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Playing with the Citrus Oils

citrus oil

Citrus essential oils are often referred to as “The Happy Oils”.  They are also called “The Golden Apples of the Sun” while they “give off the odor of angels”1.

Want to increase customer spending in your shop?  Diffuse sweet orange, bergamot, lime, lemon, grapefruit or a mixture to your liking.

Want to add a sparkle to your natural perfume blend?  Add grapefruit as a top note and your perfume will sing.

Want to avoid the 3 pm energy slump?  Grab your inhaler to which you’ve added lemon, lime, grapefruit or bergamot.  A couple whiffs and you will be channeling your inner-Einstein!

The virtues of the citrus family of essential oils are vast for emotional and physical issues.


The Botany and Chemistry of the Citrus Oils:

               Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium var. amara), Grapefruit (Citrus paradisii), Sweet Orange (Citrus senisis), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara) and Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara) are all members of the Rutaceae family.

All the citrus essential oils are composed of monoterpene hydrocarbons (anti-tumoral) with rich sources of bioactive compounds such as coumarins (which are anti-HIV, anti-tumor, anti-hypertension, anti-arrhythmia, anti-osteoporosis, anti-sepsis; provide pain relief, and prevent asthma), flavonoids (antioxidants which help the mind; reduce the risk of cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease), carotenes (assist in making Vitamin A which is great for skin and mucus membranes), terpenes including linalool (a great stress reducer and has anti-cancer effects). 2.

Let’s start with a quick overview of a few of them:

Orange (Citrus sinesis)

The orange tree provides us with several important oils:

Pressed Rind-what we know of as orange essential oil is the cold pressed rind of the fruit.  Highly anti-depressant; it is an aid for all manner of emotional upheavals from anxiety, irritability, frustration and soothing to the angry spirit.

Excellent for the digestion, this fragrant oil is wonderful in blends to assist with constipation and the stomach upset, especially anxiety related pain.  It is safe for colicky babies and small restless children when applied at a .5-1.0% dilution.

Leaves-the leaves of the orange tree give us Petitgrain.  Petitgrain assists with anger, stress and the restless mind.  Great for insomnia, it helps to settle one into a deep and restful sleep.  It is a go-to oil as a pain reducer for spasm type pain.  Immuno-supportive and stimulating, it is considered non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing.  It is also prized for treating acne and oily skin.  It is also regarded as a deodorant.

Blossoms-the blossoms of the orange tree bring us precious Neroli.  As a stimulator for new cell growth, increasing circulation, scar prevention and stretch marks, neroli is skin’s BFF.  Any skin type will benefit from neroli but dry, sensitive or irritated skin love it the most.  Neroli regulates oiliness, helps with blemished or acned skin and reduces the appearance of enlarged pores and even varicose veins.  It improves skin elasticity.  It is skin’s Best Friend Forever!

Neroli is also helpful in relieving muscle spasms and heart palpitations.  It is an aphrodisiac.  It should however, be avoided during pregnancy.


Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

A green sour-sweet fruit, the bergamot rind is pressed into an antiseptic, soothing analgesic.  Bergamot is great for calming spasmodic pain from leg cramps, coughs, cramps from periods, or painful digestion.

It aids one in recovery after illness and its anti-depressant qualities are remarkable.  Another skin lover, bergamot is calming to inflamed skin (eczema and psoriasis) and balancing to the sebaceous glands making it perfect for acne and blemished skin.

Bergamot is however, highly photo-toxic.  (I recommend Tisserand/Young’s Essential Oil Safety to see some scary burn pictures if you are not convinced by my words).  Therefore, it is recommended to use Bergamot fcf (furano-courmarin-free).  The furano-coumarins are the pesky constituents which when mixed with sunshine (or tanning beds) create what can be a life-long skin sensitivity post-burn.

There are some purists who say that it is precisely the furano-coumarins that create all the magic.  If you are using bergamot for inhalation, or on an area which will not see the sun, then go for it.  Some resources say to avoid exposure for 12 hours, others 24 hours, I say use FCF!


Grapefruit (Citrus paradisii)

Created as a mix between sweet orange (Citrus sinesis) and pomelo (Citrus maxima) it was created in the Caribbean and known as “The Forbidden Fruit” of Barbados.  This juicy citrus is a detoxifier, lymphatic cleanser, cellulite diminisher and its uplifting qualities make it a go-to when depression is on the wind.  It is the citrus of hope, says Katherine Koeppen.

Another oily/acne skin remedy, this citrus is a teenager’s good buddie.  There is white and pink grapefruit.  Beware of the issue of photo-toxicity.


Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)

The original citrus with red, yellow and green mandarin each having slightly different characteristics and nuances.  The green is tangy with a soft floral undertone and not as sweet smelling as the red or yellow.  Red and yellow fragrance nuances are more important for perfumery.

All are good digestives, great for circulation, skin (reduces stretch marks), reduces fluid retention and are anti-depressant. Tonic, stomachic, antiseptic and sedative, mandarin is enjoyed especially by children and elders.  Color is important for photo-toxicity.  More on that later.


Lemon (Citrus limonium)

The offspring of mandarin (Citrus reticulata) and Citron (citrus medica), lemon was known as the Median Apple to the Mesopotamian people.  Throughout history, lemon has been associated with cleanliness and purification.  It is a liver, spleen and pancreas detoxifier.  Lemon is antiseptic, improves concentration, reduces acidity in the body and is blood system cleanser, the by-products of which are balanced blood pressure, assistance with nosebleeds, elimination of cellulite, and infections in general especially those related to respiratory and skin (bronchitis, cold sores, herpes and insect bites).

Bactericidal and antiseptic, lemon is known to kill MRSA and other virulent bacteria.  It is a great cleaning agent in disinfecting blends.  Another phototoxic citrus oil, it needs to be used with respect when applied topically.


Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)

Pressed lime peel is photo-toxic.  Steam distilled lime fruit is not.  Be aware of what you are using and use accordingly.  Both are astringent to the skin, strengthening to the immune system, (especially with anything respiratory), cuts through a fever, anti-depressant and uplifting, lime is a powerhouse of fresh and happy.


Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium)

Reminiscent of neroli, bitter orange has that same green, tangy sweetness with floral undertones.  It is the root stock of many other citrus due to its hardiness.  With similar attributes of neroli, it is a less expensive alternative.  Cleansing, purifying and tonifying, use bitter orange to decrease edema and cellulite.  Calming and refreshing to children and adults, it is an emotional balancer and soother for strong emotions like anger and frustration.


Suggested Methods of Delivery and Dosing:


Inhalers-Adult dose-15 drops of either a single oil or blend.  Inhale twice on each nostril.

Child dose-7 drops

Diffusion-depending on the size of your diffuser, 5-20 drops.  Diffuse only for 15 minutes/hour.  With children, diffuse in a closed room for 15 minutes.  Then allow the child in the room.

Do not run diffuser all night long while sleeping.

Topical via cream, oil or gel.  Location of discomfort dictates where topical should be administered.  i.e.-stomach cramps, apply cream to stomach area.  For emotional/mental/spiritual issues-inhale, apply to center of chest (immune support), and back of neck and shoulder area.  Can also be applied to inner wrist area.

Dosing-1-2% for adult skin care

3% for acute blends

Children under age 12, pregnant women (after first trimester), and frail elders- 1%


Guidelines to Avoid Photo-Toxicity 2.

Per 1 ounce of blended formula:

Lemon-12 drops

Grapefruit-2-4 drops

Bergamot, Lime-2-4 drops

Not Phototoxic:

Red Mandarin

Sweet Orange

Distilled Lime Fruit



As you can see, the attributes of the citrus essential oils are significant.  For mental, emotional, spiritual as well as physical needs, these oils (and there are more that weren’t covered here!) can be a great asset to your essential oil repertoire.  Enjoy!



  1. Koeppen, Katherine, RA, LMT, NCTMB “Let the Sun Shine In: A Psychospiritual Profile of Popular Citrus Essential Oils. IJPHA Vol. 1 Issue 4 Spring 2013.
  2. International Food Research Journal 18 (4): 1275-1282 (2011). Kamal, G.M., Anwar F., Hussain, A.I., Sarri, N., Ashraf, M.Y.  “Yield and Chemical Composition of Citrus Essential Oils as Affected by Drying Pretreatment of Peels”
  3. Tisserand & Young Essential Oil Safety. 2014


  1. Joy Bowles The Chemistry of Aromatherapeutic Oils. 2003

Celia Lyttelton The Scent Trail How One Woman’s Quest for the Perfect Perfume Took Her Around the World. 2007

Rebecca Park Totilo Therapeutic Blending with Essential Oil Decoding the Healing Matrix of Aromatherapy, 2013.

Ray Sahelian, M. D. Coumarin Research Studies. July 22, 2016.

Erik Strand, Flavonoids: Anti-Oxidants Help the Mind. Psychology Today June 9, 2016.