tansy, Fine Lavender, Lemon Eucalyptus.
  • In case of flu, use broad-spectrum antiviral, immunostimulating, endocrine stimulating and anti-neuralgic essential oils, such as Ravintsara, Black Spruce, Noble Laurel, or Eucalyptus Radiata.
  • To relieve theasthma, use relaxing and spasmolytic essential oils of the respiratory sphere, anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, expectorant and mucolytic, such as Roman Chamomile, Lemon Eucalyptus, Red Myrtle or Khella.
  • Against one otitis, use anti-inflammatory essential oils from the ENT sphere, broad-spectrum antibacterial and analgesic, such as Thyme, Eucalyptus Radiata, Fine Lavender.
  • For strengthen immunity, use immunostimulating essential oils of course, but also anti-infectious, detoxifying and hepatoprotective oils, such as Ravintsara, Tea Tree, Lemon, Thyme and Thymol.
  • Against one common cold, use anti-infectious and anti-inflammatory, mucolytic and expectorant, decongestant and slightly analgesic essential oils, such as Eucalyptus Radiata, Field Mint, Balsam Fir, Thyme with Linalool.
  • Against one cough oily, use expectorant and mucolytic, antibacterial, antiviral and immunostimulating essential oils, such as Green Myrtle, Niaouli, Eucalyptus Radiata or Tea Tree.

Other health applications of essential oils

In order to complete the tour of the multiple health uses of essential oils, we must mention:

Essential oils in atmospheric diffusion

Essential oils are commonly used in atmospheric diffusion, for several types of applications: for clean the ambient air (thanks to the anti-microbial and purifying properties of essential oils), against bad smells (by purifying the germs responsible for bad odors), to benefit from the calming or stimulating properties essential oils (by improving the quality of sleep, or concentration at work), or simply to reproduce a natural smell which is dear to us (smell of forest, lavender field, etc.).

It is important to note that not all essential oils are permitted for diffusion. You can find a list of authorized essential oils here.

In order to diffuse these essential oils, you can use a spray or an aromatic diffuser. We do not recommend the use of sprays, as essential oils are mixed with alcohol sprayed into micro-droplets, which quickly fall to the ground: their effectiveness is therefore very short-lived. If you want to use a essential oil diffuser, know that there are several technologies of varying effectiveness: the best of them is undoubtedly the diffusion by nebulization.

Essential oils to take care of your hair

How can essential oils take good care of our hair? It is indeed an application that we would not really have an idea of ​​given the numerous properties previously mentioned, which are more therapeutic than cosmetic. Indeed, essential oils are not cosmetic products in their own right. However, their astonishing virtues make them excellent "additives", or "concentrated active ingredients" to complement the effectiveness of a cosmetic product, a neutral base or a homemade mixture. Concerning hair care, essential oils will be able to act on several axes:

  • Some will improve the vascularization of the scalp, thanks to their vasodilator properties;
  • Some will cleanse the scalp, thanks to their antiseptic properties;
  • Finally, some will act on the secretion of sebum from the scalp, thanks in particular to their lipolytic properties.

This is how essential oils help accelerate hair growth, slow down hair loss, take care of hair that is too oily or too dry, etc.

Essential oils in the bath

Whether to derive cosmetic or therapeutic virtues, it seems very tempting to use essential oils in your bath, or even in the shower. However, it is important to note that all essential oils are insoluble in water. To benefit from their virtues, you have two main options: 
  • You can add them to your shower gel. It's easy, but on the one hand you may be using solid soaps, on the other hand, by exceeding a certain dose there is a risk of "shifting" the shower gel.
  • You can also, and this is preferable, use them as bath salt, by mixing them with Dead Sea salt or Epsom salt. You thus benefit from the properties of salt, but also from a support of choice, which keeps well and allows perfect dilution.
Essential oils are used very well in the bath for the following applications: to take care of your figure, to calm rheumatism, to boost your libido, as a muscle relaxant, to sleep well, to strengthen your immunity, etc.

Essential oils as massage oil

Making a massage oil with essential oils is very easy, very effective and very common. Using only a few products, we obtain a personalized oil that is relatively stable over time.

This requires vegetable oils as a base (Borage, Apricot Kernel, Macadamia, Sweet Almond, Jojoba, etc.), the choice of which will depend more on the expected texture than on the intrinsic properties of the oil. Once the base has been established (potentially a mixture of several vegetable oils), it is possible to add an average of 5% essential oils, depending on the properties expected from this massage.

You will be able to make massage oils relaxing or toning oils, recovery oils after sports, slimming massage oils, etc.

Essential oils to make your own perfume

In the collective imagination, before hearing about aromatherapy, an essential oil is above all an odor, a scent, a perfume. Beyond their use in aromatherapy, it should be noted that for centuries, essential oils have been the basic ingredient of all perfumers, and that even today certain perfumes use a few natural and non-synthetic fragrances, derived from essential oils. Likewise, certain essential oils that are inexpensive in conventional agriculture such as Lavandin, Lemon or Mint are still used as perfume for everyday consumer products such as laundry detergents or certain soaps.

The question that interests us here: can we manufacture its scent with essential oils ? Yes, you can use essential oils to bring together the different notes of your perfume, and then mix them in alcohol or vegetable oil. For example, you can use the following essential oils:

  • Top notes: Tea Tree, Basil, Lemon, etc.
  • Heart note: Roman Chamomile, Palmarosa, Cinnamon, etc.
  • As a base note: Atlas cedar, Cistus, Patchouli, etc.

However, we must qualify our remarks. Many essential oils have an odor that may be unpleasant. Making perfume at home with essential oils, although possible and very fun, is not a very common practice. It often requires numerous trials before finding the perfect mixture, and also and above all time.

Essential oils and animals

Essential oils do not, of course, interact exclusively with human organisms. Asking the question of essential oils for animals is therefore legitimate and can be done on two axes:

  • Can we care for animals with essential oils? Yes, essential oils are often used in veterinary therapy, to treat farm animals, horses, but also cats and dogs. It is important to note that animals do not react to essential oils like we do, and special precautions should be used. Be particularly careful with pets, especially cats. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian.
  • Can we treat pests with essential oils? Yes, essential oils are very effective for repel pests or unwanted insects, sometimes simply thanks to their strong odor (rodents are very sensitive to it), or by the insect-repellent properties of certain aromatic molecules, repelling mosquitoes, wasps and flies.

Essential oils at home

Finally, and we will end this guide with this aspect of essential oils, these magnificent natural extracts can be invited into our homes, in 2 very different ways:

  • In our recipes from kitchen. If essential oils have a smell, they also have a taste. Their taste is even very strong and the first time, we often tend to overdose them. Very often, just 1 drop is enough to flavor an entire dish. Essential oils derived from spices and citrus fruits are of course often used, but you can also innovate with floral essential oils: originality guaranteed!
  • In the making our household products. To disinfect and clean, you now know the relevance of these powerful aromatic compounds: they therefore often hold a special place in “homemade” laundry detergents, detergents and cleaners, either to enhance their effectiveness or to provide a pleasant smell.

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Bibliography

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Work : Falcon, M. (2017). Treatise on scientific and medical aromatherapy: Essential oils, foundations and prescription aids (3rd ed). Blood of the Earth.

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About these tips

This aromatherapy article was written by Théophane de la Charie, author of the book “Treat yourself with essential oils”, accompanied by a multidisciplinary team made up of pharmacists, biochemists and agronomists. 

La Compagnie des Sens and its teams do not encourage self-medication. The information and advice provided comes from a reference bibliographic database (books, scientific publications, etc.). They are given for information purposes, or to suggest avenues for reflection: they should in no case replace a diagnosis, consultation or medical follow-up, and cannot engage the liability of the Compagnie des Sens.