So, you’re getting into making your own body products and household cleaners. You’ve found a supplier, you’ve found their essential oils section… and whoa. There are hundreds. And they all sound amazing. The reviews rave about how this one cured their epilepsy and that one healed a 2′ long scar. The descriptions promise calming, healing, anti-bacterial cleansing, and to solve all your problems. And they come in such tiny bottles that you start filling up your cart with little $2–$10 bottles… and before you know it, you’ve got $400 of essential oils sitting in an online shopping cart, and you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.

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I’ve been there, and I hope I can help. Here’s a quick guide to buying your first essential oils. The reasons you’re buying them, the things you’ll use them for, and which ones will give you the most bang for your buck.

There are three big reasons you add essential oils to things. We’ll cover each use as their own department and go from there.

  1. Scent
  2. Physical effects (pain killing, anti bacterial, etc.)
  3. Aromatherapy effects (calming, sleep inducing, etc.)
Some of the citrus essential oils. You can tell they're pretty inexpensive by the size of the bottles.

Some of the citrus essential oils. You can tell they’re pretty inexpensive by the size of the bottles.

Scent
To me, this category is the most important, because if you hate the scent of something you’ll likely never use it. The “effects” categories are secondary (in my opinion) because there are very few tasks that only one essential oil can accomplish. So, start by thinking about what you like, and go from there, keeping in mind that not everything botanical has an essential oil (coconut, for example—how sad!).

This is pretty much my entire collection of floral essential oils. With the exception of lavender, they're pretty pricey!

This is pretty much my entire collection of floral essential oils. With the exception of lavender, they’re pretty pricey!

To help you make some decisions, we can break the scents down into a few categories:

Citrus—Fairly self explanatory. Things like lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, and bergamot. Many citrus oils (unless marked berapaten(e) free) can cause photosensitivity in the skin, depending on usage rate, so be sure to take care with those. They’re great for soaps and cleaning products thanks to their fresh smell. They’re also quite cheap, thanks to the plentiful oils in the skins of these inexpensive and easily available fruits.

Floral—Everything from lavender to rose, this category contains some of the most expensive essential oils around (pure rose essential oil will cost you ~$100/5mL). These oils are easily identified as they always come from flowers.

Minty—Peppermint and spearmint. Mmmm. Wintergreen is also fresh and minty smelling, but its high salicin content makes it a bit harder to use.

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Woodsy—These oils come from trees. Cedarwood, fir, pine, spruce, rosewood, and sandalwood all hang out in here. Oils like cedarwood and pine and fairly inexpensive, whereas sandalwood is quite pricey (~$50/5mL) and true rosewood is almost impossible to buy as the tree it is from is endangered.

SpicyThis fantastic category of essential oils is great for soaps since the prices are generally quite good. Think cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and turmeric. You can generally choose from a variety of plant types and plant parts as well, which is always neat. The prices in this category vary between oils and over the seasons; when I first started cinnamon bark essential oil was very affordable, and as of 2018 it’s crazy expensive.

Herbaceous—For this category, think basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and other leafy things you might add to your food (don’t cook with their essential oils, though). Don’t be surprised when the essential oils don’t smell much like their leafy counterparts.

There are, of course, more categories, but these are the big ones. I’d recommend dabbling in the citrus, spice, floral, and minty categories to get started, and then working your way out from there.

I love woodsy essential oils! I just wish the scent would hang around longer in soap.

I love woodsy essential oils! I just wish the scent would hang around longer in soap.

Physical Effects
You won’t be hard pressed to find essential oils that make a wide variety of claims towards improving your physical health. For this category, I’d recommend brainstorming up a list of ailments you’d like to target (pain, antibacterial, etc.) and researching which essential oils are said to help. There are almost always multiple oils for any ailment. Choose some that you think you’ll enjoy the scent of. My favourite way to do this research is to use New Directions Aromatics “advanced search” function. Ensure “search descriptions” is checked, and then search for your ailment. Something will likely turn up.

Spicy essential oils! You'll likely recognize most of these names from your spice drawer.

Spicy essential oils! You’ll likely recognize most of these names from your spice drawer.

Aromatherapy Effects
Again, the aromatherapy effects for most essential oils are numerous. I’d do the same as with the physical ailments—look up the ailment, and then choose one of the (likely numerous) options. Read reviews, go through the scent description, look at what it blends well with, and go from there.

I have a few herb essential oils, but I generally find them to bit a bit too food-scented for most lotions and what not.

I have a few herb essential oils, but I generally find them to bit a bit too food-scented for most lotions and what not.

A Starter Shopping List

  • Lavender (~$6/15mL)—the quintessential essential oil, lavender is calming, anti-bacterial, and blends well
  • Tea tree ($3/15mL)—another essential oil with mainstream popularity, tea tree is a great anti-bacterial and anti-fungal oil
  • Lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit (pick 2 based on preference)($2–$5/15mL)—fantastic for cleaning products and soaps
  • Peppermint or spearmint ($3–6/15mL)—you’ll love these for lip balms
  • Eucalyptus Globulus ($3/15mL)—great for skin ailments, sore joints, and colds & flus
  • Rosemary ($5/15mL)—balancing, good for hair, antiseptic/antimicrobial
  • A favourite scent or two, so you’ve got something for when you just want something to smell awesome
This is my suggested starter kit.

This is my suggested starter kit.

Optional add-ons

  • Chamomile ($15+/15mL)—calming and awesome smelling (in my opinion, at least)
  • Cinnamon bark ($17/15mL)—great for soaps and anything you want with a holiday scent, it’s also topically warming (case in point on pricing varying with seasons and crops: I had this marked at $3/15mL when I wrote this post, it’s now closer to $20/15ml!)
  • Patchouli— ($4/15mL) for your hippy at heart
  • Ginger root ($3/15mL)—great spicy scent & topically warming. Be sure to get CO2 distilled as the steam distilled stuff does not smell like ginger.

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Well, I hope that helps! I’d love to hear about your personal must-have essential oils, and feel free to comment with any more questions you might have 🙂

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