[An earlier version of my article originally appeared on The Alternative Daily here.]
Essential oils can change an entire space in a matter of minutes—and the people in them! Aromatherapy is used to treat a range of conditions, from relieving tension to promoting sleep to healing infections. Here are some of the best essential oils to diffuse and how to do it right.
Essential oils to relieve stress
Stress is often the culprit behind anxiety, depression, weight gain, acne, hair loss, immune system dysfunction and a range of dangerous diseases. Countless studies have shown that aromatherapy has a powerful effect on reducing stress, and these essential oils are a great way to get started.
This oil is a winner all-around. It’s one of the most gentle oils out there with a wide array of uses, making it a great choice for beginners to the essential oil scene. It’s perhaps best-known for relaxing the mind and body through inhalation or topical application. And it’s not just conjecture—research shows that it works! A 2008 study, among others, found that lavender aromatherapy had strong relaxation effects. Make sure to have this oil as a staple in your home.
This oil is said to help balance male and female energies in the body. If you’re feeling run down and you need to restore balance or positivity in your life, a few drops of this oil in your diffuser should do the trick. Research has shown this essential oil to have a relaxing effect and significantly decrease blood pressure.
This essential oil reduces high cortisol levels, a stress hormone that impairs immunity and causes weight gain around the belly. This oil can also enhance cognitive function, improve digestion and prevent hair loss. Researchers have also found that this oil is effective against Staphylococcus aureus—just another way to keep you healthy!
Essential oils for better sleep
A good night’s sleep is necessary for optimal health. When you get seven or more hours each night, your body releases hormones that help your tissues to regenerate. In other words, sufficient sleep equals true healing. These oils will help you sleep better, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
Use these essential oils an hour before you go to bed, either in a diffuser or a warm bath:
This is a great oil to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, both of which get in the way of restful sleep. In one study, researchers found that aromatherapy using bergamot had a positive impact on mood states, parasympathetic nervous system activity and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females. Even better, all of the improvements occurred in 15-minute intervals of aromatherapy, meaning you should also feel the benefits in next to no time at all.
In one meta-analysis examining 1,093 participants in 370 articles, researchers noted that valerian is a popular choice because of the lack of side effects, including the dreaded hangover effect common in sleeping pills. The authors wrote, “Patients taking valerian had an 80 percent greater chance of reporting improved sleep compared with patients taking placebo; however, there was evidence of publication bias.” Obviously, more research is needed to confirm results, but go ahead and see if it works for you.
This oil has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. The roots of the grass produce an aromatic oil that is deeply relaxing and grounding, helping to keep your emotions in check so you can get restorative sleep. If you’re new to vetiver and the scent is too strong, try mixing it with lavender in your diffuser.
Essential oils to heal the body
When you’re coming down with something, you need all the best fighters in your immune system to spring to life. These essential oils may help improve immune function, fight infections and help you recoup after an illness.
When you feel an illness coming on, lemon is a go-to essential oil for your diffuser. It can be used to boost the immune system, along with orange oil. Lemon essential oil is also antimicrobial, making your home smell great while it purifies your space. Diffuse a few drops of lemon essential oil to deodorize your home or remove potential pathogens from the air.
If you’re feeling sick to your stomach, it’s peppermint essential oil to the rescue! It improves digestion, freshens the breath and relaxes tense muscles. It may also help to improve memory, just in case you needed another reason to diffuse it. Peppermint oil is well-studied for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent and decongestant properties, to name a few.
This oil is a great all-around for healing your body. Not to be confused with lemon essential oil, this variety comes from an entirely different plant altogether. Lemongrass oil can help naturally reduce inflammation, relieve headaches and soothe digestive distress, especially if they’re related to an underactive thyroid.
If you’re stressed and it’s causing digestive issues, inflammation and joint pain, rosemary is the right essential oil for you. If you’re losing your hair, this powerful oil may also help with that. In one study, researchers found that participants had increased hair count after six months of using rosemary oil on the scalp during showers. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to try this oil, researchers have also found that it can also improve cognition and memory.
Best essential oil combinations
When you start to build a collection, you can get creative with combinations. Here are some of my favorite mixtures to use with my diffuser. Try five drops of each and work your way up from there:
How to diffuse essential oils
If you’re ready to tap into nature’s own healing powers, speak with a healthcare provider you trust about how to use essential oils. Although they are all-natural, essential oils are highly concentrated and very potent — be sure to always use them with caution.
Next, it is important to choose high-quality, therapeutic-grade essential oils. With the surge in popularity around essential oils, there are many imposters floating around on the web. Make sure to do your research. Only buy from a responsible company with solid reviews.
Finally, invest in a diffuser you love. You can buy them online or in home furnishings stores. Many diffusers come with color-changing LED lights to take your aromatherapy experience up a notch. For example, the one I use offers a rainbow of pastel colors that change every three seconds to go along with the steady stream of mist.
How to use a diffuser
1. Fill it with purified, room-temperature water.
2. Add five to ten drops of essential oils, depending on the strength of the blends you’re using. You can always add more if needed.
3. Wait a few minutes for the water to heat up, then enjoy the ambiance that scent adds to your space. If you have any trouble breathing or adverse effects, stop immediately. For example, too much orange essential oil gives me respiratory issues, so I have to use it with caution.
4. Wash the diffuser once a week with white vinegar to get rid of any build-up or sitting water.
And there you have it! Essential oils are a wonderful addition to a healthy lifestyle. Make sure to try out some of these combinations and let me know your favorites. Enjoy!
— Hilary Lebow