Citrus Oils - How to tell them apart and which one is right for you

Posted by Monika Meulman on

Citrus Oils & Aromatherapy

Citrus Essential Oils – The Facts & Fun, Historical Behind the Scenes of some of our favourite aromatic molecules. 

Citrus essential oils are curiously found in the peels or rinds of the fruit, not the fruit itself. It’s for this reason that peeling an orange, for example, gives off such a delicious scent. If you take a healthy orange peel and squeeze it, you’ll be able to see a tiny spray of the essential oil.

To extract these essential oils the rinds are cold-pressed, instead of steam-distilled like most other essential oils. An exception to this is the beautiful Neroli (Citrus aurantium) oil which is steam-distilled from the flowers of the orange tree.

citrus essential oil fun facts


Did you know?

  • genus Citrus (Rutaceae) is one of the ancient, most traded, and most popular crops
  • all Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamins, especially vitamin C
  • Citrus waste (about 50% of the fruit) is a valuable source of d-limonene, flavonoids, carotenoids, dietary fibers, soluble sugars, cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, polyphenols, ascorbic acid, methane, and essential oils
  • the genus essential oils are broadly used as natural food additives in several food and beverage products, because they have been classified as generally recognized as safe (GRAS)
  • citrus extracts have been used as natural preservatives because of their broad spectrum of biological activities including antimicrobial and antioxidant effects
  • there are over 20 common aromatic components in the various citrus essential oils, including: d-limonene, linalool, linalyl acetate, β-Pinene, γ-Terpinene, α-Pinene, β-Myrcene, α-Terpineol, (E)-β-Ocimene, Geranyl acetate, Terpinen-1-ol

(facts from Biological Activities and Safety of Citrus spp. Essential Oils )
Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jul; 19(7): 1966.Published online 2018 Jul 5. doi: 10.3390/ijms19071966

Citrus essential oils have many properties and benefits in common:

  • They have anti-aging properties for the skin, the ability to clear oily or acne prone skin, and reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks.
  • They’re also natural insect repellants and work well for treating the itching and inflammation from bites and stings.
  • They possess antioxidant activity and can support the immune system while fighting off colds and flus.
  • They are antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and disinfectant.
  • They work to relax muscles, reduces stress and anxiety while also uplifting the spirits and promoting happy, positive feelings.


With all this natural plant power, where do you begin?

Which citrus essential oil is right for me?

Some citrus oils appear very similar but are actually quite different. For example, Sweet Orange, Mandarin Orange, and Tangerine are all oranges but their essential oil properties and aromas vary.

Sweet Orange Essential Oil has the most typical orange aroma. It’s bright, energizing, uplifting, and when diluted and used on the skin it gives a beautifully healthy and glowing complexion. A great oil for women, men, and children – an all-around favorite. It’s been used in many natural cleaning products for its ability to cut through grease and leave a sweet and refreshing scent.

Sweet Orange Essential Oil is a great oil to diffuse in the home while entertaining as it’s well loved by most and gives a clean, uplifting, and energizing aroma to the home.

Blends well with other citrus essential oils as well as floral and minty oils.


Mandarin Essential Oil is similar in scent to Sweet Orange but with more of a complex aroma.

It has fruity, sweet, and green notes with a subtle floral scent. It’s the sweetest of all citrus oils and yet the most calming. This is a great choice for an evening oil to calm the mind from daily stressors.


Tangerine Essential Oil has a more delicate and peaceful aroma with the perfect touch of sweetness. Another calming oil that makes a great choice for children and those of all ages before bedtime or naps.


Caution – on Phototoxicity

A note of caution in regards to all citrus oils. Be mindful of the phototoxicity they cause during prolonged exposure to UV rays. Phototoxicity means your skin will be more sensitive to the sun, leaving you susceptible to sunburns and irritations from the sun. This may occur even if you simply absorbed the oil into your system. But, it is especially pronounced on areas of your skin that have the citrus oil applied AND are exposed to sun and heat.


Did you know?

  • When mixed with patchouli oil, grapefruit EO is known to lower cravings and hunger
  • Lime EO could also be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lemon EO improves creativity and mood
  • Bergamot EO is used as a mild sedative that acts by calming and soothing the nervous system
  • Petitgrain inhibits growth of Bacillus subtilisStaphylococcus aureusEscherichia coliSaccharomyces cerevisiaeMucor ramannianus, and Fusarium culmorum
  • Mandarin inhibits the growth of several bacteria including Escherichia coliBacillus subtilisPseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus… and fungi including Penicillium italicumPdigitatumPchrysogenumAspergillus nigerA. flavusAlternaria alternataRhizoctonia solaniCurvularia lunataFusarium oxysporum, and Helminthosporium oryzae


All in the family — have a look at this historical chart of all things citrus:


genealogy of citrus oils


Latin names are vital in identifying your plants and essential oils accurately!

taxonomy latin names of citrus oils

Beyond the Latin Name!

Beyond just the proper identification, you are best to consult with a professional curator of essential oils. Why? Because even the latin name can be an approximation of the functional chemistry and useful components of the oil within the citrus.

recent genomic and molecular marker studies have revealed that almost all modern mandarins are not pure C. reticulata


guide to citrus oils


In other words:

It is good to know the exact chemistry of the essential oil, once you are begin using it for more than just mood enhancement. If you choose a citrus oil for acne, or pain relief, or antibacterial function, knowing it’s key ingredients of chemical groups is essential.

If you have questions about the best essential oil for you, email us anytime:

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