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Citrus fruits are like the sunshine of the produce world and citrus essential oil benefits are similarly brilliant. They are colorful and bright, fresh and juicy – the perfect sign that summer is here. Their essential oils bring a similar cheer, whether used for cooking, in household cleaning products, body washes, or simply breathing in the aromatic compounds. Citrus essential oil benefits provide plenty of refreshing and revitalizing along the way.

How Citrus Essential Oils are Manufactured

While most essential oils are produced via steam distillation, citrus oils are not extracted via steam distillation alone. The leaves, bark, roots, and seeds aren’t the source of the oil – it’s the fruit itself! More specifically, the citrus fruit peels provide the essential oil. If you’ve ever been sprayed in the eye when peeling an orange or felt the oily residue on your fingers after playing with fruit peels, you’ve encountered citrus oil already.

To produce citrus essential oils, the peel is usually cold pressed, extracting the oil without the application of heat or solution, otherwise called “expression.” The fruit peels can also be steam-distilled. (1)

A note to remember about citrus essential oil: we often think of foods with thick peels as less dangerous when grown conventionally because the peel protects the edible part from toxic pesticides. The opposite is true in this case. The peel is in constant contact with sprays, so the concentrated natural essence would contain them as well. Always trust your essential oil provider to bring you toxin and residue-free Citrus EOs that are organically grown!

Citrus Oil Uses for Cancer-Fighting & Immunity

Since we are looking at an entire family of fruits and their essential oils, shared features are to be expected. One of the top ways in which citrus is used for aromatherapy benefits is when it comes to cleaning formulations because of their shared antimicrobial properties.

The most prominent and noteworthy component of citrus oil use is d-limonene, confirmed to be a potent cancer-fighting agent.

In the words of the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s open chemistry database, PubChem, d-limonene is nothing to scoff at.

“D-Limonene is an oral dietary supplement containing a natural cyclic monoterpene and major component of the oil extracted from citrus peels with potential chemopreventive and antitumor activities. Although the mechanism of action has yet to be fully elucidated, limonene and its metabolites… may inhibit tumor growth and may induce apoptosis (i.e. programmed cancer cell death). (2)

Regarding safety, according to one study, d-limonene does not pose a carcinogenic risk to humans, and has well-established chemopreventive (the ability to slow or prevent the progression of cancer) activity against many types of cancer. (2)

Additionally, d-limonene can help people by:

  • Encouraging healthy immune system – it’s a favorite in immune boosting blends.
  • Providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory affects
  • Killing pathogens (like fungus) that can cause other diseases.
  • Reduces stress and even boosts mood (a frequent use in folk medicine).

Other commonly shared chemicals in the citrus family are furanocoumarins like bergapten, notable for their phototoxic effects. When bergapten is left on the skin, and then exposed to the sun, it amplifies the effect of the sun and can leave burns. Some people like to avoid using bergapten-heavy oils topically altogether, but simply avoiding the sun 12-18 hours after use (such as using it at night before bed) is sufficient. Alternatively, steam-distilled citrus oil is not known to contain furanocoumarins and mitigate this effect.

A Note About Phototoxicity

This list of photosensitizing and non-photosensitizing came from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapists. (3)

Photosensitizers

Essential Oil Latin Name
Angelica root Angelica archangelica
Bergamot Citrus bergamia
Cumin Cuminum cyminum
Distilled or expressed grapefruit (low risk) Citrus paradisi
Expressed lemon Citrus limon
Expressed lime Citrus medica
Orange, bitter (expressed) Citrus aurantium
Rue Ruta graveolens

Non-Phototoxic Citrus Oils

(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Bergamot: Bergapteneless
(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)
Citrus bergamia
Distilled lemon Citrus limon
Distilled lime Citrus medica
Mandarin – Tangerine Citrus reticulata
Sweet orange Citrus sinensis
Expressed tangerine Citrus reticulata
Yuzu oil (expressed or distilled) Citrus juno

Other citrus EOs such as Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) also called Makrut Lime or Thai Bergamot, and Clementine (Citrus clementina) are possibly phototoxic according to Tisserand. (4) Great care should be taken when using citrus oils during summer months and with your children, but you don’t have to avoid them altogether. Many aromatherapists agree that heavily diluting citrus oils in carrier oil minimizes the risk of skin sensitivity.

Remember, even with non-phototoxic citrus, it is still good practice to dilute according to appropriate dilution guidelines whenever using in topical applications. And that cold-pressing increases the risks of skin sensitivity to UV.

For example, the Essential Oil Safety text and Aromahead Institute teach that phototoxic oils can be used if diluted as follows:

  • Cold Pressed Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) — 2.4 drops (I just consider this 2 drops per oz). Dilution limit: 0.4%
  • Cold Pressed Lemon (Citrus limon) — 12 drops per oz. Dilution limit: 2%
  • Cold Pressed Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) — 4.2 drops (I just consider this 4 drops per oz). Dilution limit: 0.7%.
  • Cold Pressed Grapefruit (Citrus paradisii) — 24 drops per oz. Dilution limit: 4%.

Note that if you’re using more than one phototoxic citrus oil in your essential oil blends, the effects are combined. You’d need to consider them together for a new dilution limit and increase the amount of carrier oil compared to the amount of essential oils.

5 Citrus Essential Oil Benefits to Use Every Day

There are few things citrus oils cannot remedy. From the countertop to digestive health to enhancing a positive outlook, they have many benefits. All citrus essential oils have aromatherapy benefits that make them a wonderful addition to any home!

Add one drop of your favorite citrus essential oil to a tsp of honeymaple syrup, and/or coconut oil then mix with morning water or afternoon tea for a refreshing pick-me-up. Lemon oil or sweet orange can be especially lovely for this purpose.

Spritz down counters with citrus EO and 190-proof grain alcohol where food preparation occurs, or marinate dinner with a citrus oil infusion.

1. Bergamot

Officially named Citrus Bergamia, bergamot EO differs from the other citrus oils in that it’s not a familiar fruit. In fact, it’s not even an edible fruit in any practical sense. Still, its oil has been used for ages. Bergamot’s natural flavoring for black tea is well-known, and the natural alternatives to modern medicine are documented in traditional Chinese remedies.

Bergamot essential oil is an important oil for stress relief. In one very recently published study coming out of Japan, mood, cortisol levels, and fatigue were all improved in a short amount of time after inhaling bergamot’s aromatic compounds. (4)

Another strong benefit of bergamot is its antibacterial activity, not only good for surface cleaning but is also implicated in food safety. Researchers are focusing heavily on citrus oil uses to inhibit E. coli and other bacteria, and bergamot is one of the most promising. (5)

Application: When you need a mood pick-me-up, fill your home’s essential oil diffusers with bergamot EO and other citrus options that enhance stress relief such as blood orange (Citrus × sinensis), Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix), and bitter orange or neroli, which both come from the Citrus aurantium tree.

2. Grapefruit

The grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) is an undersold tool for weight management. If you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, no doubt you’ve seen grapefruit recommended in every diet, from the healthier “eat well” varieties to the dangerous crash diets. That’s because every part of the grapefruit is good for your metabolism and body composition, right down to the essential oil.

One mechanism of the benefits may be connected to an internal reaction to the scent, that basically tells the body it’s time to burn fat. (6) Topically, massages including grapefruit oil have shown reduced cellulite and body circumference, as well as increased self esteem. (7) There are internal benefits, as well, though it should be noted that doses are quite important – no essential oil should be taken in high quantities, regardless of recommendations from friends, family, or blogs. Always consult with a professional, especially when weight management is the concern and goal.

Learn more about grapefruit essential oil.

3. Lemon

Lemon contains the highest levels of limonene, the active component that brings us most of the benefits from citrus oils. Aside from the benefits for ourselves, limonene and lemon essential oil are excellent options for DIY cleaning recipes. Limonene is so beneficial, in fact, that commercial cleaning products synthesize it for their formulations! (8)

Use lemon essential oil in sprays for countertops, faucets, doorknobs, and any other surface that comes into contact with germs for a strong antimicrobial, protective effect. It’s also one of our favorites for deodorizing around the house.

Learn more about lemon essential oil.

4. Lime

Lime essential oil (Citrus medica) is quite similar to lemon in composition, which makes it an effective option for cleaning as well as for synergistic blends. A noteworthy finding on its cleaning abilities, lime essential oil was shown to be an effective surface antifungal in addition to its antimicrobial effects. (9)

For the body, combine lime with other citrus oils in diffuser blends to boost their combined benefits. Cleanse the air, energize your spirits, and lift your mood with the bright scents and powerful composition. Of course, there’s also Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix), that is different from true lime, so check the labels carefully to prevent any confusion.

Learn more about lime essential oil.

5. Orange

Commonly used as a food flavoring, orange essential oil (Citrus sinensis) is a common ingredient in industrial cleaners and body care products like deodorants, soaps, and lotions. Primarily because of the rich d-limonene content, orange is truly one of the most versatile and cost-effective essential oils on the market when you consider its effect on cancer and these five ways that orange oil can be used therapeutically.

As I mentioned above, although we cannot pinpoint the exact mechanism, research suggests that d-limonene not only inhibits tumor growth but triggers what’s known as apoptosis (cancer cell suicide). (source) Orange oil also contains polymethoxyflavones, phytochemicals that have been shown to slow the growth and can actually kill human lung cancer. (10) It is important to note that polymethoxyflavones are almost exclusively found in sweet orange and mandarin oils. Grapefruit and neroli only contain trace amounts. (11)

Learn more about orange essential oil.

These are the five most popular citrus essential oil, but as you can see from our list above there are several other options to consider.

  • Bitter Orange essential oil (Citrus aurantium)
  • Blood Orange essential oil (Citrus sinensis)
  • Clementine (Citrus clementina)
  • Green Manderine (Citrus nobilis)
  • Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix)
  • Neroli Essential Oil (also Citrus aurantium)
  • Tangerine (Citrus reticulata)
  • Yuzu (Citrus junos)

Bang for the buck, citrus EOs are some of the best choices you can pick up as a beginner. They are great for getting started with aromatherapy, inexpensive to acquire, and with such a wide variety of benefits you’ll be able to use them every day.

References:


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