Can Essential Oils Help with Your Brain Function?

According to research, essential oils “possess neuroprotective, anti-aging potentials and are effective in dementia, epilepsy, anxiety and other neurological disorders” (source).

When an oil is inhaled, it’s sensed by the olfactory cells, which then quickly connect with the brain. This explains why certain smells are linked to memory.

Essential oils can perk you up, give you a boost of energy, help you relax, or simply make you smile. 

Essential Oils and the Brain

Here are some ways that essential oils affect the brain:

  • Supports healthy brain function – the fundamental components of essential oils are aromatic compounds, terpenes/terpenoids and aliphatic molecules, and they have all been found to improve cognitive function. 
  • Able to surpass blood-brain barrier – essential oils are small enough molecularly to cross the blood-brain barrier, which make them an excellent choice to support learning, focus and overall brain health. 
  • Supports cellular health – just as essential oils are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, they’re also small enough to enter into cell membranes. This is why many oils are important for our body systems and overall health.
  • Easily metabolized by the body – there are three ways to use essential oils – aromatically, topically, and internally. Each quickly affect the brain and body:
    • Aromatic application – essential oils bind to olfactory receptors and influence neurotransmitters in the limbic system.
    • Topical application – the oils are able to penetrate tissue to aid in repair.
    • Internal application – essential oils influence nutrient absorption for brain health.

Essential Oils & the Brain |

When You’re Feeling Sad

We’ve all experienced feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and low energy. Essential oils can penetrate parts of the brain that affect mood. Here are the best essential oils to help on those days when you’re just feeling down.


Frankincense oil is a great choice to give a positive and focused lift to your day because of its strong aromatic properties,. You can diffuse it in your home, apply a drop to the base of your skull, or even add a 1-2 drops to your water.


One study found, in both animal and human trials, that bergamot helps relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and improve mood (source). Diffuse, or apply a drop to your pulse points and bottoms of feet.


Research shows that when diffusing lavender in their home, postpartum women had a significant reduction of postnatal depression and reduced anxiety disorder (source). And since lavender can be used aromatically and topically, you can use it as you would bergamot. 


Lemon is a versatile essential oil that has been found to improve mood and prevent emotional distress. Just be careful not to apply topically, lemon oil is only for aromatic and internal use. 

Improve Memory & Learning

Have you had those moments when you have difficulty remembering things? Oh I have, which is why I have an essential oil diffuser in my home office. It’s perfect when I’m speaking with a client, writing a blog post, and while my kids do their homework. Here are the oils I typically reach for:


Rosemary has long been revered by many cultures for its internal benefits, including enhancing memory. There was one study in which 53 students (ages 13 and 15 years old) were observed and it was found that their memory of images and numbers improved when the rosemary essential oil was sprayed in the room. Rosemary can be used aromatically and topically. 

Clary Sage

One benefits of clary sage oil is its ability to enhance the cognitive process. It’s especially beneficial when it comes to memory, attention and learning. Remember to only use clary sage in a diffuser or topically.


Studies into clove essential oil have shown restorative potential on the brain (source). Combine 1-2 drops with fractionated coconut oil and apply to the bottoms of your feet. You can also diffuse in your favorite diffuser or take 2-3 drops in a veggie capsule.


The scent of lavender has been show to stimulate brain pathways, including the limbic system, which is connected to memories (source). I make it a point to diffuse lavender regularly so I remember why I walked into the kitchen or what I need to speak about with my husband. 

Essential Oils for Anxiety

If you’re feeling nervous, panicky, tense, or restless, you could be experiencing anxiety. Anxiety presents itself in many forms and it’s important to know the signs and find natural remedies that work for you. These are the essential oils that can help:


The International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice published a study finding that supplementing 80 milligram capsules of lavender essential oil alleviates anxiety, sleep disturbance and depression (source).  


A recent study by doTERRA found that a few drops of bergamot in a diffuser may be one of the best things you can do to promote positive thinking and a sense of calm (source). These effects are thought to be due primarily to its rich concentration of the monoterpenes linalyl acetate and linalool.


One of the many, many benefits of frankincense is its potential to help reduce anxiety and stress by stimulating the limbic region of the brain. One study showed that when used with massage, frankincense reduced anxiety in hospice patients (source).  

Clary Sage

According to one study, clary sage was found to ease tension and help control cortisol levels in women (source). Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. And, most noteworthy, high cortisol levels may increase your risk of anxiety and depression. 

Ylang Ylang

A 2018 study discovered that ylang ylang has positive anti-anxiety effects due to its affect on the hippocampus and serotonin system (source). Ylang ylang can be used aromatically and topically, but it’s best to dilute with a carrier oil, like fractionated coconut oil. 

Relieve Stress

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. We get overwhelmed with work, family obligations, maybe even school. It’s important to handle stress naturally because stress can lead to other health issues, such as headaches, depression, insomnia, and heart disease. Try these essential oils the next time you feel stressed:


While the aromas of many citrus oils are known to be stimulating or invigorating, bergamot oil has unique calming capabilities that can help create a tranquil atmosphere. 


Just like you would use lavender oil for anxiety, when I am having a particularly stressful day, it’s my go-to essential oil. There was a study that found lavender to calm the nervous system (source).


The chemical components of Frankincense result in an extremely powerful aroma that can help to dispel negative feelings—like stress. If you are feeling like the pressures of life are weighing down your mood, apply to the bottom of your feet. The soothing sensation and aroma will promote feelings of relaxation and a balanced mood. 

Enhance Focus

Are your kids easily distracted? With the increased number of ADHD diagnoses in children today, it’s important to know about the natural remedies that can help. More and more teachers have started using essential oils in their classrooms and these are the ones that I recommend:


Vetiver essential oil promotes deep concentration. A study by Dr. Terry Friedman showed vetiver oil was able to increase performance levels by 100%. The study also showed that vetiver, along with cedarwood, is very effective in improving focus and calming down children. Vetiver can be used aromatically, topically (best to dilute) and internally.

Ylang Ylang

Known to create a calmer mind and more relaxed state, ylang ylang is a great oil to help increase focus. One of its benefits includes increased blood flow, which helps gets oxygen to the brain allowing it to perform better.


Rosemary is a great oil to diffuse when you need to concentrate because it’s been linked to improved focus and brain function. One study discovered that nursing students who breathed rosemary oil (along with lavender oil) while taking exams reported increased concentration (source).


Similar to the study above with rosemary and lavender oil, there was another study done with lavender oil and 36 students in Japan. This study found that lavender prevented the “deterioration of performance in subsequent work sessions” (source).

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    Leann Forst, MBA, CHC, CEOC — Holistic Health Practitioner

    Leann is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner and Certified Essential Oils Coach. She holds a Master’s degree from Drake University and a Bachelor of Science from Upper Iowa University. Accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Leann is an award winning author of 2 books How to Get Your Kids to Beg for Veggies and 100 Ways to Lose Weight”.

    Born and raised as an Iowa farm girl, she moved to Texas in 1998 where she lives with her husband and 2 kids.

    As a wife of a brain cancer survivor, Leann has a special interest in anti-cancer nutrition and detoxification. She works with individuals and groups, and speaks regularly at hospitals, schools and organizations. Leann’s goal is to teach people how to attain optimal health by getting to the root cause of chronic and inflammatory conditions, while using healing modalities such as essential oils. Click here to get Leann’s free report, “37 Cancer Facts You Should Know…But Probably Don’t

    Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

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