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Looking for an essential oil to help alleviate stress? Here are the top 10 best-smelling essential oils for various types of stress relief.

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While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Essential oils have been used for several thousands of years around the world but only recently have their wide-ranging effects been studied by western scientists.

Each year, studies come out revealing the profound effect essential oils may have on the human mind and body. These include helping to reduce pain, calm anxiety, promote relaxation, and more.

Each essential oil can have slightly different effects because of the different scent it gives off. This is why you will want to pay special attention to which essential oil you choose.

Even within stress relief, you can experience unique effects from each essential oil, such as feelings of calmness, reduced tension, alleviated depression, mood enhancement, etc.

Smelling certain essential oils can have an immediate calming effect on the brain. This is because the scent molecules from the oil travel through the olfactory nerves and to the amygdala, the part of the brain involved with experiencing emotions. Research shows that with the right scent, a person’s mood can be altered, creating a sensation of relaxation in the brain.

We picked the top 10 best essential oils for stress based on research that has come out within the past 2 to 15 years on the effects of each oil, prioritizing more recent studies when available. We gave extra attention to studies that were conducted on humans instead of animals. Each study we pulled from to make our list is from a reputable source, and the essential oils included are some of the most popular ones on the market.

Best overall for stress

Lavender

Lavender oil is probably the best-known essential oil, largely because it’s used for a variety of functions. The oil comes from the flowers of Lavandula angustifolia and is primarily composed of:

  • linalyl acetate
  • linalool
  • lavandulol
  • cineole
  • lavandulyl acetate
  • camphor

One of the most appealing aspects of lavender oil is its calming properties.

For instance, one study observed that nurses who inhaled 3% lavender oil over 4 days while at work had significantly lower levels of stress than their co-workers in the control group who did not inhale lavender oil.

If you like a fresh floral scent with herbaceous undertones and are looking for a way to help lower stress levels, we would recommend trying lavender oil.

Best for reducing tension

Lemongrass

Lemongrass essential oils come from the leaves and stalks of the lemongrass plant (Cymbopogon citratus). The plant received its name because it has a potent citrus scent. The main properties in this essential oil include:

  • limonene
  • terpenes
  • saponins
  • alkaloids
  • steroids
  • myrcene
  • citronellas
  • nerol
  • geraniol

Lemongrass oil is a good option if you’re looking to reduce tension and overall anxiety.

For example, a 2015 study found that participants who were exposed to the aroma of lemongrass oil reported lower anxiety and tension levels, compared with those who were exposed to tea tree oil or no essential oil at all.

Best for anxiety

Chamomile

Chamomile oil (Matricaria recutita) comes from the chamomile plant, which is related to daisies. The oil itself comes from the blossom of the plant.

Chamomile oil tends to be one of the more subtle scents of the essential oils on this list, so if you don’t want something as fragrant as lavender but still like a warm herbal and slightly floral scent, this may be a good option for you.

Research has indicated that chamomile oil may help reduce anxiety. For instance, one study noted that exposure to chamomile oil helped normalize the stress biology of people diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD). Stress biology means that scientists used measurable biological indicators of stress, rather than self-reported stress levels by the participants. In this case, stress levels were examined by measuring participants’ salivary cortisol levels.

Best for pain relief

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus essential oil is extracted oil from the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Many people already use eucalyptus oil without realizing it for all types of medicinal purposes. Chest opening products like Vicks Vapor Rub contain eucalyptol, which is derived from the plant. You can expect a potent yet minty smell to eucalyptus oil.

One of the most significant benefits of eucalyptus oil is its ability to reduce pain. For example, a 2013 study revealed that people recovering from knee replacement surgery who inhaled the aroma of eucalyptus oil experienced lower pain levels and blood pressure than those who did not inhale eucalyptus oil.

Best for relaxation

Ylang-ylang

Ylang-ylang oil comes from the yellow, star-shaped flower that grows on the Cananga tree (Cananga odorata). It has a floral scent but is considered to have a richer and earthier smell than other floral-derived essential oils. You can find ylang-ylang in some of the best-known perfumes, including Chanel Number Five.

Ylang-ylang is best if you’re looking for an essential oil to help put you in a state of relaxation.

An older study found that ylang-ylang is incredibly effective in inducing calmness. Still, it’s good to be aware that the study also notes that ylang-ylang tends to decrease individuals’ alertness and lengthen cognitive processing speeds. Therefore, it may be better to use it when you’re finished with work and just want to relax.

Best for alertness

Peppermint

Peppermint oil comes from the flowering part of the peppermint plant (Mentha × piperita). Peppermint is part of the mint family, so you can expect a more cool and refreshing scent, compared with other essential oils on our list.

One study revealed that peppermint oil tends to have the opposite effect of ylang-ylang oil. Instead of increasing relaxation, peppermint has been shown to increase alertness and memory. That’s why it’s a good option for when you’re working or studying.

Best for boosting your mood

Jasmine

Jasmine oil comes from the flowers of the Jasmine plant (Jasminun officinale). Currently, India and Egypt are the main suppliers of jasmine oil. The smell of the oil is floral and sweet. Its smell is considered to be both intoxicating and sensual.

Jasmine oil has shown evidence of improving moods. For instance, a 2013 study revealed that exposure to jasmine oil increased participants’ positive emotions, including feelings of well-being, activeness, freshness, and romance. The scent also decreased feelings of drowsiness.

Best for depression

Damask rose

Rose oil, specifically damask rose oil (Rosa damascena), is an essential oil that comes from one of the oldest types of roses in the world. The oil is extracted from the petals of the rose, which can appear either white or pink. You can expect a nice floral and sweet smell to it.

Damask rose oil has been shown to help people with stress, anxiety, and depression. One study tested the effects of damask rose oil on people undergoing hemodialysis, a treatment that often leads to depression. The research showed that exposure to damask rose oil for even just 1 hour may significantly reduce depression.

Best for aromatherapy

Bergamot

Bergamot essential oil is a type of citrus (Citrus Bergamia). Its oils are extracted from the peel of a bergamot orange, which gives it a nice citrus scent with hints of floral. Some of the most notable contents of this oil include limonene and linalool, which have both shown evidence, through trials performed on rats, for reducing anxiety.

Bergamot is considered one of the best essential oils for reducing stress through aromatherapy.

For example, a 2017 study observed that participants who were exposed to bergamot essential oil for even just 15 minutes reported higher levels of positive feelings by 17%, compared with those who were not exposed to bergamot essential oil. Participants were exposed to bergamot essential oil through a diffuser.

If you’re looking for an essential oil to put in your diffuser for an aromatherapy experience, bergamot essential oil is a good choice, especially if you like the smell of citrus.

Best for postmenopausal women

Neroli

Neroli oil (Citrus aurantium L. var. amara) is an essential oil that comes from the blossom of the bitter orange tree. Despite the tree’s name, the scent of neroli oil is quite sweet, with a floral-honey smell and hints of spiciness. You may also find neroli oil referred to as orange blossom oil.

Neroli oil has been shown to be particularly effective for postmenopausal women. The effects in one study were extensive. For instance, postmenopausal women who were exposed to the scent of neroli oil experienced:

  • lower blood pressure
  • lower levels of stress
  • higher sexual desire
  • higher estrogen levels

Another study revealed that neroli oil may also have positive effects on those with higher blood pressure — independent of their gender. However, that study included other essential oils as well, so the direct effect of neroli oil on people with high blood pressure is still unclear.

It’s extremely important to be safe when using essential oils. For instance, you should not use essential oils internally, which means you shouldn’t drink the oil, use capsules with the oil, or ingest it in other ways.

Also, take note that some essential oils can be poisonous to pets and should be kept out of reach from children at all times.

You should also never apply essential oils directly to your skin. If you do, it may result in irritation, rashes, hives, and more. For that reason, unless directed to do so by a healthcare professional experienced in working with essential oils, avoid using essential oils on or near irritated skin, wounds, rashes, or on top skin which has symptoms of conditions like psoriasis or eczema.

In general, it’s not recommended to use essential oils on infants, children, pregnant people, older adults, or those with serious health conditions without doctor recommendations.

The citrus oils are particularly sensitive to the skin when applied in the sun, so be careful even if you’re applying diluted essential oils to your skin. When diluting essential oils for topical use, you will want to make sure you find out the exact ratio of essential oil to base oil.

Finally, before you begin fully incorporating essential oils into your routine, we recommend doing the patch test to see if your skin negatively reacts to the oils. This is when you apply a highly diluted amount of a product on a small area of your skin and monitor your skin’s reaction between 48 and 72 hours. A 1:30 ratio is recommended when performing your first patch test.

An even safer route than topic use, however, is using a diffuser or smelling the oils from the bottle.

Depending on how you’re looking to manage your stress and what scents you like best will determine which essential oil is right for you. For instance, if you’re looking for a more calming and subtle scent, peppermint, rose, ylang-ylang, or chamomile oil may be the best options. These are particularly good options to help you decompress and give your brain a rest.

Slightly stronger scents that still have a great calming effect include lavender, eucalyptus, and lemongrass oil. However, if you want a stronger scent as more of a pick-me-up to help lift your mood like a cup of coffee in the afternoon can for many, we would recommend neroli, bergamot, or jasmine oil.

Although each scent can have slightly different effects on your mood and overall mental state, it’s really more important to a scent you enjoy.