Viruses and other pathogenic microorganisms are some of the worst biological hazards that threaten human lives. They cannot be seen by the naked eye, they can lurk on surfaces or hang suspended in the air, and they have the capacity to mutate and resist the vaccines and antibiotics used to effectively address their associated health risks.
When it comes to protecting oneself from viruses, there’s an antiviral agent that many people commonly use: antiviral essential oils. These oils are derived from parts of plants or trees, usually the leaves, stems, roots, and fruits.
However, despite the common usage of essential oils, many people still wonder if there are reliable and scientific pieces of evidence that back their medicinal or therapeutic viability.
With this, we will tackle in this article some of the known facts and erroneous ideas about antiviral essential oils.
We’ll also answer some of the frequently asked questions: Are essential oils safe to use? Do they have a place in modern medicine? What are the safe ways to use antiviral oils.
Facts about Antiviral Oils
The term “antiviral essential oils” is not without a basis. As early as 3000 B.C., the use of essential oils as medicinal or antiseptic agents has been recorded in parts of Egypt, China, India, Greece, and Rome.
Although the early civilizations’ oil extraction methods aren’t as sophisticated as what people use today, the ancient uses of herbs and oils reveal the therapeutic potentials of these gifts of nature.
Certain essential oils do have antiviral properties
This statement contains two claims. One is that antiviral properties have indeed been found in certain essential oils; another is that only a few out of the over 250 commercially available essential oil types have these properties.
In a study published in 2019, the proponents discussed the known antiviral as well as antibacterial and/or antifungal potentials of certain oils, including lavender oil, thyme oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil, and sage oil.
Additionally, the authors described the chemical composition of these oils and identified some bacteria and virus strains against which the essential oils were tested and observed. For instance, lavender essential oil was found to exhibit antiviral activities against Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) and antibacterial activities against 24 L. monocytogenes strains.
On the other hand, oils from eucalyptus and from tea tree leaves were found with the ability to inhibit the growth of HSV1 by up to 96%. Eucalyptus oil also showed potential against the mumps virus, but it is mild and weak compared to what was exhibited against HSV1.
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These findings support the earlier findings of another group of researchers who published their study in 2010.
In this study, the authors focused on the following essential oil monoterpene compounds and their reactions against HSV1 in vitro: alpha-terpinene, gamma-terpinene, alpha-pinene, p-cymene, terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, thymol, citral, and 1,8-cineole.
Both the 2019 and 2010 studies add to the scientific publications that back up the antimicrobial properties of essential oils. Thus, we now know that antiviral claims are not without basis and essential oils do show potential against various types of microbes.
So why aren’t antiviral essential oils widely used in modern medicine, you ask? This leads us to this second fact:
Most antiviral activities of oils are not strong enough to cure illnesses
If there’s enough evidence on the potency of antiviral oils against illnesses, then the modern medicine community would’ve jumped quickly into using these oils. However, despite a few scientific findings here and there, one thing that’s clear about essential oils is that they do not have the same level of effectiveness as existing synthetic medicines.
In fact, according to some references, the antiviral properties of plant extracts are not enough to cure illnesses. They may help relieve symptoms, but relying on them solely might be more dangerous than helpful.
Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test and monitor essential oils the way that it does with the products we find in pharmacies. As such, there aren’t enough research and tests to establish the curative benefits of essential oils against viral diseases.
If you are reading this blog to look for essential oils against COVID-19, be sure to refer to the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Antiviral essential oils are tested on few virus strains
Until now, there is no comprehensive list of the specific types of virus strains against which essential oils show significant killing or inhibiting reactions.
Some health experts even say that there are no real antiviral essential oils given that no thorough study has been done about these oils and how to most effectively harness their biological properties to improve health or relieve illnesses.
However, this doesn’t mean that essential oils have absolutely no place in health discourses. There are proven safe ways to use antiviral essential oils, and you can try them for yourself as a supplementary or complementary therapy.
Antiviral oils can be safely used in different ways
The following are some of the safest ways to use essential oils:
Aromatherapy massage has been used for centuries for various purposes. To name a few, these include soothing muscle tension, alleviating menstrual cramps, reducing menopausal symptoms, relieving anxiety, decongesting airways, and inducing sleep.
For people suffering from viral illnesses, such as cough, cold, and flu, aromatherapy massage can help them relax and breathe more easily. So even though essential oils may not be potent enough to provide a cure, they can provide relief for some symptoms of illnesses.
Moreover, you can mix different essential oils to formulate a massage oil blend that suits your preference. You may check out this blending guide to help you decide which essential oils to blend.
A few precautions about aromatherapy massage:
- Don’t use undiluted oils. Pure essential oils will cause skin irritation if used topically without diluting. As such, before applying essential oil on your skin, whether it’s a single type of oil or a mixture of a few oils, be sure to blend it with a carrier oil like virgin coconut oil, fractionated coconut oil, or jojoba oil.
- If you have pre-existing health issues, consult your doctor before using essential oils. Certain essential oils have compounds that may pose health risks to people with existing health problems. To avoid additional health concerns, do consult with your healthcare provider before trying essentials oils for aromatherapy massage or any other procedure.
- Perform an allergy patch test before using liberal amounts of oil. Different essential oils may trigger different skin reactions. To stay on the safe side, it’s advisable to do an allergy patch test. Here’s how you can do it:
Essential oil diffusion is usually done to spread a pleasant scent throughout a room. Besides this, another way to benefit from this is by using antiviral oils and tapping their virus-fighting potential to help cleanse the air. If you’re not sure how to do this, we have a guide that should help you use essential oils for air purification.
If you don’t have a diffuser yet, you might like to purchase one that uses ultrasonic technology. Ultrasonic diffusers break down essential oil molecules into millions of negative ions.
They spread the essential oil in the form of fine mist. Plus, ultrasonic diffusers function with no heat involved, thereby preserving the quality and integrity of the oil.
An example of an ultrasonic diffuser is the Anjou aromatherapy diffuser. What we like about it is that it can create a cool mist without leaving moisture on surfaces like walls, floor, and furniture. It has a minimalist look, and its whisper-quiet operation makes it ideal for offices, study areas, and bedrooms.
Body and Household Cleansers and Disinfectants
Yes, you can also formulate essential-oil based cleaners and disinfectants. Blending essential oils and a few other ingredients to create body care and household care products is especially appealing to green living enthusiasts.
But of course, anyone can benefit from these types of formulas--including you if you check out our DIY essential oil recipes.
Myths about Antiviral Oils
Now that we’ve covered some of the most important facts about antiviral oils, let’s now tackle some of the most common myths.
Essential oils are enough to prevent any viral disease
As much as we’d like all-natural products like essential oils to perform magic against our diseases, they simply don’t work that way. Yes, you can use essential oils for supplementary therapy, but refrain from treating them as your magical healing pill.
Essential oils are non-toxic
Because essential oils are plant-based, many people conclude that these oils are 100% safe to use. However, the truth of the matter is that there are plenty of unsafe ways to use essential oils.
For instance, applying undiluted essential oil topically can lead to serious skin irritation like rashes and burns. Some essential oils can also be highly toxic, which is why they should never be ingested or applied to open wounds.
Some examples of essential oils that can be toxic when misused are camphor and wintergreen essential oils.
People who are most vulnerable to essential oil toxicity are pregnant women, infants, and young children. If you diffused essential oil but suddenly have to accommodate a pregnant woman or a young child, you can try opening the doors and windows to reduce the essential oil molecules in the air.
You should also avoid using essential oils around pets. In worst-case scenarios, pets can get poisoned by essential oils and experience drooling, vomiting, muscle tremors, and burns on lips, gums, and tongue.
Essential oils have no side effects
Essential oils do have side effects, but not all users experience them. As mentioned previously, different people react differently to essential oils.
To protect yourself from unpleasant effects, be cautious of trying new essential oils. If you want to try a certain type of oil, use only a small amount then observe the effects it has on you. Use the oil more than once only if your body didn’t show negative reactions.
Some of the worst side effects of essential oils are headaches, dizziness, skin allergies, sinus infections, and asthma attacks. Thankfully, you can easily avoid these by choosing essential oils carefully and using small doses--like a drop or two--on your first try.
Antiviral essential oils do have a scientific basis. They contain chemical compounds that enable antiviral activities, but they are usually not significant enough to provide a cure for illnesses.
They do, however, offer a promising potential for complementary therapy.
As such, antiviral essential oils may still benefit your health through various means. You may use antiviral oils for aromatherapy massage, for air purification, and even for your body care and household care products.
There are many ways to harness the potential of antiviral essential oils. For best results, be sure to use quality oils sourced from quality plants, like what we have here on Aroma Foundry.