It sounds so simple.
When you keep reading or hearing about the many health benefits of aromatherapy with the use of essential oils, you figure that it’s worth giving “this essential oil thing” a try.
After all, when a laundry list of lovely-smelling oils can help with everything from mood and headaches to digestion and infections, it’s enough to make almost anyone interested.
So you look into exactly how you use essential oils, and you see over and over again that the best way to use them is with a diffuser.
“Great,” you think, “let me find an inexpensive diffuser to try.” All of a sudden, though, you discover that it’s not quite as simple as you expected.
Ultrasonic? Nebulizing? Passive? Sprays? Candles?
Aromatherapy diffusers can actually be pretty confusing to sort out – but don’t panic. We’re here to walk you through it.
What Essential Oil Diffusers Do
Essential oils distilled from plants are extremely powerful, as many as 100 times stronger than dried herbs that come from the same plants. They’re not suitable for ingestion (except in rare circumstances and under a doctor’s supervision), and when used topically they must almost always be diluted with the use of a carrier oil.
For that reason, and also because the molecules of essential oils are quite volatile, simply pumping oil from a spray bottle into the surrounding air isn’t the best way to dispense essential oils. Whether aromatherapy is being used for therapeutic benefits or just for lovely aromas, essential oil molecules must be effectively intermixed with air molecules for maximum effect.
That’s what most commercial diffusers — created for efficiently diffusing essential oils — are all about. They ensure the complete intermingling of oil and air molecules, releasing the combination into the air. In that way the oil’s aroma flows through a room or living space to create a calming or uplifting ambience, while also providing the health or wellness benefits associated with the specific essential oil that’s being diffused.
Of course, you can just spritz some essential oil into the air or use another low-tech method to spread its aroma. Many people do. But before we look at those alternative ways to diffuse essential oils, let’s consider the common types of powered essential oil diffusers you can choose between: ultrasonic and nebulizer diffusers, which are most aromatherapists’ favorite ways to diffuse essential oils.
Ultrasonic diffusers are the most popular units used to diffuse essential oils. They plug into the wall and generate ultrasonic waves that vibrate a tiny disk inside a small water tank. You put a few drops of any essential oil into the water tank and the vibration creates a fine mist of combined water and oil molecules that are released into the air in a stream that looks somewhat like steam.
Ultrasonic models are small, so they can’t cover enormous spaces. But if you have a room that’s about 400 square feet or smaller (with normal ceilings), an ultrasonic diffuser will fully spread the pleasant aroma and other benefits of your favorite essential oil for hours. Most operate very quietly, too.
These relatively simple diffusers don’t have full-featured control panels with timers or power settings, and they’re often made from terracotta, plastic or similar materials. These qualities make them easy to use, quite decorative and an inexpensive way to diffuse oils. They can also double as small humidifiers.
The only major drawbacks to ultrasonic diffusers are that water somewhat dilutes the essential oils placed inside, so it may take some trial and error to perfect the ratio. If you use thick essential oils, like sandalwood, or citrus essential oils, like grapefruit or lemongrass, you’ll need to later clean the machine with white distilled vinegar. Otherwise, you should have no problem diffusing your favorite essential oil recipes.
Nebulizing diffusers are more of a full-fledged appliance, normally outfitted with controls for output levels, timers and often fancy LED lights. What’s more important is that they’re more powerful, able to completely fill large spaces with pleasant aromatherapy scents and deliver the health benefits of your chosen essential oil. Some can cover up to 1,000 square feet, depending on the size of the model you purchase.
Nebulizers don’t require water to operate. An air pump atomizes the essential oil and sends the molecules out into the room in a fine mist. Most units are attractive and come in a wealth of design options. They’re quiet, they don’t alter the composition of the oil, and they can run for hundreds of hours on one essential oil bottle (which can unfortunately become pricey pretty quickly).
The majority are plug-in models. Nonetheless, there are portable nebulizing diffusers that run on batteries, as well as some higher-end models that can connect to an app for external control.
Here’s the one issue to be aware of before buying a nebulizing diffuser: most cannot handle thicker essential oils like sandalwood, chamomile, patchouli or vetiver unless they’re diluted with different oils that are thinner. They’re also unable to nebulize carrier oil-blended or pre-diluted oils. However, that limitation still leaves many terrific choices such as peppermint, bergamot, frankincense, ylang ylang, cedardwood, clove, tea tree oil and lavender essential oil. All are acceptable for use in nebulizers, and lavender oil is particularly popular for nebulizing.
There’s one more type of electric diffuser. These units warm essential oils and then use fans to disperse it in a spray.
Some products are small plug-in models. Many inexpensive portable diffusers use this design as well. The big issue with them is that heat can cause the oils to break down chemically and greatly reduce their effectiveness.
Ultrasonic and nebulizing diffusers are the best tools for aromatherapy, but they’re not the only way to spread the scent and health benefits of high-quality essential oils. Here are some less-expensive, less-effective, often DIY-inspired methods of passive essential oil diffusion.
These are pretty much what they sound like: thin sticks that look like reeds and can be placed into a decorative vase, where they soak up essential oils and gently disperse the scent through evaporation. If you eat with disposable chopsticks and are into upcycling, you can use the chopsticks as reed diffusers.
Tissue or Cotton Ball Diffusers
A few drops of essential oil placed on either a tissue or a few cotton balls can provide a small amount of aromatherapy scent, one step above an air-freshener, until the oil evaporates.
As we’ve mentioned, these aren’t a great way to get the full benefits of essential oils. Nonetheless, a 1% solution of oils or diffuser blends sprayed from a glass bottle (always store your oils in glass, not plastic) can make a room smell wonderful for hours.
A bowl with a mixture of water and a few drops of essential oil is placed over tea lights to gently release fumes from the oil. This approach is recommended more for ambience than for therapeutic purposes.
Method Is Important, But Quality Is King
You can certainly find lower-quality, lower-priced oils online, but many are supplied by companies like doTERRA and Young Living that have been cited by the government for making false claims about their oils.
Your best bet is to stick with companies with a solid track record you can trust.
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