Essential oils are kind of all the rage right now (have you been invited to as many Tupperware-esque EO parties as we have?), but what’s the real deal with these plant essences in a bottle? We sought out a little help from expert Adina Grigore of S.W. Basics to learn more.
Adina started making her own skincare products when she noticed that her personal training and nutrition consulting clients were still experiencing skin issues, even after holistic diet changes and eating clean—and she herself experienced redness, irritation, breakouts and more, all while eating healthfully and thoughtfully. “These were products that were as clean as something you could eat,” she says. “But I knew my clients wouldn’t want to DIY.”
That idea jump-started what eventually became known as S.W. Basics, a skin and bodycare line that is now sold in Target stores nationwide. Adina also created a green beauty movement called #SkinCleanse with her first book of the same name—and now she’s enlightening the world about essential oils and their incredible power to heal, soothe and nurture our skin and our everyday lives with her book Just the Essentials.
So what five oils does Adina recommend you start with? We’ve laid them all out below, including a couple DIY recipes we’re already mixing up in our kitchens.
Lemon oil is commonly used in the kinds of commercially available cleaning products you encounter every day. These days, of course, a lot of those flavors and smells are made artificially, but still, there’s a reason that lemon has become so universally identified with freshness and cleanliness: Lemon oil is a powerful antibacterial, astringent, and antiseptic agent.
Diluted lemon oil can be very effective when it comes to skincare because of its high concentration of D-limonene, a compound that assists in diminishing the appearance of wrinkles, promoting circulation, and toning the skin. In fact, recent research showed that D-limonene exhibits powerful skin-repairing and anti-inflammatory properties.The scent of lemon oil has also been shown to have a powerful effect on mood. One study’s findings suggest that lemon oil vapor has antidepressant qualities. Another compelling study found that the scent of lemon oil boosted participants’ moods, a finding confirmed through self-reported data as well as empirical data (elevated levels of the anti-stress hormone norepinephrine were measured in the blood of participants).
Quick Countertop Lemon Spray
- 1 cup water
- 1/2cup white vinegar
- 1/4cup hydrogen peroxide
- 20 drops lemon oil
Combine all of the ingredients in a spritzer and shake before use. Don’t use on granite or stone countertops. The lemon spray will last for 12 months, though you’ll use it up before then.
Derived from both the bark and leaf of the Cinnamomum verum tree, cinnamon is actually one of history’s oldest essential oils, with the Egyptians recording their extensive use of it in Ebers Papyrus, a medical text dating to approximately 1550 BCE. At that time cinnamon was a hot commodity. It was expensive and hard to get because Arab traders controlled most of the supply coming from Sri Lanka and India and—in a pretty savvy marketing tactic—they kept the true source of their supply a secret. Fortunately for us, price and access to cinnamon oil are no obstacle today.
In aromatherapy, cinnamon essential oil can be used to help clear up chest colds. Applied topically, it can soothe muscle aches and pains, thanks to its antispasmodic and analgesic properties. It’s also an antiseptic and makes a powerful natural preservative. It is both antibacterial and antimicrobial, as well as being anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving. Some studies have shown that cinnamon oil contains powerful antioxidants and may be useful in fighting neurological disorders and heart disease.
Lemongrass is a fast-growing, tropical grass native to Sri Lanka and south India and is now cultivated in warm climates in Africa and Asia. The entire plant is utilized in everything from tea to cleaning products, and it has been used for years in Indian healing traditions to treat maladies like gastrointestinal issues and fever (it earned the nickname “fever grass”).
Lemongrass essential oil is derived from the steam distillation of the plant and, true to its name, it possesses a mild, sweet, lemony-yet-herbal aroma. There is plenty of evidence that lemongrass possesses powerful medicinal and pharmacological properties, including the potential to slow the growth of cancerous cells and tumors. Research also shows that lemongrass essential oil is antibacterial and anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and can be a potent insect repellent. Its antifungal properties are especially helpful in combating the nasty yeast associated with dandruff. One study noted that participants who used a dandruff tonic with a 10 percent concentration of lemongrass oil saw a significant reduction in dandruff in as little as a week.
Clary sage is a perennial plant that is native to the northern Mediterranean region and North Africa; its essential oil is derived via the steam distillation of the plant’s flowering tops and leaves. Although the ancient Egyptians used clary sage in medicinal practices, it wasn’t until medieval times that clary sage really took off. During this time, doctors and herbalists used clary sage seeds to help treat vision problems; “clary” is derived from the Latin word for clear, “clarus.”
Clary sage possesses myriad beneficial properties for the skin: It’s antibacterial, astringent, antiseptic, and can help improve circulation. Clary sage has also been lauded for its ability to regulate hormones, and its scent is thought to have antidepressant effects. A 2014 study of twenty-two postmenopausal women in their fifties—some of whom were depressed—showed that breathing diffused clary sage helped to alleviate participants’ depression by lowering cortisol levels and improving thyroid hormone levels. And a 2012 study revealed that clary sage—along with lavender and marjoram—makes an effective massage treatment for alleviating menstrual pain and cramping.
Cramp Relief Oil
- 1 tablespoon evening primrose oil
- 10 drops Roman chamomile essential oil (Note: this is different from German chamomile essential oil.)
- 10 drops clary sage essential oil10 drops marjoram essential oil
Combine all of the ingredients in the container of your choice. Use like a massage oil, rubbing all over your lower abdomen and/or anywhere else you have pain.
Lavender is ubiquitous for a reason—it really is a super-powered essential oil. While it may be everywhere, a lot of people don’t know much about it, aside from it’s signature aroma. First of all, what we call lavender is actually Lavandula angustifolia, one type of lavender among thirty-nine total species. Different species have different properties, but all types of lavender contain large proportions of linalool, linalyl acetate, eucalyptol, and camphor. That’s a lot of components to have in high quantities, and it’s the reason it’s such a powerhouse essential oil. Lavender is: sedative, antispasmodic, antianxiety, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, anesthetic, anticarcinogenic, immune-boosting, and antiviral.
Lavender oil is well regarded as safe, but it does have a high content of linalool, which can be sensitizing for some people. As with all essential oils, and ingredients in general, be sure to try a small amount on your skin, diluted at about 6 drops in 1 tablespoon of carrier oil, and watch for a reaction.