Diffusion is probably the easiest way of using essential oils, and the first method that one is bound to experience when getting into the fascinating world of aromatherapy.
Let us see what the meaning of diffusion really covers: the dictionary tells us that diffusion is the "spreading of something more widely”. More specifically, the term is defined through its use in Physics by "the intermingling of substances by the natural movement of their particles”.
Therefore technically, diffusion describes any way of having the essential oil molecules interact with our direct environment, either by means of a device - ultrasonic or nebulizer - or by simply placing a few drops on a surface - clay pendant, tissue, or a patch on your clothes. It is a safe and easy method of delivery.
Diffusion is quite popular in aromatherapy, and here is why:
- It is a passive application, there is no need to manipulate or apply a product, or to be entirely focused by the delivery. We can simply continue our daily tasks while the magic happens
- It is not complicated, provided that we are aware of the safety precautions about the essential oil we are about to diffuse, diffusion is not a head scratcher. Blending skills are not necessary (blending is, however, a wonderful tool to create the loveliest synergies)
- It doesn’t require much equipment - and that is all relative, of course. I own a nebulizer and an ultrasonic diffuser, and both can be quite pricey depending on the quality of the product, but beginners can experience with diffusion by pouring a few drops on a clay surface or a piece of cloth.
- It doesn’t involve direct skin application - and therefore considered a safe way to use essential oils. Although there is still a risk for our system due to over diffusion (see safety precautions below), there is technically a lower amount of molecules entering our body than through direct skin application.
The Science behind the Magic
Did you know that beyond that, diffusion can be truly beneficial for many reasons?
This is where it becomes really interesting: diffusion is not just about making a room smell good. And to be honest, it shouldn’t be.
Essential oils are packed with natural compounds in various amounts, and thanks to chemistry, today we are able to understand the effect of every single one of them on different parts of our system.
Benefits for Our Nervous System
There is scientific evidence behind the calming and sedative effect of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), or the energizing effect of peppermint (Mentha piperita), and we can benefit from these effects through the simple act of smelling.
When we inhale, molecules all around us penetrate our respiratory system. They fill our nasal cavity, and get caught by our olfactory epithelium - a patch of mucus membrane at the back of our nasal cavity - that immediately sends a signal to our brain, which in turn analyzes the nature of the smell thanks to our olfactory memory.
The signal reaches the very center of our brain: the limbic system. Various parts of what is also called our “emotional brain” will work together and relay the signal all along our body, creating either a stress or a relaxation response.
Essential oils can be extremely supportive for an array of conditions: stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, lack of focus, and even pain management.
My advice: the more in-depth is our knowledge about each essential oil, the better we are able to select them for a specific purpose. Learning about our daily moods and emotional states (think “self-feedback”) is also key to chose the oil that will suit our need best. For example, I would not diffuse the same oil if I feel physically nervous, quietly anxious, or emotionally drained.
Molecules that we inhale are carried into our lungs, and end their journey in our bloodstream by means of tiny capillaries that allow exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxyde between air and blood. As a result, diffusion is probably the best pathway to support our respiratory system.
There is a long list of therapeutic effects in essential oils that can fulfill this goal: expectorant, mucolytic, antitussive (reduces coughs), antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, etc...
My advice: don’t wait until you are sick: diffusion works wonders as a preventative method. Prefer the devices that have a stronger action, a nebulizer for example. If you have asthma, select the safest and less aggressive essential oils.
To sum up, diffusion of essential oils have a real, tangible effect on our nervous and respiratory system. Over diffusion can result in symptoms such as confusion, irritability, migraines, or airway irritation.
- Always keep a good ventilation in the room you are diffusing
- Know the safety precaution for each essential oil
- Do not diffuse over the amount of time that is necessary, usually 10-15 minutes for a nebulizer, and 30 minutes for an ultrasonic diffuser
- Diffusion with pets: always give them the opportunity to leave the room
- Diffusion with children and pregnant women: use half the amount of essential oils and diffusion time, and always select the safest ones.
And, that is it, diffusion 101! If you are in the market for a new diffuser, feel free to check out the gorgeous hand-fired ceramic ultrasonic diffuser here.
By Amandine Peter, certified aromatherapist and Reiki master.