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Citrus fruits are like the sunshine of the produce world. They are colorful and bright, fresh and juicy – the perfect sign that summer is here. Their essential oils bring a similar cheer, whether cooking, cleaning, bathing or simply breathing, citrus oil uses can be part of the process, refreshing and revitalizing along the way.

How Citrus 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 peel of citrus fruit provides the essential oil. If you’ve ever been sprayed in the eye when peeling an orange, or felt the oily residue on your fingers afterward, 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 peels can also be steam distilled. (1)

A note to remember about citrus oil uses: 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 essential oil product would be, as well. Always trust your essential oil provider to bring you toxin and residue free oils!

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Citrus Oil Uses for Cancer-Fighting and Phototoxicity

Since we are looking at an entire family of fruits and their essential oils, shared features are to be expected. Notably, with shared antimicrobial benefits, citrus oil uses are almost universally good in cleaning formulations and they are generally regarded as being mood boosters in traditional folk medicine.

The most prominent and noteworthy component of citrus oil uses 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 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.

Other commonly shared chemicals in the citrus family are furanocoumarins like bergapten, notable for their phototoxic effects. When bergapten is left on the skin, 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 are not known to contain furanocoumarins and mitigate this effect.

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

Photosensitizers

Essential OilLatin Name
Angelica rootAngelica archangelica
BergamotCitrus bergamia
CuminCuminum cyminum
Distilled or expressed grapefruit (low risk)Citrus paradisi
Expressed lemonCitrus limon
Expressed limeCitrus medica
Orange, bitter (expressed)Citrus aurantium
RueRuta graveolens

Non-Phototoxic Citrus Oils

Essential OilLatin Name
Bergamot: Bergapteneless
(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)
Citrus bergamia
Distilled lemonCitrus limon
Distilled limeCitrus medica
Mandarin – TangerineCitrus reticulata
Sweet orangeCitrus sinensis
Expressed tangerineCitrus reticulata
Yuzu oil (expressed or distilled)Citrus juno

Great care should be taken when using citrus oils during summer months and with your children, but you don’t have to avoid them all together. Many aromatherapists agree that heavily diluting citrus oils minimizes the risk.

Remember, even with non-phototoxic citrus, it is still good practice to dilution according to appropriate dilution guidelines.

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, the effects are combined. You’d need to consider them together for a new dilution limit.

Citrus Oil Uses for Every Day

There are few things citrus oils cannot remedy. From the countertop to digestive health to mood boosting, they have many benefits. Citrus oil uses make them a wonderful addition to any home!

Recommendation: Add one drop of a citrus oil to a tsp of honey, maple syrup, and/or coconut oil then mix with morning water or afternoon tea for a refreshing pick-me-up, spritz down counters with citrus oil and 190 proof grain alcohol where food preparation occurs, and marinate dinner with a citrus oil infusion.

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Bergamot

Officially named Citrus Bergamia, bergamot 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 some time now, flavoring black tea and appearing 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 essential oil. (4)

Another strong benefit of bergamot is its antibacterial activity, not only good for surface cleaning but 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)

Grapefruit

The grapefruit 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.

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.

Lime

Lime essential oil 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.

Sweet Orange

Commonly used as a food flavoring, orange essential oil is a common ingredient in industrial cleaner 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. (source) It is important to note that polymethoxyflavones are almost exclusively found in sweet orange and mandarin oils. Grapefruit and neroli only contain trace amounts. (source)

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