The Basic Guide to Essential Oils

A beginner’s first steps to choosing the best essential oils.

Aromatherapy is no longer relegated to incense-laden mall shops from the 1990s. It’s a thriving subset of mainstream herbal medicine in which DIY essential oil recipes online and on social media help to drive up the stock of familiar scents like lavender, lemon and peppermint on shelves at local grocery stores and retail chains.

These days, a “there’s an oil for that” mentality often overlooks the reality of unsafe usage recommendations and the complexity of oils beyond their one-to-one pairing with specific therapeutic benefits—limit lavender’s use to restfulness and you’ll miss its potential antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Using essential oils for aromatherapy is actually an intimately personal science. It’s not one size fits all when it comes to blending or use, so it’s necessary to know the basics when you’re face to face with a bottle asking, “What do I do now?”

How to Choose Essential Oils

Name Your Purpose.

Have you sought out essential oils for a physical issue? Is it chronic or acute? Perhaps the motivation is mental, emotional, even spiritual—you’re simply looking to evoke peace and relaxation.

Informative guides and articles can only take you up to the door of personal preference. Lavender’s sedative effect, for example, is my first choice when experiencing insomnia, but personal smell preferences render it intolerable to some friends and family who would opt for ylang ylang or vetiver. Understanding your issue and preferred scents are the first steps to choosing the oils right for you.

Mix and Blend Oils.

Oils are often greater than the sum of their parts. Combining aromatic molecules of already potent individual oils results in synergy towards your specific goal.

When I was prescribed over-the-counter and prescription pain medication for inflammation from symptoms of Lyme disease, their function simply masked the pain like molecular band aids.

The switch to blended oils of cypress, peppermint, wintergreen, helichrysum, and frankincense—oils indicated to have cooling pain relief and circulation properties—became an effective nightly routine.

Realistically, absorbing such facts as oil chemotype and potential contraindications for every product is simply too tall an order. But learning to blend oils with similar chemical components results in greater effects. For example, blending ho-wood, rosewood, and Spanish marjoram, oils possessing high amounts of linalool, a monoterpene alcohol, creates a synergy for sleep.

Buy Quality Products.

Source and price, even packaging quality, are the two primary indicators of purity. All essential oils are not of the same quality, and while expensive price points need not dominate the market, consider your purpose.

Intending to ingest essential oils for irritable bowel syndrome? Looking to apply them topically for inflammation or pain? Conduct responsible research before you proceed beyond aromatherapy.

There is no regulatory body like the FDA that scientifically evaluates and certifies the purity of essential oils in the United States, and it’s estimated that approximately 75% of essential oils on the market have negligible therapeutic value.

Baseless claims and popular gimmicks include labels like, “therapeutic grade” or “certified pure”—indications that simply exist as promotional catchphrases. Trusted, high-quality suppliers, however, will consistently indicate plant genus and species, distillation process and location, and its categorization as organic or wild-harvested on all bottle labels.


Diffuse to Relax or Disinfect.

Diffusion refers to “permeation,” the process of transmitting essential oil molecules into the air within your environment and typically serves two purposes: reducing air microbes and imparting positive psychological effects.

I turn to my diffuser for a multitude of reasons—ambiance, relaxation, sleep, alertness, motivation, seasonal disinfecting. 

Clinical research shows that diffusing lemon essential oil correlates to a positive effect on test anxiety while cinnamon bark oil and lemongrass oil significantly disinfected six common respiratory pathogens when diffused into the air.

The diffusion process has become synonymous with the ultrasonic essential oil diffuser from distributors like Young Living, but DIY options are relatively simple to create. Grab a glass container, rattan sticks, a carrier oil, the preferred essential oil, and you’ve created a simplified diffusion system.

The ease of access and relative affordability in addressing medical symptoms make essential oils an invaluable tool in holistic wellness. Rollerballs of peppermint and lavender for headaches, orange, lemon and vanilla for stress relief, thieves oil for colds, and frankincense and grapeseed oil for acute pain rarely leave my side.

Inspired to try essential oils for their benefits but not sure where to start? Reach out here to discuss how essential oils can impact your life or visit for more information.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *