I’ve always liked the idea of essential oils. I drip lavender into my bubble bath and emerge convinced that I have achieved the ultimate state of relaxation. I rub orange blossom oil on my wrists and tell everyone that it’s nature’s Xanax. In high school I even bought “aromatherapy' gel pens (they smelled vaguely of cat pee and ran out of ink in about two minutes) for their apparently ability to calm and de-stress. However, all this enthusiasm never really translated into any sort of expertise.
Then I got something of a sign: In the same week, both my acupuncturist and my yoga teacher (yes, I realize how this sounds) both mentioned a West Village essential oil mecca called Enfleurage. There was no way I couldn't go. And sure enough, as soon as I walked in, it was as if I had unleashed my inner kid in a very aromatic candy shop. Rows of bottles labeled with names like Clary Sage and Osmanthus Absolute line the walls and I was set on sniffing every single one of them.
Luckily, one of the store’s resident experts, Joe Richkus, stopped me before I went into full on scent overload, and agreed to give me a little essential oil 101. The takeaway? You could spend a lifetime (and your life’s savings) exploring essential oils and their cosmetic, medicinal, and practical (you can mix them into your cocktails!) uses. To get you started, some basics on the hows, whys, and wheres:
Rose : If you do nothing else for your skin all day, rub some rose on it. Super-soothing and especially good for sensitive skin, you can use the water (a byproduct of the oil extraction process) as a toner after washing your face or add a few drops of the oil to a moisturizer or clay mask. Seriously, this stuff works miracles.
Frankincense: Everyone picks a zit now and then. Use a drop or two of this oil to clear up the evidence that comes in the form of blemishes and scars. It’s also anti-aging magic (reduces lines, adds elasticity) and costs a lot less than Botox.
Lavender : As noted earlier, lavender is super relaxing and I more than endorse its use in a bath. But if you have irritated skin, you want this balancing oil on your face. It tames combination skin. That soothing sensation you get after sniffing your moisturizer is a bonus.
Ylang Ylang : If you’re tired of blotting papers and dry shampoo, try this. A few drops in your cleanser or shampoo will strip all the shine (in a good way). It’s also considered an aphrodisiac so that whole “I have to stay in and wash my hair' excuse just took on a whole new meaning.
Jasmine : This one just smells really freaking good. Add it to lotions, hair care products, and everything.
Wintergreen : With the same chemical property as aspirin, wintergreen is good at anything you'd use an OTC painkiller for (cramps, hangovers, you name it). Put one drop behind your ears or on your temple for headaches or rub it on an injured area of your body for pain relief. Beware: it’s possible to OD (similar to downing a whole bottle of aspirin) on this oil so take it easy. If you're looking for deeper essential oil cuts, peppermint and ginger are also strong pain relievers—the former can be used as a mild anesthetic. The more you know.
Thyme: In the never-ending search for ways to ward off a cold or flu, thyme is your unsung superhero. If you feel a virus coming on, put a drop of this oil into a spoonful of honey and let it dissolve in your mouth. Do this early enough (or consider trying it with tea tree oil, which is similarly effective) and you’ll never have to buy NyQuil again.
Eucalyptus : But let's say you didn't take your thyme/honey tonic early enough. Resort to this oil. It stimulates the central nervous system which in turn opens up your sinuses. You can rub a drop or two on your chest or place a few drops into an oil distiller. It’s Vick’s Vapo Rub, minus all the unpronounceable chemicals. Bonus: can also be used as an insect repellent.
Clary Sage: If you’re feeling a little moody, on edge, and/or generally murderous, put a few drops of this hormonally balancing oil into your body lotion or even in a cup of tea. Your peace of mind will thank you.
Citrus oils : Turns out, I was not totally nuts. Oils like bergamot, Mandarin, neroli and sweet orange are all natural antidepressants. And they smell way better than a Xanax ever could.
Victoria Lewis is a freelance writer and creative consultant based in New York. Photos courtesy of the author.