The 5 Most Useful Essential Oils

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While natural beauty guru Rachel Winard (of the cult-favorite brand Soapwalla) and I were talking about good, easy facials to make with food that might currently be in your kitchen, I also asked her for pointers on how to start an essential oil collection. Essentially: What are the essential essential oils? She suggested these five (for which you could come up with your own mnemonic, too — my first attempt is “let little ponies eat … tea trees.”) Anyway, I’ll turn this over to Rachel now…

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Lavender is naturally anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, making it the perfect natural first aid remedy. For bug bites or stings, apply a drop of pure lavender essential oil directly onto the raised bump to stop itching and swelling. You can do the same for pimples that are just rising to the surface.

For minor burns from hot liquids or the sun, apply a few drops of lavender essential oil neat (undiluted) or diluted in pure distilled water to the area. The lavender will alleviate discomfort and swelling.

NOTE: Do NOT do this for second- or third-degree burns.

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Lemon is naturally antiseptic and energizing. As a midday pick-me-up, apply a few drops of lemon essential oil to your palms, rub your hands together, then cup your nose and inhale deeply for a few seconds. This will also clear your airways naturally.

If you’re on the go and need to freshen up, you can apply a few drops of lemon oil to your underarms or the bottoms of your feet to combat odor. You can also apply to your hands as a hand sanitizer when washing isn’t available. I recommend diluting the lemon oil in pure almond or olive oil to lessen the chances of skin sensitivity.

NOTE: Citrus essential oils are photosensitizing, meaning that they make you more susceptible to harmful UV rays from the sun. I do not recommend applying citrus oils in concentration before going outside.

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Peppermint is one of the most popular and widely used essential oils — for a reason! A natural anti-imflammatory and anti-bacterial powerhouse, peppermint is perfect for nausea or motion sickness: Apply 4-6 drops of peppermint oil (diluted in 2 Tbs oil) to your abdomen in a circular motion. Massage the leftover oil into your palms, rub your hands together, then cup over your nose and breathe deeply for 15 seconds.

To treat itching, bruised and/or inflamed/red skin, apply a mixture of 5 drops peppermint oil to 1/4 cup olive or almond oil to unbroken skin. If you have a cut, apply the peppermint oil to the areas surrounding the wound. Note: This also works well for itchy poison ivy or poison oak.

For a natural headache reliever, apply the diluted peppermint mixture to your temples, the crown of your head and the nape of neck, and massage for 5-10 seconds each.

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Eucalyptus is best known for its incredible ability to relieve respiratory symptoms arising from seasonal allergies and colds. It’s been proven to kill the MRSA strep virus as well. To soothe airways, bring a pot of 8-10 cups water to a roiling boil on the stove. Turn off the heat, add 20 drops eucalyptus essential oil and a handful of kosher salt, place your face over the pot high enough that the steam won’t burn you, cover yourself and the pot with a towel, and breathe deeply for 5-7 minutes.

For earaches, fill an old tube sock with kosher salt — you’ll need a good 4-6 cups. Tie a double knot so the salt doesn’t escape, heat in a warm stove set at 250 degrees until the sock is warmed through but won’t burn your skin. When ready, remove the sock and apply 15 drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Lay down on your side with the aching ear toward the ceiling, place the sock on your ear (eucalyptus side down) and rest for 15 minutes. You can place a bandana between you and the sock if it’s uncomfortably warm.

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Tea Tree

Tea tree essential oil, like lavender, is one of the most anti-bacterial and anti-microbial ingredients on the planet. For athlete’s foot or fungal nail infections, apply tea tree oil neat to the affected area daily for a couple weeks.

To treat dandruff, apply 4 drops of tea tree oil to 1/4 cup unscented shampoo. Use a few times a week until the dandruff subsides. [Note: if you have dyed hair, do a spot check to see how the dye interacts with the essential oil.]

Dilute 6 drops of tea tree essential oil in 1/4 cup of pure almond or olive oil for an effective treatment against razor burn or cystic acne.

Note: I recommend purchasing the above essential oils from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Rachel Winard is the founder and president of Soapwalla, an award-winning luxury natural skincare line. Her philosophy: “The skin is our largest organ. For it to function at its best, we must feed it wholesome ingredients. If I refuse to put something in my body, I don’t want to put it on my body either.”

Prior to founding Soapwalla, Rachel was a Juilliard-trained violinist and New York City attorney. In her free time, Rachel practices yoga, boxing and groan-worthy puns.