10 Essential Oils & Their Health Benefits

Words: Robyn Samuels

Self-care Sundays and the rise of alternative wellness have led to the rediscovery of aromatherapy. Now, more than ever, people are turning to essential oils to treat a range of conditions, from tummy aches to migraines and, in some cases, sexual arousal. Essential oils offer a host of benefits, but with over 150 different scents and unique applications, it can be difficult to sniff out what’s really ‘essential’. If you’re new to the world of aromatherapy, these 10 different essential oils are a good starting point – and for the sceptics out there, we’ve backed up the benefits with science.

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are concentrated liquid extracted from plants, fruits, flowers, herbs, roots and tree bark. These aromatic oils carry the organic essence and smell derived from the natural source. Essential oils are created by method of distillation or cold-pressing.

How Aromatherapy Works

Holistic and traditional Chinese medicine have been using essential oils for centuries. They can act in different ways, depending on how they are used. In aromatherapy, essential oils are believed to enhance well-being and health; they can be inhaled or used in a massage.

When inhaled orthonasally, the aromatic molecules contained in essential oils stimulate nerves in the olfactory system. The molecules then bind to multiple receptors and generate sensory signals, which travel to the central nervous system, limbic system and hypothalamus. These centres control the body’s ability to interpret emotion and produce hormones that impact heart rate, hunger, and even memory. When used topically, essential oils seep into the skin through evaporation and are absorbed into the bloodstream.

10 Essential Oils & their Benefits

Essential oils have different purposes, including aromatherapy, skincare and culinary uses in food and beverages. Besides direct inhalation, they can be inserted into a diffuser or air vaporiser. Because pure essential oils are highly concentrated, some may opt to combine a droplet or two with a carrier oil like coconut oil, when applied topically. Certain essential oils are diluted with water and consumed, but this is not recommended as impure oils may contain toxic substances. *Always consult a doctor before experimenting with essential oils.

These 10 types of essential oils have diverse functions, from supposedly treating migraines to boosting cognitive performance.

African Wormwood – Pain

Unique to South Africa, African wormwood is also derived from the Artemisia species, like mugwort. Wormwood essential oil is extracted from the stems and leaves of this plant. While having been used as a medicinal treatment for centuries, more research is needed to determine extended benefits. Wormwood was used by ancient Egyptians for treating parasitic infections. It is also believed to help treat inflammation.

Wormwood contains 𝜶-thujone, a toxic ingredient found in absinthe. Because of this, ingesting or inhaling excessive amounts of wormwood oil could lead to poisoning – it’s advised to consult a doctor before applying this oil.

Bergamot – Hair

This essential oil is derived from the South Asian citrus fruit, bergamot, which is a cross between a lemon and bitter orange  – the rind is cold-pressed. Besides being used in Earl Grey tea and perfume, this ‘spicy’ citrus fruit and essential oil has a calming effect. Bergamot oil acts as a natural sedative – great for those who struggle with sleep.

Limonene, the active ingredient in citrus fruits, has antimicrobial and analgesic traits – hence bergamot’s sedative properties. Some studies have shown that it may help with hair growth and treat psoriasis (best used with a carrier oil). Those with skin conditions and comorbidities should consult a doctor before using bergamot oil – it could cause an adverse reaction or upset the central nervous system – especially for diabetics.

Eucalyptus – Breathing

Besides camphor, eucalyptus is one of the best natural remedies for treating respiratory problems, which is why it’s an active ingredient in many cold and flu medications. Eucalyptus is an expectorant, making it useful for getting rid of excess phlegm and alleviating a bad cough. Place a couple of eucalyptus oil drops in a warm water bath to inhale the vapour. Some studies suggest that it may help patients with steroid-dependent asthma, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Lavender – Body

Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils, thanks to its divine smell. This essential oil is known for its calming and therapeutic effects on the mind and body, which is why inhaling it may improve one’s quality of sleep. It’s also believed to alleviate anxiety; lavender oil acts as an analgesic (painkiller) and mood stabiliser. One study found that it could be useful in treating acute migraines.

Lemongrass – Other

Often used in Asian cuisine, lemongrass lends incredible aroma and flavour to many dishes. As an essential oil, lemongrass may improve high blood pressure and digestive problems, like diarrhoea. Dermatological applications include treating skin conditions, as lemongrass has antifungal and antibacterial properties – lemongrass essential oils are highly concentrated, so it’s best to dilute it with a neutral moisturiser or carrier oil. While it’s often incorporated into cosmetic products, more research is needed to determine its side effects.

Mugwort – Tummy

Not the most attractive name for an essential oil, but mugwort offers loads of health benefits, like potentially treating premenstrual syndrome symptoms, dysmenorrhea (period cramps) and menopause in women. Mugwort contains monoterpenoids, which are believed to relieve pain. This powerful essential oil can also act as a sedative – some have reported having wild dreams after using mugwort, so make sure to consult a doctor before applying it.

Myrrh – Head

After gold and frankincense comes myrrh; this essential oil is made from gum resin (tree sap), produced by the thorny shrub, Commiphora myrrha. Myrrh dates back to ancient Egypt. Besides being used in perfume, people often used it to treat wounds and skin abrasions – and historically, to embalm the deceased in the process of mummification.

Biblically, it was used as an anointing oil, however, it’s also been known to be an aphrodisiac. Its scent is filled with bitter, sweet, liquorice, musky and, uhm, rubbery aromas. Myrrh is also an analgesic, which may help alleviate lower back pain, inflammation and migraines.

Rosemary – Brain

Rosemary is one of the most popular fresh herbs, both in the culinary and aromatherapy world. This fragrant essential oil has vast medicinal properties and has been used for centuries. Inhaling rosemary oil could result in improved cognitive functioning and concentration, according to one study. Rosemary contains an active ingredient, 1,8-cineole – also found in eucalyptus, sage and wormwood – that inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, which helps strengthen our memory, brain functioning and muscle activity.

Tea Tree – Skin

Most people swear by this magic oil, and for good reason. Tea tree has extensive applications, from being used to treat skin conditions like psoriasis, contact dermatitis and athletes’ foot to fighting off invasive germs thanks to its antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties. It even acts as an insect repellant – take that mosquitos!

Many cosmetic products contain tea tree oil; according to one study, it could be effective in treating acne, naturally.

While it took longer before participants noticed an improved appearance in their skin, the study also revealed that tea tree oil could be safer to use, having fewer side effects compared to benzoylperoxide. Be careful though, tea tree oil can be pretty intense, so we recommend diluting it with a carrier oil.

Ylang-ylang – Mind

Pronounced ‘eelang-eelang’, this essential oil has been associated with treating anxiety; one study determined that it could be used as a mood enhancer to improve self-esteem. Other benefits may include helping treat asthma, headaches, gout, stomach problems and high blood pressure. Ylang-ylang is said to be an aphrodisiac and may stimulate arousal.

Tips for buying essential oils

With an overwhelming amount of brands on the market, finding authentic and ‘pure’ essential oils can be tricky. Misleading brands often sell tainted products that have been diluted with synthetic fragrances and other nasty ingredients like pesticides (yes!), fillers and other additives. Reading online reviews and doing some brand stalking could help you avoid spending hundreds, if not thousands, on compromised products. But if you can’t corroborate marketed benefits with reputable online sources, this is what to look out for:

  • Purity – first of all, it’s important to note that even if an essential oil is 100% pure, meaning that it doesn’t contain artificial ingredients, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s of good quality. Look up testimonials and online reviews.
  • Organic blends vs. 100% pure oils – while organic blends still contain nature-sourced materials and should not contain synthetic ingredients, they are still not ‘pure’.
  • Allergens – those with severe food/skin allergies should analyse labels before testing essential oils. Even with undiagnosed allergies, you could develop an adverse reaction after usage. If this occurs, discontinue use and contact a doctor if it worsens.
  • Know what you’re buying – blended oils could be promoted as ‘pure’ by brands looking to boost profit margins or skim production costs involved in making rarer essential oils.
  • Labelling – look out for 100% pure, therapeutic-grade or steam-distilled on the label. Furthermore, vague and misleading labels might say ‘aromatherapy’.
  • Fair pricing and certification – if you are sceptical of the pricing and authenticity of the product, contact the brand before purchasing anything.

Learn all about adaptogens and their role in alternative wellness and balancing stress.


  1. Thank you, Robyn, for compiling such a comprehensive guide on essential oils and their amazing health benefits. Your dedication to providing valuable information is evident in every word. Well done

  2. Essential oils truly are nature’s little miracles, and your breakdown of their health benefits is fantastic. Has anyone here experimented with these oils and noticed specific health improvements?

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