If you have a snotty, head-pounding cold, will essential oils help the ickiness run its course?
These plant-based potions might help soothe pesky cold symptoms and help you feel better. But essential oils won’t actually cure your sickness.
How can you use essential oils for colds?
Many essential oils have antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and calming properties that may help relieve cold symptoms.
Common ways to use essential oils for sickness include:
- tea tree oil to fight further infection
- peppermint or eucalyptus oil to clear congestion
- ginger oil to soothe sore throats
- frankincense, cinnamon, or sandalwood oil to reduce general inflammation
- lavender oil to promote sleep
You can use essential oils for massage, topical treatment, steam inhalation, or even a soothing aromatherapy-infused bath.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
Essential oils — also called volatile oils — are super-concentrated oils extracted from plants. Using plant potions might sound like hocus pocus, but these remedies have been around for centuries to help cold symptoms like:
- runny nose
So, what does science say? TBH, there hasn’t been a lot of research on using essential oils for colds specifically, but what we do know seems promising.
One 2015 review suggests that essential oils can be a helpful treatment for the symptoms of colds, flu, and upper respiratory infections.
A small 2011 study of 60 folks with sore throats and coughs also found that a spray made up of eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano, and rosemary oil soothed their symptoms more than a placebo spray.
Plus, research shows many essential oils contain compounds that are antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and stress-relieving. These properties may be beneficial when you’re fighting off a cold or chest infection by:
- Beating back harmful microbes and virus particles could help prevent further illness or support your body’s natural immune processes.
- Dialing down inflammation could relieve a sore throat and congestion.
- Soothing stress could help boost your mood and improve your sleep (always a struggle when you’re not feeling your best).
First things first: essential oils are NOT recommended for consumption. Natural or not, it’s never a good idea to swallow a cold remedy without checking with your doc.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) recommends several other methods of use.
- Diffusers. This tried-and-true method of gently filling your space with aromatherapy mist is one of the easiest ways to dose essential oils. It smells great too!
- Steam inhalation. Directly breathing in the steam of water infused with essential oils is like taking yourself to a spa. Fill a bowl with warm water, add a few drops of essential oils, cover your head with a towel to trap the steam in, and breeeeeeeathe deeply. (Heads up: This more direct method should be limited to just a couple of minutes at a time.)
- Aromatherapy baths. Sink into a warm bath swirled with 10–15 drops of essential oils. Ahhh….
- Room sprays. Take your pick of one of the essential oils on your list and shake up 10–15 drops with water in a spray bottle. Mist your space as desired (even your pillow!).
- Topical rub. Mix a couple of drops of essential oil into a handful of jojoba, olive, or coconut oil. Use the mixture to gently massage your chest, throat, or face (get those sinuses!). Always dilute essential oils before rubbing directly to your skin — these potent little numbers can cause irritation or rashes if applied straight.
- Warm compress. Dilute a couple of drops of essential oil in a cup of warm water, then use the mixture to soak a washcloth. Wring out the excess liquid, then apply the moist cloth to your forehead, sinuses, throat, or chest.
Ready for some relief? Here’s how 19 different essential oils might help soothe your cold symptoms.
|Essential oil||Potential benefits||Suggested uses|
|Clear stuffy sinuses with a steam inhalation or warm compress.|
|rosemary||– relaxes tension|
– fights infection
|Soothe tight neck muscles, headaches, and sinus pressure with a rosemary oil topical rub.|
|peppermint||– relaxes muscles|
– soothes inflammation
– eases coughing
|Dilute with a carrier oil, then apply this head-clearing essential oil topically on your temples or chest.|
– relieves pain when combined with myrrh oil
– quells coughs
|Apply a warm compress on your chest to staunch coughing or over your sinuses or ears for pain and pressure relief.|
|tea tree||– helps disinfect|
|Add to your bathwater or hand or face lotion (avoid your eyes!) to help keep viruses at bay.|
– soothes headaches
|Whether used in your diffuser or a steamy inhalation session, chamomile oil can help calm your aching head.|
|oregano||– might relieve sore throat|
|Apply diluted oregano oil to throat or behind ears. (Start with 6 drops of oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil.)|
|thyme||– reduces coughing|
– shortens cold duration
|Calm coughing fits with steam inhalation or a topical chest rub.|
|geranium||– might promote lymphatic drainage|
– reduces coughing
|Inhale the vapors for chest congestion or mix up a topical chest and neck rub.|
|cinnamon||– helps kill bacteria|
– soothes inflammation
|Mix as a room spray or disinfectant cleaner to help prevent spreading your cold to others.|
|Lavender||– reduces pain|
– aids sleep
|Diffuse in the bedroom for relaxation and sleep or apply topically with a cream or carrier oil.|
|ginger root||– improves breathing|
|Steam inhalation, FTW!|
|clary sage||– reduces stress|
|Calm your cold symptoms and your mood by diffusing clary sage oil throughout the day.|
– potentially antiviral
– boosts mood
|Diffuse it or mix it into a room spray for all the cold-busting, mood-boosting vibes.|
– soothes irritated skin
might improve sleep
|Inhale the steam before bed to relax and soothe an irritated nose or throat.|
|nutmeg||– relieves pain|
|Massage diluted nutmeg oil directly onto your chest, tense neck, or temples.|
|clove||– soothes inflammation|
|Breathe the steam deeply through your nose to soothe congested, inflamed sinuses.|
|lemon||– stimulates lost appetite|
– helps kill germs
|Also great as a topical treatment for cold sores, lemon oil can be sprayed or diffused in your space to kill germs and boost your energy while sick.|
|spearmint||– relieves congestion|
– soothes tension
– cools sore, inflamed areas
|Mix with lavender in your diffuser or apply topically (diluted!) to help ease congestion and tense muscles.|
Essential oils are super concentrated, which means that they’re meant to be diluted in some form before use.
A few safety notes to keep in mind:
- Dilute your oils! Applying undiluted essential oils to your skin might cause irritation, burns, or rashes.
- Do NOT ingest essential oils. Unless your doctor specifically tells you to, this is a no-no.
- Don’t overdue steam inhalation. Breathing in steam from essential oils for a long time can cause headaches or dizziness. Always do steams and use diffusers in a ventilated area.
- Don’t mix essential oils and sun exposure. Topical application of essential oils (particularly citrus like lemon, orange, neroli, etc.) can boost your risk of sunburn.
- Essential oils aren’t safe for everyone. Babies, young children, and pregnant or breastfeeding folks should avoid using essential oils unless approved by their doctor. Plus, some essential oils aren’t safe to diffuse around your furry companions.
Essential oils aren’t the only tool in your cold-busting arsenal. These tips may also help relieve those icky symptoms:
- Sip ginger tea or suck on lozenges for a sore throat.
- Try over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants for a stuffy nose.
- Consider OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for headaches and general achiness.
- Take your vitamins.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat nourishing foods to support your body’s natural immune processes (soup for the win!).
Colds are always a nuisance and should get better in about a week. But if you have shortness of breath, or your cough and your fever don’t go away (or get worse), chat with your doctor.
- More research is needed, but essential oils seem to be a beneficial method of soothing symptoms of the common cold.
- You can inhale or topically apply diluted essential oils, but you should not ingest them.
- Essential oils like lavender and chamomile are known to promote restful sleep, while eucalyptus, peppermint, and ginger can help clear stuffy airways. Other essential oils have antiviral or anti-inflammatory properties.
- If you have questions about the safety or efficacy of specific essential oils, talk with your doctor.