What if someone told you that the nasal decongestants, pain relievers, skin ointments and cough suppressants that you spend a fortune on at the drugstore every year could be replaced with one, small, inexpensive bottle of essential oil? It might sound too good to be true, but research suggests that the age-old natural remedy really can work wonders during sick season. The key: Opting for the right oil. Read on to see how this potent — yet gentle — oil can keep you healthy from head to toe.
The healing power of essential oils
“Essential oils are, arguably, some of the most powerful natural medicines on the planet,” asserts women’s health expert Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, a doctor of natural medicine and creator of The Essential Oil Healing Deck. She has studied and used essential oils in her treatment wheelhouse for more than 20 years. More recently, the bath and beauty industry have brought aromatherapy front and center for its relaxation and skin care benefits. But Schoffro Cook says those dividends go much further.
Essential oil benefits include optimal gland health, the ability to cope with stress, achieving deep and restorative sleep, restoring hormonal balance and even improving brain health. What gives them their healing power? Essential oils can contain hundreds of different chemical compounds, each of which can bring unique effects in the body, Schoffro Cook says. And the easy absorption of these compounds through inhalation or topical application means the results can happen fast! (Click through to see how essential oils aid weight loss.)
The origins of eucalyptus essential oil
Distilled from the eucalyptus tree, native to Australia but now grown in both warm and temperate climates worldwide, eucalyptus essential oil is extracted from the tree’s leaves — often using a steam distilling process, explains Schoffro Cook. Although there are more than 500 species of eucalyptus trees, most essential oil used for medicinal purposes is taken from either the Eucalyptus globulus or Eucalyptus radiata species. The oil has a fresh and bright woody scent. “It’s the scent that most people would associate with vaporizing chest rubs that help clear their sinuses when they have a cold,” Schoffro Cook adds.
“Traditionally, eucalyptus oil was used as an analgesic agent that helped to relieve pain,” says Josh Axe, DNM, who adds that the oil was valued for its ability to reduce inflammation and improve respiratory conditions. “Today, eucalyptus oil benefits and uses are extensive, and the oil is commonly used in healing ointments, perfumes, vapor rubs and cleaning products.”
Eucalyptol (referred to scientifically as 1,8-cineole) is the prevalent compound in the oil. As Axe notes, it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Eucalyptus is also well known for its ability to fight bacterial, viral and fungal infections, and to help clear the respiratory tract of built-up mucus. “For these reasons, eucalyptus is definitely one of the most beneficial and versatile essential oils to keep in your medicine cabinet,” Axe says. One area eucalyptus oil really shines: Healing bothersome cold sores.
How eucalyptus oil heals cold sores
These pesky sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), which affects up to 80% of US adults. Not only are they painful to deal with, the fluid-filled bumps that appear on or around the lips are embarrassing and hard to hide. Thankfully, eucalyptus essential oil can help heal an HSV-1 infection, according to a study published in the journal Viruses.
“Eucalyptus oil can be a great remedy to heal cold sores,” Schoffro Cook confirms. “It contains multiple antiviral compounds known as monoterpenes that are effective against the herpes simplex virus.” Schoffro Cook notes that diluting the oil for topical use is the most effective delivery method for treating cold sores. To do: Mix a few drops of eucalyptus oil into 1 tsp. of a carrier oil. Then use a cotton swab to apply the mixture four times daily to the affected area.
“There are many excellent carrier oils you can use, including apricot kernel, sweet almond, coconut, or even olive oil if you don’t have carrier oils handy,” Schoffro Cook says. “Just don’t use eucalyptus oil internally, including in your mouth.” You can also try a “double-dosing” strategy, she notes. Applying this diluted oil to your chest in addition to the cold sore itself delivers more healing antiviral compounds through inhalation. “It can really help to get an HSV infection under control,” Schoffro Cook says.
How to use eucalyptus oil to prevent cold sores
Once you get a cold sore, you’re more likely to have others. That’s because once acquired, HSV remains in the body. Sometimes the virus stays dormant, and other times it rears its head through cold sores, says Schoffro Cook. And while topical use is best to treat an existing cold sore, regularly inhaling undiluted eucalyptus essential oil through use of a diffuser is a better bet for preventing future flare ups. “Its antiviral compounds help support the body’s ability to quell an HSV infection by keeping the virus in its dormant state,” Schoffro Cook says.
“That means it’s less likely to cause cold sore breakouts.”
More health benefits of eucalyptus oil
Aside from healing cold sores, eucalyptus oil delivers impressive all-body benefits. Here are a three more ways it can bolster your health:
1. Eucalyptus oil clears respiratory bothers
“Eucalyptus oil is an amazing natural remedy to open airways, loosen mucus, reduce coughs, clear sinuses and improve overall breathing,” Schoffro Cook says. “That makes it a great choice if you’re suffering from colds, flu, sinusitis, asthma or other respiratory issues.” In fact, research shows that the oil’s antibacterial and antiviral properties can help eliminate respiratory tract infections that trigger sneezing, congestion, coughs and runny nose.
Further proof it works: A study in the journal Drug Research found that the remedy reduces a wet cough (one that brings up mucus and phlegm) by 62%, a result that’s better than meds. And a study in the journal Pharmaceuticals found breathing in eucalyptus oil kills up to 94% of the viruses in your airways. The effect is so powerful, it’s even been shown to stall the growth of the COVID-19 virus.
Diffusing eucalyptus essential oil throughout the day is a great way to get these benefits, but a eucalyptus steam is also effective, says Schoffro Cook. Simply tent a towel over a small bowl of hot water infused with 12 drops of diluted (or 4 drops of undiluted) eucalyptus oil. Then place your face beneath the towel about a foot away from the bowl and breathe deeply for 10 minutes. Research shows the steam opens nasal passageways, allowing the oil to loosen and expel mucus.
Another option: Add a few drops of the oil to your shower (away from the stream of water, where you won’t slip) and inhale the aroma while sudsing up. And if you have trouble breathing while you sleep, Schoffro Cook advises placing a few drops of the oil on a tissue and putting it on your pillow to help keep sinuses clear overnight.
2. Eucalyptus oil eases body aches
Whether you’ve got a bad back or your wrist pain is flaring up again, eucalyptus oil can help. “It works best through dilution and applying the oil topically to painful areas,” says Schoffro Cook. “This allows the oil’s healing compounds to penetrate the skin and go directly to the tissues in the area of the pain.” Those two main compounds, α-pinene and 1,8-cineole, eliminate free radicals in the body to tamp down pain-causing inflammation. (No euclyptus oil on hand? Click through to see how rose essential oil also eases aches.)
In fact, the oil is so effective that research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that inhaling eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes a day alleviated pain in patients with total knee replacement. Eucalyptus oil’s ability to lower stress, a trigger for pain, may also contribute to these benefits, says Schoffro Cook. “If you’re suffering from any type of pain, eucalyptus oil is safe and worth a try,” she notes.
3. Eucalyptus oil improves oral health
If you’re a stickler for brushing and flossing but still have bleeding gums, everything from hormonal changes to certain medications may be to blame. Luckily, chewing sugar-free eucalyptus-flavored gum can deliver big oral health benefits. Research in The Journal of Periodontology found antibacterial agents in eucalyptus promote tissue growth to halt gum bleeding. And it even starts reversing gum recession when chewed for 5 minutes five times a day after and between meals. One to try: Wrigley Airwaves Menthol and Eucalyptus Gum (Buy from Walmart, $8.62). (Click through for more gum disease self-care tips, and to find out whether using mouthwash before or after brushing delivers bigger gum health benefits.)
4. Eucalyptus oil heals skin and nail infections
Fungi that normally live harmlessly on the skin and nails can spread like wildfire when feet are sweaty, triggering a fungal toenail infection, also known as onychomycosis. But research in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research found that treating infected nails with eucalyptus oil brought results as good as pricey prescription medications, especially when the infection hadn’t yet reached the nail matrix. (Click through for more ways to get rid of toenail fungus.)
Another one of the many benefits of eucalyptus oil: It thwarts skin infections, too. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA) is a dangerous infection, often targeting the skin, that’s proven resistant to antibiotics. But research in the journal Antibiotics reveals that topical application of eucalyptus essential oil (mix 2 drops into 1 tsp. of olive oil) destroys MRSA bacteria as well as the biofilm that protects it.
How to choose the best eucalyptus oil
Be sure to choose a high-quality eucalyptus oil labeled “essential oil,” not a “fragrance” or “perfume” oil. Schoffro Cook explains that the latter two are usually made from chemicals that offer no therapeutic value and can actually be harmful to health. Also, the terms “pure” and “natural” are not regulated. Schoffro Cook says it’s best not to rely on those label claims when purchasing an oil. “Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut way to ensure that you’re getting a quality oil,” she notes.
For those reasons, she generally recommends that her clients buy an oil directly from the manufacturer. “It’s best to find a brand that has third-party laboratory verification of purity, since many do not meet this standard,” she says, adding that the best way to do this is to check their website. A brand she likes, Pranarom Eucalyptus Globulus (Buy from Pranarom, $9.29).
For more healing essential oil benefits:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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