The Big 3 Essential Oils for Stress Reduction

While there’s been a lot of science on the palpable health properties of essential oils, there’s really very little peer-reviewed research on the emotional and/or psychological effects. They are much harder to measure, and to be done well, require large studies that just aren’t likely to be funded anytime soon. However, there IS data out there, and we can sort through it for some “proof” that “aroma” therapy works too, not just the biochemical/medical actions of essential oils.

Lavender flowers which produce Lavender essential oil.

There does appear to be enough data to confidently say that at least one essential oil will likely noticeably reduce stress (the most commonly researched outcome) for many individuals. Here we’ll look at the three most studies oils in this regard, which may help you choose the best for yourself — or at least inspire you to try them all; none is to pricey to not experiment.

The “big three” essential oils researched in this regard are lavender, bergamot and sandalwood. Each of these oils has been the subject of several controlled studies. The effects of each oil is distinctly different (they are, of course, very different chemical structures); at the same time, they’ve all shown statistically significant results in controlled studies relating to anxiety reduction.

We all know about lavender – it’s aromatherapy’s most commonly-used essential oil, with a broad array of healthful properties. By far, it has the greatest amount of research supporting its stress-reducing potential. Interestingly, it’s physiological effects are similar to its psychological effects: it’s calming and soothing to the skin, as it is calming and soothing to the mind. Of the three oils here, lavender has the most sedative action. It directly supports sleep, reduces aggression, and lessens anxiety.

Bergamot is pressed from the peels of these bitter oranges.

In research, lavender’s sedative action can result both from inhalation and ingestion. A recently published series of studies showed daily ingestion of a slow-release capsule containing 80mg of lavender essential oil was proven as effective as benchmark sedative pharmaceutical drugs: Journal of International Clinical Psychopharmacol. 2010 Sep;25(5):277-87: “Silexan, an orally administered Lavandula oil preparation (Ed. note: 80mg, or approx. 2 drops per capsule) is effective in the treatment of ‘subsyndromal’ anxiety disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial.”

Sandalwood is a proven stress reducer, without being sedative like Lavender. Lavender actually slows response time, where sandalwood does not. One study’s participants inhaling sandalwood reported feeling greater clarity and relaxation — being more grounded and centered. Another study showed inhaled sandalwood to improve the sleep/wake cycle, resulting in deeper, more effective rest (as reported in the Japanese Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2007 Aug;27(4):167-71, “Effect of Santolol on the Sleep/Wake Cycle…” Further,sandalwood also did not need to be inhaled to produce this effect, just as long as it reached some critical level in the bloodstream.


Sandalwood oil is distilled from the heartwood of this tree.

Bergamot is the most popular anti-depressant essential oil, most often being employed as an aromatic rather than being ingested or topically applied. As reported in the Korean Academy of Nursing journal. 2009 Jun;39(3):357-65:
“The effects of aromatherapy onstress and stress responses in adolescents”, adolescents wearing aromatherapy amulets impregnated with Bertamot showed a statistically significant reduction of stress and depression relative to controls.

Bergamot oil is also known to reduce one’s perceived level of pain. Italian researchers confirmed the mechanism of this in Fitoterapia. 2010 Sep;81(6):453-61. Epub 2010 Jan 20: “Neuropharmacology of the essential oil of bergamot,” explaining that bergamot prevented the certain circuits in the brain from being reinforced by continued exposure to  a stress (otherwise, the circuit becomes more powerful, and the stress can become overwhelming.

So, a frequently asked by beginning aromatherapy practitioners: “what oil should I use for depression or anxiety”? These oils are the place to start. One needs to be willing to experiment to see what works best for them. If you know you like woody aromas, try the sandalwood, florals, the lavender, sweet/tart citrus, the bergamot. They may ALL work for you given different conditions.

Use of the oils for stress reduction is very, very flexible. The first choice for using bergamot is in an aromatherapy diffuser of any type. Lavender and sandalwood are frequently topically applied, in addition to diffuser use. The idea being that you should find the oil AND the method that works for you by experimenting with all the possibilities — the science says that one of these is highly likely to make life a little easier for you

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Frankincense: A Real Medicine In Aromatherapy

Pure Frankincense

Frankincense, from which the essential oils and CO2's are extracted.

Revered for throughout man’s history, Frankincense has been connected with both spirit and medicine perhaps more than any plant product. The resin extracted from the desert trees has been sought after by monarchs, valued as highly as gold, and given as a gift to one of history’s most revered prophets. Now, the oil is increasing in use with the spiritually aware and natural health supporters.

Frankincense is actually the name of the dried resin from one of several species of Olibanum trees. The bark is cut with a knife made specifically for the process, and the collected sap dries into little balls called “tears” or “pearls”. Frankincense essential oil is distilled from the dried sap, producing essentially a liquid form of the gum. Most, if not all, Frankincense essential oil in the world is “wildcrafted” in this way — as pure as nature can make it.

You’ll find both steam distilled and “CO2″ distilled oils — The carbon dioxide (CO2) extracted oils contain many of the important large molecules as the resin – which may be best for health purposes. One highly regarded therapist has said about distillation of the oil, “It could be that the (large molecules important for therapeutic effects)…are too polar and too large a molecular size – their presence would be more likely in CO2 extracts.”

The Olibanum Tree

The Olibanum Tree

These extracts of Frankincense is thought by professional practitioners to have a diverse collection of medicinal effects. For beauty care of the skin, they’re considered one of the most important ingredients for addressing prematurely aging skin. The desert-adapted trees appear like a perfect source of such medicine; the oil may be particularly helpful for skin that has been affected by overexposure to the sun.

Research has proven the effects, by testing Frankincense oils in skin care preparations against controls on research subjects. The results show significant improvement in skin texture with the use of Frankincense. See “Topical Boswellic acids for treatment of photoaged skin” published in Dermatologic Therapy (2010 Jan-Feb;23 Suppl 1:S28-32).

What seems to be the greatest potential of Frankincense is its anticancer activity. The extract is the aromatherapy product examined for this property more than any other, with very positive outcomes. The extracts are noted to attack cancerous cells specifically, while leaving normal healthy cells untouched. The appears to happen whether it’s bladder cells, colon cells or cells from other organs being examined.

Published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2009 Mar 18;9:6.) is a study titled “Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity”. In summary, the oil causes apoptosis in cancerous cells, while leaving healthy ones unaffected. This study used bladder cancer cells, while other investigations show similar results using cells from different organ systems.

As well as the specific therapeutic applications, aromatically, the oil is very well respected and widely used. It can be used undiluted in small amounts as a natural perfume, so the wearer enjoys the scent continually. Aromatherapy practitioners have realized the scent slow the rate of breathing. This can be extremely beneficial, as the rate of breathing is associated with stress, which is directly related to overall health. In “The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy”, Salvatore Battaglia notes the oil as the number one immune booster, as it has such a diverse range of therapeutic properties in this regard.



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The Magic of Lemon Essential Oil

Lemon essential oil is often overlooked for it’s therapeutic properties, mostly as it’s not very exotic. But all essential oils have their use, and lemon is really at the front of the pack in terms of supporting mental and emotional health.

Lemons on the tree

Lemon essential oil is pressed from the peels of the ripe fruit

Lemon essential oil has long been used as a mental stimulant and brightener of the mind. Now scientific investigators have demonstrated some of the mechanisms for this effect. In Japan, a study has shown that lemon oil vapor (as produced by a nebulizing diffuser) has anti-stress effects by modulating both the Serotonin and Dopamine neurotransmitter systems. In fact, the oil produced a stronger anti-stress effect than both rose and lavender.

Simply inhaling lemon from your diffuser is one of the greatest ways to lift one’s mood and enhance mental acuity. Other studies done in Japan noted improved test scores by students, and fewer “errors” by those at work. So if you haven’t tried diffusing lemon alone, it’s worth giving it a go as you may find it really can change your day.

Lemon oil is also the great cleanser and detoxifyer in aromatherapy. It’s useful both for internal cleansing of the body, and in a great many applications around the house. We’ve used the naturopathic technique of helping the liver do its final “flushing” in the morning by adding 5 drops or so to a cup of water and drinking first thing in the morning.

It’s also great to flavor your water that we’re all carrying with us these days, and has a powerful anti-microbial effect as well – purifying you AND the water at the same time.

Lemon is wonderful to add to any home cleaning solution too. You can add several drops per cup of a 50:50 blend of white vinegar and water to do your windows. Putting a few drops in the vacuum can make the house smell really fresh while the floors get cleaned, and a simple cleaning spray can be made with a teaspoon or more of unscented liquid soap, drops of lemon, adding these to a spray bottle and filling with water. It’s great for counter-tops, and a host of cleaning needs around the house.

Versatile and inexpensive lemon oil is certainly a “must have” for anyone into essential oils, from the beginner to the advanced practitioner. Enjoy!

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New Research on the Anticancer Effects of Essential Oils

There is a growing body of evidence regarding the efficacy of essential oils in all sorts of medicinal applications. Their antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects have been repeatedly validated, and has now their anti-tumorial and anti-cancer actions. A search in the U.S. Library of Medicine’s database reveals pages and pages of scientific abstracts regarding cancer, tumors and essential oils. Nearly all of these strongly suggest the particular oil studied warrants further investigation as a potential medicine. Here’s a review of some of very applicable research results (research abstracts may be found by searching “essential oil” & “cancer” at

Frankincense has had a place in medicine for as long as medical practices have been documented. The resin from these stout trees of Africa and the Middle East is highly revered for its curative and preventative action (with many spiritual uses as well). In 2009, the journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a studied that outright said Frankincense essential oil kills cancer cells while sparing normal, healthy cells. The oil distilled from the tree’s resin acted specifically on bladder cancer cells, with the study concluding that Frankincense might represent and alternative agent for treatment. Odd that the mainstream media has not made much of this finding — it took a subscription to these abstracts for many interested parties to be notified — otherwise it easily could have gone unnoticed! Frankincense essential oil is well known to be non-toxic, with many people able to put the oil directly on their skin, and even ingest the oil in small quantities without any negative response. Though it can induce cell death with incredible specificity, a feature that absolutely suggests further investigation should be performed — hopefully the medical establishment will agree. Continue reading

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Blending and Using Essential Oils for Wound Healing

Scar-Free Skin Healing With Medical Aromatherapy

Essential oils have been found particularly useful for regenerating skin that has suffered from accidents or surgery, or has their remaining signs in the form of keloid, acne, or other scars. Certain essential oil blends can speed healing time, reduce or eliminate scars from recent wounds and even greatly diminish the appearance of old ones. The oils and formulas we’ll describe here are for injuries that have already sealed, where no chance of bleeding still exists, and the possibility of infection is past.

Selecting Essential Oils for Healing the Skin

There are a few primary essential oils used in skin care which offer their regenerative properties; these oils are used in suprizingly low concentrations in would healing & scar reduction — be wary of significantly increasing your concentrations! Blends for skin care, particularly for the face, almost never have a total essential oil concentration over 5%, and often significantly less. The fact is the oils are very potent medicine, and work best in low dilutions.

Helichrysum: The Most Powerful Healer

Perhaps the single most active skin healing oil is Helichrysum italicum, also known as Everlasting oil. It has a distinctly medicinal aroma, which some folks love and some not so much! And despite it’s apparent expense, again you’ll only need small amounts in your formula. Helichrysum is strongly anti-inflammatory and contains powerful regenerative molecules unique to this oil only.

Helichrysum can be used by itself in a synergistic carrier oil such as Rosehip seed or Tamanu Nut. This combination may be all that is needed to speed the healing of recent wounds — though often a little Lavender oil is added as well. Kurt Schnaubelt, one of America’s leading aromatherapists notes in his quintessential guide “Advanced Aromatherapy” that Helichrysum essential oil and Rosehip seed can “heal wounds with minimal or no scarring”.

Lavender to Balance and Soothe

As mentioned above, Lavender is often included in skin care blends – it has gentle anti-inflammatory and tissue regenerative properties, along with very soothing, anti-anxiety aroma. This stress-relieving action seems to be imparted even at the cellular level where wound healing occurs. Lavender essential oil itself began the modern aromatherapy revolution when a scientist burned his hand in a laboratory accident, and after cooling the wound in a beaker of Lavender found the wound to heal remarkably quickly. It is also thought to ‘synergize’ or improve the efficacy of other essential oils in combination.

Sage: Regeneration for Old Wounds and Scars

The essential oil distilled from common Sage leaves is also used in the healing of scars, particularly old or unsightly scars. It’s natural regenerative properties and ability to promote circulation aid in gently breaking down the tough skin resulting from wound healing. Sage oil should only be used in these instances and in small quantities, as it’s Thujone content can be toxic in high quantities. If used in a recipe for stretch marks (see below), it should only be used post-partum. Despite it’s powerful components, however, when diluted and used with respect, one can use this oil safely.

Rosemary to Stimulate Cellular Metabolism

Rosemary will be the final essential oil we’ll mention here for scar treatment. For the skin, Rosemary of the Verbenone chemotype has many important properties – it contains regenerative ketone molecules, and stimulates cellular metabolism. This oil helps new skin form, bringing nutrients into the cells and supports the removing toxins and wastes.

Carotenoid Containing Essential Oils

Other essential oils can offer important nutrients that may speed the healing process. Most importantly, they offer carotenoids and carotenes — natural vitamin-A-like compounds needed for increasing the strength of the healing tissue. Vitamin A is considered absolutely critical to normal skin development, and indispensable during wound healing. Carotenoids are also strong antioxidants, which can ‘mop up’ free radicals at the site of an injury. Three essential oils can be chosen from: Sea Buckthorn, Carrot Root and Calendula. You’ll find these both as CO2 distillations, which means the oils have been distilled with presurized liquid carbon dioxide at a low temperature. While not the best route for all essential oils, for these two it helps them retain the high level of nutrients that was present in the original plant material. These can be used at higher concentrations that the steam distilled oils discussed thus far, if so desired.

The Carrier Oils A combination of carrier oils is best, as each as specific therapeutic properties to contribute. The most researched for our purpose is Rosehip seed — it has been shown to reduce the appearance of scars simply applied by itself. Tamanu (also known as Foraha) has impressive therapeutic properties for wound healing, and although it has not been the subject of scientific research, leading aromatherapists recommend it specifically for healing the skin. Finally, an oil containing high levels of essential fatty acids will round out this synergy of base oils. For this we’ll use Evening Primrose, though Hemp or Borage could also be used.

The Recipes: For all formulas, use a base of equal parts Rosehip seed, Tamanu and Evening Primrose. DO NOT use Rosehip seed if you are prone to acne in the area being treated. Add Virgin Coconut instead. To each ounce of base, add the essential oils listed.

For old scars:
20 drops Helichrysum
10 drops Sage
10 drops Lavender
20 drops Sea Buckthorn or Carrot Root

For wounds that are just now healing:
7 drops Helichrysum
7 drops Lavender
14 drops Calendula CO2
24 drops Sea Buckthorn CO2

Many, many more skin care formulas are available when blending essential oils – with many oils able to aid with very particular situations. You can continue using these blends once you’re happy with your skin’s appearance, or modify your blend to make it more protective (reseach blends for anti-aging). And as always with aromatherapy oils, go slowly, pay attention to your body’s reactions and remember that increasing concentrations of the essential oils will not make a more effective blend. Be safe and enjoy.

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