Do Essential Oils Work? A Sales-Free Look At The Research
An essential oil (also known as volatile oil orethereal oil) is a concentrated liquid that contains a plant’s chemical properties.
The oil is termed “essential” in that it contains the “essence of” the plant’s fragrance and aroma; it’s chemical compounds. These compounds are typically extracted by crushing and distilling the plant, then combining them with a carrier oil so they can be preserved for use.
Each type of essential oil has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it effects us. Some of the more popular plant fragrant essences include peppermint, tea tree, wintergreen, lavender, oregano and bergamot.
The practice of using essential oils for the purpose of healing is called Aromatherapy.
The most common aromatherapeutic uses of essential oils are massaging into the skin or inhalation of vapours. Both methods allow the oil’s plant chemical compounds to cross into the bloodstream (1).
Essential oils can help fight bacteria and viruses
The use of essential oils is rare in evidence-based medicine.
But a renewed interest in its therapeutic use has come about due to the apparent rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (2).
To my surprise, there has actually been quite a lot of bench top studies investigating the anti-microbial effects of essential oils. In petrie dishes, they appear to suppress or kill many common bacterial and fungal strains, such as E.Coli and Candida albicans (3).
It is thought that peppermint oil and tea tree oil make a useful antiseptic mouthwash, and could help relieve a sore throat too. On the other hand, lemongrass oil and lavender oil appear to have the strongest anti-fungal properties for treating yeast infections (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
This may all sound very promising, but there is only so much we can take away from test tube studies. A shot of tequila will kill bacteria in a petri dish too. Same if you were to swish it around your mouth.
This is why it’s a long stretch to suggest the use of essential oils will kill harmful bacteria in your body, improve immune function or “eliminate toxins”. Researchers acknowledge this fact and the need for actual human studies that can evaluate the relevance of these results.