You are currently viewing Citrus Essential Oils

Citrus Essential Oils

The Citrus Essential Oils are some of the most accessible and well-loved essential oils.

The fresh clean aroma of Citrus Essential Oils is universally popular. Making them well loved by adults and children alike.

Let’s take a look at the world of citrus essential oils.

Production of Citrus Essential Oils

We produce Citrus essential oils differently to most essential oils. We use steam distillation to produce the majority of essential oils. However, by contrast, we produce citrus essential oils by a process we call expression. In expression, the fruit skin is pressed to extract the essential oil.  Because this is a mechanical process, it requires no heat to produce the essential oil. (In fact some producers refer to this method as “cold-pressing”.)

Of course there are some citrus oils that are also available in a distilled form. However these use the whole fruit, rather than just the peel. So that the resulting essential oil is different in appearance, aroma and in its chemical constituents, from the expressed oil from the peel alone. They are therefore very different essential oils.

Even if you have not experienced a citrus essential oil from a bottle, you likely have experienced it in the kitchen. The next time you eat an orange or mandarin, squeeze a lemon or lime, take a look at the peel.  You will see lots of little bumps over the surface and it is these that contain the essential oil. If you squeeze the peel you may even see some small drops of the essential oil. When we use the “zest” of a citrus fruit in a recipe, we are capturing the same wonderful aroma as is in the essential oil.

How Expressed Citrus Oils are Different

This different method of extraction has a profound effect on the character of the essential oil.

Because Citrus essential oils are not subject to the distillation process, their aroma is often more true to their origin.  In contrast, the process of distillation can result in differences between a plant and its essential oil. As some chemical components simply do not come across in the distillation process.  The process of expression also enables the citrus oils to include molecules of heavier constituents that distilled oils would not contain.

With their high proportion of monoterpene constituents, Citrus Essential Oils tend to be more reactive to their environment. Therefore the shelf life of these oils is often among the shortest of the essential oils.  Keeping them in a dark, cool place, even the refrigerator, can indeed help to lengthen this time and preserve their aroma and therapeutic properties for longer.


Citrus essential oils all contain varying proportions of a class of chemicals known as furocoumarins. These can cause phototoxicity, whereby the skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight. It is therefore important to realise that this can cause the skin to be more likely to burn when exposed to the sun after using citrus essential oils.  Furocoumarins are more usually found in expressed citrus oils as the chemicals are not usually found in any great quantity in distilled oils.

You may see warnings about essential oil phototoxicity encompassing all citrus essential oils equally. However in fact different citrus essential oils will contain different levels of furocoumarins. Essential oils such as bergamot (containing bergaptene) are amongst the most reactive. Whereas others such as sweet orange are for the most part safe. Some say Sweet orange carries no risk of phototoxicity, although there are reports of people having apparent phototoxic reactions from some brands of sweet orange. Although whether those reactions are due to misidentifying of the oil, contamination, or some other factor is not clear.

General Properties of Citrus Essential Oils

Citrus essential oils have different properties, but do share some common characteristics of being uplifting to the mind and to the emotions. They lift the spirits, refresh the mind and help to create a “happy” atmosphere.

A word of caution –

One of the most common misuses of Citrus essential oils is in believing that they are the equivalent of the juice of the corresponding fruit in food and drink. This is usually due to a misunderstanding of the differences between the two substances. Adding juice to a drink for example is fine as the juice is water soluble.  However the essential oil is not water soluble. So adding this to a glass of water can be quite dangerous (Read more about this in my blog post.)

Let’s look at some of the most common Citrus Essential Oils –

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)

Extracted from the peel of a small yellowish citrus fruit, Bergamot derives its name from the City of Bergamo in Italy.  There is divided opinion as the pronunciation of the common name with some pronouncing the ‘T” and some leaving it silent. (My first exposure to the oil was with the ‘T’ so I subscribe to the first pronunciation.)

Bergamot produces the distinctive flavour of Earl Grey Tea. It is also popular in perfumery.

I like to incorporate Bergamot Essential Oil in any blend for stress related conditions due to its relaxing and de-stressing properties.

Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)

A relative newcomer to the citrus family, grapefruit most likely originated from a hybrid of sweet orange and Pomelo (known as Shaddock in the West Indies).

Grapefruit is a popular breakfast fruit in various parts of the world. It was originally thought to be too sour. However newer cultivars are generally sweeter. Additionally there are other varieties such as yellow grapefruit, as well as pink and red varieties.

Grapefruit became a popular “diet food” due to the original yellow variety being lower in sugar than other grapefruit varieties or other sweet citruses.

I find Grapefruit Essential Oil to be very refreshing and useful for stress and fatigue. In fact ts astringent action is also useful for oily or congested skin.

Lemon (Citrus limonum)

Lemons have been around for so long that their origin is somewhat obscure.  However they are thought to originate in Asia. Then brought to the middle east and then to Europe during the time of the Crusades.

Lemons are commonly found in foods and drinks. They are found in savoury and sweet dishes through to drinks such as lemonade or added to tea.

Lemon essential oil is fresh and invigorating. I find it helpful for mental fatigue, concentration (I like to add it to study blends) and also for oily skin.

Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)

The lime was introduced to Europe around the same time as the lemon and with many similar uses.  British Sailors used both lemons and limes to help prevent scurvy. The vitamin C content prevents this disease, leading to the nickname of “limeys” for British sailors.

Limes produce a sweeter smelling essential oil than lemon – although still with a fresh clean aroma.  It is popular in perfumery as well as in foods and drinks.

I use Lime essential oil for its refreshing properties, especially when I am looking for something softer than Lemon.

Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)

Mandarins are thought to be one of the oldest species of citrus, originating in Asia. In China they are considered to be a symbol of good fortune, and they were a popular gift during Chinese New Year.

Mandarins are a popular food for both adults and children, as they are surprisingly easy to peel plus they are sweet.

Mandarin essential oil is uplifting but also calming therefore making it a perfect essential oil for children

Orange Sweet (Citrus sinensis)

The sweet orange originated in South-East Asia in ancient times. It gradually became popular through the middle east, North Africa and Europe. The botanical name “sinensis” is Latin meaning  “from China”

The juice of the orange has become a widely consumed drink, adding to its popularity.

Sweet orange is one of the cheapest and easily obtained essential oils. It also marries well with many other essential oils, adding a touch of sweetness to a blend.  It in particular has a sunny character, useful for uplifting the spirits.

(Note – Orange sweet should not be confused with the Bitter Orange, Citrus aurantium amara. The latter also produces the distilled essential oils of Petitgrain (from the leaves) and Neroli (from the flowers)

Explore the wonderful world of Citrus Essential Oils!