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Aromatherapy Diffusers for Essential Oils

Updated on November 21, 2013

The history of aromatherapy

Before we begin looking at diffusers, let us take a moment to look at the history of aromatherapy. Since the invention of distillation in the 11th century when the process of steam distillation was pioneered by Pūr Sinɑʼ, essential oils have been used for therapeutic purposes.

The term aromatherapy was first used in the early 20th century and was first introduced in print by French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in his book Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales after he had a positive but accidental experience while treating a major burn on his arm with Lavender essential oil. However, the foundations of aromatherapy date back 1,000 years to ancient China where aromatic plants were used for well-being.

In later years, the Egyptians and Greek also used infused oils for medicinal and spiritual use. It is thought that the Egyptians created the concept and term perfume as a result of this.

By the 14th century, essential oils had become a critical stop-gap for the Black Death which was killing people by the thousands. It is believed that perfumers were protected from the illness due to their constant contact with aromatic oils.

In the 16th century, infused oils were made more readily available to the general public and could be purchased at apothecary stores.

By the 20th century, modern medicine was being developed by taking the oils and separating the major elements and using them separately. As a result, the therapeutic value of the oil declined and medicinal benefits of the oil was weakened due to the separation, but profits from the medicine pushed the development further.

Later in the 20th century, during World War II, Jean Valnet treated soldiers during the war with essential oils due to their natural antiseptic qualities.

From the late 20th century and on into the 21st century, there is a growing interest to utilize more natural products which include essential oils. Over the past 1,000 years, the use of these oils never ceased, but the creation of modern medicine minimized the popularity and use of essential oils. With the start of the 21st century, there has been a heightened awareness of the synthetics used for many years coupled with increased availability of essential oils and aromatherapy knowledge within literature and on the Internet. This knowledge has fueled the growth of the industry for therapeutic, cosmetic, fragrant and spiritual use.

Why use an aromatherapy diffuser?

Diffusing essential oils is the quickest way to gain value from the therapeutic values of essential oils. When you inhale essential oils, they are sent immediately to your brain and then to other organs to regulate. We won't get into the science behind it here but we'll talk about what you can expect from diffused essential oils.

You can expect :

  • that your mood almost immediately impacted
  • that your stress level with be reduced significantly
  • that your immune system will be supercharged
  • that your home will smell amazing!
  • that you will have improved concentration and focus
  • that you will gain feelings of peace and well-being

There are many diffusers on the market today ranging from prices of $6 to $500, depending mainly on technology and functionality. Aromatherapy diffusers are designed specifically for essential oils and break the oil down into minute particles that are inhaled. It's important to use the highest quality of oil you can buy (CPTG - Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade ) since you are, in fact, inhaling these oils. If you buy an essential oil that is not CPTG, then you can almost be sure that it has been cut with additives and/or fillers.

There are four types of essential oil diffusers, and each has different approach to diffusing as well as varying therapeutic values:

Nebulizing Diffusers

Nebulizing diffusers don't use any water at all. They work by breaking the oil down into tiny particles and you inhale the pure oil. These diffusers are typically more expensive and have the greatest therapeutic value. Nebulizing diffusers should only be run 10-20 minutes at a time due to the potency of diffused oil.

Ultrasonic Diffusers

Ultrasonic diffusers create a very fine mist with water added. Ultrasonic diffusers use electronic frequencies to cause a disk beneath the surface of the water to vibrate, thus breaking down the essential oil into microparticles and creating a fine mist. These diffusers are really good when the air is drier than normal as the air is humidified slightly due to the dispersion of the water along with the essential oil. Ultrasonic diffusers are the most popular types of diffusers due to their ease of use and cost, which is typically more reasonable that the nebulizing diffusers.

Heat Diffusers

Heat diffusers evaporate essential oils quickly, thus you experience the aroma fill a room very rapidly. These diffusers have had waves of popularity over the last 20 years. However, their use has declined with the improvement of ultrasonic diffusers.

Evaporative Diffuser

Evaporative diffusers are the most basic of all the diffusers. These diffusers blow room air through an internal filter and then dispersed throughout the room. The primary issue with evaporative diffusers is that you the entire oil element is dispersed at once which lowers the therapeutic value. The lighter components of the oil evaporate more quickly and are dispersed first, and then the heavier elements follow. Therefore, when the oil is inhaled, it is inhaled in stages which lowers the overall therapeutic benefit.

A word of caution

Do not confuse a humidifier with an aromatherapy diffuser. If the machine is not designed for essential oils, then you could be doing more harm than good. Particularly, the essential oil will breakdown the plastic of a humidifier and you will be inhaling these particles.


So which diffuser is right for you?

If your goal is gain the most therapeutic benefit from your essential oil, then the nebulizing diffuser will be your best choice. These produce the highest quality result, but are the most expensive.

Otherwise, trends typically go with the ultrasonic diffuser due to the ease of use and lower cost, yet higher therapeutic value than the heat and evaporative diffusers.

If you are looking for something to disperse an aroma throughout a large area very quickly with no concern of therapeutic value, then a heat diffuser would be the right choice.

What is your favorite type of diffuser?

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    • profile image

      Antionette Blake 3 years ago

      I love the smell of oils coming from a diffuser. Thank you for sharing and linking up with us at the #WWDParty - enjoy the rest of the week.

    • my lamp is full profile image

      my lamp is full 3 years ago

      Thanks for explaining the differences so well. I often have people ask me and this is a great resource. I would be honored if you would link this post and any others you wish each week to oil me up Wednesdays!

      Janine@my lamp is full

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      longlongway 3 years ago

      Great page. More great info is here: http://teatreeoilhq.com