Most citrus oils are top note essential oils in aromatherapy use, istockphoto, used with permission
Most citrus oils are top note essential oils in aromatherapy use, istockphoto, used with permission

Over the past couple of weeks, I have written about both middle note essential oils and base note essential oils for aromatherapy; today, we are taking a look at top note essential oils.  Top note essential oils are the lightest type of essential oils and are the first to evaporate in fragrance terms.  The following text is again amended from the original article which was published at Suite 101.

A lot of top note essential oils do not have a long shelf life because they evaporate quickly. They are relatively easily to extract from plants and consequently are economical in price. Many of the citrus essential oils are top note oils.

The Extraction of Top Note Essential Oils

There are two main traditional methods of extracting top note essential oils for therapeutic aromatherapy use. Firstly, essential oil molecules evaporate during a distillation process of heat, water and steam. The most volatile and smallest molecules are called top notes. Secondly, many citrus essential oils are obtained from plants through a process called expression. Expression extracts essential oils directly from the rind or peel of the fruit.

Using Top Note Essential Oils in Aromatherapy

Some top note essential oils, such as grapefruit and mandarin, are popular for treating children’s ailments due to their gentle nature. In addition, children like the sweet, uplifting fragrance of top note oils. Top note essential oils are also used in aromatherapy in skincare, to treat digestive disorders and to heal emotionally. Several top note oils are used to treat the symptoms of colds and flu and many have antiseptic and bactericidal properties.

Examples of Top Note Essential Oils

Examples of top note essential oils include:

  • lemon
  • lime
  • bergamot
  • orange (sweet and bitter)
  • clary sage
  • eucalyptus
  • grapefruit
  • mandarin
  • peppermint
  • tea tree.

What You Need to Know About Using Top Note Essential Oils

Top note essential oils are sometimes used to adulterate more expensive essential oils. Citrus top note essential oils may be phototoxic and should be used with caution in ultra-violet light. Most top note essential oils will oxide easily due to their high volatility; store in a cool, dark place to maximize shelf life.

If you are interested in learning the basics about aromatherapy, essential oils and how they are used in both clinical aromatherapy practice and to make aromatherapy skincare products, watch out for the Sedona Aromatherapie Foundation Course in Aromatherapy which is scheduled for a late May/early June 2012 release date!


  • Caddy, Rosemary, 1997, Essential Oils in Colour UK: Amberwood Publishing Ltd
  • Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
  • Price, Shirley, 2000, Aromatherapy Workbook UK: Thorsons
  • Author’s own experience








Print Friendly, PDF & Email