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Keep Your Brain Sharp with Essential Oils

By Jodi Cohen

A thoughtful woman with curly hair and glasses writing on a glass surface with a marker, possibly brainstorming or planning.

Feeling overwhelmed trying to juggle working from home with constant distractions and interruptions?

All you have to do is inhale!

Essential oils can be powerful tools to help increase your focus, concentration and mental band-width to manage overwhelm.  And they offer the easiest channel into the body. Your sense of smell, which is part of our olfactory system, is one of the most powerful channels into the body.   In fact, olfactory cells are brain cells, and the olfactory membrane in the nasal cavity is the only place in your body where the brain is directly exposed to the environment.

Research shows that inhalation can be the most direct and effective method for using essential oils. The entire process from the initial inhalation of an essential oil to a corresponding response in the body can happen in a matter of seconds.  Which means, the fastest way to calm overwhelm is to inhale essential oils.  It’s so simple and so small that you can carry it in your pocket.

Essential oils can immediate calm anxiety and increase focus.  Inhaled or topically applied essential oils can help increase blood flow to specific regions of your brain, like your pre-frontal cortex which helps enhance your focus and brain power and calm anxiety.

I want to share my favorite essential oil blend that I personally use before jumping on back to back Zoom meetings or when struggling to meet a big deadline that requires mental focus, while simultaneously juggling home schooling and parenting responsibility that require calmness and level headed function.


Sharpen Your Brain by Activating Your Prefrontal Cortex

Your ability to sustain focus is driven by your prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your frontal lobe that’s located in the front portion of the brain, behind your forehead—and its job is an important one. The circuitry in your frontal lobe helps your brain sort through stimulation to decide what information is relevant and what needs to be ignored. This helps you regulate movements, control impulses, use language, focus attention, make decisions, and correct errors.

This ability to inhibit certain behaviors helps your brain focus on important tasks, improving your thinking and processing speed. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functioning, which includes thinking, organizing, problem solving, memory, concentration, and decision making. Without your prefrontal cortex, you would have trouble finishing a book, remembering to pay your bills, or returning phone calls.

What’s more, a decrease in this lobe’s function often lies at the root of mood issues like depression and behavioral problems such as ADD and ADHD. Depression is actually considered a frontal lobe impairment. Research shows that decreased firing of messages from the frontal lobe results in lower levels of motivation and a decreased sense of well-being. This helps to explain why most people who get depressed also have a hard time concentrating, focusing, and remembering details.

A healthy frontal lobe, on the other hand, allows you to reason and suppress impulses. Children with ADHD demonstrate delays in frontal cortex development that correlates with an inability to suppress immediate desires and impulses. Think about how a young child might shout out an answer without waiting for the teacher to call on him. Studies have shown that kids with ADHD lack inhibition and have decreased activation in their frontal lobes compared to those without the diagnosis, according to research from McGill University. Similar brain-imaging studies found the prefrontal cortex in individuals diagnosed with ADHD to be smaller than that of individuals without the diagnosis.

Your prefrontal cortex also helps calm your stress response by chemically moderating or inhibiting signals from the emotional area of your brain known as your amygdala. When this prefrontal-amygdala connection is weak, excessive anxiety can result.

When you activate your prefrontal cortex, you enhance your brain’s ability to plan, organize, and see the big picture. When the prefrontal cortex is not firing on all cylinders, it loses processing speed and deficits of inhibition and focus can occur, resulting in poor internal supervision, short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, and hyperactivity, impulse control problems, difficulty learning from past errors, a lack of forethought, and procrastination. Strengthening the prefrontal cortex also exerts a moderating influence on the more impulsive and less flexible structures of your limbic system, helping you calm repetitive thought patterns and anxiety.


Essential Oils to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Brain Boost™

Brain Boost™ contains a combination of oils designed to improve blood flow to the brain to help enhance concentration, focus and mental endurance.  Formulated with brain supporting oils, like organic and/or wild crafted essential oils of Frankincense, Helichrysum, Cedarwood, Ylang Ylang, Melissa, Sandalwood, and Lavender, all of which keep your brain sharp and focused.


Cedarwood essential oil, extracted from the wood pieces of a cedar tree, has been found to possess anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antifungal, tonic, astringent, diuretic and sedative therapeutic properties

Research carried out on rats confirmed the sedative effects cedarwood oil. The research actually stunted the olfactory pathway (sense of smell) and still found an increase in relaxation from exposure to cedarwood oil and its chemical constituent cedrol, leading researchers to conclude that cedarwood demonstrated “sedative effects regardless of the animal species or the functional state of the autonomic nerves, suggesting the mechanism of action is via a pathway other than the olfactory system.”

There are several varieties of Cedarwood. This blend contains Himalayan Cedarwood (Cedrus deodara) which has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in animal research. Other studieshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10350366Other studies found that cedarwood inhibits the inflammatory leukotrienes that are responsible for the inflammation response (5-LOX), especially in relation to pain. Out of all of the Cedarwood species, the Himalayan cedarwood was the strongest 5-LOX inhibitor

Cedarwood oil has also been shown to help improve focus in children with ADHD.  


Sourced from the resin extract from Boswellia carterii trees grown in Somalia, Frankincense helps support anxiety, nervous tension, and stress-related conditions. It can help fortify the mind. One recent study on rats indicated that the essential oil can help improve memory retention and sharpen the mind.

Frankincense contains compounds known as sesquiterpenes that are known to cross the blood-brain barrier and increase oxygen around receptor sites in the emotional centers of your brain, like your hypothalamus and amygdala, helping to calm and anxiety.  Sesqueterpines are C15 carbon chains that do not contain oxygen molecules, but seem to pull oxygen in. This is one reason that when essential oils that are high in sesqueterpines are topically applied to the brain or inhaled through the nose, oxygen levels seem to increase.

Frankincense also contains terpenes, which are strongly anti-inflammatory and protective over healthy cells. Research suggests that frankincense oil can be used to improve memory and your ability to learn.

Helichrysum italicum

Helichrysum essential oil possesses anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Helichrysum helps improve focus by enhancing blood flow to the brain.  Research has shown that helichrysm lowers inflammation in blood vessels along with blood pressure and also increases smooth muscle function to improve blood flow and carry more oxygen to the brain which helps improve brain function.

Research has found that Helichrysum lowers inflammation due to several mechanisms: inflammatory enzyme inhibition, free radical scavenging activity and corticoid-like effects.


Lavender essential oils helps boost cognitive performance and concentration.  More specifically, lavender oil helps calm anxiety to help enhance focus and concentration.

Research discovered that Lavender and linalool, a major constituent of Lavender, were able to bind to the serotonin transporter which may have an inhibitory effect on serotonin reuptake. Limiting serotonin reuptake helps maintain proper serotonin activity, and proper serotonin activity promotes feelings of happiness and helps support important processes such as learning and memory.

Linalool has also been shown to modulate the transmission of GABA in your brain by activating GABA receptors, which helps to enhance the inhibitory tone of your brain, basically blocking brain signals that activate your stress response and calming your nervous system. A deficit of GABA contributes to anxiety and ADHD.

Research has found that GABA can improve focus and decrease ADHD symptoms.  Additional research correlated lower levels of GABA with greater impulsivity and less inhibition.


Also known as lemon balm, Melissa essential oil is known for its ability to induce calmness, reduce anxiety and improve cognition. Melissa essential oil is also considered a nervine substance, or a tonic for the nervous system to keep it healthy, functioning properly, and prevent nervous disorders. This property of melissa essential oil can be useful for health concerns like vertigo, nervousness, and convulsions.

Melissa essential oil also demonstrates antidepressant and sedative properties. A 2013 study found melissa essential oil helped improve anxiety, depression, neuroprotectivity and cognition. This could be attributed to the principal constituent limonene which has been correlated with anti-depressant effects and shown to lower anxiety and stress. Scientists think its calming, mood-lifting effects come from limonene’s ability to elevate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is an important hormone and neurotransmitter that helps induce feelings of joy and relaxation.

Another study demonstrated Melissa’s ability to directly affect the brain and neurotransmitters. “The results indicate that essential oils obtained from Melissa officinalis leaf and Citrus aurantifolia leaf showed high acetylcholinesterase (enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of acetylcholine) co-inhibitory activities.”  This means that Melissa inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, allowing this important neurotransmitter to perform its valuable cognitive functions for longer in the brain.

Acetylcholine plays a key role in memory, attention, and learning. Damage to the cholinergic (acetylcholine-producing) system in the brain and resulting acetylcholine deficits have been linked with the memory deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Research has found that essential oils are some of the most effective tools to regenerate and heal these acetylcholine-producing systems.


Harvested from the roots of the sandalwood tree, Sandalwood is known for its sedative properties and its ability to promote positive thinking, mental clarity, concentration, and focus.

Calming anxiety, helps to free up the prefrontal cortex to enhance focus and concentration.

Scientific research found sandalwood to be effective in reducing levels of anxiety and easing anxiety symptoms.

Sandalwood has been shown to promote mental clarity, which is one reason it is often used during meditation and spiritual rituals.  One study found that sandalwood’s main compound, alpha-santalol, elevated alertness, attentiveness, calmness, mood, relaxation and vigor.

Sandalwood also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce brain inflammation.  Calming brain inflammation helps eliminate brain fatigue and enhance concentration and focus.  Read More about calming brain inflammation HERE and HERE.

A 2014 study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24318647/ found that the active compounds in sandalwood can decrease inflammation markers in the body called cytokines. It is believed that these active compounds (santalols) act in a similar manner as ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that act by inhibiting these inflammatory markers.  The “observed anti-inflammatory properties of topically applied Sandalwood oils provides a rationale for use in products requiring anti-inflammatory effects.”

Ylang Ylang

Ylang ylang is a yellow, star-shaped flower that grows on the Cananga tree that is known to calm the mind and soothe the nervous system. It helps relieve mental fatigue, anxiety, and tension headaches and bring emotions into proper balance.

Research supports ylang ylang’s ability to increase blood flow, relieve inflammation and calm anxiety to enhance focus. One study found that ylang ylang reduced anxiety and boosted self-esteem when it was either applied to skin or inhaled.

Similar research explored the benefit of inhaling ylang-ylang essential oil to reduce blood pressure, improve cognitive functioning and reduce anxiety. The research explored how the major active constituents of ylang ylang essential oil, including linalool, altered neurotransmitters related to mood after odor exposure. Research found that inhaling ylang ylang decreased the dopamine concentration and increased the Serotonin precursor, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) in the brain.

How to Apply Brain Boost

Brain Boost can be inhaled or topically applied on brain stem (back of the neck), on the temples, the bottoms of the feet and especially on the big toe. You can also inhale it as needed throughout the day.

Other Blends to Keep Your Brain Sharp

1. Focus™

Formulated to enhance concentration and alertness, especially when applied over the forehead to the prefrontal lobe.  Focus includes several individual oils that help keep the mind thinking clearly and focused on the task at hand. For example, research shows that 1.8-cineole, one of the main compounds in Rosemary essential oil, results in improved speed and accuracy on cognitive tests.

Similarly, research from the University of Cincinnati found that inhaling peppermint oil increases the mental accuracy by 28%.

Apply 1- 2 drops across brow, back of neck, collar bone or on temples and wrists to increase mental focus.

2. Attention™

Formulated by homeschooling parents specifically to assist with ADD and ADHD.  The medical benefit of this oil was proven during research conducted by Dr. Terry S. Friedmann.

Subjects with a confirmed ADD/ADHD diagnoses inhaled essential oils daily when they began to feel “scattered”.  The inhalation of the oils improved brain wave patterns along with scholastic performance and behavioral patterns.  Improvements in brain activity were revealed via electro-encephalograph (EEG), which measures electrical impulses moving through the brain. This allowed researchers to determine whether the children’s brains were functioning primarily in a beta (i.e., alert) state or a theta state (i.e., lack of focus).  Improvements in beta-theta ratios were noted following the use of vetiver essential oil, while parents also noted improvements in symptoms.

The four oils in the Attention™ blend – Vetiver, Frankincense, Lavender, and Cedarwood  — all showed substantial benefit, with Vetiver  helping 100% of the test cases.  The blend further synergizes the positive impact of the individual oils. For best results, apply 1- 2 drops on brain stem (back of the neck), temples, across the forehead and the bottom of the feet.

3. Anti-Inflammatory:

Brain Balance Anti-Inflammatory™ can be topically applied to regions of the brain to help turn off brain inflammation so the gut and the body can communicate and heal.  This blend contains several essential oils known for their anti-inflammatory properties.  It is designed to reduce inflammation, re-balance the brain, and encourage regeneration of damaged or stressed cells and tissues that have been chronically inflamed or acutely inflamed.

 4. Circulation™

Formulated to support healthy circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the brain which helps support focus and concentration.  For example, essential oils in the Circulation™ blend can be used to help your veins contract, stimulating blood flow. Circulation™ contains high levels of Cypress essential oil, which helps calms the respiratory system, clearing congestion, eliminating phlegm and exhibiting antispasmodic and antibacterial properties that can enhance oxygen delivery.

Apply 2- 3 drops of Circulation™ on the sides or back of the neck, over the clavicles, on the wrists or ankles to support energy, brain endurance and warmth of the distal extremities, like the fingers and toes.



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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.