How Does a Diffuser Work: Take A Look Inside

Diffusers are one of the most popular ways people choose to use their essential oils. Diffusing essential oils is not only easy, but also incredibly effective at delivering all of the benefits of those oils through the power of aromatherapy. 

If you’re trying to focus more on your self-care, purchasing a diffuser can be a great way to do that.

What Is a Diffuser?

A diffuser is a small machine that is used to release essential oils into the air in a fine mist. There are a few different varieties, but all work to provide the user with the benefits of the essential oil they’ve chosen via aromatherapy. It allows for quicker inhalation, so that the effects can be felt quickly.

The best part about diffusers is that they can be used anywhere their benefits are needed - at home, in the office, even in the car! There are also diffuser jewelry items out there, like necklaces and bracelets, so that your essential oils can be taken with you wherever you go.

Diffusing simply means to spread over a wide area. 

Why is Aromatherapy So Powerful?

Aromatherapy is thought to work by activating the smell receptors in the nasal cavity. Once these smell receptors have been activated, they use the nervous system to send messages to the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that processes and controls emotions. 

While the power of scent can be utilized in other ways besides diffusion like lighting an essential-oil infused candle, diffusers allow the essential oils to exert their benefits just a bit quicker and at a more concentrated rate. 

Types of Diffusers

There are a few basic types of diffusers out there, each that works in a slightly different way.

  • Ultrasonic Essential Oil Diffusers: Ultrasonic essential oil diffusers use water and ultrasonic technology to help diffuse essential oils into the air. There is a tank to add water and a few drops of essential oil, and a metal diaphragm that vibrates and turns the mixture into negative charged particles. Once that occurs, those particles weigh less than the air so that they can be dispersed more easily. 
  • Nebulizing Essential Oil Diffusers: Nebulizing essential oil diffusers are often seen as the best diffuser style on the market. It does not require heat or water to work, which makes it one of the safest options. Once turned on, an air pump blows air into a microtube. The air increases in velocity, which pushes the essential oil upward. As the pressurized air and essential oils meet, the oils break down in microparticles before dispersing into the air.
  • Heat Essential Oil Diffusers: Heat essential oil diffusers use a heating element to turn the essential oils (which can be mixed with water, if desired) into a vapor that can be diffused into the air. While this diffuses the essential oils fairly quickly, it also destroys many of the beneficial properties of the oils. 
  • Evaporative (Warm Mist) Essential Oil Diffusers: Evaporative essential oil diffusers are most frequently used in cars because they don’t require much energy. They just require a fan to push air over a pad with essential oils on it. This vaporizes the essential oils, although the effect doesn’t last long.
  • Cold Air Essential Oil Diffusers: Cold air essential oil diffusers work similarly to a nebulizing diffuser, providing all of the benefits of essential oils without destroying any of them with heat. However, some people prefer other styles because cold air diffusers tend to be a little messy and noisy. That is because cold air essential oil diffusers need a fan to mix air with essential oils, which turns them into a vapor before diffusing them into the air.

There are also basic reed diffusers, which use rattan sticks that allow the essential oil to travel up them. These diffusers don’t need any power to work, but they are best used with lighter essential oils like lemon or bergamot. 

Why Do People Like Essential Oils So Much?

Essential oils are incredibly popular due to their reported health benefits. While many of them have not been researched enough to form a medically-backed conclusion, here are just a few of the benefits that people have claimed essential oils can provide:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Nausea
  • Sleep issues like insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Low appetite
  • Pain and inflammation
  • Fertility

As time goes on, more and more studies are performed. 

While it can be difficult to really study essential oils (because there isn’t any regulation currently, which makes essential oil quality vary from brand to brand), every study increases the scientific backing behind a product that has the potential to help lots of people.

Common Essential Oils For Diffusion

  • Lavender - Lavender makes for a great essential oil to use in a diffuser because of its versatility. Of its many uses, lavender is perhaps best at helping to calm the mind and reduce stress and tension. In addition, lavender is said to have both antibacterial and antiseptic properties, so diffusing it into the air can also help fight germs.
  • Oregano - Oregano essential oil is another oil that is really good at fighting germs, mostly due to how potent it is. Oregano is not only an antibacterial like lavender, it is also said to contain antiviral and antifungal properties. The only downside is that the smell of oregano can be very strong. It is also not known to be safe for young children, pregnant people, or those who are breastfeeding.
  • Citrus - There are plenty of citrus essential oils out there - orange, lemon, lime, bergamot, etc. Because of the mood-boosting abilities of their fresh, fruity, bright smell, and their incredible antibacterial properties, citrus essential oils are perfect for the diffuser. 
  • Peppermint - Not only does peppermint smell great, it also purifies the air. Peppermint essential oil is mostly used for nausea and to help with the pain associated with headaches but, when diffused, can help with a variety of different issues. It is also excellent when paired with lavender or citrus to help target whatever specific issue you have.
  • Ginger - Ginger essential oil has antibacterial, antiseptic, and antimicrobial properties. That makes it great to help treat nausea, digestive issues, pain relief, and even upper respiratory issues like coughs and the common cold. Plus, it smells great!
  • Eucalyptus - Speaking of respiratory issues, eucalyptus is one of the essential oils that is best at it. Diffusing it can help with cough and congestion, and its fresh aroma is also said to be mentally stimulating as well.
  • Cinnamon - Cinnamon essential oil is known to be antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral. That makes it great for diffusing when someone in the home is sick. It also has a lovely, festive holiday aroma, especially when combined with orange.

Are There Any Downsides To Diffusers?

While diffusers themselves are fairly safe, there are a few things to make sure to watch out for when choosing to use one.

First of all, essential oils were designed to be highly potent. While this is part of what makes them so great, it also makes them potentially dangerous is not used properly. Diffusers are great at getting essential oils into the air, but they should not be used for long periods of time. 

The only other thing to look out for is electrical safety. As some of the diffusers require a power source to operate, there is always a risk of fire or electrocution. And, of course, small children should always be monitored closely around them to reduce the risk of chemical burns.

Other Ways To Use Essential Oils

If diffusers don’t sound like your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get all of the benefits of essential oils. 

Essential oils, when mixed with a carrier oil, can be applied directly to the skin. Most people choose to put them on specific points, like the inside of the wrist, the throat, and behind the ears. This still allows the user to experience all of the aromatherapy benefits of essential oils without having to purchase a diffuser. 

Another great way to use essential oils while also practicing good self-care is by using them in a bath. It’s also fairly easy. Light an essential oil candle for added relaxation, use a few drops of an essential oil that is safe to use in the bath (do not use bergamot, lime, or any “stronger” scented oils), and enjoy your relaxation time. Some people also use epsom salts to help the joints and muscles physically relax as you mentally relax.  

Essential oils can also be added, in small quantities, to lotions for topical application. Many people prefer to use them in this way specifically for pain and inflammation, as they can be applied directly to the area where they are needed.


Diffusers are one of the best ways to get the power of essential oils into the system quickly. With a diffuser, the essential oils are aerosolized so that they can more quickly be inhaled. That makes them incredibly effective for self care, whether that is for relaxation or help getting through an illness.