If your house starts to feel a bit stuffy, you can always throw open a window or two for a blast of fresh air.
And if you want your rooms to smell a bit more fragrant, then most of us reach for an air freshener or room spray, pop a reed diffuser on a windowsill or shelf or light a scented candle for an hour or two.
But have you thought about using an essential oil diffuser instead?
While they’re a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to transforming the air you breathe and making it smell spa-like, they happen to be all the rage right now, and for the foreseeable future.
Keep reading, because in this article, we’re going to introduce you to the world of essential oil diffusers – what they are, how they work, what the different options are and why people love them so much.
What does an oil diffuser do?
Essential oil diffusers AKA aromatherapy diffusers are a beautiful invention.
They are devices that are used with essential oils, which effectively break them down into tiny molecules. These molecules are then released into the air in an almost cloud-like delicate puff of essential oil fragrance.
The effect diffusers have is influenced by the essential oil you decide to use with them. So, for instance, for a more calming effect, you may want to add a few drops of lavender oil to your diffuser.
Or for a refreshing lift, you may want to use citrusy oils or uplifting lemongrass instead. There are no right or wrongs when it comes to choosing which oil to pair with your diffuser, it’s simply a matter of personal choice.
Other than putting a few drops of your chosen essential oil into your diffuser, there’s nothing more to do other than plug it in or pop in your reed sticks and let your diffuser work its therapeutic magic.
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- Oil diffusers are used with essential oils
- They break essential oils down into tiny molecules and turn them into delicate puffs of fragrance
- They’re really easy to use and can be used with any oil(s) of your choice
What are the different types of diffusers for essential oils?
Certain aromatherapy diffusers feature ambient lighting (chromatherapy) and sound for more of a calming effect, as well as timers for timed blasts of essential oil fragrance.
Meanwhile, others are more design-led, and are beautifully-shaped ceramic pieces that look like they’ve come straight out of a glossy interiors magazine.
Below are some of the different types of diffusers for essential oils:1
Work by using pressurised air to release a burst of oil.
A vacuum pulls the oil to the surface of a distribution tube, which creates a cloud of aroma. You don’t need water or heat to operate them.
Ultrasonic or humidifying diffusers
Ultrasonic vibrations break up the oil molecules into a fine mist.
Essential oil that’s been diluted with water is released by electronic frequencies.
Ultrasonic diffusers work in the same way as cold humidifiers do, and are useful for adding moisture to air.
A small fan helps turn the oil into gas, which makes the oil evaporate into the air. Evaporative diffusers are a good choice for a quick burst of aromatic fragrance.
Heat or electric diffusers
Instead of using a fan to transform the oil into gas, heat diffusers use electric heat and, because there’s no fan, they don’t make any noise.
The chemical properties of the heated oil may change, making the oil less or more intense, depending on its properties. Because there’s no fan involved, these diffusers are totally silent.
Different types of heat diffusers include candle diffusers and lamp ring diffusers.
These more traditional diffusers come with their own elegant blend of chic, and consist of a small glass votive filled with essential oil and diffusers sticks that pop out the top.
Over time, the oil, which comes pre-filled or you can fill your own votive, travels up the sticks, omitting your chosen scent all the while.
When using diffusers, make sure you don’t use too many drops of essential oil at a time. Using too much oil can lead to an overpowering and unpleasant smell that may give you a headache, bring you out in a rash or make you feel sick.2
Pets, pregnant women and children under the age of two are also prone to being more sensitive to essential oil diffusers.3
On the subject of diffusers and sickness, diffusers that use water can potentially harbour bacteria in any leftover liquid that’s left sitting there until you use it again. This means that when you next come to use your diffuser, it could very well make you sick.4
What’s more, some essential oils are extremely flammable, so make sure you keep your diffuser away from open flames.
Don’t use aroma diffusers in your kitchen and steer clear of using electric diffusers in the bathroom.
This type of diffuser tends to release a more concentrated blast of fragrance, so it’s not really ideal to have them on all of the time.
Aim to use them for around 30 to 60 minutes and then switch them off for 30 to 60 minutes.5
- There are quite a few different types of oil diffusers available
- They include nebulising, ultrasonic, evaporative, heat/electric and reed diffusers
- Don’t use too much oil and always keep diffusers away from open flames
Why use oil diffusers?
Other than giving off a wonderful smell, are there any other advantages to using essential oil diffusers?
Yes, there are, several of which we’ve listed down below:
Oil diffusers can help people breathe more easily, especially if they’ve got a cold and want to clear their airways.
For instance, adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil can help clear a blocked nose that’s become congested because of allergies or a cold or the flu.6
You can combine different essential oils together in aromatherapy diffusers to create your own unique signature scent.
Bergamot and cardamom are great for giving you an energy boost. While geranium, frankincense and mandarin are perfect for relaxation.7
Diffusing oil every day helps encourage good habits associated with particular scents.
For example, diffusing lavender oil when you finish work, is a signal to your brain and body that’s time to start switching off and winding down before bedtime.8
Following on from the subject of winding down, studies have shown that diffusing essential oils, such as lavender, can potentially help calm the body and mind.
Meanwhile, other initial studies have found that oil diffusers can help enhance mood.9
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Just like chewing gum, oil diffusers can help stimulate the senses in a way that may help reduce food cravings.
Research has shown that diffused peppermint oil can help curb appetite by inducing a satiety response within the body.
Diffused peppermint oil has also been linked to helping boost energy too.10
Diffusing certain oils can potentially help keep bacteria at bay. When in the air, diffused essential oil breaks down free radicals that may lead to the creation of bacteria.
Eucalyptus, thyme and tea tree oils are recognised as being particularly good bacteria fighters due to their natural antibacterial properties.
Meanwhile, pine and red thyme can be used to help keep mould at bay. 11
Research has found that oil diffusers make great mosquito repellents.
Studies have shown that a diffused oil mixture, containing clove essential oil and lemongrass essential oil repelled one type of Zika-carrying mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, at a rate of 100%.12
Diffusing certain oils can really help with relaxation, which also includes helping people fall asleep more quickly and experiencing better sleep quality.
Lavender oil on its own or lavender combined with Bulgarian rose and chamomile are great sleep inducers.
Some people find the gentle hum of electric diffusers relaxing, and don’t forget about the timer function if you do use yours at bedtime.13
Some people prefer using diffusers over candles to fragrance their space because they don’t involve any flames. Better still, you can change the scent every time you use them.
Note – remember not to use them near open flames or in the bathroom or kitchen though.14
What's the best essential oil diffuser?
So now you know what oil diffusers are, what they do and the main benefits of using them (and you quite like the idea of using one yourself now), which one should you choose?
To help you with your decision, here’s a list of aromatherapy diffusers, as used and rated by our customers.
1. Made By Zen Novo Aroma Diffuser
Customer rating: 5 stars
Portable and lightweight, this USB-powered aroma diffuser is perfect for infusing your home with calming fragrance or your workplace with productivity enhancing and mood-boosting scents.
Plug into the mains or your computer. The Novo Aroma diffuser is also a perfect travel companion for your next trip.
Features colour-changing mood lighting, static or no light options. Use with aromatherapy or fragrance oils.
2. Made By Zen Glo Aroma Diffuser
Customer rating: 5 stars
The Glo Aroma Diffuser boasts three therapies in one: Himalayan Salt, hydration and aroma therapies, making it one of the most powerful mist diffusers available today.
Easy to use, simply add tap water and drops of your favourite fragrance of essential oil.
Incorporates a safety feature that will automatically shut off the diffuser when the water runs out. Run time 7+ hours.
NaturalSarah says – Love it
‘Works perfectly, looks amazing, good size, I use with Made By Zen oils and literally only need 3-4 drops for a lovely scent to fill room. The only sound it makes is bubbling of water every now and again, which is fine; there’s no other noise at all. Mist comes out immediately after turning on and it’s a cool mist, no heat at all.’
3. Tisserand Aroma Spa Diffuser
Customer rating: 4.4 stars
This modern aromatherapy diffuser combines an elegant lightweight design, with all the benefits of ultrasonic aroma technology for a fine and silent mist that envelops a room.
It also combines the benefits of aromatherapy with chromatherapy through gentle variations of soft coloured light.
Jem D says – I love my diffuser!
‘Quietly soothing, versatile, and the water lasts around 4 hours. I went back and bought another for my mother-in-law. I got them at half price too. So very good value for money!
Tezmerelda says – Nice diffuser at a good price
‘I really like this diffuser. You can adjust how much vapour comes out or just use it with light-changing mode for calmness. It has a safety function that turns it off when vapour runs out, so you can leave it on when you go to sleep without worrying.’
Customer rating: 4.3 stars
Light by AromaWorks Mandarin & Vetivert Reed Diffuser will transform the ambience in your home. Fresh citrus top notes of Italian Mandarin and Bergamot combine with warming Indonesian Vetivert and spicy Frankincense.
Aunty Sarah says – Great size and smell
‘Lovely size for beside the bed. Really nice smell and an excellent price.’
SB Bristol says – Perfume paradise
‘Exquisite aroma perfume attracting many great comments. I will be buying this again as a present for Christmas. Superb gift.’
5. HoMedics Unwind USB Aroma Diffuser
Customer rating: 4 stars
This diffuser delivers a natural aroma to enhance your mood on-the-go and is ideal for home, office or for use in the car.
The colour-changing options of this aroma diffuser offers ambiance-altering light, as well as enjoyable scents.
Simply remove the tray from the diffuser base. Add 5 to 7 drops of your favourite essential oil on to the microfibre pad to create a calm, welcoming environment wherever you are. Insert the tray back in the diffuser base and plug into any USB outlet.
Press the power button once for a continuous aroma or twice for an intermittent aroma as per your mood.
Juju50 says – Great little machine
‘Great little thing, I use it at work to make the room smell lovely. It is a bit noisy, but you get used to it.’
Customer rating: 4 stars
Light by AromaWorks Basil and Lime Reed Diffuser contains citrus top notes of West Indian Lime, Orange and Petigrain combine with herbal French Lavender and sweet peppery Egyptian Basil.
Leafylee says – Basil and Lime
‘Beautiful smell. Not overpowering and leaves a wonderful aroma.’
Vp987 says – Beautiful scent
‘My favourite diffuser, natural with a scent that lasts.’
7. This Works Travel Diffuser
Customer rating: 3.8 stars
A powerful on-the-go aromatherapy solution for diffusing essential oils whenever you need them. Add 5 to 10 drops of your chosen essential oil to the refill pad.
Switch on and enjoy mood-enhancing benefits for 4 hours, fully charged. For waking up, winding down or turning on, diffuse aromatherapeutic oils wherever you need them.
Shellyf says – Travel oil diffuser
‘Perfect for taking with you, in just two hours it is fully charged to work for four hours. Very effective at diffusing the oil aroma and very easy to use. I would recommend it.’
8. Aromaworks USB/Battery Operated Oil Diffuser
Customer rating: 3.4 stars
This aroma diffuser combines ventilation technology with essential oils to diffuse scents of purity and harmonising fragrances.
Choose a colour to match your mood with the contemporary design, which incorporates low energy LED lighting.
Simply insert the absorbent pad and essential oils.
Shezza60 says – I slept!
‘I am totally in awe of this diffuser. It’s easy to move, there’s no water to fill, and it switched itself off last night, which I wasn’t expecting and is a great additional bonus! Used again this morning to do my yoga. Brilliant, highly recommended.’
Mizzy06 says – Compact and effective
‘Brilliant compact size. Haven’t used it with batteries yet, as USB works for me. A fair amount of pads are provided, giving me lots of options to use different fragrances!’
The world of essential oil diffusers is as exciting as it is beautiful-smelling.
Just as there’s a whole range of different essential oils to choose from, there’s an increasingly wide collection of diffusers to explore too.
Whether you’re new to the concept of using a diffuser or have been using one for a while and fancied finding out about some of the very latest options, we hope you find the insight in this article useful.
And if after treating yourself to a diffuser you aren’t sure which oils to use, take a look at this article, ‘The 7 most popular essential oils’, which is a great starting point.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 22June 2021
Author: Manisha Taggar, Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate
Joined Holland & Barrett: May 2019
BSc Hons in Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Science
Manisha started her career at a Cosmetics distributor as a Regulatory Technologist followed by a Regulatory Affairs Officer, ensuring the regulatory compliance of cosmetic products from colour cosmetics to skincare.
After 3 and half years in this role, Manisha joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
Manisha specialises in Cosmetic products, both own-label and branded lines, ensuring that these products and all relating marketing material comply to the EU Cosmetics Regulation.
Read more from Manisha