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Best essential oils: Relax, refresh and soothe the mind from £6

We’ve found the best essential oils for sleep, for energy and more...

While essential oils have been in use since the 12th century, the rise of the wellness movement means their popularity has soared over the last decade. A quick search on Google reveals a seemingly never-ending supply of products that claim to cure all manner of ills, and while many of those claims are overblown, choosing the best essential oils for your particular ailment may yield some tangible benefits.

They have found incredible popularity over the last few years for their use in the worlds of alternative medicine and aromatherapy. Whether you’re struggling to concentrate, to sleep, or to fight off a cold, an increasing number of people turn to essential oils for an answer. And while they can’t replace methods like good sleep hygiene or medical intervention in some cases, many swear by their ability to help boost energy, calm the mind or just make your room smell nice.

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How to choose the best essential oils

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are so called because they provide the ‘essence’ of a plant’s aroma and flavour, and are extracted via a process of distillation. They can then be used in a variety of ways. They are often diluted in water before use, and different levels of dilution can make them suitable to be ingested, applied to the skin, or placed in a diffuser to evaporate into an aromatic mist. They’re often used in cosmetic and beauty products such as moisturiser and bath oils, but can also be found in household cleaners, food and drinks and lots more unexpected places.

Are essential oils safe to use?

One of the most important things to remember when using essential oils is that they need to be diluted in order to reduce the risk of bad reactions on the skin or long-term issues elsewhere in our systems. Applying oils directly to the skin – especially for those with sensitive skin – can cause major health problems such as sensitization and phototoxicity so, if you’re adding oil to a diffuser, then just a few drops (1-2 drops per 10ml, or no more than 5%) mixed in with water or, for cosmetic purposes, a ‘carrier oil’ such as vegetable oil is enough.

Even when diluted, if you are vaporising the solution with a diffuser then you should make sure to do so in a well-ventilated area, and never for longer than 30-60 minutes in one go.

Simply put, the use of essential oils is relatively safe as long as you’re using them correctly – i.e. making sure to read the label, considering potential interaction with medications and supplements, not overdoing it when mixing with your carrier solution, and keeping them out of reach of children (see below) and animals. We’d also recommend always making sure to do a patch test on a small area of your skin before applying it more liberally.

Are essential oils safe for children?

This is a much thornier issue, but what we do know is that essential oils should never be used around children younger than 2 years of age, and only in concentrations of about 0.5-2% or below (as opposed to the maximum of 5% for adults) after that. You should avoid the following oils entirely:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Verbena
  • Wintergreen
  • Bay
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove bud or leaf
  • Lemongrass
  • Thyme

Additionally, you shouldn’t use the following during pregnancy or breastfeeding:

  • Camphor
  • Parsley
  • Hyssop
  • Pennyroyal
  • Tarragon
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood

If in doubt, speak with a medical professional about the use of essential oils during pregnancy and around children.

Furthermore, you must always be very careful not to ingest the oils as they can be extremely toxic, especially for children whose young organs are less robust than our own. In Australia, for example, there has been a significant uptick in cases of poisoning from essential oils in children, so extra care must be taken.

Are essential oils expensive?

Essential oils that you can buy online or on the high street vary significantly in price, and you can also buy them individually or as part of a larger set. It’s most common to see essential oils sold in 10ml quantities and, while some single scent bottles can cost just a few pounds, larger sets or mixes designed for certain effects such as sleep or even pain relief can be a little bit pricier. The best thing to do is take any outlandish claims with a pinch of salt, and do your research if you’re looking for a specific outcome so you can be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Which essential oils are best for which purpose?

  • For relaxation and sleep – Lavender, Chamomile, Rose, Frankincense
  • For healing and anti-inflammatory purposes – Cedarwood, Basil
  • For boosting energy and mood – Ylang-ylang
  • For concentration – Vetiver, Patchouli, Lemon
  • For beating the sniffles – Eucalyptus

The best essential oils to buy in 2020

1. thisworks Deep Sleep Super Blend Oil: Best essential oil for sleep

Price: £18 | Buy now from Mankind

If you have trouble dozing off at the end of the day, then chances are that you’ve tried every natural remedy under the sun to get rid of your insomnia. But if you haven’t tried essential oils then you’re missing a trick, and the Deep Sleep Super Blend from thisworks is among the most acclaimed accompaniments to a night of sweet, undisturbed slumber. Designed for use with a diffuser, the solution includes lavender, vetivert and chamomile to calm stress and aid sleep quality. And if you like this, then thisworks has a whole range of products to try.

Key specs – Volume: 10ml; Claims to: Aid sleep and relaxation

Buy now from Mankind

2. Therapie PMS Support Kit: Best for that ‘time of the month’

Price: £35 | Buy now from Cult Beauty

A little package of self-care for use during that time of the month, the Therapie PMS Support Kit has everything you need to soothe your condition both physically and mentally. The set includes five different products, including the Purge Foot Bath with essential oils including mugwort, geranium, juniper berry and sage, the SOS PMS Support Essence with clary sage, rose, geranium, lavender and cannabis oil, the Soothe PMS Relief oil with clary sage, dill, hemp, chaste tree berry, acai berry and avocado oil, and the Cocoon Bath Oil with ylang-ylang, geranium, tangerine and frankincense.

Key specs – Volume: 2 x 30ml, 5ml; Claims to: Ease PMS and menstruation symptoms

Buy now from Cult Beauty

3. Aromatherapy Associates Ultimate Bath and Shower Oil Collection: Best luxury oil set

Price: £65 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

If you want your bathroom to feel like a genuine high-end spa then you’ll need the essential oils kit to match. This Aromatherapy Associates Ultimate Bath and Shower collection is a gorgeously presented introduction to the wonderful world of essential oils, with ten 9ml bottles catering for every need including de-stressing, strengthening and reviving. Ordinarily on the pricey side at £110, you can get the entire set from Lookfantastic for just £65 – a great price for those who want a variety of good quality bath oils that can turn every bath or shower into an opulent experience.

Key specs – Volume: 10 x 9ml; Claims to: Relax, de-stress, revive and more

Buy now from Lookfantastic

4. Neom Energy Blend: Best for who need a boost

Price: £20 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

A lot of individually-sold essential oils tend to understandably focus on reducing stress and aiding sleep, but there’s a whole world of oils on the other side of that spectrum – promising to put a spring in your step and focus your mind on the day or task ahead. One such product is this Boost Your Energy blend from Neom, which uses Sicilian lemon and basil to elevate and energise. It’s recommended you use it with a diffuser, but you can also add it to a warm bath for all-over benefits.

Key specs – Volume: 10ml; Claims to: Improve focus and energy

Buy now from Lookfantastic

5. Miaroma Eucalyptus Pure Essential Oil: Best essential oil for colds

Price: £6 | Buy now from Holland & Barrett

If you’ve got a cold that you just can’t shake, rather than endure the symptoms until your body heals itself you can enlist the help of some natural remedies like essential oils. Eucalyptus is known for its ability to help soothe symptoms such as muscle pain and cramps, a sore throat, and the mental fog that comes with being poorly. Add it to a diffuser in your space, or to a bath at the end of the day, and enjoy the calming effects. It may not be able to kick the cold by itself, but it can help while you recover.

Key specs – Volume: 10ml; Claims to: Help relieve cold symptoms

Buy now from Holland & Barrett