Using a diffuser filled with essential oils is one of the best ways to experience the all-natural health benefits of high quality essential oils. Aromatherapy using a diffuser isn't just a pleasant experience, it's known to be one of the most effective ways of using essential oils.
The only problem with traditional diffusers is that they can denature the oils. Heat diffusers and candle diffusers both apply heat to the oil, which can alter the physical structure of the molecules and may reduce some of the health benefits.
If you don't feel like the essential oils you're using are as effective as they should be, it may be the case that your diffuser is denaturing them. Switching to an ultrasonic diffuser may be a good choice.
Denatured oils will still smell the same, but they won't provide all the same health benefits because their molecular structure has been altered. If you want to experience the full benefits of aromatherapy with essential oils, you really need to purchase a diffuser that doesn't apply heat to the oils at all.
Nebulizing diffusers may be the most effective choice, but they can be expensive and there's not a lot of data to suggest that they provide significant health benefits over more affordable ultrasonic diffusers, so it's probably best to save some money and go with the ultrasonic diffuser. But how do ultrasonic diffusers work? The answer to that question and many other frequently asked questions about diffusers are presented below.
How Other Diffusers Work
Heat diffusers can be as simple as a small, shallow metal plate over a burner or candle. You pour a small amount of oil into the plate, light the burner, and the heat will slowly vaporize the oil on the plate.
Essentially, these diffusers cook the oil to release the aroma. You need to be careful not to leave the heat source on for too long, or the oil may polymerize, creating a tough coating on the plate that's nearly impossible to remove.
Heat diffusers are cheap and simple, and can even be made from scratch at home. They will effectively spread the scent of the oil around the room, but applying the heat to the oil like this can quickly denature the molecules in the oil and strip them of any therapeutic benefits.
If you're only interested in the smell, these can be a great choice. If you are interested in the health benefits of essential oils, they may not work very well.
Its common to see candles marketed as aromatherapeutic, and aromatherapy candles have become a major section of the scented candle market.
The operating principle behind an aromatherapy candle is basically the same as with a heat diffuser, except the essential oil is mixed with the candle wax. As the wick burns and heats the wax, the essential oil is heated, too, and this disperses the scent.
This is a more gentle method of heating the oil than a heat diffuser, but you still run the risk of denaturing your oils.
Many people do report experiencing some benefits from aromatherapy candles- especially ones marketed for calming and stress relief- but this may be as much a psychological benefit from the scent of something like lavender or eucalyptus as it is a physiological benefit of the oil.
Candles are probably better than heat diffusers, but they still aren't the best choice for aromatherapy.
These are the most simple diffusers of all. They use air currents to release the essential oils into the air. Usually they have a small fan and a piece of absorbent material- you soak the material in oil and then let the fan blow on it, carrying the particles of the oil into the air.
While this method does not apply any heat, and therefore doesn't denature the molecules, it still may not be a very effective method of diffusing the oil for aromatherapy.
This is because the lighter components of the oil will evaporate first, and the heavier components will take longer to evaporate. You won't be getting the whole oil all at once, and it isn't clear what effect this may have on the therapeutic benefits of the oil.
Nebulizing diffusers are commonly held up as the ideal tool for aromatherapy. A nebulizing diffuser uses an air pump to create a vacuum above the reservoir, which is filled with only essential oils, no water. This vacuum pressure pulls small particles of the oil up and then sprays them into the air.
One big advantage of a nebulizing diffuser is that the oil isn't diluted with water, so you get a more powerful therapeutic experience, according to some. It also doesn't apply any heat to the oil, so you don't have to worry about denaturing the oil at all.
The downside is that nebulizing diffusers are the most expensive diffusers you can buy, and there's no data which suggests that aromatherapy with a nebulizing diffuser is significantly more effective than aromatherapy with an ultrasonic diffuser, so it's hard to argue that they're worth the extra money.
Ultrasonic diffusers, like nebulizing diffusers, can distribute the oil particles into the air without applying heat, but they do so without costing as much, so they heat the sweet spot of effectiveness and affordability.
How Ultrasonic Diffusers Work
Many people mistakenly assume that ultrasonic diffusers apply heat to the oils in order to generate the vapor. This is because an ultrasonic diffuser requires you to add the essential oils to a reservoir filled with water, and when you turn it in is looks as though a steady stream of steam is being generated.
This is easily proven wrong, however, by placing your hand in that stream. Steam is hot water vapor, created by heating water to it's boiling point. If the diffuser was heating the water and generating steam, then placing your hand in that stream would burn it. Instead, you'll notice that the vapor is at room temperature, or slightly cooler.
The diffuser is actually creating water vapor without using heat at all. Instead, it uses a metal disc which vibrates at a very high frequency- so high that it generates sound waves that are undetectable to the human ear. These sound waves agitate the water, and vibrate it so much that it vaporizes, and that water vapor carries the essential oil molecules with it into the air.
This works because, as the sound waves disrupt the water and create the mist, they have the same effect on the essential oils that you've added to the reservoir. The oil is disrupted, vibrated, and vaporized, and then the tiny oil droplets are trapped within water droplets.
The diffuser also has a small, built-in fan which blows air up through the top of the diffuser. This air current is what carries the scented mist out of the reservoir and into the room.
The whole process is very gentle on the oil, which helps to ensure that the oil molecules are perfectly intact so that you get the full benefit. It does, however, break the oil down into its component molecules.
This may actually be a unique benefit of ultrasonic diffusers, as it's possible that by breaking the oil down it becomes easier for your body to absorb and use. Since the oil is broken down without denaturing any of the molecules, there is no risk of degrading the oil or of it becoming less beneficial.
How to Use an Ultrasonic Diffuser
Using an ultrasonic diffuser is very simple. All you need to do is add water to the reservoir, add a few drops of essential oil, and turn it on. Different diffusers will run for a different lengths of time, and some are better suited to large spaces while others are best suited to small spaces, so use your best judgment and do your research on the diffuser before you buy it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I hear my ultrasonic diffuser?
No, the sounds waves it generates are not audible to the human ear.
Will the sound from my diffuser bother my pets?
No, your pets can't hear ultrasound frequencies.
Won't diluting the oils with water make them less effective?
This is one of the common criticisms used against ultrasonic diffusers, typically when comparing them to nebulizing diffusers. Generally speaking, you'll be exposed to the same amount of oil using either type of diffuser, although the nebulizing diffuser may diffuse the oil more quickly. There's no evidence that aromatherapy using an ultrasonic diffuser is less effective.
Doesn't a diffuser need heat to diffuse the oil?
No, the ultrasonic sound waves the diffuser generates agitate the water and the oil in the reservoir, and break them down into a fine mist. The fan then blows the mist out of the diffuser. No heat is applied to the oil.
Will the sound waves have any negative health effects?
Ultrasonic waves are harmless. In fact, these are the same sound waves used in an ultrasound exam to allow doctors and parents to see a baby while it's still in the womb, or to examine other medical conditions like kidney stones. The sound waves generated by your diffuser are considerably less powerful than those devices, so there is no danger from an ultrasonic diffuser.
How long will my diffuser stay on?
This depends on the diffuser you buy and on how much water and oil you add to the reservoir. You can choose to use it for only a few minutes at a time, but some diffusers are capable of continuously diffusing oil for up to 24 hours.
How much oil to I need to add?
This depends on your preferences. You can add just a few drops for a gentle aromatherapy session, or a whole bottle for something more intense, or any amount in between. One of the benefits of ultrasonic diffusers is how efficiently they use the oil, especially compared with a nebulizing diffuser. The best course of action is to start off with a small amount of oil, and gradually increase it if you feel that you need a larger dose.
Will an ultrasonic diffuser disrupt my sleep?
No! Many people worry that the high frequency sound waves generated by the diffuser may interfere with their sleep, but the human ear cannot detect this sound waves, so there's no risk that they will disrupt your sleep.
In fact, using soothing oils like lavender in your diffuser at night may significantly improve your sleep, and many diffusers are designed with features like night lights specifically so that they can be used at night.
How loud is an ultrasonic diffuser?
While the ultrasound waves themselves are totally inaudible, you may hear some light noise coming from the diffuser. This might be the sound made by the water and oil as they're agitated by the sound waves, and you may also hear the sound of the fan blowing the mist out of the diffuser. These sounds are very gentle and quiet, and you likely won't notice them. If you do, it's more likely to be a subtle, white-noise effect than a distracting sound.
Will an ultrasonic diffuser humidify my house?
An ultrasonic diffuser will add some humidity to the air, but it isn't the same thing as using a dedicated humidifier. If you need to humidify a room, you're better off using a machine that's intended for that purpose.
An ultrasonic diffuser will add some moisture to the air, and a model that can be used for 24 hours straight will likely make a noticeable difference in the humidity levels in your home.
Ultrasonic diffusers are one of the popular and effective methods of diffusing essential oils into a room. They operate quietly and efficiently, and they won't denature the molecules of the oil which means they maximize the therapeutic benefits of your essential oils.
If you're interesting is using aromatherapy, buying an ultrasonic diffuser is a smart move. While other diffusers may work, you run the risk of denaturing the oil, diffusing it in parts rather than diffusing the whole oil at once, or simply spending too much on a diffuser. Ultrasonic diffusers are the best of both worlds, because they're both affordable and effective.