I am a writer, teacher, parent, and musician. I have fought insomnia and sleep issues for many years.
What Is an Essential Oil Diffuser?
An essential oil diffuser humidifier gently heats scented oils and sends the mist into the atmosphere of your room. Diffusers are designed to compliment the peaceful style of the rooms you find most comfortable. Any home environment, from bedroom to kitchen, benefits from the soothing presence of a quality essential oil diffuser.
These units have health benefits as well. A diffuser aids in the relaxation that precedes healthy sleep — and healthy sleep has been shown by research to be directly related to all kinds of quality-of-life factors, including weight control, mental stability, and avoidance of accidents. Having a calming environment you can turn to when you're feeling stressed or anxious can also make your life better. For me, having a quiet, dim room with the calming scent of diffused essential oils in the atmosphere brings me down from the stress and noise of a work day.
This article features several of the highest-rated essential oil diffusers and also discusses some of the latest research into the deep connection between scent and state of mind.
Sleep Benefits With a Diffuser
Essential oil diffusers also offer the benefit of better, more restful sleep, especially during the winter or other dry months. The scented, humidified air from a diffuser is easier on breathing passages while you sleep, which is why many people let their diffuser run all night while they sleep. There are also several specific oils that are intended to help with the calming process of "winding down" before you go to sleep. Part of the fun of owning a diffuser is experimenting with different oils and different combinations to find the ones that work for you.
VicTsing 300ml Cool Mist Humidifier Ultrasonic Aroma Essential Oil Diffuser
I have two co-workers who each have a diffuser in their office, and one of them is this design. Every time I happen to be in that office, I realize the benefits of having a quality unit like this VicTsing Diffuser in a small, quiet space -- it creates an atmosphere that is both soothing and centered. One of my co-workers is essentially an on-site occupational therapist, and the presence of an oil diffuser somehow makes their space feel like a place you would want to be.
I like the wood grain covering (this unit is not solid wood, unlike some other diffusers), which gives it a clean, natural look. It has an efficient, clean-hands refilling feature that means your hands won't smell of the essential oil you're filling it with -- which is not a small thing, since you want a trace of the scent in the air, not a strong scent that you wear on your hands all day.
This unit also boasts a larger-than-average water tank and has an auto-off switch for when the water is used up and you're not around to turn it off. And as it's very important for my co-corker to be able to have quiet conversations in her office, this diffuser's super-quiet operation is an excellent benefit for her.
I also like the 7-color LED light, which can be switched from bright to dim.
Essential Oil Therapy
Another nice benefit of these units is the essential oil feature. Since scent is closely connected to emotional well-being and stress, having warm scented air in your study, den, or bedroom can make your life just a little bit less stressful and more restful. There are literally hundreds of essential oils and nearly limitless combinations (listed later in this article) that may have an effect on emotional states and stress levels.
According to the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Bio-medicine, essential oils from flowers, barks, stem, leaves, roots, fruits and other parts of the plant possess antiseptic properties and other qualities. Inhalation of the mist or steam from heating these oils may or may not introduce the qualities to your system, but what is known is that the benefits of soothing aromas is essential for the emotional balance of some people.
Diffuser humidifiers are affordable and require little maintenance, but they can make a real difference in your mood. Spend some time in a room with warm, scented air, and your state of mind is naturally lifted.
Scent and Mood – the Latest Research
Scent and mood are closely related. There's ample evidence and clinical research to support some of the ideas behind aromatherapy as a treatment for stress and general anxiety. For example, a recent report for Scientific American by Rachel S. Herz, an assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, outlined findings about the relationship between the smells we have experienced and the emotions they arouse. Herz summarized some of what is known about the effect of scent on stress levels and state of mind in this article, which suggests that specific smells, like fresh-cut grass or cinnamon rolls, affect people’s mood, work performance, and behavior.
One interesting reason that there specific memories associated with specific odors is the way that the volatile molecules that transmit odors make their way to our brain. They enter our system via the nose, of course, but directly behind the nose lie the "landing pads" (called "olfactory bulbs") that are actually part of the limbic system. The limbic system is the emotional center of the brain -- which means that scent is directly connected to our emotions in a way that other sense are not. This is known as linking, and it occurs with other senses and memories as well, but the connection to smell is especially intense thanks to the unique mechanism by which smell connects to our brain. This gives smell a special place as the sense most associated with intense emotion.
Memory, Emotion, and Our Sense of Smell
Smell, more than any other sense, is connected to emotion and memory. The reason smell works this way is the mechanism by which scent molecules land on the part of the brain involved in emotional response. Like taste, smell is a form of chemoreception, meaning the stimuli molecules are the direct cause of the sense that we experience. Other sense like touch and hearing do not have this non-mediated connection for the brain and its endlessly intricate network of though, memory and feeling. Smells from the past can stir up intense memory, and intense emotion. Essential oils may work in a similar way -- when you find the oil or combinations of scents that brings back a time, place, or person, you have found a personalized form of relaxation. And since there is an almost unlimited palette of scents in the world, you can experiment to your heart's content.
The article, "Smellbound," published in the Chicago Reader in 1994 profiles one of the most interesting figures in the world of olfactory science, Dr. Alan Hirsch. After this article was published, Dr. Hirsch surfaced as the man behind Sensa, an olfactory-based method of losing weight.
InnoGear Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser Portable Ultrasonic Diffusers with Color LED Lights
This is the kind of diffuser my other co-worker has on his desk. There's a lot of traffic in and out of his counseling office, and it has always seemed to me that one of these bright, good-looking diffusers is a good choice for his space. If there's one complaint I might have about this model, it's that the light is a little too bright -- it really colors the light in the whole room (although the office is quite small). He doesn't always use the oil diffuser feature, preferring at times to use the unit simply as a kind of day-time night light to give his space an added glow.
When he does run the essential oil feature, it's exceptionally quiet and you don't always realize at first that it's even on. The scents that go well with this bright diffuser are bright scents like peppermint and jasmine.
To be clear, this essential oil diffuser has a dim and a bright mode, so it's my assumption that he runs it on bright intentionally, to give visitors to his office -- who are often trying to sort out a complicated logistics issue -- an upbeat, positive vibe while they're in the room.
Scent and State of Mind
As you may have already noticed, and as has been discussed above, the volatile molecules of essential oils that are activated and "diffused" into the atmosphere by diffusers, candles, and other sources of scent, act directly on our emotions. Stress, insomnia, anxiety, and a raft of affective issues (i.e., those that deal with the emotions) may be at least somewhat alleviated by non-medical therapies including meditation, exercise, and aroma therapy. It may not work for everyone, but it's worth trying if you'd like to exhaust your options before turning to pharmaceuticals. If you're feeling stress, or having trouble sleeping, this is important. Smell is unique in its ability to trigger emotions thanks to the way the stimulus connect directly to the limbic system of your brain. According to the researcher As Rachel Herz in Scientific American,
“The olfactory bulbs are part of the limbic system and directly connect with limbic structures that process emotion (the amygdala) and associative learning (the hippocampus). No other sensory system has this type of intimate link with the neural areas of emotion and associative learning, therefore there is a strong neurological basis for why odors trigger emotional connections.”
A Diffuser as a Design Element
I'm particular about the way my rooms are furnished, how they look, and most importantly how they feel. Not all essential oil diffusers are created equal, and they don't all have the kind of sleek, elegant look that I favor. Put bluntly, some diffusers out there are just plain ugly, and very few fit into my idea of a relaxing, soothing room environment. One of our favorite rooms in the house has a low, rounded, wood-tone diffuser that works perfectly with the furniture and the vibe of the room. The lights are low and the furniture is comfy, and after a long day it's a perfect place to retreat to, The scent and warmth that our diffuser brings to the room is key to the rejuvenating, welcoming environment.
How a Diffuser Works
These affordable little units work by vaporizing a mix of essential oil and water and sending it into the air, typically via a thread-like stream of mist. They have an exotic look to them, and I can easily find myself zoning out and de-stressing just watching the steady, sometimes-wavering stream of scented mist rising from the center of the smooth disk of the diffuser. Add some thoughtful lighting, a little white noise from my phone or one of these cool white-noise machines, and I have made a real retreat for myself.
ArtNaturals Aromatherapy Essential Oil and Diffuser Set
I've included this excellent essential oil diffuser set because it comes with an impressive supply of essential oil vials. It's a really good, and really cost-effective, way to figure out which oils and oil combinations appeal to you. Once you know what you like, you can re-supply without wasting money buying essential oils you might not care for. You also may find an oil or combination that has a palliative effect on issues like sleeplessness, stress, fatigue, or even dry skin and skin irritations.
The diffuser itself is really cool, with a unique design that would go nicely in a variety of clean, elegant relaxation rooms. It has a new and expanded water tank, meaning it can run longer between refilling. This model also glows with seven soothing LED colors
This affordable unit is good for those just starting out with essential oil therapies, and makes a great first diffuser. The assortment of oils included with this diffuser includes Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Lavender, Lemongrass, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sweet Orange, and Tea Tree.
Are Essential Oils Medicine?
The short answer is "No." Essential oils are non-pharmaceutical therapy modalities that do not face the same sort of rigorous clinical and human trials that real medicine does. For this reason, claims made about them must be regarded as simply claims, not scientifically proven truths. So while it's true that essential oils are not the same as a medicine or drug that has been tested and analyzed, there is nonetheless good evidence that the compounds in some aromatherapy combinations do have genuine physical effects. One example is lavender, which has been shown by several independent studies to treat insomnia. According to the University of Maryland website,
"The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means "to wash." Lavender may have earned this name because it was frequently used in baths to help purify the body and spirit. However, this herb has also been used as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue. Research has confirmed that lavender produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled." [http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lavender]
Essential Oils Assortment
Some Essential Oils and Their Possible Effects
Here is a list of plants and oils that may affect your mood, according to essentialoils.co.za:
- Alertness Basil, Bergamot, Black pepper, Grapefruit, Peppermint, Rosemary
- Assertiveness Basil, Cedarwood, Frankincense, Ylang-Ylang, Lime
- Concentration Lemon, Basil, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Frankincense, Chamomile Roman
- Confidence Cypress, Fennel, Ginger, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Orange, Pine
- Contentment Cypress, Lavender, Bergamot, Orange, Sandalwood, Cloves, Ylang-Ylang
- Creativity Bergamot, Lemon, Frankincense, Neroli, Rose, Jasmine, Cloves
- Focus Thyme, Lemon, Fennel, Bergamot, Basil, Cypress, Cinnamon
- Happiness Orange, Rose, Jasmine, Ginger, Cloves, Cinnamon, Geranium
- Joy Sandalwood, Frankincense, Lemon, Petitgrain, Orange, Bergamot
- Peace Chamomile Roman, Neroli, Juniper, Frankincense, Melissa, Yarrow
- Performance Bay, Bergamot, Frankincense, Lemon, Grapefruit, Lavender, Jasmine
- Positive Basil, Lemon, Grapefruit, Myrrh, Patchouli, Geranium, Frankincense
- Restfulness Lavender, Geranium, Clary sage, Neroli, Sandalwood
- Self-awareness Cypress, Clary sage, Jasmine, Coriander, Cloves, Sandalwood
- Self-esteem Jasmine, Geranium, Cedarwood, Sandalwood
- Self-image Orange, Lavender, Melissa, Neroli, Jasmine, Sandalwood, Bay, Pine, Nutmeg
- Stress Ginger, Cloves, Cinnamon, Geranium
URPOWER Essential Oil Diffuser
I have to give this quality diffuser the hands-down award for best design. If has a cool, almost living look to it, with a dark wood grain covering and a swooping "mouth" at the top. Several essential oil diffusers follow the same design as others, with the result that some can look like they come from the same manufacturer. This is one that refuses to follow in the footsteps of others, and if you have one of these units in your quiet room, it will add to the specialness of the place.
Like many other diffusers, this model has 7 LED mood light options (blue/pink/purple/red/yellow/green/orange and combination), and comes with a 100% new with 90 days money back guarantee and 1 year warranty.
So Simple -- A Child Can Do It
Top Choice -- BellaSentials Long Lasting Aromatherapy Diffuser
This is the best diffuser I have found, and it's the kind we have in our house. It's a really great unit. It's quiet and yet fills the air with a soft scent, while adding a touch of humidity to the room (really welcome on dry winter days). It has 7 color-fading lights that change slowly, and you can pause the color-changing mechanism when it comes to a color you like. The diffuser shuts down automatically when the water runs out.
I really like the dark bamboo color of this diffuser -- it has a lovely tropical vibe that goes beautifully with some of the more exotic essential oil combinations -- I call the "cocktails" -- that you will surely begin to dream up. Of course this diffuser is completely portable and can be moved to different rooms throughout your home.
I have never needed it, but one nice thing about the BellaSentials diffuser is this promise from the company: "If our ultrasonic diffuser does not meet your expectation contact us so our customer service team will work with you to make it right for you."
Hope You Find Your Happy Place!
Here's to Balance...
With the right combination of light, music, and scent, you too can create the kind of refuge from the world that makes a true difference in your quality of life. I can't tell you all the benefits that I get from having a calm, beautiful, scented environment waiting for me when I come in the door from a long, hectic day on the job. The scent of the oil and the dim lighting, combined with a custom, stress-relieving musical playlist, really works for me at the end of the day. As you can imagine, it's also a wonderful sleep aid. You will of course find your own combination of atmospherics that works for you.
- Herz, Rachel S. "Do scents affect people's moods or work performance?" Scientific American.
- Warrenburg, Stephen. "Effects of Fragrance on Emotions: Moods and Physiology."
- Oxford Journals, Medicine & Health & Science & Mathematics, Volume 30, Issue suppl 1.
- Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical BiomedicineVolume 5, Issue 8, August 2015, Pages 601-611
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Kathy Henderson from Pa on December 29, 2017:
I absolutely love essential oils. I have four diffusers and my front room is full of oils and carrier oils. All my diffusers are different one has different lights and meditative sounds that come through while diffusing. Good article :)
Dianna Mendez on September 15, 2017:
I have a couple in my home I use to provide comfort, sleep and calm. Thanks for the information on how they affect our body and mind. I know I have benefited from their use around the home.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 07, 2017:
That's an excellent and informative description of the essential oil diffusers and the benefits of using them.
Sometime back a friend gifted me this wonderful gift. I started using it since then and now sort of addicted to it. I have Lavender, Sandalwood, Jasmine , lemongrass and few more.
Your article suggests many more options and I would search for them in the super markets.
Thanks for sharing this wholesome hub about essential oils and how to use them for many benefits.