Essential oils have long been revered for their healing and aromatherapy properties. What many people do not realize is that several essential oils kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. That means that these valuable oils not only can fight and prevent infection in your body, but they also prevent illness, treat skin conditions, disinfect the surfaces of your home, and eliminate microbes floating in the air of your environment.
Why we need an Alternative to Conventional Antibiotics
Antibiotic resistance is becoming a crisis and according to many experts, the growing inability of antibiotics to effectively treat illnesses owing to antimicrobial resistance is one of medicine’s most significant challenges of the new century. Not only have antibiotics been oversubscribed, but according to research, the amount of antibiotics consumed by livestock is increasing year on year.
According to an FDA report, livestock consumes as much as 80% of all the antibiotics consumed in the USA. Because of this rampant overuse, we have seen the emergence of ‘superbugs’ which are becoming more resistant to antibiotic treatment. According to a recent report, resistance to antibiotics caused over 2 million sicknesses leading directly to over 23,000 deaths in 2013 alone.
And if you are expecting things to get any better, then I have more bad news. A recent British report commissioned by the Government has estimated that by the year 2050 drug-resistant bacteria may cause in excess of 10 million deaths each year as well as costing the world’s economy an astronomical figure of $100 trillion.
These essential oils are a great way to fight bacteria without experiencing the severe side effects of antibiotics or the harsh chemicals of household cleaners. In many cases, a topical application of essential oils is much safer than taking antibiotics internally. While antibiotics are useful—they can be overprescribed and can damage your gut flora—requiring you to rebuild your flora after treatment.
Researchers looking at the antimicrobial effects of various essential oils in a study published in 2016 had this to say:
Biopharmaceutical industries are in need of ecofriendly alternative drug molecules to treat diseases associated with microbial pathogens and body metabolism. Thus, essential oils of MAPs might be a prospective source of alternative antimicrobial agents and may play an important role in the discovery of new drugs for the treatment of a wide range of pathogenic microorganisms in the near future.” (10)
Facts About Antibacterial Essential Oils
- Studies have revealed that many essential oils have powerful antibacterial properties.
- With resistance to antibiotics on the increase, researchers are trying to find alternatives in nature and various essential oils hold a great deal of promise.
- Essential oils have far fewer side effects than synthetic medications.
- According to research, cinnamon essential oil is the most effective antibacterial oil of all but it is closely followed by various other oils including tea tree oil, thyme oil, and oregano.
- Studies show that essential oils are effective against several strains of Staphylococcus aureus.
- Studies also show that certain essential oils can combat E.Coli and candida infections.
There is significant medical research showing an array of oils that have antibacterial properties (1). Below is a list of essential oils that are readily available and shown to have powerful antibacterial properties.
Antibacterial Essential Oils
This powerful disinfecting essential oil is native to Australia and has long been used for medicinal purposes due to its reputation as being a germicide. This germicidal quality makes it an antiseptic, which means it is suitable to treat wounds, burns, cuts, ulcers, sores, and abrasions.
When treating a wound, eucalyptus oil expedites the healing process while protecting it from exposure to air and antimicrobial activity. For this reason, eucalyptus essential oil is often used in skin care products because it helps fight skin infections and soaps. Eucalyptus is a common ingredient found in dental hygiene products for its ability to fight cavities, plaque, and gingivitis.
Eucalyptus’s powerful antibacterial properties also extend itself to your home, this essential oil is often found in soaps, detergents, and household cleaners. Diffuse this essential oil in a vaporizer if you want a fresh smelling home free of roaming bacteria and germs.
This cooling, uplifting essential oil is famous for its antibacterial activity and antiviral properties. Native to Europe and widely used for its bright effervescent flavor, peppermint essential oil has also been widely used for its medicinal properties.
Sure, peppermint essential oil is used in dental hygiene products for its minty fresh flavor; however, it serves another purpose as an antiseptic, helping teeth and gums fight off harmful bacteria. Those suffering from nail fungus find that the antifungal properties of peppermint essential oil greatly reduces the chance of fungal growth while improving the overall health of their nails.
With all of its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, peppermint essential oil is a great way to boost your immune system. It contains such compounds as menthol, camphor, and carvacrol, which are impervious to many dangerous strains of bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and staph infections.
This soothing essential oil elicits feelings of tranquility and calm, often lulling you to sleep. However, do not mistake lavender for being just a pretty smelling oil. The name lavender is derived from the Latin name Lavare, which means to wash.
This essential oil is a powerful antibacterial that can boost your immunity. Regularly using lavender essential oil can help provide resistance to a number of diseases and viruses. Due to its antibacterial, and antiseptic properties, lavender essential oil is considered effective in treating various skin conditions as acne, psoriasis, and other inflammatory conditions of the skin.
Lavender essential oil is especially effective in treating acne because it inhibits the growth of bacteria while speeding up the healing process of the blemishes. This healing oil also helps to speed up the healing of wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburns while preventing the formation of scar tissue.
4) Tea Tree Oil
Tea Tree oil is one of the few antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial essential oils that you can apply directly to the skin without first diluting it with a carrier oil. This medicinal oil is widely used to treat skin infections such as acne, eczema, warts, and psoriasis.
An antifungal, you can apply this oil to fight athlete’s foot and nail fungus. In Australia, where it is native, this essential oil is considered a cure-all, treating a wide variety of infections and diseases. Keep a bottle of tea tree essential oil in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit, as it is beneficial in disinfecting and treating wounds.
Numerous in vitro studies have already pointed towards the promising antibacterial potential of tea tree oil and fairly recent study has demonstrated that tea tree essential oil was capable of treating staph wounds faster than those treated by conventional medication. The study published in 2013 examined the effect of tea tree oil on wounds infected with the superbug Staphylococcus aureus.
The experiment was carried out on 10 volunteers who were treated with tea tree essential oil fumes or with conventional medication. The conclusions were striking and those treated with tea tree oil experienced significantly faster healing time compared to the other group. (6)
A previous study found that a cleanser made from tea tree essential oil could effectively eliminate MRSA from the skin just as well as the standard treatments offered by hospitals. (8)
Based on these and other studies, it seems that such a natural and inexpensive fix could be a huge boost for hospitals battling to prevent the spread of MRSA which has become so common and difficult to treat within the hospital and nursing care settings.
This antiseptic oil prevents infection from developing in cuts, wounds, burns, and boils. It is also great for treating insect bites and stings, shielding them from infection. Just be sure not to ingest this cure-all, as it is considered poisonous when consumed internally.
This sunny citrus essential oil delights with its citrus scent and its magnificent antibacterial properties. Although it is native to South East Asia, its medicinal and cosmetic potential was fully realized in Italy.
Italians recognized bergamot essential oil for having powerful antibacterial properties, using it to eliminate intestinal worms. Today, bergamot essential oil is known to fight against certain strands of bacteria and fighting against a variety of infections such as urinary tract infections, meningitis, endocarditis, etc.
Those suffering from skin conditions will find relief with bergamot essential oil. It speeds of the healing process of mouth ulcers, cold sores, and herpes while also lending a helping hand in the fight against shingles and chicken pox. This antibacterial is also a great natural way to heal and prevent acne.
Lemon has a rich history of being used in antibacterial cleansers, however, lemongrass, its sister oil is gentler, sweeter, and less sour. However, do not be deceived by its reserved scent as it still functions as a powerful antibacterial essential oil. The antimicrobial properties of this oil inhibit the growth of bacteria internally and externally of the body. It helps to fight such bacterial infections as urinary tract infections, malaria, typhoid, food poisoning, body odor, and various skin conditions.
Antiseptic in nature, this essential oil is great for treating wounds preventing them from getting septic. In fact, lemongrass is a common ingredient in many commercial lotions and creams used to cuts and wounds. A powerful fungicidal, lemongrass essential oil can also be used to treat fungal infections of the skin.
There is a certain amount of scientific evidence that backs up these claims that lemongrass essential oils is a powerful antibacterial treatment. One study published recently in 2013 demonstrated that a hand gel produced with lemongrass essential oil (as well as thyme essential oil) was highly effective in reducing the MRSA bacteria from the skin of the volunteer subjects.
The researchers concluded that both thyme oil and lemongrass essential oil provided excellent antibacterial activity against MRSA. Furthermore, the essential oil gel was well tolerated with no adverse effects being reported. (8)
Oregano is not just a spice used to add flavor to your Italian dish, in fact, it’s a ruthless germ killer and provides wonderful immune support. Oregano essential oil has been found to protect from many strains of bacteria such as E. coli, Staphylococcus, and salmonella.
This powerful essential oil not only causes significant damage to the strains of bacteria, but it also helps to minimize the bacteria’s ability to do create toxins that can be severely hazardous to human health. Oregano essential oil was first recognized for its antibacterial and disinfecting abilities in ancient Greece, where it was often used to treat wounds, bacterial infections on the skin.
Oregano was also used in food to shield it from the proliferation of bacteria. Oregano essential oil is also recognized for its great medicinal properties. Viral and bacterial infections do not stand a chance against this essential oil.
This antibacterial protects against infections of the colon and urinary tract. It also helps protect the body from skin infections, sores, cholera, typhoid, and even food poisoning. Even though oregano essential oil fights against bacteria in your digestive tract, it does not eliminate the good gut flora vital to your digestive and immune health.
Viruses also don’t stand a chance against this essential oil, as it offers ample protection from such viruses colds, chicken pox, and mumps. Oregano essential oil also helps boost the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells and adds protection against certain autoimmune disorders.
In addition to being a powerful antifungal—thyme is also a powerful antibacterial. Thyme has been shown effective against a host of bacteria including MRSA and Staph (Staphylococcus). (2)
An Italian study published in 2011 found that thyme essential oil used in combination with clove essential oil was equally as effective in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis (candidiasis) as the commonly prescribed antibiotic treatment, metronidazole. Researchers concluded that its efficacy and safety profile made these essential oils a suitable treatment candidate for infectious vaginal complaints and to reduce the exposure to antibiotics. (5)
Thyme is very powerful and also potentially very irritating to the skin. Thyme essential oil should always be diluted with a carrier oil before topical application on the skin. It is also recommended to test a small area to make sure to avoid irritation and potential allergic reactions.
Clove bud essential oil has strong antimicrobial and anti-fungal characteristics. Clove was the second best inhibitor in a test of 21 essential oils tested against common bacteria including E Coli and K. pneumoniae (Cinnamon was #1).
The major component in Clove Oil called Eugenol also effectively kills scabies mites. (3) Clove oil should be avoided if pregnant or nursing and may react with blood thinners and anticoagulant medications.
I have grouped these two essential oils together because of a recent study which found that they could inhibit the spread and growth of some 60 different strains of Escherichia coli (E.coli). The study published in August 2013 set out to examine these oils as an alternative treatment to deal with multi-drug resistant bacterial strains.
The antibacterial ability of these two oils was put to the test against 60 separate strains of E.coli and the results were extremely promising. Both basil and rosemary essential oils proved active against all 60 bacterial strains and the researchers felt the results could hasten the application of essential oils to treat and prevent many resistant strains of bacteria. (9)
And The Most Powerful Antibacterial Essential Oil is…
We saved the best for last. Cinnamon Essential Oil has good research showing it to be potentially one of the strongest antibacterial essential oils.
In a test against some nasty bacteria including:
Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus
Cinnamon Essential Oil came out on top as the most potent antibacterial oil. (4) Cinnamon was effective at virtually all doses vs. all the bacteria tested. Cinnamon oil contains cinnamaldehyde –which as you can guess is unique to Cinnamon. The other oils effective vs. all the bacterial species tested were: Rosemary, Geranium, Clove and the citrus oils lime, orange, and lemon.
This list of oils is far from complete. Patchouli, lavender, lemon, grapefruit, and sage are other oils with proven ability to fight certain antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains (2).
One thing is for sure—there are many essential oil options when looking to fight bacteria.
How to use Antibacterial Essential Oils
Once you have chosen your antibacterial essential oil or oils there are a number of ways that you can use them depending on the illness and bacteria that you are trying to treat. I will note here that there are many ‘antibacterial recipes’ that call for the internal use of essential oils but we can not recommend using essential oils internally unless you are under the supervision of your doctor.
All of the antibacterial oils mentioned in the article can be inhaled directly from the bottle or via a diffuser. If you are trying to get rid of a respiratory infection, then you can add a few drops of your chosen essential oil to a bowl of hot water or the sink, cover your head and shoulders and inhale deeply.
2) Topical Application
Combine a few drops of your chosen oil or oils with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba and apply the oil to the affected area of your body. Massaging the oil into your abdomen is also a great way to help fight internal infections.
You can also apply some diluted essential oils to help treat common skin infections like acne or even warts.
Certain oils like clove and thyme are excellent for relieving oral pain and killing bacterial infections in the gums. Add a few drops to a glass of water and use the oil as a mouthwash being careful not to swallow any. Alternatively, you can add some of the oil to a cotton ball and apply it to the affected part of your mouth.
4) Body Soak
Add 6 to 8 drops of your antibacterial essential oil to the bathtub. Lay back, relax and let the soothing, healing properties of the oil wash over you.
With the massive oversubscription of antibiotics, bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to conventional treatments. Essential oils offer a wonderful, natural alternative and hold a lot of promise. Numerous studies show that certain essential oils are effective against some of the most common and deadly strains of bacteria. We recommend however that you always consult your doctor before using essential oils instead of your prescription medications.
Our Picks for Antibacterial Essential Oils
*Ranks based on study (4)