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Bergamot Essential Oil

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Bergamot is a little-known citrus fruit that has been used in the perfume industry since the eighteenth century. Most of the perfume that is available today uses bergamot essential oil in its ingredients.  This strange, dimpled green fruit has an uplifting citrus aroma.

What is the history of Bergamot Essential Oil?

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is a citrus fruit in the Rutaceae family.  It is a hybrid of bitter orange and lemon.  The name bergamot is from the Italian word “bergamotto,” but some believe that the name comes originally from the Turkish bey armut, or bey armudu, meaning “prince of pears” or “prince’s pear.”   [1]

Though the origin of the name bergamot is linked to Turkey, the history of the bergamot is closely linked to Italy, dating back to the sixteenth century.  Bergamots were symbols of decadence and were decorations in aristocratic Italian family gardens.  The essence of bergamot in water was widely used in Italy and France, and by 1750 in the Calabria region of Italy, the first orchard was planted for commercial cultivation.   [2]

  • Italy: Italian botanist Giovanni Baptista Ferrari wrote about bergamot in 1646.
  • Turkey: A painting in 1715 of B. Bimbi featured a fruit that had a resemblance to the bergamot pear, sparking the origins of its name.   [2]
  • France: Bergamot essence water introduced around 1686 by Francis Procopius of Sicily. [2]

Most of the Bergamot is produced in the Reggio Calabria province between the towns of Villa San Giovanni and Gioiosa Ionic, Italy.  This region produces 90% of bergamot for the world.  Some areas of Africa and South America grow bergamot, but the amounts of compounds in the rind oil vary and are not profitable because they do not provide the high-quality essential oil that the Italian climate gives to the fruit.   [2]

Common types of Bergamot for Essential Oils

Citrus bergamia (Bergamot)

  • Hybrid of sour orange ( aurantium L.) and citron (C. medica L.)

Varieties of C. bergamia:

  1. Femminello
    • Rich in essential oils
    • More aromatic than other varieties
    • Harvests in early October
  2. Castagnaro
  • Rustic, hardy plant
  • Average amount of essential oils
  • Harvests in November
  1. Fantastico
  • Rustic plant
  • Most commonly produced variety for fruit production
  • Harvests between November and December [2]

What is an essential oil?

The term “essential oil” represents the essence of the plant, sometimes called a secondary metabolism, which is a self-defense mechanism plants use to defend themselves from animals and pests.  The secondary metabolism can be a powerful scent, an attractor for pollination, or a color which either attracts or repels.  The distilled essential oil is the volatile essence of their scented defense mechanism.

Though essential oils are named oils, they are not actually oils.  They do not contain any oils or fats.  An essential oil is a blend of volatile compounds with anywhere from 20 to 60 chemical constituents.  The amounts of its constituents and their composition depend on the plant or flower from which it was made.  Two of the main constituents in the essential oils are the terpenes and aromatic compounds.  [3]

How is Bergamot Essential Oil Made?

Essential oils are produced through distillation with steam, mechanical expression, or with the use of a solvent.

Bergamot essential oil was first produced in Calabria, Italy by manual, hand-expression in 1780.  Domenico Sestini described the process that expert workmen (the “sfumatori”) used as placing pressure on the peel of the fruit with a sponge placed on cups, called “conocolines” to collect the essential oil.  By 1844, as the demand for bergamot essential oil continued to rise, a machine was invented by N. Barilla to industrialize the extraction process.  The machine was called the “Calabrian machine” and was designed to extract a high quantity of essential oil that was also very high-quality essential oil.  However, modern expression of bergamot is done via cold-pressing extraction.   [2]

For each kilogram of essence expressed, 200 kg of bergamot fruit is needed.   [2]

What is Bergamot Essential Oil made of?

Bergamot essential oil contains 93-96% volatile oils and 4-7% non-volatile oils.

The volatile oil portion contains:

  • Monoterpene and sesquiterpene hydrocarbons:
    • Linalool: 2-20%
    • Linalyl acetate: 15-40%
    • y-terpine
    • B-pinene

The non-volatile oil contains:

  • Citric Acid
  • Limonoids [4]
  • Vincenin-2
  • Neohesperidin
  • Neoeriocitrin
  • Naringin [4]
  • Pigments
  • Waxes
  • Coumarins
  • Psoralens (5-methoxypsoralen, sometimes called bergapten or 5-MOP): 2%
  • Bergamottine (5-geranyloxypsoralen) [5]
  • Polymethoxylated flavones [2]
  • Flavonoid diglycosides: HMG-flavonoids
    • Brutieridin
    • Melitidin [2]

How to Use Bergamot Essential Oil

When using essential oils, it is very important to dilute them because they are extremely concentrated.  Do not take essential oils internally unless directed by an aromatherapy practitioner.  Using essential oils with children has its own set of guidelines based on age and the type of the essential oil, and it should be guided by a healthcare or aromatherapy practitioner.

Why is Bergamot Essential Oil a photosensitive essential oil?

The coumarins and furocoumarins that are present in some citrus essential oils can increase photosensitivity, or a sensitivity to sunlight and UV lights (such as tanning beds).  Furocoumarins are left in the essential oil after they have been extracted from the fruit during cold-press extraction.  They are an organic chemical compound which the fruit and plant uses as a defense mechanism against pests and predatory animals.

It is recommended to avoid sunlight after putting bergamot essential oil on the skin and avoid tanning beds for 12-18 hours after applying the oil topically.  For this reason, many people apply photosensitive citrus essential oils like bergamot at night.  Some essential oils have gone through a second, separate process after distillation of the essential oil to heat the furocoumarins and destroy them, and these essential oils are labeled “FCF” for furocoumarin-free.  [8]

Not all citrus fruits essential oils are photosensitive.  The most common photosensitive essential oils in the citrus family are Lemon, Lime, and Grapefruit.  Citrus family members which are not photosensitizing include Red Mandarin, Sweet Orange, Tangerine, and Blood Orange.  [8]

The bergapten content in bergamot’s essential oil also contributes to some of its photosensitive properties.   [4]

Our recommendation is an FCF bergamot essential oil so you can avoid these photosensitivity concerns. 

Safety and Side Effects of Bergamot Essential Oil

Most of the side effects of bergamot essential oil are topical skin irritations and sensitivities due to the photosensitizing properties of the oil.  It was used commonly in sun tanning products until it was banned in 1995.  Second degree burns have been reported with use of this oil combined with isolated psoralens for certain skin disorders and exposure to very high amounts of UV lights. [5]

Frequent skin contact with the oil or peel of bergamot may cause erythema, pustules, blisters, dermatoses and scabs, and pigment spots.  [4]

Bergamot may reduce blood glucose.  It may interfere with antidiabetes medications and lower blood sugar too much.  Common medications to lower blood glucose include insulin, metformin, glimepiride, glyburide, pioglitazone, rosiglitazone, and many others. [4]

Herbs and supplements which may also lower blood glucose are alpha-lipoic acid, garlic, fenugreek, devil’s claw, guar gum, Panax ginseng, horse chestnut, psyllium, and Siberian ginseng. [4]


  1. “Bergamot Orange.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergamot_orange.
  2. Maruca, Gina, et al. “The Fascinating History of Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia Risso & Poiteau), the Exclusive Essence of Calabria: A Review .” Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering, 2017, pp. 22–30., doi:10.17265/2162-5298/2017.01.003 .
  3. Yap, Polly Soo Xi et al. “Essential oils, a new horizon in combating bacterial antibiotic resistance.” The open microbiology journal vol. 8 6-14. 7 Feb. 2014, doi:10.2174/1874285801408010006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3950955/.
  4. “Bergamot”. Foods, Herbs, & Supplements.  https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=142.
  5. Navarra, Michele et al. “Citrus bergamia essential oil: from basic research to clinical application.” Frontiers in pharmacologyvol. 6 36. 2 Mar. 2015, doi:10.3389/fphar.2015.00036
  6. Han, Xuesheng et al. “Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) Essential Oil Inhalation Improves Positive Feelings in the Waiting Room of a Mental Health Treatment Center: A Pilot Study.” Phytotherapy research : PTRvol. 31,5 (2017): 812-816. doi:10.1002/ptr.5806
  7. de Cássia da Silveira E Sá, Rita et al. “Analgesic-Like Activity of Essential Oil Constituents: An Update.” International journal of molecular sciencesvol. 18,12 2392. 9 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms18122392
  8. “All About Photosensitive Essential Oils.” Rocky Mountain Essential Oils, www.rockymountainoils.com/learn/all-about-photosensitive-essential-oils/.

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