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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.
While research suggests essential oils have some health benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a 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. 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. For example, three studies from
- reduce pain
- calm anxiety
- promote relaxation
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
Smelling certain essential oils could 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.
For example, a 2010 study in mice found that inhaling linalool, a common component of many essential oils, can bring on anti-anxiety effects.
If you want to jump directly to the sections for each essential oil, you can click the links below.
- Best overall for stress: Lavender
- Best for reducing tension: Lemongrass
- Best for anxiety: Chamomile
- Best for pain relief: Eucalyptus
- Best for relaxation: Ylang-ylang
- Best for alertness: Peppermint
- Best for boosting your mood: Jasmine
- Best for depression: Damask rose
- Best for aromatherapy: Bergamot
- Best for postmenopausal people: Neroli
We picked the top 10 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.
When to seek help
Essential oils may help reduce stress, but that does not mean they are a replacement for treatment from a healthcare or mental health professional. If your stress feels unmanageable, consider seeking professional help.
Best overall for stress
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.
One of the most appealing aspects of lavender oil is its calming properties.
For instance, one
If you like a fresh floral scent with herbaceous undertones and are looking for a way to help lower stress levels, we recommend trying lavender oil.
Best for reducing tension
Lemongrass essential oils come from the leaves and stalks of the lemongrass plant (Cymbopogon citratus). The plant gets its name from its potent citrus scent.
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 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 chamomile oil may help reduce anxiety. One
Best for pain relief
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. For instance, Vicks VapoRub contains
One of the most significant benefits of eucalyptus oil is its ability to reduce pain. 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 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 No. 5.
Ylang-ylang may be best if you’re looking for an essential oil to help put you in a state of relaxation.
A 2008 study found that ylang-ylang is incredibly effective in inducing calmness. Still, it’s good to be aware that the study also notes ylang-ylang tends to decrease people’s 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 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.
A 2008 study found 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 can be a good option when you’re working or studying.
Best for boosting your mood
Jasmine oil comes from the flowers of the Jasmine plant (Jasminum 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. A 2013 study found 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
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 2017 study tested the effects of damask rose oil on participants undergoing hemodialysis, a treatment that often leads to depression. Researchers found that exposure to damask rose oil for even just 1 hour may significantly reduce depression.
Best for aromatherapy
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.
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 people
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 people. The effects in one 2014 study were extensive. In the study, 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 2012 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.
|Essential oil||Best for||Scent|
|Lavender||overall||floral with herbaceous undertones|
|Chamomile||anxiety||subtle warm herbal and slightly floral|
|Eucalyptus||pain relief||potent yet minty|
|Ylang-ylang||relaxation||floral but rich and earthy|
|Peppermint||alertness||cool and refreshing|
|Jasmine||boosting your mood||floral and sweet|
|Damask rose||depression||floral and sweet|
|Bergamot||aromatherapy||citrusy with hints of floral|
|Neroli||postmenopausal people||sweet with a floral-honey smell and hints of spiciness|
When buying essential oils, getting a high quality product is very important. It’s often recommended to avoid multilevel marketing giants, as their oils are often mass-produced and the manufacturers may not be open about their sourcing or sustainability efforts. These oils may also be overpriced.
If you’re interested in trying essential oils to improve well-being, it may be worth signing up for a class by an experienced aromatherapy expert before you dive in. You’ll not only learn about which oils may be useful for different purposes, but the class may also help you train your nose to spot the difference between high quality oils and fakes.
Here are some additional tips to help you pick a high quality essential oil:
- What does the bottle look like? A high quality essential oil will be stored in a dark (amber) glass bottle that’s tightly sealed since light, heat, and plastic may damage the oil.
- What does the label say? A high quality essential oil will state that it’s 100% pure essential oil. It will list both the common and Latin name of the plant from which the oil is derived. Ideally, it should also state what parts of the plant were used to make the oil and how it was grown (i.e., traditional, wild-crafted, or organic).
- Can you determine the source? For a good product, it should be relatively easy to find out where the plant was grown. Some manufacturers may list the country of origin on the label or provide a lot number you can look up. If you’re buying online, the product description page should clearly state the origin.
It’s extremely important to be safe when using essential oils. For instance, essential oils should not be used 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 not be used as aromatherapy if they’re in the area.
Essential oils also need to be kept out of reach from children at all times, as many are toxic if ingested. The oils can also be dangerous for pregnant or breastfeeding people. It’s a good idea to be mindful of who else may be inhaling aromatherapy you’re using.
Plus, essential oils should never be applied directly to your skin. Doing so may result in irritation, rashes, hives, and more. For that reason, the oils must be diluted in a carrier oil before applying it to the skin or using it in a bath.
Also, unless directed to do so by a healthcare professional experienced in working with essential oils, it’s best to avoid using essential oils on or near irritated skin, wounds, rashes, or on top skin that has symptoms of conditions like psoriasis or eczema.
In general, unless recommended by an experienced healthcare professional, it’s not recommended to use essential oils on:
- pregnant people
- older adults
- people with serious health conditions
Citrus oils are particularly sensitive to the skin when applied in the sun, so it’s important to 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 safe ratio of essential oil to base oil.
Finally, before you begin fully incorporating essential oils into your routine, we recommend doing a patch test to see whether your skin negatively reacts to the oils.
A patch test is when you apply a highly diluted amount of a product on a small area of your skin and monitor your skin’s reaction for 48 to 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 people, we 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 find a scent you enjoy.