While a trained aroma therapist may use as many as 50 to 100 essential oils in her work, you can fill most of your needs with just these 10, recommended especially for women by top aroma therapists. While researchers have documented the effects of essential oils such as lavender and tea tree, the health benefits of others on this list have not been studied as extensively. Aroma therapists and herbalists choose them and recommend them on the basis of years of experience.
1. Lavender: First Aid for Body and Soul
If you opt to use just one essential oil, make it lavender. A medicine chest in a bottle, it’s one of the safest and most widely used oils in aromatherapy. Lavender may help relieve depression, insomnia, headaches, and exhaustion, creating a feeling that’s serene and focused. Evidence suggests that it fights vaginal infections, menstrual cramps, and sore muscles.
Lavender is one of the very few essential oils that can be applied directly to the skin, undiluted. It has a reputation for healing burns, skin infections, and sun damage. All this, wrapped in a sweet floral scent. “When in doubt,” notes Green, “use lavender.”
A small study in Britain showed that a massage with lavender oil helped ease the discomfort that can follow breast cancer treatment. And when a few drops are sprinkled on your pillow at night, it promotes sleep. “If you’re anxious, you can put a dab on a handkerchief or tissue and sniff it once in a while to feel soothed,” says Shutes. “Mixed with other oils, it’s a great remedy for PMS.”
2. Chamomile: Blue-Hued Calm
Fans of chamomile tea maybe surprised by this essential oil. Made from the same tiny, daisy like flowers of German chamomile that are used in the hot drink, chamomile oil is bright cobalt blue, thanks to the presence of a compound called chamazulene. And it has a pungent odor. “Chamomile is good for migraines and PMS. The chamazulene helps reduce inflammation and puff mess,” says Green. “Like the tea, it also calms frayed nerves.”
Inhaled, chamomile has been used by aroma therapists to alleviate anxiety and depression at menopause. Science is beginning to substantiate that use: In Tokyo, a group of researchers found that chamomile vapors can reduce stress hormones in the blood.
3. Geranium: Righting the Body’s Natural Balance
Distilled from the fragrant leaves of the rose geranium (not the common geranium found on many windowsills), this sweet, rose-and-citrus-scented oil is used by herbalists and aroma therapists to ease fluid retention and menstrual cramps. In skin creams and lotions, aroma therapists use rose geranium to treat acne, eczema, and inflamed and infected wounds. It is even said to delay wrinkles.
“I use it for balancing menstrual irregularities and hormonal irregularities whenever the body’s natural balance is thrown off kilter,” says Shutes. “It’s great in the bath or in massage oil.”
4. Clary Sage: Well-Being by the Droplet
Distilled from the plant’s velvety leaves and purplish blooms, clary sage oil has a wine like aroma and, according to Green, the power to convert depression, PMS, and postpartum depression into feelings of well-being and even elation. It cools hot flashes, quiets menstrual cramps, and prompts intense dreams, too, she says.
“We use it in a PMS blend with geranium, lavender, and a dash of bergamot,” says Shutes. “Mixed in a massage oil, you rub it on your abdomen and lower back. I used it for six months and no longer have a problem with menstrual pain or emotional turmoil before my period.”
Aromatherapists caution that women with breast cysts and uterine fibroids should avoid long-term use of this essential oil, however, because it has an estrogen-like effect on the body.
5. Tea Tree: Gentle on Your Skin
With its spicy, eucalyptus-like scent, tea tree (sometimes called ti-tree) oil probably won’t find a place in your perfume collection. But it may play a starring role in your medicine cabinet. Studies show that this Australian oil effectively fights both fungal and bacterial infections, including the bacteria found in acne blemishes. Aromatherapists recommend tea tree oil for fighting infections of all sorts, from yeast infections to sinus infections and from vaginal infections to lung infections.
6. Grapefruit: A Tangy Pick-Me-Up
Spritzed into the air to cool hot flashes, stirred into a hot bath to relieve menstrual cramps, or inhaled as a depression-fighting scent, grapefruit oil is a brisk refresher. In one small Japanese study, people with depression who inhaled citrus scents were able to discontinue or drastically reduce doses of antidepressant medications.
7. Bergamot: The All-Around Remedy
Pressed from the zest of small, inedible fruits grown in Italy, bergamot is the familiar taste in Earl Grey tea, and, says Green, it’s a good remedy for water retention, yeast infections, and depression. This oil may even help control compulsive behaviors associated with eating disorders, she notes. An Italian study of bergamot suggests that this essential oil calms the nervous system.
Among the compounds in bergamot oil is dipentene, a chemical that, in nature, helps plants attract pollinating insects and repel germs that cause infection. Dipentene can act as a sedative, among other actions. Bergamot also contains linalool, a second compound that can fight infection. Another compound, bergapten, may cause a photosensitizing reaction when skin is exposed to the sun. If you plan to use homemade skin care products that contain bergamot when you will be exposed to the sun, Green suggests buying bergapten free essential oil.
8. Ylang-Ylang: Sensuous and Sexy
Exotic and heady, the sweet odor of ylang-ylang is an aphrodisiac for both women and men, according to Rose.
The intense fragrance of this essential oil, which is extracted from a plant whose name means “the flower of flowers,” heightens the senses, according to aroma therapists. In small amounts, such as 10 to 12 drops in an ounce of massage oil, this flowery oil has an anecdotal reputation as an aphrodisiac, says Green. But beware, she notes: In concentrations stronger than that, its intensely sweet smell may produce headaches and nausea.
9. Rose: Irrepressibly Feminine
Intensely floral and totally romantic, oil of rose may very well be the essential oil of love. Green and other herbalists say that rose oil can heal relationship conflicts, “open” the heart, spark sexual desire, and rejuvenate the complexion. “It’s the universal female tonic,” she notes.
Adding rose oil to a bath is not only soothing and relaxing; according to Rose, it can also counteract heavy menstrual bleeding. The catch? Rose oil is one of the costliest essential oils you can buy.
Breathe in the sweet aroma of rose, and you may ease the pain of loneliness, rejection, or a broken heart, says Green, who counts rose among her top essential oils for women.
10 Marjoram: The Hard- Working Healer
In a study in Scotland, researchers found that essential oil of marjoram inhibits the growth of some bacteria and fungi. Diluted and applied to the skin, Green says that this oil helps heal bruises and burns as well as easing menstrual cramps and even constipation when applied to the affected areas of the body.