Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on
November 25, 2021
Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Alternatives for medicines become more and more popular these years. People are looking back at the traditional use of plants as medicine to calm their anxiety, focus better, and alleviate their mental stress. 

Hence, essential oils for mental clarity and focus are becoming quite the rage today. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular essential oils and how they can help you focus.

What is the best essential oil for mental clarity?

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in ancient India and Egypt, and are gaining attention again. The essential oils are used for esthetic and therapeutic purposes. Lemon essential oils, citrus oils, or sweet orange essential oil smells refreshing.

Peppermint essential oil might remind you of freshly brushed teeth. Lavender essential oil might make you dream of a holiday in France. Although these oils might have an invigorating aroma, we want more from them.

For mental health purposes, aromatherapy can offer energy-enhancing benefits. The uplifting aroma can alleviate stress. Some also believe that a few drops of essential oils can improve focus and concentration.

Those who believe in aromatherapy explain the effects by the connection between the olfactory nerve and the brain. The nerve has a direct connection with the limbic system (emotions) and the hypothalamus (center focused on homeostasis). In reality, we don’t really know what is happening. 

A study on the placebo effect does point out that that might be the correct explanation. A study on young adults confirms this hypothesis. They admitted to expecting better brain function after smelling essential oils. The group taking a placebo pill reported the same expectations.

As expected, neither the essential oil nor the placebo could increase focus. Indicating that some effects might be placebo. That shouldn’t stop you from using essential oils. Aromatherapy can also be for your pleasure in a warm bath for example. Now, what are the best essential oils for focus? Keep reading to know more.

Rosemary Essential Oil

Rosemary essential oil may boost memory speed in older people when used in very tiny amounts (750 mg). That dose is comparable to the amount used for consumption in food for example. Consuming more than that dosage has an adverse impact on memory performance.

Researchers think that this effect might be indirect. Rosemary essential oil might improve mood, which in turn makes your memory less sluggish. Rosemary essential oil could be considered a stimulant.

This may be correct as another study confirms its healing benefits on our mood. In this study, they did not find an improvement of this cognitive function due to the rosemary essential oil. This study did show an enhancement in the quality of memory performance.

There is still more research to be done. We can gather from the above research that rosemary essential oil might slightly lift our mood. You should take it in small amounts if you hope to improve focus and concentration.

Lemon Essential Oil

Lemon essential oil is used for colds and for calming nervousness. Research confirms it to have a rather sedative or antidepressant/anxiety effect. Lemon essential oil might also positively affect our speed of learning. Rats exposed to lemon oil found the target quicker than the control group. 

Other research on humans also indicates that a lemon odor might sharpen focus and concentration. It might also help your productivity, cognitive success, and memory retention. While jasmine essential oil and lavender also seemed to boost productivity, the effects were larger for a lemon odor. 

Researchers believe it has to do with activating the central nervous system by smell. This kickstarts their focus and concentration. This in consequence causes a positive waterfall effect on the other areas.

A potential negative effect of lemon essential oil might be worse response inhibition control. Researchers confirmed that students were faster on cognitive tasks. On the other hand, they made more impulsive decisions. Their memory seemed less sensitive (maybe due to making rash decisions).  

Lastly, the lemon essential oil was researched in function of Alzheimer’s disease. Two weeks of lemon essential oil treatment had a positive effect on mice with dysfunction similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that spatial reference memory improved partly after their treatment. This makes aromatherapy a low cost and easy to integrate into treatment for dementia. Research on humans with dementia seemed to confirm these results.

Lavender Essential Oil

In herbal medicine lavender essential oil is known to relieve stress and anxiety. It would be considered a sedative in comparison to rosemary oil.

Lavender essential oil could boost productivity by 21% in comparison to a control group. Japanese workers make fewer mistakes when smelling lavender.

Russian researchers did not find similar results for lavender. but did confirm the effectiveness when using lemon or jasmine essential oil.

Research on lavender and rosemary showed that both increased image memory. When looking at productivity the rosemary scored significantly better than the lavender group. 

As stated above, lemon essential oil might have a positive effect on the memory for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Lavender essential oil also shows promise for those with dementia.

The oil could have neuroprotective and cognitive improvement properties. It could possibly protect against neurotoxicity and damage by acting as an antioxidant. 

Peppermint Essential Oil

Peppermint essential oil could, just as rosemary, be considered a stimulant. It could make us more alert. It could possibly enhance memory and speed of processing.

Subjectively we feel that way as well. Peppermint essential oil might also enhance your performance on difficult thinking tasks. It might make you feel less mental fatigue (like coffee).

So, peppermint oil might be a good choice for improving mental clarity and reducing brain fog.

Vetiver Essential Oil

Vetiver essential oil is mostly used in alternative medicine to manage mental and emotional symptoms. Science tries to explain its effects by having an antioxidant function.

A study shows that vetiver essential oil might have sedative effects. Rats who inhaled vetiver (in comparison to lavender) were less able to move independently.

This study has some shortcomings. It doesn’t show the results for the control group and doesn’t show whether the differences between groups are significant. 

Vetiver might also have a stimulant effect. It changes brain wave activity. Inhaling vetiver essential oil increases total wake time, gamma EEG power, and decreased slow-wave EEG power. 

In short, you are awake longer, your brain is more conscious. It could improve focus, working memory, and perception. The decrease of slow-wave EEG power indicates that the brain is getting less deep sleep at that point. When fatigue is the main concern of your brain fog, then maybe inhaling this essential oil could give you more mental alertness. 

These researchers propose that it provides energy enhancement besides your cup of coffee or tea. Indirectly, the wakefulness obtained by vetiver oil might also help you in learning or memory processes. 

In conclusion, there are still many questions about this essential oil. The effect might depend on the quality and amount of inhalation or on how you want it to work regarding the placebo effect.

Frankincense Essential Oil

Frankincense essential oil has an antioxidant, anti-convulsant, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effect. t is shown to reduce the severity of seizures induced by pilocarpine in rats. The reasoning behind it is that frankincense might protect our brain from oxidative stress. This contributes to the seizures.

There are more ways in which the oil could contribute to reducing the severity of seizures but they fall out of the scope of this article. 

Its antioxidant capacity without increasing oxidative stress might also help us to manage stress in our life. Apparently, it helps sleep-deprived rats to manage stress better. Frankincense reduces sleep debt and gives them that antioxidant boost.

How to Use Essential Oils for Mental Clarity and Focus

We understand the attraction of essential oils. It is an old tradition and can feel relaxing.

Further, it makes your house, clothes or working area smell great. Using essential oils can be easy, there are many options depending on your goal. 

Rollerball Blend

A rollerball blend is usually a dilution of the essential oil in a carrier oil. Direct contact from the undiluted essential oil can be harmful to the skin, so it isn’t recommended.

A carrier oil can be a neutral nut oil like almond oil. Don’t use oil you are allergic to.

Rollerballs are mostly used for cosmetic reasons, to smell nice, or to get rid of tightness or tension in the muscles. 

Inhaler Blend

Inhaling essential oils can be as simple as opening the bottle and smelling it. Another way to inhale is to use a steaming method.

Add a small number of drops in a bowl with warm water and place your head over it with your eyes closed. You can use a clean towel over the head to inhale the oil easier.

Diffuser Blends

Another option is using a diffuser. There are many options to diffuse essential oils through your area. Most of the diffusers disperse a fine mist of your oil and water to evaporate the aroma in your space.

Some diffusers use other technologies like high-pressurized air, ultrasonic frequencies to break down the oil or heat. The best diffuser is the one that fits your budget and decor. 

Concluding Thoughts

Essential oils are an easy and convenient way to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility in your space. Smelling or diffusing these oils in the air can be your personal way to bring aromatherapy into your home. 

Some essential oils are better suited to get a good night’s sleep, while others are more stimulating. These essential oils might give your brain a pick me up by activating the hypothalamus through your sense of smell.

Some feel a boost in their mental clarity and brain fog, and others don’t. If you choose an oil that you like to smell, you will at least have a great smelling home.

If you want to learn more about achieving mental clarity and maintaining focus, check out these educational articles and feel free to join our community of mental health enthusiasts.

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