Today's post is based on a client question. Megan writes:
"I’m interested in experimenting with essential oils but I don’t know what kind of diffuser to get. I see really cheap ones to use with candles, and really expensive electronic ones. I don’t have much to spend on something I don’t know much about yet. But I’m a bit overwhelmed by the diffuser choices. What should I get?"
Well, great question Megan! It can indeed be pretty confusing, and there are a variety of prices. So I've created - the Ultimate Aromatherapy Diffuser Guide - Let's go!
WHAT DOES A DIFFUSER DO?
First things first. What is a diffuser and why do you even care? An aromatherapy diffuser describes any kind of device for diffusing essential oils. What this means is, that via some type of either heat or pressure, the essential oil molecules are released and dispersed into the air so that you can breathe them in.
Breathing in essential oils is really one of the most powerful and effective ways to work with them. The tiny odour molecules enter the body via the olfactory and respiratory systems and make almost instant contact with a part of the brain called the limbic system. This is the area where we store many of our memories and emotional responses. Due to our brain's anatomy, It's a fact that you can have a response to a smell before you even know what that response is. Think about it... you're feeling blue, you smell something that "lights up" a happy memory for you - and you can have a mood response before you are even conscious of it happening. Cool huh?
The particles also enter our lungs and make their way to our bloodstream. So if you are dealing with things like asthma, respiratory infections, flu or general anxiety, diffusing specific essential oils in your environment can be a very powerful way to "take in" their medicinal qualities.
Tip: Intermittent diffusing (30-60 min on followed by 30-60 min off) is proven to be both more effective and safer than constant diffusing.
TYPES OF DIFFUSERS
So now that we know why you might want to diffuse…let’s talk about TYPES. There are 4 main types on the market today: Heat diffusers, Evaporative Diffusers, Ultrasonic or Humidifying Diffusers and Nebulizing Diffusers. What? Yes. Let’s get into it.
HEAT DIFFUSERS: Average Price: $10-20
As the name suggest, these diffusers require some type of heat source. This can be a tea light candle underneath a ceramic basin, a lamp ring, or a ceramic dish that gets plugged into the wall. The idea is that the heat causes the essential oils to evaporate, releasing the molecules into the air. It does work, but the heat also causes some damage to oils as they are released into the air, and so you are likely not getting as high of a therapeutic value from them as you could. I have found that if you are diffusing before bed for a few minutes, it’s OK, but if you need to diffuse for a longer period or have a serious respiratory issue you’re working to heal, this would not be my first choice. That being said, I've gotten by using a large ceramic diffuser during flu season when it was all I had. I've also had asthma clients who find this to be a great method because it's a very casual dispersal as opposed to a concentrated stream.
One of the pros is that they are completely silent!
If you do go for this option, it’s important to know that you need to add WATER to the basin or dish and not add your essential oils neat. This will prevent the oils from being completely damaged by the heat. I do have a really beautiful, handmade ceramic diffuser that was gifted to me by a friend. I have used it in the bedroom before bed, as well as other small spaces for a limited amount of time. My first ever diffuser was a lamp ring, and using it right before bed was pleasant and very affordable!
EVAPORATIVE DIFFUSERS: Average Price: $25-40
Evaporative diffusers work by pushing air past the essential oils and dispersing them into the air. Typically there is a disposable pad or filter that you put your drops of essential oils on, insert into the diffuser and the fan will then blow air up and out, taking the odour molecules with it. This works perfectly fine, however the pads are often not re-usable and have to be replaced. Also, the smaller molecules will tend to blow out of the diffuser first, and so there will not be a consistent smell coming from the diffuser for the entire 30-60 minutes that you run it. Additionally, these types of diffusers can be noisy, depending on the type of fan motor it uses.
I’ve used an evaporative diffuser with success in small spaces where the goal was mainly to improve the smell. For example, to ‘clear the air’ after a meeting, or ‘set the tone’ before an appointment. It will disperse the molecules faster than a heat diffuser. It's also a dry dispersal, no water needed, and you don’t need to use much essential oil to get the job done. Cons are – can come with non-reusable pads or filters that need to be replaced, and be noisy.
ULTRASONIC/HUMIDIFYING DIFFUSERS: AVERAGE PRICE: $15-$50
These diffusers work without using any type of heat source. Instead, there is an internal plastic reservoir that holds water and essential oils, and a plate that vibrates. This vibration causes the water and essential oil molecules to ‘break up’ and be dispersed into the air. While it does look like a stream of ‘smoke’ leaving the diffuser, it’s quite cool to the touch as no heat has been used.
The pros are that these diffusers tend to be pretty quiet, require minimal essential oil to get the job done and the oils are not degraded by heat. It’s not really a con, but for some people it may be annoying to know that you really must clean the plastic reservoir daily. This is because essential oils will eat through plastic if left there long enough, and because standing water will breed bacteria which you would then be dispersing into your environment. Yuck. A quick wash with soap and hot water once a day is enough, but some people may find this taxing. Additionally, this type of diffuser will put more moisture into the air, which may be unwanted, depending on your needs.
Price-wise, there are a lot of options. Everything from small USB minis around $15 and more deluxe models around $50-$60.
I tend to use ultrasonic diffusers in my home and office when there is a need. Especially if flu is going around, or I just want to freshen things up a bit. They are typically pretty quiet, though you may hear the sound of lightly running water from the internal reservoir.
NEBULIZING DIFFUSERS - Average price: $50-$100
These may be the most visually pretty diffusers and are often touted as ‘the best’. The way they work is that either an entire bottle of essential oil is hooked up to an internal nozzle, or a glass pipette is used to transfer essential oil into an internal glass tube. Air is then blown across either the tube or the essential oil bottle and dispersers the complete molecule into the air at once.
I have to say that while these are pretty specky diffusers and do allow for the whole molecule to go into the air at once, I only use a nebulzing diffuser in very specific and usually more clinical situations. Say I have a client who is dealing with a very pernicious upper respiratory infection and needs to sit in a room and really breathe in the complete oils as part of their treatment. If I just want to make the room smell nice or benefit from the essential oils in a more general therapeutic way, the other diffusers are sufficient. So, I wouldn’t feel pressured that this is the ‘best’ in all situations.
These diffusers are on the expensive side, highly breakable if you have kids or pets and use up lot of essential oil in comparison to other diffusers. I personally would not find it appropriate to run one of these daily or for long periods of time as this can be incredibly potent and there’s just no need. Essential oils are potent therapeutic medicines, and there can be too much of a good thing.
AROMA STONE - $5-$10
OK so I like to throw this one in as I actually use it all the time and it’s great for those on a tight budget! It’s basically a piece of porous ceramic that you can drip a few drops of essential oils on and place next to the bed or on your desk. What I love about this is that you get just enough of the smell to enjoy it, but it doesn’t overpower you. I wouldn’t choose this if I was trying to treat an illness, but for general relaxation and enjoyment, I love it! Cons are…if you use different oils, especially base oils like vetiver and patchouli, it can get kind of murky and start to smell like “all the oils”. So I use it for a specific blend I like, or just a couple of oils that I regularly combine together. I have never tried to wash one, but I suppose you could give it a try and then leave it out in the full sun for a day or two and it may be good as new again.
This one from Prima Vera comes in a cute little tin and I bought it for under $5!
So there you have it! The ins and outs of types of diffusers! It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also leave you with a few tips for how to diffuse and a little blend to try at home.
You really don’t need a LOT of essential oils to receive their benefits. Whether it’s a heat, evaporative or ultrasonic diffuser – stick to 5-7 drops diffused for 30-60 minutes at a time. Then stop.
I don’t actually think that it’s healthy to diffuse all day, every day. I certainly don’t. I would wonder what the reason is and if there are other more gentle solutions. Too much of an essential oil can be harmful, causing headaches or other types of sensitivity. Lavender has a sedating or relaxing effect, but too much lavender is actually stimulating! When I work in my clinic, I'm required to have good ventilation and open the windows after clients leave to clear the air. I have absolutely had that "jittery rush" from over-exposure to essential oils and it's not nice!
It’s also not recommended to diffuse with very young children in the room as some oils, such as peppermint, eucalyptus (and others) can constrict the airways of infants and young children. Other oils can trigger people with asthma, so as a general rule, diffuse for yourself or consult with a professional on blends more suitable for public spaces.
Some nice times to diffuse are – before bed, when meditating or taking a bath. It can be a very enjoyable way to connect with aromatherapy, but use common sense. I have also been known to set up my diffuser after a party to clear out any air-borne germs that may have come in and for 20 min at the end of the day during cold and flu season. Experiment with what combinations uplift or relax you and go ahead and get creative with it!
BEDTIME DIFFUSER BLEND
This is a blend I use on those days where I just want to lay in bed and decompress quietly for 20 min before “switching off”. It’s very soothing for me and I hope it will be for you, too!
Lavender – 2 drops
Petitgrain – 2 drops
Sweet Marjoram – 2 drops
I hope you've enjoyed getting some tips and recommendations and wishing you lots of peace and enjoyment with your personal aromatherapy journey!
Lauren Keizer-Gilbert, MIFPA