What Essential Oils Are Best for Your Health?

Mayte WaliLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 11:35:35 AM ET
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Although essential oils have long been used in traditional and alternative health practices, in recent years researchers have also begun to study their purported health benefits. Essential oils are aromatic, concentrated plant extracts that have a wide range of uses, from creating the scents that emerge from aromatherapy diffusers to adding fragrance to lotions, soaps and other beauty products.

Many essential oils also show potential benefits when it comes to your health, but it’s important to be aware that, often, these oils haven’t been researched enough to determine how safe or effective they are as treatments. While more studies need to be done, some essential oils are generally recognized as safe to use and may help relieve some symptoms of inflammatory conditions and skin conditions such as acne. Some essential oils also may have antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Learn more about the health effects of some of the most common essential oils.

Peppermint

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Peppermint oil is one of the most versatile essential oils, and you can use it for a variety of different purposes. For starters, it's used as a dietary supplement for digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. When taken in enteric-coated capsules, peppermint oil can be especially useful for reducing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

You can also apply the oil to your skin for tension headaches, but be sure to dilute it in a carrier oil such as coconut oil — otherwise, it can cause skin irritation. Three drops in a few tablespoons of carrier oil is an appropriate ratio. When applied topically, peppermint oil may ease muscle aches and itching.

Peppermint oil is safe to consume by mouth in small doses and is typically used to flavor tea. However, it's best to take enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules to avoid potential heartburn or other reactions.

Lavender

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Lavender oil is commonly used to help with insomnia, stress and anxiety. Many people put it in diffusers and breathe in the scent before bedtime. While the essential oil may also be beneficial for dementia, depression and post-surgical pain, studies have not proven these claims. Lavender oil seems to work as a sedative and can help relax certain muscles. Other potential uses of lavender oil are to treat fungal infections, hair loss and minor wounds. Lavender essential oil can be toxic if swallowed, and you should not consume it.

Turmeric

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The secret to turmeric's success is a compound called curcumin, which scientists believe holds strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The spice has been used in India for centuries and continues to be used all around the world for its robust flavor and potential health benefits.

One scientific report published in 2013 noted several promising effects following results from clinical trials of curcumin over several decades. Along with irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease and arthritis, curcumin may help with diabetes, peptic ulcers and gastric ulcers. While several preclinical studies have shown promising results, the ingredient has yet to be sufficiently tested in humans to fully understand just how effective it is.

Tea Tree

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Tea tree oil may potentially help treat a variety of ailments, including insect bites, acne, athlete's foot and other conditions. The oil may also have antibacterial properties. Research suggests that tea tree oil might relieve some symptoms of acne when used as a treatment gel, treat dandruff when used in shampoo form, treat lice eggs when combined with lavender oil and relieve athlete's foot symptoms. While tea tree oil is generally considered safe and effective when used topically, it can be toxic if you ingest it.

Oregano

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Oregano oil has been used in the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical industries for multiple purposes. Different oregano species have varied compounds, although most have been studied for their potential antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Some studies have also focused on antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

When ingested, oregano oil may help with allergies, arthritis, sinus pain and earaches. You can also apply the diluted oil topically to help with skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, athlete's foot and dandruff. If you're heading out into the woods, consider applying diluted oregano oil to your skin as an insect repellent.