What's the difference between a Nebulizer and a
best for therapeutic benefit?
By Jennifer Stephens
Diffuser is any device which allows a liquid to evaporate
thereby putting a scent into the surrounding environment. The
process of diffusion is typically accomplished in 4 different
Heat---by applying heat, either through burning a candle, or
by using an electrically heated vaporizer, the increased
temperature will cause the essential oil to evaporate into the
Ventilation---by utilizing a small fan to create airflow,
evaporation is achieved when air passes over a wick or absorbent
pad which holds the essential oil.
Humidification---by using water and essential oil mixed
together, a mist can be formed which will fill the air. This mist
is produced either by a fan, heat or ultrasonic waves of
Nebulization---Is a process which forces the break down of
essential oils into very tiny particles. It requires a high
velocity, pressurized air stream and a specially designed jet
nozzle. The rate of evaporation is highly accelerated and occurs
- So, a
diffuser is simply any device that imparts a scent into the
air by evaporation.
nebulizer is a specific type of diffuser that uses the
process of nebulization to achieve evaporation.
- A common
misunderstanding is that Nebulizers and Diffusers are thought to be
the same thing but they are not.
diffusion method you choose, will determine to a large degree, the
amount of aroma and therapeutic benefit you receive from an
For example, if
we use heat to evaporate the essential oil, it will gently
produce a scent and fill the room nicely. However, heat has 2
drawbacks. First, it tends to alter the chemical composition of the
essential oil which can destroy it’s purity and therapeutic value.
Second, while heat does produce a nice aroma, it may not be
therapeutically useful. The size and availability of breathable
molecules are mostly filtered out by the nose hairs and nasal
cavity. (see EGAN for more in-depth
Ventilation offers an economical and simple way to provide
evaporation. Since there is no heat involved, the chemical
composition of the essential oil remains intact. But again, the
size and availability of breathable molecules compromises
therapeutic benefits. Ventilation is a good way to scent a room as
long as it’s not too large.
Humidification has many health benefits, but
is the least effective way to provide aroma because the majority of
the mist is water vapor. Using a humidifier may produce a nice
scent, but has very limited healing capacity since the amount of
essential oil is so small.
Nebulization is absolutely the best way to provide both aroma
and therapeutic healing value with essential oils. It does not
alter the chemical composition of the oils. It breaks down pure
essential oil molecules without separation of the mixture. It
produces a particle size small enough for the lungs and body to
absorb them rapidly.
drawback is expense—it costs more to create a steady pressurized
air flow than to create heat or rotate a fan. However, no method of
diffusing is as effective in preserving the natural healing
qualities of essential oils.
the oil in its natural state maintains purity and provides the most
effective bioavailable therapy to the cells of the human body.
Nebulization is the only method of diffusion that creates particles
small enough to reach the deep part of the lungs.
depth of penetration into the respiratory tract varies inversely
with its size.
between 5 and 20 microns will only reach the upper airway: nose,
between 2 and 5 microns will reach the lower airways.
between 1 and 3 microns will reach the alveolar region: (deep part
of the lung)
reference to EGAN for more details)
conclusion, if all you want to do is provide a pleasant scent to
your environment, any diffuser will work fine. But if you want to
use essential oils for their maximum healing qualities and pure
therapeutic benefit, only a nebulizer will do the job correctly and
This is why
doctors and respiratory professionals prescribe the use of a
nebulizer to administer inhalants of a medicinal or
Jennifer Stephens LRRT
(Licensed and Registered Respiratory
References: EGAN’s Fundamentals of Respiratory
Care-- Seventh edition--copyright 1999 by Mosby, INC. Page 158
(Nasal Cavity) and pages 684-685 (Particle Size)