7 Essential Oils With Science-Based Benefits

Was this helpful?
27
  • Across the world, the essential oils industry was worth more than $7 billion as of 2017 and is expected to grow to the same amount in the U.S. alone by 2024. But what are essential oils? These highly potent substances are extracted from plants through a physical process, usually distillation or mechanical pressing. They’re often used for their aromatherapy benefits, but also can be used topically (on the skin) for various purposes. While the popularity of essential oils may just seem trendy, there is science-backed evidence of their health benefits. And scientists continue to recommend more research into essential oils benefits and risks. In the meantime, talk to your doctor about whether these complementary therapies might be right for you.

  • 1
    Lavender Essential Oil
    Lavender essential oil bottle

    As with many essential oils, there are several types of lavender essential oil. Lavandula angustifolia is the most commonly used. Research has shown lavender essential oil to have bactericidal effects. In one study, lavender oil killed an abundant bacterium on human skin within 5 minutes. Lavender essential oil also was shown to be effective against yeast and viral pathogens associated with skin infections. Lavender aromatherapy has been shown to reduce insomnia, and research has supported its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • 2
    Lemon Essential Oil
    Lemon essential oil

    Studies have found lemon essential oil has numerous biological benefits, including as an antioxidant, analgesic (pain reducer), and insect repellent. In a study that compared lemon essential oil with DEET, a synthetic insect repellent, lemon oil was found to be an effective alternative to repel mosquitoes. It has also been shown to improve mood, concentration, memory and cognitive performance. Depending on the way it is extracted, lemon and other citrus essential oils can pose some risk of phototoxicity, a skin irritation that occurs when the oil is used topically and then exposed to sunlight. Expressed lemon oil is phototoxic, while distilled lemon oil is not.

  • 3
    Peppermint Essential Oil
    Close-up of green peppermint leaves

    Peppermint oil has been shown to increase alertness and to combat mental exhaustion and memory loss. Many studies have shown topical treatment with peppermint oil is effective against different types of pain, including tension headaches, neck pain, and even residual (sometimes excruciating) pain after a bout of shingles. In at least one study, topical application of diluted peppermint essential oil showed hair growth effects, including the number of hair follicles and the depth of the roots. This same study showed peppermint oil can be even more effective at promoting hair growth than minoxidil, a drug found in many brands of hair regrowth treatment for human baldness.

  • 4
    Bergamot Essential Oil
    Bergamot or keffir lime essential oil

    Like other citrus essential oils, the scent of bergamot oil has been shown to calm and improve mood. Studies have also found bergamot can offer pain relief and can help heal wounds. In at least one study, cold-pressed bergamot oil was tested for its effect on nine different bacteria. The study showed bergamot has strong antimicrobial activity. Other research has concluded that bergamot possesses antioxidant and antifungal properties. Pressed bergamot can be phototoxic, so if you use this one topically, stay out of the sun.

  • 5
    Tea Tree Essential Oil
    Assortment of essential oils with tea tree oil in focus

    Also known as melaleuca essential oil, tea tree oil has been found to have insecticidal uses. It has long been used to kill head lice, and there is scientific evidence that backs its efficacy, which sometimes was even higher than that of the conventional permethrin treatment for lice. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against the use of tea tree oil on children because natural products, such as essential oils, are not regulated by the FDA. Tea tree oil has also shown antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it has been effective at fighting acne with fewer side effects than some over-the-counter acne medications.

  • 6
    Orange Essential Oil
    Orange or citrus essential oil

    There are various types of orange essential oil, including sweet orange and bitter orange, and many of the benefits overlap. Both types of orange oil have antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Both have also been shown to reduce anxiety and calm the nerves. Aromatherapy using bitter orange oil was found in one study to reduce the severity of labor pain compared with a control group. Another study showed sweet orange oil (along with grapefruit and lemon essential oils) had anti-carcinogenic effects against leukemia cells. Orange essential oil carries a low risk of phototoxicity.

  • 7
    Frankincense Essential Oil
    Frankincense essential oil in small bottle

    Frankincense oil has been used in aromatherapy for thousands of years. Religious worship services use it as incense, and research has confirmed the oil has natural antimicrobial properties and is useful as an air purifier. Studies have found boswellic acid, one of the main components of frankincense essential oil, has anti-tumor properties. In one study, researchers found frankincense oil suppressed bladder cancer cell growth, but did not harm normal bladder cells. These scientists suggested frankincense essential oil might be useful as an alternative treatment, but that more research is needed. There are several different types of frankincense essential oil, each having some distinct benefits.

  • 8
    Are Essential Oils Safe?
    African American woman smelling essential oil aromatherapy in meditation studio

    While they are natural products, essential oils come with risks if used improperly. Essential oils are highly concentrated, so even those as mild as lavender oil come with potential adverse effects, including skin sensitivity or allergic reactions. Diluting essential oils in another oil, such as olive oil, is one way to help minimize the potential for adverse effects. Also, be aware of potentially dangerous reactions in children, especially toddlers, even when the oils are diluted. Peppermint oil, for example, can cause serious side effects when inhaled, even for older children. Scientists have noted that essential oils can have negative interactions with other medications or medical conditions. These researchers emphasize that people use the same precautions with essential oils as they would with pharmaceutical drugs. Always talk to your doctor before using essential oils or any other alternative therapy.

  • 9
    Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?
    Calico cat sniffing electric aromatherapy essential oil diffuser

    The short answer: not always. Animals have different ways of metabolizing substances that they inhale or absorb through their skin than humans do. Essential oils can be dangerous for some animals, depending on their respiratory and metabolic systems. Never use essential oils on or around cats, birds or reptiles. These pets do not have the enzymes needed to safely metabolize essential oils. Dogs and horses may be able to tolerate essential oils in some cases, but be sure to use them under the care of a veterinarian trained in aromatherapy.

Was this helpful?
27
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 6
View All Lifestyle and Wellness Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Essential Oils Market Size By Product (Orange oil, Lemon oil, Eucalyptus oil, Clove oil, Peppermint oil, Jasmine oil, Rosemary oil, Corn Mint oil, Citronella oil, Geranium oil, Spearmint oil, Lavender oil, Tea Tree oil, Others), By Application (Pharmaceuticals, Food & Beverages, Aromatherapy, Cosmetics & Toiletries, Cleaning & Homecare, Fragrances, Others), Industry Analysis Report, Regional Outlook (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Russia, Spain, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, UAE, South Africa), Application Potential, Price Trend, Competitive Market Share & Forecast, 2018 – 2024. Global Market Insights. https://www.gminsights.com/industry-analysis/essential-oil-market
  2. U.S. Essential Oils Market To Reach $7.34 Billion By 2024. Grand View Research. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/press-release/us-essential-oil-market-analysis
  3. What are Essential Oils? National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/what-are-essential-oils
  4. Essential oil. Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/essential-oil
  5. Elsharif SA, Banerjee A, Buettner A. Structure-odor relationships of linalool, linalyl acetate and their corresponding oxygenated derivatives. Frontiers in Chemistry. 2015;3:57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594031/
  6. Orchard A, van Vuuren S. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 2017;2017:4517971. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435909/
  7. Silva GL, Luft C, Lunardelli A, Amaral RH, Melo DA, Donadio MV, Nunes FB, de Azambuja MS, Santana JC, Moraes CM, Mello RO, Cassel E, Pereira MA, de Oliveira JR. Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências. 2015;87(2 Suppl):1397-408. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26247152
  8. Dosoky NS, Setzer WN. Biological Activities and Safety of Citrus spp. Essential Oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018;19(7):1966. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6073409/
  9. Namazi M., Ali Akbari S.A., Mojab F., Talebi A., Majd H.A., Jannesari S. Effects of Citrus aurantium (bitter orange) on the severity of first-stage labor pain. Iran. J. Pharm. Res. 2014;13:1011–1018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177623/
  10. Peppermint Oil. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermintoil
  11. Babar, Ali; Naser Ali, Al-Wabel; Saiba, Shams; Aftab, Ahamad; Shah Alam, Khan; Firoz, Anwar. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. 2015;5:601-611. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033
  12. Stea S, Beraudi A, De Pasquale D. Essential oils for complementary treatment of surgical patients: state of the art. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;2014:726341. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3953654/
  13. Animal Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Safety. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. https://naha.org/assets/uploads/Animal_Aromatherapy_Safety_NAHA.pdf
  14. Göbel H, Heinze A, Heinze-Kuhn K, Göbel A, Göbel C. [Peppermint oil in the acute treatment of tension-type headache]. Schmerz. 2016 Jun;30(3):295-310. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27106030
  15. Ou MC, Lee YF, Li CC, Wu SK. The effectiveness of essential oils for patients with neck pain: a randomized controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Oct;20(10):771-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25192562
  16. Postherpetic neuralgia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postherpetic-neuralgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20376588
  17. Oh JY, Park MA, Kim YC. Peppermint Oil Promotes Hair Growth without Toxic Signs. Toxicol Res. 2014;30(4):297-304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289931/
  18. Moss M, Hewitt S, Moss L, Wesnes K. Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. Int J Neurosci. 2008 Jan;118(1):59-77. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18041606
  19. Frank MB, Yang Q, Osban J, et al. Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2009;9:6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664784/
  20. Ljaljević Grbić M, Unković N, Dimkić I, Janaćković P, Gavrilović M, Stanojević O, Stupar M, Vujisić L, Jelikić A, Stanković S, Vukojević J. Frankincense and myrrh essential oils and burn incense fume against micro-inhabitants of sacral ambients. Wisdom of the ancients? J Ethnopharmacol. 2018 Jun 12;219:1-14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29530608
  21. Silva CS, Figueiredo HM, Stamford TLM, Silva LHMD. Inhibition of Listeria monocytogenes by Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil in ground beef. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2019 Jan 11;293:79-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30665066
  22. Chohan TA, Chohan TA, Zhou L, Yang Q, Min L, Cao H. Repellency, Toxicity, Gene Expression Profiling and In Silico Studies to Explore Insecticidal Potential of Melaleuca alternifolia Essential Oil against Myzus persicae. Toxins (Basel). 2018;10(11):425. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266121/
  23. Devore CD, Schutze GE; AAP, Council on School Health, Committee on Infectious Dises. Head Lice. Pediatrics. 2015;135(5):e1355–e1365. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/135/5/e1355
  24. Oliva A, Costantini S, De Angelis M, et al. High Potency of Melaleuca alternifolia Essential Oil against Multi-Drug Resistant Gram-Negative Bacteria and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Molecules. 2018;23(10):2584. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6222846/