Car-o-matherapy with Essential Oils

Image via Shutterstock by  Madeleine Steinbach

Image via Shutterstock by Madeleine Steinbach

One might associate essential oils as something only used by new age hippies or the zealously health-conscious, or something to be exclusively enjoyed at a spa treatment. However, this ancient practice can also be used to improve your overall driving experience, which makes for a happier, healthier and safer drive.

While the aroma of essential oils won’t magically diffuse the traffic jam on your work commute, aromas can help relieve road-fatigue or stress, or invigorate your senses to boost concentration, and even create a much needed calmness within the stressors of traffic.

The Science of Smells

 The smell of freshly brewed coffee serves as a wake-me-up signal to our limbic systems; a whiff of freshly cut grass could transport you to your childhood home; the unmistakable scent of a perfume may immediately conjure a memory of a loved one, and the aroma of baked goods could remind you of your grandmother and her chocolate chip cookies. Conversely, unpleasant odours can also have displeasing effects. 

Our olfactory receptors transmit impulses to our brains, through a pathway directly connected to our limbic systems, which is the part of our brain that deals with emotions. More than any other sense, smell circumnavigates the logical part of the brain as it acts on the limbic and emotional systems. The right scent in your car can help you stay focused on a long drive, give you a boost if you’re feeling lethargic, enable you to recognise dangers quicker, and even be more forgiving of unpleasant drivers. The wrong scent, however, can serve to be temper aggravating, day-dreamy, over-relaxed or sleepy. 


Chemical Air Fresheners—Dangerous!

We have previously covered the dangers of these widely used air fresheners. Research has shown they contain over 100 chemicals, including volatile organic compounds, benzene and formaldehyde, which can cause headaches, nausea and aggravate asthma, and has been found to adversely affect the neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive, immune, and endocrine systems. 

National Geographic’s The Green Guide reports that “many air fresheners contain nerve-deadening chemicals that coat your nasal passages and temporarily block your sense of smell”. 

If car scents are important to you, we implore you to explore the benefits of using essential oils.

Methods of Diffusing Essential Oils

Image by Plant Therapy

Image by Plant Therapy

Firstly, it should go without saying that you should never use an oil burner in the car. Essential oils are highly flammable and extreme caution must be observed while using them. The easiest, cost-free introduction to using essential oils in your vehicle is to put a drop or two on a handkerchief for intermittent sniffs. A simple wooden clothespin and a cotton ball dripped with your oil of choice can be clipped to your AC vent. Alternatively, a couple drops of oil on a cotton pad placed on the dashboard utilises the sun’s heat as a natural diffuser. The disadvantage of this is that the scent usually begins strong and then slowly dissipates. This can also be an advantage, as it helps to prevent olfactory fatigue.

Images via True Expressions,, and Sympler

Images via True Expressions,, and Sympler

If you find the experience to be rewarding and want to invest in a more permanent and integrated solution, you can purchase various types of diffusers, such as vent clips, terracotta pendants, or heated oil diffusers that connect into your car’s power outlet or via USB.

Some people may think more is better, especially if it’s good for you, but there can be too much of a good thing. In the tight atmosphere of an enclosed space, one or two drops go a long way. Be sensitive to how you feel and observe your passengers’ reactions, then modify accordingly, increasing ventilation for optimal dispersion if necessary.

A note to the wise—some essential oils are blended with carrier oils that dilute the essential oil, making them more suitable for topical application on skin. While essential oils are extracted at temperatures well above 100° and can withstand heat, carrier oils can go rancid, so choose a pure and undiluted essential oil for your car, but use it sparingly. It takes 242,000 rose petals to distill approximately 5 mL of rose oil, so while the tiny bottle may look unassuming, they are extremely potent and have to be used minimally!

Click here to read on about choosing the right oils to suit your needs. The right ones will boost your attentiveness on the road, improve mental alertness, ward off car sickness, and even calm fidgety kids in the backseat!