Essential oil reviews: what to get, what to skip

So you've just been lured into the world of essential oils, perhaps through a cheap diffuser that you found online. Perhaps you shouldn't do what I did, which was to buy every available oil under $10 on luckyvitamin.com and vitacost.com. Or maybe you should, since wouldn't that set you back only like 1 Byredo candle? 

If you feel the former, here's my quick take on what I liked and didn't. I also list the brand, since this was my first encounter with a lot of essential oils and it might be the case that the putridity/awesomeness of the scent may just be particular to a specific producer.


  • Yay: Balsam Fir Needle (Now). I don't care what time of year it is; I always want my home to smell like a soothing forest. If you feel the same, you wouldn't restrict your use of this to xmas time. 
  • Yay: Cypress (VitaCost). Along the same lines as Balsam Fir but with perhaps less of the holiday association and more herbal notes. I suppose that if I were to choose one, it would be cypress because a lot of people won't associate it with anything they know of except your nice-smelling home. 
    • Nay: Pine Needle (Vitacost). You could get this, but be prepared to also clean your home at the same time you diffuse it. Otherwise guests will think you used a bunch of Pine-Sol to no effect.
  • Yay: Geranium (Aura Cacia). As a longtime reader of home tour blogs like Apartment Therapy and Design Sponge, I've noticed a disturbing increase in homes that had a $39 Aesop handsoap at the bathroom sink. The most popular scent seems to be Resurrection, which smells mostly of geranium to me. Fortunately, it seems that geranium is one of those florals that seems pretty consistent in essential oil form. So if you get it, you don't really need to buy anything geranium-scented again--just get this and add it to your soap, lotion, household cleaner... 
    • Nay: Jasmine (Now). I bitched about this in my previous post: how this does not actually appear to be a real essential oil. It's super strong and just...smells like cheap Air Wick. Apparently Now makes a Jasmine Absolute, which is pure jasmine essential oil diluted with grapeseed oil. I might see if my local health store carries that and if it's any different. 

  • Yay: Tangerine (Now). Smells like citrusy sunshine.
    • Nay: Orange (Now)/Sweet Orange (Aura Cacia). Smells like I peeled an orange and couldn't get to a sink to wash it off. I cannot tell the difference between the Now and Aura Cacia.
  • Yay: Lemon (Now). Who doesn't like the smell of fresh lemon? 
    • Nay: Lime (Now). One might say the same for lime, but somehow the essential oil version smells more like artificial lime candy. Go figure.

  • Yay: Bergamot (Now). Like a cuppa earl grey: citrusy but with more mystery and spice. I like using this whenever I want to add a citrus note to my hand soap or body wash since (as noted in my previous post) I've noticed that they get runny with other citrus oils. 
    • Nay: Grapefruit (Via Nature). I was surprised how little I liked this, since grapefruit is just about my favorite citrus smell and I will ALWAYS try out something that claims to smell like grapefruit. Alas, it smells pretty similar to orange essential oil to me, which I've already made my feelings clear on. I wonder if it's just Via Nature, since I sniffed Whole Foods' version when I was there last and it seemed more similar to the fruit.


  • Yay: Rosemary (Now). Surprisingly versatile for any blend I want to add a bit of freshness to, and does not remind me of cooking, which is interesting since it's one of the most aggressive-smelling herbs I cook with.
    • Nay: Nutmeg (Aura Cacia). I am pretty agnostic about the smell of actual nutmeg, but (like with food) I thought this could lend a warm and cozy note to my blends. But oh god, this smells like nutmeg mixed with mildew and dust. My partner, who usually doesn't comment on my home scent obsession, asked what the hell I was diffusing, so yeah, it's bad.
    • Nay: Lemongrass (Vitacost). Love it in Thai and Vietnamese food, hate it in my diffuser. It invades your nose and stays there, like lamb.
And a few that don't smell good on their own, but I'm in the process of figuring out whether they would work well in a blend: 
  • Atlas cedar (Now): By itself, it smells a bit like a log that someone peed on. At the same time I see it in a lot of stuff, which makes me think that maybe it works well with other oils if they take the lead. I'll have to use it more to see exactly whether it would be worth repurchasing, but so far I'm leaning towards no.
  • Spearmint (Now): It smells specifically like Wrigley's Doublemint gum. 
  • Basil (Vitacost): A bit overwhelming in essential oil form. I'm still trying to figure out how to mix this with other things and have it not take over entirely. 
  • Cedarwood (Now): Smells like pencil shavings. Not totally bad, but again, need to find something to blend it with. 
  • Eucalyptus (Now): Cough drops. I think it could be good with something else in a home spa-type application.
Over the next few months I'm hoping to come up with blends that amount to more than the sum of their parts, drawing from inspiration from existing products on the market. Stay tuned.

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