Research has shown that while there are health benefits, the FDA does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It is important that you speak to your doctor before starting any essential oil use and investigate the quality of any branded product. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
Essential oils are extracts that give plants their fragrant aroma. These oils are widely known for their many health benefits. They are often applied to the skin or used in aromatherapy and inhaled through the nose.
But essential oils aren’t just good for releasing a refreshing scent. Some can act as natural therapy for the mind and body. Therapeutic benefits include reducing stress, anxiety, and inflammation. Some oils can even improve sleep.
Along with these benefits, some essential oils have antimicrobial properties. This means that they can kill bacteria, fungi and viral pathogens.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be looking for natural ways to keep yourself germ-free and virus-free. Unfortunately, current evidence doesn’t support the use of essential oils in killing COVID-19, but some oils may inhibit other types of harmful pathogens.
You may be wondering: How does an essential oil kill bacteria?
To be clear, some essential oils naturally have antibacterial and antimicrobial compounds, and it is these compounds that give oils the ability to fight off pathogens.
The specific compound will vary depending on the particular oil, but two such compounds are aldehydes and phenols.
Aldehydes are a broad spectrum disinfectant with the ability to sterilize and kill fungi, viruses and bacteria. Phenols, which are compounds that act as antioxidants, have also been shown to have antibacterial properties.
The ability of these compounds to destroy pathogens leads some researchers to believe that essential oils can be effective in inhibiting the growth of certain types of bacteria, including those that have become resistant to antibiotics in recent years.
Here’s what research has to say about the antibacterial properties of three specific essential oils: tea tree oil, lemongrass oil, and eucalyptus oil.
Tea tree oil, also called melaleuca oil, is an essential oil that comes from the leaves of the tea tree.
It is believed to have antiviral properties, as well as antifungal and antiseptic properties. Because of this, tea tree is widely used to treat various types of skin conditions, including acne, nail fungus, and dandruff.
Similarly, research has found that properties in tea tree oil have antibacterial activity against several harmful pathogens, such as:
These pathogens can cause a wide variety of diseases, including:
- Food poisoning
- Skin infections
- lung infection
- Gastric viruses
- Blood infections
Tea tree oil can also improve acne vulgaris, which is sometimes caused by S. aureus.
Some studies suggest that applying 5 percent tea tree oil topically for 4 to 8 weeks improved mild to moderate acne vulgaris.
Based on this research, tea tree oil may be a reliable alternative treatment for acne.
How to use tea tree oil
The recommended dose of tea tree oil is 5 to 15 percent of the topical oil used 1 to 2 times a day. You can also apply tea tree oil to warm bath water or use a diffuser to inhale. Do not ingest the oil.
In addition to applying tea tree oil topically, you can also use it as a household disinfectant.
Add 3 drops of tea tree essential oil to a spray bottle with 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of water.
Dilute, dilute, dilute
Remember that all essential oils can cause skin irritation.
Be sure to dilute essential oil with a carrier oil such as coconut, olive, almond, jojoba, or argan oil before topical application. This can help reduce the risk of skin irritation.
Never apply essential oils directly to the skin.
Lemongrass oil is another essential oil that has been shown to have antibacterial properties.
In one study, researchers found that lemongrass extract can be effective against Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus cereus and can be used to make antimicrobial drugs to treat bacterial infections.
How to use lemongrass oil
You can sprinkle lemongrass oil at home as a natural air freshener or inhale to promote relaxation. You can also mix three or four drops of the oil with an all-purpose cleaner.
If diluted with a carrier oil, the oil can also be applied to your skin as a topical antibiotic.
First combine 12 drops of oil with 1 teaspoon. of carrier oil. Massage the oil into your skin or add it to the bath water.
Eucalyptus oil comes from the eucalyptus tree that is native to Australia. The oil also has many powerful health benefits, including:
- Reduce inflammation
- Relief from asthma-related symptoms
- Improve dandruff
- reduce stress
Recent studies have shown that the oil from the eucalyptus plant has antimicrobial properties against the following pathogens:
- S. aureus
- Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes)
- Salmonella typhi (S. typhi)
- Shigella spp.
- E. coli
- P. aeruginosa
This is also supported by other research in which scientists examined the in vitro microbial activities of eucalyptus oil against E. coli and S. aureus using agar disk diffusion and dilution broth methods.
In both cases, the vegetable oil inhibited the growth of both bacteria.
The study’s researchers concluded that eucalyptus oil could potentially be used as a natural antibiotic for several infectious diseases.
How to use eucalyptus oil
Remember that eucalyptus oil is highly toxic, even in small amounts. As with other essential oils, you shouldn’t ingest it.
To use the oil, inhale it through a diffuser or add the oil to warm bath water.
Some people use essential oils such as tea tree oil, lemongrass oil, and eucalyptus oil to treat skin conditions, reduce stress, and improve sleep. However, these oils also have antibacterial properties, which means they can potentially treat infectious diseases as well.
While some essential oils are effective against certain pathogens, if used directly, they can irritate the skin. Signs of irritation include itching, redness, and stinging.
Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil first, then apply them to a piece of skin to see how it reacts.