Bergamot is one of those scents that you may or may not be familiar with already, and you might not even realize it if you are.
Bergamot comes from the rinds of a citrus fruit called the bergamot orange, from the citrus bergamia tree. The fruit itself is a combination of lemon and bitter orange but has been a cultivar for centuries.
The most common use of bergamot is in earl grey tea, as a flavoring ingredient. It's also often used in Turkish delight, marmalade, and snus. Beyond the edibles, it's a common scent for perfume and essential oils, which is what we're here to talk about today.
How to Use Aromatherapy Diffusers
Every aromatherapy diffuser works differently, but they generally have a few different designs. Each of them will have a different recommended amount of oil to use on them, so be sure to read their instructions.
Ceramic diffusers are a kind of diffuser that is, basically, just a piece of ceramic. It's porous, so when you put oil on it, it absorbs the oil and only releases a small amount of it at a time. It's a passive scent generator and is basically the equivalent of having an unlit but uncapped candle on your desk, or a nice smelling rock. It works if you keep it on hand, but it won't fill a room with scent, and it doesn't actively circulate.
Reed diffusers are a similar kind of passive diffuser, but they take advantage of wood's natural ability to absorb and transport a liquid. You put reeds in a pool of oil and a carrier, and the reeds absorb the liquid at the bottom, pulling it up to the top and releasing it. Again, it works when it's near where you're sitting, but it doesn't circulate.
Fan diffusers are basically small bowls with a fan over them. You put your oil and a carrier in the bowl, and the fan circulates air over it. The carrier – usually water – evaporates, and the evaporated water-oil mixture is carried throughout the room. It's better at filling a whole room, but they can be a little noisy.
Candle diffusers use heat to facilitate the spread of essential oils. These range from a small bowl of carrier and oil over an open flame – an actual candle, usually – to electric heaters and even lamp rings. These are generally not well recommended, because heat can change the chemical properties of your essential oils.
Nebulizer diffusers are a more medicinal kind of device that uses pressurized air to turn something like medication or essential oil into a vapor, and then diffuse that vapor in the air. Asthma nebulizers are used to deliver medicine to a patient, but a nebulizer diffuser just spreads it into the air of a room. They can be quite effective but are more expensive and difficult to fix if they break.
Ultrasonic diffusers are devices that use the high-frequency vibration of noise too high pitched for most people to hear to shake the molecules of your carrier and oil so much that they split apart and fly into the air. They're usually quiet and effective, and are some of the most common options you find today.
Picking a diffuser style depends on your goals, your budget, and the kind of device you want to use. Some require electricity, others are passive. We recommend either a reed or ceramic diffuser if you want a small, passive scent nearby, or an ultrasonic diffuser if you want to suffuse a room with scent.
The Benefits of Bergamot
Bergamot is a great-smelling oil, and when used for aromatherapy, may have a handful of health benefits.
What might you expect?
- Bergamot can be a natural insect repellant. Like citronella, you can use bergamot to ward off pesky bugs in the warmer months, though it might not have a large area of effect outdoors.
- Bergamot helps calm the nerves. One of the biggest benefits of bergamot is its ability to help calm you down. This helps reduce stress, settle the nerves, reduce nervousness, and generally make your experiences that much better.
- Bergamot might help relieve headaches. Studies are thin for the medicinal benefits of bergamot, and it's not always a great option – see the cautions below – but it may have some promising utility as a way to reduce headaches.
- Bergamot can help heal the skin. Aromatherapy isn't the main way you get skin benefits – you'll want a skin cream with bergamot as an ingredient for that – but it can help clear pores and restore skin. Just make sure you get rectified oil if you're making a treatment yourself.
- Bergamot can help calm an upset stomach. Even without consuming the oil, bergamot's scent has been observed to help calm nausea and queasiness of an upset stomach.
- Bergamot can help boost the immune system. Some evidence suggests that bergamot might be beneficial to the immune system when used topically to treat skin problems like shingles.
- Bergamot can help clear the respiratory system. It's not going to cure asthma or COVID-19 or something, but it can help clear up the lingering effects of a cold or allergies.
- Bergamot can help lower high cholesterol. This doesn't apply to aromatherapy, but if you want to use a bergamot product, it can help with cholesterol issues.
No matter how you want to use bergamot, make sure you're getting a healthy, safe version of the oil. You'll want to look for something that is bergapten-free, for reasons we'll discuss below.
How Much Should You Use?
The amount of bergamot oil you use will depend on how you're using it for aromatherapy. For example, you can mix a few drops of bergamot oil with a carrier oil like coconut oil, and then use that as a massage lotion.
When it comes to using a diffuser, you should always consult the instructions for the diffuser you're using. Some machines work in different ways, so our recommendations should always come secondary to the actual manufacturer's advice.
Generally, though, you will want to use between 3 and 10 drops of oil in a diffuser full of water. The exact amount of oil you use depends on three things:
- Whether or not you're mixing it with other oils.
- The amount of water in the vessel.
- The strength of the scent you want.
Using more oil will make the scent stronger. More drops of one oil makes the concentrate a bit stronger compared to other oils you mix in, so if you're blending different scents, you'll want to balance out how much of each you use. Bergamot is a pretty strong scent, but it will be overpowered by scents like mint, so adjust accordingly.
What Blends Well with Bergamot?
One of the biggest perks of aromatherapy is the ability to adjust and create your own scent blends. You're not limited to just the scent of bergamot, you can mix it with as many or as few other oils as you want to create the perfect blend. You can mix and match the various health benefits of other herbs, or you can just make something that smells good. After all, if you enjoy it, that alone helps relieve stress and is a health benefit.
Bergamot is a citrus oil, and while the fruit itself is more bitter than grapefruit while being less sour than lemon, the oil is a bright, clean scent with a citrus kick to it. This means it works very well as a high note in a wide variety of blends. Here are some ideas for what you can mix up.
- Lavender. As a subtle floral scent, you'll want to push more on the lavender side of things, using the bergamot to kick a citrus note to brighten the scent profile.
- Patchouli. Patchouli is a musky, earthy kind of scent and is dark on its own, so bergamot goes a long way towards brightening it up.
- Lime. Any citrus blends well with bergamot since they're all very similar. Lime has the most striking difference and makes a good mixture for a full citrus scent, but you can also use orange for a bit more sweetness.
- Arborvitae. Arborvitae is a woody, warm scent that is similar to patchouli when mixed with bergamot. They contrast nicely and work well as a two-sided base to mix a third of the scent into.
- Sandalwood. An almost spicy, woody scent, sandalwood is often mixed with bergamot to brighten it up.
- Herbs. Rosemary, sage, and jasmine are all good herbs to mix with the bright scent of bergamot. Add in the third level of one of the woody, earthy scents to give yourself a trifecta of power.
- Mint. Mint is a very strong scent, and it's very easy for it to overpower other scents, so we recommend using very little of it compared to whatever you're mixing it with. Still, it can work well with bergamot to give it a sharper, more powerful scent overall.
Do you have a favorite blend of bergamot and other scents? We'd love to hear your recommendations, so leave your favorite recipe in the comments.
Is Bergamot Oil Dangerous?
Before we finish up here, we want to talk about the potential dangers of bergamot specifically and essential oils in general.
Essential oils are extremely concentrated. Any chemical effect present in the oil is going to be highly concentrated and thus extremely effective in the form of an oil. You never want to use an essential oil without diluting it somehow, or using an extremely small amount of it at a time, typically only a drop or two.
Bergamot, specifically, is a concentration-dependent phytotoxin. What that means is that, in low concentrations, it's mostly harmless. In higher concentrations, it can cause your skin to become more sensitive to light, increasing the damage done by UV rays and sunburn, and potentially causing a sort of contact dermatitis with general inflammation and even painful blisters.
The chemical responsible for this effect is called bergapten. This compound can be removed through rectification of the oil, so any bergamot oil that has been "twice rectified" will be considered safer. It's still very concentrated and thus very potent, but it won't have the phytotoxic effects.
It's also worth mentioning that bergamot, particularly bergamot essential oils, contain high amounts of bergamottin, a different chemical that is thought to be responsible for at least some of the interactions between drugs and grapefruit. Always be careful with citrus if you're on certain kinds of drugs, as there may be interactions.
Can You Use Bergamot Around Pets?
One consideration many of you may have is the effect an aromatherapy oil might have on your pets.
Unfortunately, bergamot is toxic to both cats and dogs. Even a small amount of oil can cause a variety of negative health symptoms in cats and dogs, especially cats. Consumption of the oil may be deadly, and the small concentrations used in aromatherapy can cause low levels of digestive or lung distress in the animals.
If you have pets, we recommend not using any aromatherapy, or if you do, keep it in a room the pets are not allowed into. Remember, even if the oil itself isn't toxic, the scents can be overpoweringly strong to an animal with a much better sense of smell than humans have. At best, you may find that your pets avoid you after you've done some aromatherapy. At worst, you can cause them harm.
All of the above is caution, though. Bergamot is still fine to use if you don't use it around pets, and you make sure to buy oil without the compound that causes phytotoxicity. Luckily, that's very common these days.