Essential oils, containing potent medicinal and cosmetic properties, are a versatile part of a natural medicine cabinet. They work to support the body’s own healing system, and when used correctly, may be able to take the place of conventional over-the-counter remedies.

Essential oils have a very small molecular size, which means that their healing properties are easily absorbed by the skin, but should not be ingested. The potency ensures that only a few drops are needed at a time, so a small bottle can last a few years when used sparingly. Most have a shelf life of five to 10 years with the exception of citrus oils, which lose their potency after about two years.

When purchasing essential oils, keep in mind that they are not the same as fragrance oils, which are synthetic and may not be safe to use on the skin; essential oils are always natural.

Many oils also need to be diluted with a “carrier oil” which serves as a base to add a few drops of essential oils to. Some good carrier oils are sweet almond, sesame and coconut oil.

Always use a carrier oil when using essential oils on babies and children since their skin is much more sensitive to the effects, and to be safe, all essential oils should be avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy. And always check with your doctor before using essential oils on yourself or your children.

Here are five essential oils that are great for beginners since they have few contraindications and can be used for a variety of different ailments.

Lavender is the most well known of the essential oils, and for good reason. It has antiviral and antibacterial properties, which can reduce the healing time for scrapes, bites and stings. It doesn’t require a carrier oil, and can be put directly onto the affected area. Lavender has also been shown to promote relaxation and sleep. Try adding a few drops to the bath, or on your pillow to help you unwind and fall asleep.

Peppermint is a wonderful cooling oil that can help you beat the heat of a hot day or a fever. Just add a few drops to a carrier oil and rub on your back, neck and chest for an instant cooling effect. The smell of peppermint can also help combat feelings of nausea making it a great choice for motion or morning sickness. When combined with a few drops of lavender oil and applied to the temples, it can also reduce the intensity of headaches and migraines. As a bonus, peppermint can also help get rid of an insect invasion without the use of harsh chemicals; simply add a few drops to hot water and wipe the surfaces with a peppermint-infused cloth.

Eucalyptus is a powerful antispasmodic, antiviral and antibacterial oil that is ideal for coughs and colds. Adding a few drops to a basin of steaming water to inhale, or a vaporizer, can help disinfect and clear both the nasal passages and lungs. Some eucalyptus on a handkerchief is a handy way to inhale the powerful oil throughout the day, and regular use during cold season may help prevent a full cold.

Tea tree oil is a powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic oil. Just a few drops mixed with a carrier oil is all you need to help treat cuts, scrapes, fungal infections, insect bites, warts and even dandruff. It can also be used as a powerful acne treatment when mixed with coconut oil or aloe vera gel.  Adding some to a vaporizer will also help loosen chest congestion. Tea tree oil is so powerful that mixing two teaspoons of oil in two cups of water will give you a safe, natural, all-purpose cleaner.

Roman chamomile has a beautiful, mild scent that is known for its ability to help unwind, but it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. It is the ideal choice for red, inflamed or sensitive, acne-prone skin. It is much gentler than tea tree oil, so this bactericide is a good choice for delicate skin and can even be used with an antibacterial carrier oil such as coconut oil to help treat diaper rash and soothe eczema.

Once you become familiar with these basic essential oils, branching out and creating your own combinations is simple and fun. They can easily be incorporated into your daily life, whether it is as a home remedy or even just aromatherapy to boost your mood.

Always check for contraindications, especially during pregnancy or a condition requiring medical treatment.