Bergamot Essential Oil: Benefits and Possible Side Effects
Bergamot essential oil comes from the peel of the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia). It’s characterized by its particular citrus aroma with floral notes and is often used in aromatherapy for medicinal purposes. Also, due to its concentration of nutrients and antioxidants, it’s considered an ally for skincare.
The fruit, as explained in an article published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, is a hybrid of bitter orange and lemon whose extracts are used as a base for preparing perfumes, cosmetics, food, and sweets. However, you should use it with caution, as it’s not exempt from causing side effects.
What do you need to know about it?
Here are all the details!
Uses and properties of bergamot essential oil
Because of its citrus aroma and pharmacological composition, you can find bergamot essential oil in a wide variety of personal care products. In particular, it can be present in colognes, soaps, body creams, and cosmetics. The food industry also uses it as a flavoring, and you can also find it in supplements.
According to information reported in Flavour and Fragrance Journal, the oil contains bioactive molecules with potential health benefits. In particular, it has a volatile fraction – ranging from 93% to 96% of the total – and a non-volatile fraction – from 4% to 7% of the total.
Its main compounds are the following:
- Linalyl acetate
Although there are still limited clinical studies on this product, it’s been found to have antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Similarly, studies have revealed antioxidant, analgesic, and neuroprotective effects.
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Benefits of bergamot essential oil
Natural medicine uses bergamot essential oil as an adjuvant to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems. It’s also said to produce positive effects against high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and pain. What does the evidence say?
Experts in the field of aromatherapy suggest that inhaling essential oils can transmit signals to the limbic system, the brain region that regulates emotions. Consequently, it induces physiological effects that are reflected in the reduction of stress, anxiety, and heart rhythm alterations.
A study published in Current Drug Targets determined that aromatherapy with bergamot and other essential oils stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, better known as well-being hormones. Because of this, it favors the relief of symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
Bergamot contains antioxidant compounds that are beneficial in regulating cholesterol levels. In research shared by Phytomedicine, extracts of the plant showed lipid-lowering effects attributed to its flavonoid content.
An animal study in the journal Nutrients confirms these properties and adds that the plant’s polyphenols exert an anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effect. For now, more studies are necessary to clarify the intrinsic mechanisms.
One of the substances contained in bergamot essential oil, linalool, has been the subject of study for its antibacterial effects. In particular, observations have shown that it can inhibit the growth of some types of bacteria that cause food poisoning, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
Regarding this, research in the Journal of Applied Microbiology determined that compounds in bergamot can help destroy several strains of bacteria present in chicken skin and cabbage leaves. Said microorganisms were the following:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Bacillus cereus
- Escherichia coli O157
- Campylobacter jejuni
The studies are still in progress and scientists believe that, in the future, it could be the starting point for treatments against these infections. For now, it shouldn’t be your first-choice therapy.
Pain and inflammation
Two compounds in bergamot essential oil, linalool, and carvacrol, are associated with analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. In a review of studies that appeared in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, these compounds improved pain response and helped decrease inflammation. In addition, researchers observed an anticonvulsant effect.
Aromatherapy practitioners often combine this oil with a carrier oil (coconut, almond, or olive oil, among others) to soothe symptoms of arthritis and musculoskeletal ailments. For this purpose, it’s often used as a massage.
Cosmetics and skin health
The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of this essential oil are useful for improving skin health. Its application (in combination with a carrier oil) reduces the presence of acne, cysts, and blackheads. Experts also believe that it promotes relief from eczema, ringworm, and psoriasis.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that bergamot can soften hair and control frizz. It’s even said to help soothe an irritated scalp. To this end, you can add 6 to 8 drops of the oil to your regular shampoo. You can also combine 2 or 3 drops with a carrier oil for massage.
Risks and possible side effects of bergamot essential oil
Pure bergamot essential oil is irritating to the skin. Therefore, you shouldn’t apply it directly.
Instead, you can combine it with some carrier oil or another similar product. People with sensitive skin should do a small test before use. If after 24 hours, there’s no sign of a reaction, then you can use it without any problems.
One of the substances in this product, bergapten, is phototoxic. This means that it increases sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, which leads to problems such as photodermatitis. Therefore, after using the oil, you must thoroughly rinse the skin and apply plenty of sunscreen.
For safety reasons, children, pregnant women, people with hypoglycemia, or patients taking medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight (such as ciprofloxacin, for example) shouldn’t use bergamot essential oil. In case of any doubts, consult your doctor or pharmacist.
How to use bergamot essential oil
To take advantage of the properties of bergamot essential oil, there are several options. The first is through an aroma diffuser, which is ideal for aromatherapy sessions. You can replace the latter by diluting the oil in boiling water (from which you inhale the vapors).
It’s also good to mix it with a carrier oil for massage application in case of ailments. Finally, it’s possible to find it in supplements for oral consumption. Keep in mind that it’s important to use only authorized supplements and not to ingest the pure oil.
What to remember about bergamot essential oil
Bergamot essential oil is a product that concentrates pharmacological compounds with positive health effects. However, more evidence is necessary to confirm the supposed benefits, as well as the safe doses and possible side effects.
Therefore, you shouldn’t reach for it as a first-line treatment for diseases. Whenever possible, you should consult a doctor before using it as a supplement or skincare product.