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More than Just a Great Aroma: The Benefits of Citrus Essential Oils

Someone mentioned the other day that they enjoy the aroma of essential oil but they weren't so sure about all the touted benefits. How can something that smells good affect our body in so many different ways?

Great question. I explained that essential oils are made up of aromatic compounds that when inhaled or absorbed topically have an effect on the body.

For example lavender is rich in linolool a monoterpenol or type of alcohol. We know that ethanol -- an organic compound or alcohol in wine, beer, and cocktails has a relaxing effect on the body. Linalool in lavender is one of the organic compounds responsible for the relaxing properties of lavender. So the chemistry of essential oils is responsible for its effects.

Scientists can study essential oils, determine their chemistry, and figure out how they affect the body. Pretty amazing. Of course there are other aspects at play such as synergy and plant energetics but for those looking for quantifiable data we can point to chemistry and research.

We use a lot of citrus essential oils in our products at Be Kekoa Apothecary in part because they smell wonderful and meld well with our tropical, island feel. But beyond smelling awesome they actually offer some wonderful benefits. Part of the experience of our products is the aroma and its benefits.

Meet some of the Citrus Essential Oils:

Grapefruit, orange, lemon, green mandarin, and lime essential oils are some of our favorites at Be Kekoa Apothecary. I've begun using bergamot (furanocoumarin free) in developing some natural perfumes. Citrus oils are all generally high in d-limonene a monoterpene . Tangerine and yuzu are also lovely citrus oils.

Limonene offers a variety of benefits -- for example it has been found to activate white blood cells, thus offering immune support, it has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, hepatoprotective, and skin penetration enhancer -- meaning it can help other ingredients absorb better. 1

The amount of limonene varies among citrus with grapefruit and orange generally having the higher percentages than lemon, lime, and bergamot. This variance accounts for the similarities and subtle differences between the citrus oils. We'll look at these differences in more detail in upcoming posts as we explore individual citrus oils.

Because citrus oils harbor limonene they are a great choice for adding to blends for immune support, to support the liver, analgesic and anti-inflammatory support, as well as to help deliver ingredients into the skin. Citrus oils are uplifting and boost mood. They are like liquid sunshine -- bright, fresh, and welcoming.

Cautions when using Citrus Oils:

Although citrus oils are non-toxic they can be photo-toxic (sounds contradictory but hold on). Photo-toxic refers to an essential oil or substance causing increased sensitivity to the sun. Thus care must be taken when using citrus oils in a topical blend.

Bergamot is HIGHLY photo-toxic. I personally avoid using it in topical applications unless the furanocoumarins have been removed (these are the components that increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun). Grapefruit and lemon are moderately photo-toxic. It is recomended to keep dilutions of lemon low (1-2%) and grapefruit at 4% or less when using topically in something like a cream or roll on application. One can also avoid the sun or keep the area covered.

Distilled lime and sweet orange are not photo-toxic. Cold pressed lime IS photo-toxic. Does this mean you should slather on the distilled lime and sweet orange? Citrus oils can potentially cause skin irritation and like all essential oils are best used diluted (there are a few exceptions but for citrus you'll want to dilute). Keeping dilutions low (1-2% or so) will help guard against sensitivity.

Citrus oils are prone to oxidation and are best stored in a cool place away from light and protected from heat. if you've had a citrus oil for more than two years or so it may be oxidized.

So today we learned that citrus oils are bright, uplifting, and offer several benefits in common. Try the recipe below to enjoy a sunny citrus hand soap.

Sunny Citrus Hand Soap:

PET or Ceramic 8 oz foaming pump

8 oz Castile Soap

25 drops orange (Citrus sinesis) essential oil

25 drops of Lemon (Citrus limon) essential oil

25 drops of grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) essential oil

Add the castille soap and essential oils to the foamer pump. Cap and gently agitate to combine soap and oils. Enjoy your citrusy soap! You can vary the citrus oils to include lime, tangarine, green mandarin, or vary the ratios of the drops to create your own unique soap blend.

If you have questions about essential oils, aromatherapy, or citrus oils contact Tricia or stop by the apothecary in Old Town Temecula. Stay tuned for blogs exploring individual citrus oils in more detail and more fun recipes.

What is your favorite citrus oil and why?

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