When you’ve got a stuffy nose, nothing brings relief quite as quickly as eucalyptus essential oil. Just a whiff or two often helps break up nasal congestion so you can breathe easier. But that’s just one of the uses of this pungent essential oil. Eucalyptus oil also provides a number of surprising benefits that make it a must-have in every medicine cabinet.
What is eucalyptus oil?
Eucalyptus is a fast growing tree native to Australia. Often called the “gum tree,” the leaves of the eucalyptus tree were first used by Indigenous people as a remedy for fevers. While they likely didn’t understand the components responsible for the herb’s healing effects, modern research has documented multiple medicinal properties. These characteristics are found in the oil, which is derived from the tree’s leaves and is a rich source of flavonoids, tannins, and 1,8-cineole (also known as eucalyptol). (26)
According to a growing number of studies, eucalyptus oil has been shown to act as an:
- Analgesic (30)
- Antibacterial (8)
- Antifungal (5)
- Anti-inflammatory (30)(6)
- Antioxidant (8)
- Antiseptic (8)
- Antiviral (6)
Did you know? There are more than 900 different species of eucalyptus but only about 20 of these contain the volatile essential oil used in commercial cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations. (8)
Eucalyptus essential oil’s benefits
Below are eight of the most well-researched benefits provided by the essential oil from this medicinal herb.
1. Boosts immunity
Preliminary studies suggest that eucalyptus essential oil can be used to support immune health, especially its main component 1,8-cineole, stimulates the body’s immune response. In one of these studies, Italian researchers found that eucalyptus essential oil enhanced the ability of macrophage immune cells to destroy pathogens, an action known as phagocytosis. (28) Another study conducted at the University of Cincinnati found that eucalyptus essential oil not only increased phagocytic activity and pathogen clearance, it also regulated a healthy inflammatory response. (33) Its immune stimulating properties are so great that eucalyptus essential oil effectively combats a variety of viruses, fungi, and bacteria, including bacterial tuberculosis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). (24)
2. Provides respiratory relief
Eucalyptus has a long history of use for relieving chest congestion in those with respiratory ailments. In fact, eucalyptus oil is used in a number of over-the-counter chest rubs and cough lozenges. (4) Lab results show that eucalyptus oil suppresses inflammation in lung tissue while also enhancing the immune system’s ability to clear pathogens in the respiratory tract. (33) Other findings report that the 1,8-cineole in eucalyptus also dilates bronchial passages, reducing symptoms in people with acute bronchitis and asthma. (9)
Did you know? Eucalyptus oil can help sooth nagging coughs that often accompany respiratory infections. (12)
3. Eases nasal congestion
Whether it’s a result of a sinus infection, allergies, or the common cold, nasal congestion doesn’t just make you miserable, it can also create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. (24) Fortunately, eucalyptus oil may help clear nasal congestion and other cold symptoms. In one study of 152 patients suffering from a cold, researchers found that those taking a specialized oral medication containing 1,8-cineole (not specifically from eucalyptus oil) experienced a significant improvement in nasal congestion, coughing, and headache. The researchers also noted that the participants experienced a decrease in mucus production. (15) Simply inhaling eucalyptus essential oil can help ease nasal congestion by reducing inflammation and enhancing the body’s immune response. (7)
4. Accelerates wound healing
Essential oils have been used to treat wounds for centuries. Applied topically, eucalyptus essential oil has been found to accelerate wound healing as effectively as the antibiotic neomycin. (31) One animal study found that a nanoemulsion of eucalyptus essential oil showed significant wound healing capabilities comparable to gentamicin, a potent antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, including post-surgical infections. (1) These findings suggest that eucalyptus essential oil, when used topically, may be an effective treatment for minor cuts and wounds.
5. Soothes pain
Eucalyptus oil can be found in many topical over-the-counter pain treatments. The secret to its ability to ease pain may be attributed to eucalyptus oil’s capacity to increase both blood flow and temperature at the site of an injury. (11) While this could be good news for people dealing with post-activity muscle soreness and arthritis pain, (29) one study suggests that simply inhaling eucalyptus essential oil may also soothe post-surgical pain. In a three-day trial of people who had undergone total knee replacement, Korean researchers found that those who inhaled eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes experienced a significant decline in pain and blood pressure compared to those inhaling almond oil. (14)
6. Improves dental health
As a result of its antibacterial properties, eucalyptus oil may play a role in oral health. While it won’t take the place of your toothbrush, early research in the Journal of Periodontology found that chewing gum containing 0.4% to 0.6% of a eucalyptus extract reduced dental plaque, bleeding gums, and gingivitis after 12 weeks of use. Some of those chewing the gum also experienced an improvement in bad breath. (20) Another study involving 74 volunteers found that a mouthwash containing eucalyptus oil was just as effective as a mouthwash containing the topical antiseptic chlorhexidine for reducing plaque. (23)
7. Repels insects
Eucalyptus oil may be a good alternative to commercial insect repellents containing DEET, a commonly used active ingredient found in these products. When applied topically, eucalyptus oil has been shown to repel mosquitos for up to eight hours. (3) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has, in fact, listed one variety of eucalyptus oil known as lemon eucalyptus oil (derived from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus tree) among their recommended repellents. (19) Research conducted in Australia also reports that eucalyptus oil is also effective for treating lice in children. (10)
8. Promotes healthy skin and hair
Your skin is your body’s largest organ and keeping it healthy is critical. After all, your skin creates a barrier that protects your tissues and organs from the potentially harmful threats of the outside world. Research in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that eucalyptus oil boosts ceramide levels in the stratum corneum (the top layer of skin). (13) Ceramides are lipids that play a role in maintaining a healthy skin barrier and helping the skin retain moisture. Other studies show that the oil’s antimicrobial properties are also effective against a wide range of skin conditions including athlete’s foot, bacterial dermatitis, and cold sores. (22)
Eucalyptus oil can also promote hair and scalp health. Because of the oil’s ability to increase ceramides in the scalp, it may enhance hair growth and promote glossy locks. (17) The antifungal benefits of eucalyptus oil also shows promise for those with fungal infections impacting their scalp. In one study, a shampoo containing the essential oils of eucalyptus and coleus appeared effective for treating dandruff. (27) Another study found that eucalyptus oil inhibited Trichosporon ovoides, the fungus causing piedra, an infection marked by nodules that form in hair shafts. (25)
How to use eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus essential oil is widely available online and in many health food stores. Aromatherapy is the most popular way to use this oil. This includes inhalation, as well as aromatherapeutic massage and baths. (2) Eucalyptus oil can be an irritant, so it’s important to dilute it in a carrier oil like almond oil or fractionated coconut oil before applying to the skin. (21) You can also find a number of products containing eucalyptus oil such as cold and cough remedies, mouthwash, skin care products, and bug repellents.
What to look for when buying eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus essential oil is a concentrated oil that is typically extracted by steam distillation or cold pressing. Follow these simple tips when selecting a eucalyptus oil product:
- Choose a eucalyptus oil from a reputable company that provides a GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) report to ensure that you’re getting a true essential oil.
- Depending on the use, look for a product that contains 100% eucalyptus oil and has not been diluted with a carrier oil.
- Check the label to make sure it lists both the Latin name (e.g., Eucalyptus globulus) and the common name; this helps ensure you’re getting the oil from a quality, safe, and effective plant source
- Always purchase an essential oil in a dark amber or dark blue glass bottle to protect the oil’s beneficial compounds from light and to prevent it from becoming rancid. (18)
Possible side effects
While eucalyptus oil provides many benefits, never take it orally in undiluted form as it can be highly toxic. (16) Even small amounts—just two to three milliliters—can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and a loss of muscle control. Higher amounts can shut down the nervous system. (8) It is important to note that eucalyptus may interact with other medications, such as some antibiotics or cholesterol-lowering drugs, and may impact liver metabolism. (32) Always check with your health care professional before using eucalyptus oil if you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications.
The bottom line
Eucalyptus essential oil provides a wealth of benefits, from clearing up a stuffy nose and easing pain to keeping insects at bay. The secret to eucalyptus’ effectiveness is a combination of flavonoids, tannins, and the compound 1,8-cineole. These compounds are responsible for the medicinal herb’s potent antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Although there are many products that include eucalyptus oil, care should be taken before using an undiluted essential oil.
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