The Health Benefits of Orange Essential Oil

This oil may reduce stress and breakouts

In This Article

You may be most familiar with orange essential oil as a food flavoring agent or an ingredient in some cleaning supplies. And though research on effectiveness for health purposes is limited, orange essential oil may also be useful in easing stress and anxiety (when used as aromatherapy) and improving acne (when used topically).

Sweet orange essential oil comes from Citrus sinensis, the oranges you are used to eating. It is derived from the fruit, especially the rind, and it is mostly used in aromatherapy but has been studied for topical application (applied to the skin).

There are other types of orange essential oils you may come across. Bitter orange essential oil comes from the rind of the fruit of Citrus aurantium. It is used in aromatherapy, topical application, and internal use (in capsules). Other types of orange essential oil include neroli oil (from the flowers of Citrus aurantium), petigrain oil (from the leaves of Citrus aurantium), mandarin oil (Citrus reticulata Blanco) and bergamot oil (Citrus bergamia Risso and Piot).

Orange essential oil laying on a table
Anatoliy Sizov/Getty Images

Health Benefits

According to aromatherapy practitioners, inhaling essential oil or absorbing it through the skin transmits messages to the limbic system. This is a region of the brain that helps process emotions and regulates the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for things like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and gut motility.

Proponents claim that using orange essential oil in aromatherapy can help treat or prevent the following health conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Colds and flu
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Stress

To date, research on the benefits of orange essential oil is lacking. However, some preliminary studies offer support for the use of orange essential oil for certain health-related purposes.

Anxiety

Breathing in the scent of sweet orange essential oil may help alleviate anxiety, suggests a 2012 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The study, involving 40 male volunteers, looked at the effects of sweet orange essential oil when inhaled at different concentrations (2.5, 5, and 10 drops). Stress was then measured using the Stroop Color-Word Test, which measures the speed by which a person can read words or identify colors. (Increased cognition is generally recognized as a marker for stress alleviation.)

According to the research, men exposed to orange essential oil had less anxiety, greater alertness, and a more positive mood than those offered non-aromatic water. Despite delivering calming effects, the investigators did not find any evidence that inhaling orange essential oil altered physiological functions like blood pressure or heart rate.

However, a 2014 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that inhaling orange essential oil did, in fact, alter activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain—the part responsible for decision-making and that helps express personality and moderate social behavior.

According to the researchers, 20 women who inhaled equal concentrations of either orange or rose essential oil experienced a sudden increase of oxyhemoglobin in the prefrontal cortex. A sudden spike in this fully oxygenated form of hemoglobin is a strong indication of enhanced brain function, suggesting that the effects of inhaled essential oils are more than just psychological.

When describing their emotional state after inhaling the oils, the women used words like "comfortable," "relaxed," and "natural," further suggesting a link between the physiological and psychological effects of aromatherapy.

Of the two aromatherapy oils tested, the researchers suggested that orange essential oil was more effective in inducing relaxation.

Acne

Like many essential oils, sweet orange essential oil delivers potent antimicrobial effects. A 2014 study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine suggested that these effects may be put to good use in people with acne vulgaris, the most common form of the skin condition.

The study, involving 28 volunteers divided into four groups, examined the effects of four different topical gels on acne symptoms over a course of eight weeks. The gel preparations were individually comprised of:

According to the researchers, all four preparations reduced acne symptoms by 43% to 75%. Although the essential oils were milder and more chemically stable, those containing acetic acid tended to perform better.

The conclusions were limited somewhat by the lack of an unadulterated acetic acid preparation or a placebo control by which to better quantify the results. It was also unclear how much or little the sweet orange essential oil reduced acne compared to the basil essential oil.

Possible Side Effects

Orange essential oils should never be applied to the skin at full strength. Doing so can cause inflammation, stinging, and photosensitivity. It should instead be diluted with a carrier oil (such as sweet almond or jojoba oil) to avoid irritation.

Never inhale orange essential oil directly from the bottle. Doing so can cause nasal and throat irritation and even a mild burn if a droplet is accidentally inhaled.

Like most essential oils, sweet orange essential oil is not intended for internal use.

Essential oils can cause mild to severe toxicity when consumed, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), hematuria (blood in urine), and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat).

Pregnant women should consult with their healthcare providers before using essential oils for any purpose. Essential oils should not be used on children unless under the supervision of a qualified pediatrician.

Keep all essential oils out of the reach of children.

Dosage and Preparation

A quality orange essential oil will typically be sold in a dark amber or cobalt blue bottle with a dropper cap. The colored glass reduces oxidation caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

When combined with a carrier oil, orange essential oils can be applied directly to the skin at a ratio of one to two drops of essential oil to one teaspoon of carrier oil.

Orange essential oils can also be safely inhaled by sprinkling a few drops onto a cloth or tissue, or using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer. Several drops of the oil can also be added to a warm bath for a therapeutic soak.

Storage Tips

Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dry room away from direct sunlight, ideally in their original light-resistant bottles. They also keep well in the refrigerator.

Essential oils have a long shelf life, but you should discard any that become cloudy or congealed, or that smell funny. Keep the cap screwed on tightly to prevent evaporation.

What to Look For

Essential oils are not stringently regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To ensure quality and safety:

  • Buy from reputable producers: Manufacturers who are members of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) must adhere to certain quality and ethical standards when making or selling essential oils.
  • Avoid plastic bottles: Quality oils are always sold in colored glass bottles with screw-on caps. Plastic bottles with flip-top lids are signs of a low-quality product.
  • Check the provenance: Ethical producers will usually include the species name (Citrus sinensis) as well as the country of origin on the product label.
  • Check the ingredients: There should never be any added ingredients in essential oils. Look for the words "100% pure" and "cold-pressed." The best manufacturers will even detail their extraction methods.
  • Test the oil: Some manufacturers dilute their products with cheap vegetable oils. If in doubt, place a drop of a piece of paper towel. If a large oil circle appears around the central drop, the oil is most likely adulterated.

Do not be misled by terms like "therapeutic grade" or "clinical grade." There is actually no standard by which essential oils are graded.

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