The 9 Best Essential Oils for Inflammation: How to Use Them

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Research shows that some essential oils—complex compounds removed from plant parts—can help treat symptoms of inflammation, including redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function.

This article describes the essential oils that have known effects in reducing inflammation. It also explains how to use these products and ways to reduce adverse effects.

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9 Essential Oils With Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Determining the best essential oils for inflammation is based on the results of promising scientific studies. However, many of these studies are small and short-term, so their findings typically warrant further investigation. In addition, there is no evidence-backed research that shows any essential oil can cure specific illnesses.

Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the cause of your inflammation and whether essential oils are safe for you to use.

Scientific evidence supports the use of the following essential oils for inflammation.

Thyme

Thyme is believed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. In one study, thyme was found to reduce the severity of menstrual cramps, though not as effectively as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).

There is also evidence that thyme effectively reduces inflammation and infection in oral health.

Basil

Basil contains flavonoids, phytonutrients found in plants that reduce chronic inflammation and help prevent associated inflammatory diseases. A systematic review has shown that basil may reduce inflammation in the airways. It’s important to note that the review was done on tulsi—also called holy basil—which has been shown to have more potent medical qualities than common culinary basil.

There is also evidence that basil extracts have an anti-inflammatory effect against inflammation induced by adipocytes (a cell specialized in the storage of fat).

Ginger

Ginger has been used to treat chronic pain and inflammation for centuries. Claims of the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been attributed to gingerols, the most abundant compounds in ginger.

Anti-inflammatory properties were confirmed in rat studies. The results showed how ginger injections reduced rates of chronic joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. In other research, there was evidence that ginger was as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in relieving menstrual cramps.

Clove

Clove is high in eugenol, a plant compound that has anti-inflammatory properties.

Research shows that eugenol has anti-inflammatory properties that may inhibit the type of inflammatory enzymes often elevated in people with certain medical conditions like heart disease.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus contains properties that may effectively reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. These effects were reported in people who inhaled eucalyptus preparations after total knee replacement surgery. Participants who inhaled eucalyptus essential oil for 30 minutes for three days reported less pain and lower blood pressure vs. a control group.

Peppermint

Peppermint contains menthol and menthone, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, menthol and menthone reduced the number of leukocytes (white blood cells contributing to inflammation at the site of a wound or injury). The cooling effect of these substances decreased blood flow and the amount of leukocytes, reducing the impact of inflammation.

Frankincense

Frankincense (from the genus Boswellia) may have anti-inflammatory properties effective in reducing the joint inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Studies indicate that frankincense prevents the release of leukotrienes, compounds that promote inflammation by activating the production of inflammatory cells (neutrophils) and molecules (cytokines) that trigger inflammation.

Lavender

Lavender is thought to provide many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that lavender oil is a potent inhibitor of four pro-inflammatory cytokines (inflammatory molecules). In one study, researchers reported that the collection of lavender flowers from the early blooming period was relevant to the anti-inflammatory effect.

Turmeric

Turmeric oil contains turmerone, which has been shown to reduce inflammatory response.

Evidence shows that turmerone effectively reduces inflammatory mediators (chemicals contributing to the inflammatory response). This may benefit inflammatory diseases such as:

When to Seek Emergency Treatment

Inflammation that involves one or more of the following symptoms may indicate a dangerous condition like cellulitis (a skin infection) or a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lung).

Seek emergency care if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, unexplained swelling in just one limb
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction)
  • Swelling accompanied by fever
  • Skin that is suddenly red and warm to the touch in a swollen area
  • Swelling with a preexisting liver or heart problem
  • Localized swelling that has not improved after a few days

How to Use Essential Oils for Inflammation

The right way to use essential oils for inflammation varies based on the substance being used. Follow guidelines regarding dose and duration for the best results.

Essential oils are typically used in very small quantities that involve just a few drops in one of the ways outlined below.

Inhalation

Inhaling an essential oil helps you experience the effect of the oil’s aroma. You can achieve this effect in the following ways:

  • Use an essential oil in a diffuser (a device that disperses tiny oil particles in the air for inhalation).
  • Apply a drop to your hands and inhale.
  • Wear as a personal fragrance.
  • Place your head over a bowl of hot water with a few drops of the essential oil. Cover your head with a towel to contain the aroma.
  • Take deep breaths of the aroma from the bottle.
  • Put a few drops of the essential oil on a cotton ball and inhale the aroma.

Topical

The topical application of an essential oil allows the oil to absorb directly into a desired area of your skin. When using this method, it is safest to dilute the oil with a carrier oil like coconut oil to reduce the risk of irritation. Methods for applying essential oils to your skin include the following:

  • Massage the essential oil into your skin.
  • Apply the oil to targeted areas and rub it in.
  • Add the oil to lotions or moisturizers that you apply to your skin.
  • Use a roller-ball bottle to apply the essential oil.

Ingestion

Ingesting is only appropriate for some essential oils. If you are using an essential oil that is safe for human consumption, you can take it using one of the following methods:

  • Add the essential oil to a glass of water, smoothie, or other beverage.
  • Take it in a veggie capsule.
  • Place a drop of the essential oil under your tongue.

Risks of Using Essential Oils

Even though they are naturally sourced, it is important to understand the health and safety risks of using essential oils. These highly concentrated plant substances should be used with care to protect yourself and your loved ones from adverse effects.

Before using essential oils, the American College of Health Sciences (ACHS) advises taking the following precautions to ensure the safe use of essential oils.

Do Not Use Photosensitive Oils in the Sun

Certain photosensitive or phototoxic essential oils contain substances called furocoumarins. When these essential oils are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light or sunlight, they can cause severe burns and increase your risk of skin cancer where they are applied.

Avoid body lotions and creams that contain these ingredients when you are in the sun. When using do-it-yourself (DIY) products, ensure that your essential oils are within the maximum dilution percentage levels required by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).

If you’re unsure about the photosensitivity of the essential oils in your topical products, avoid exposure to UV lights or direct sunlight after applying.

Take Precautions Based on Your Application Method

Depending on your preferred essential oil application method, there are some precautions to remember. These are outlined by the application method below.

Topical Use

Skin sensitivity to essential oils varies from person to person. For direct skin application, use a patch test to determine potential irritations. If you have a reaction, apply a base oil or full-fat milk to remove the product and allow your skin to recover.

When using an essential oil, the ACHS advises checking the recommended guidelines for:

  • Daily dosage
  • Dilution ratio
  • Duration

Avoid applying the essential oil to sensitive areas like your eyes, nose, ears, or broken skin.

Inhalation

While inhalation is the safest way to administer essential oils, it is a fast and effective way to get them into your bloodstream. Follow these safety precautions when inhaling essential oils:

  • Diffuse in a well-ventilated area.
  • Diffuse for 30-minute intervals and take regular breaks.
  • Ensure that pets have ways to leave the room to an unaffected area if they dislike the aroma.
  • Follow guidelines for dilution of the essential oils being inhaled.

Oral/Internal Use

Only a few essential oils are suitable for oral administration. If you take an essential oil orally, ensure you are taking it with attention to the proper dose, concentration, and duration guidelines.

Toxicity or poisoning from essential oils is often linked with a dose much higher than the therapeutic or recommended daily dose for the essential oil used. To avoid this problem, the oral use of essential oils should only be administered by people trained and experienced in clinical aromatherapy.

Poison Control Help

Essential oils can trigger dangerous reactions when misused or swallowed. To get fast help in determining whether you are dealing with a possible poisoning, consult the webPOISONCONTROL website or contact Poison Control at 800-222-1222.

Cooking

Some essential oils can be used in small amounts in cooking. Before doing this, check the cautions and contraindications for every essential oil used, then dilute the oil with a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil. Check the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list for a list of essential oils that can be used in food.

Follow Contraindications and General Safety Recommendations

Pay attention to potential interactions of essential oils and prescription drugs and supplements. The effect could cause adverse reactions or alter the effectiveness of some medications.

Certain groups of people, such as children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems or allergies, may be more sensitive to the side effects of essential oils. Some essential oils may be dangerous for pets. Take precautions to protect your family from inhaling essential oils that could cause harmful reactions.

Summary

Essential oils are natural treatments made from plant parts. Each one has its own profile so it differs from plant to plant. It can also differ between two parts of the same plant.

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to treat symptoms of inflammation. This is your body’s normal immune reaction. It protects your body from threats such as wounds and germs.

While essential oils may provide some results, they can also carry the risk of adverse effects. Some may react with drugs or other treatments. Since they lack federal regulation factors like purity and strength may vary.

You can reduce your risks by using essential oils in the advised dose, strength, and length of time. While you may enjoy the results of essential oils, they should not replace medical advice or prescribed treatments.

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