Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Are Essential Oils Really Essential?

Dear Dr. Walt,

All my friends are into essential oils for this, that, and most every other thing. I think it’s just a bunch of good smelling nothing. But they seem convinced. What’s the truth?

Skeptical in Virginia

Dear Apprehensive,

Fragrant “essential oils” are released when a fresh herb is compressed or subjected to chemical extraction. They are used as fragrances in cosmetics, as well as bath or aromatherapy products.

When employed medicinally, essential oils are often evaporated into the air through the use of a humidifier. The famous Vicks VapoRub is a gel form of the essential oils of peppermint, eucalyptus, and camphor.

Certain essential oils may also be applied directly to the skin or clothes so they will release their odor near the patient.

A number of studies have been done on topical essential oils.

  • Tea tree oil has been shown to help in the treatment of athlete’s foot, fibromyalgia, and some fungal infections.
  • Bitter orange, a flavoring agent from dried bitter orange peel, has some effectiveness against athlete’s foot.
  • One mixture of topical essential oils might be helpful for alopecia areata, a form of hair loss that can occur in men and women.
  • Cineol (and essential oil from eucalyptus) has shown some effectiveness for repelling mosquito bites.
  • A pilot double-blind study found that topical application of a proprietary mixture containing camphor oil, rosemary oil, eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, aloe vera oil, lemon oil, and orange oil could reduce fibromyalgia pain more effectively than placebo. 

Some essential oils are designed to be taken by mouth, but this is an uncommon usage. Furthermore, according to the Natural Medicines Database, “Essential oils can be toxic when taken internally, producing unpleasant and even fatal effects.”

They add, “Infants, children, seniors, and people with severe illnesses should NOT use essential oils internally except under the supervision of a physician. Healthy adults should only use well-established products (such as peppermint oil) for which safe dosages have been determined.”

I’ve published a blog, “Topical or oral use of essential oils—Do they work?” at www.DrWalt.com/blog with more details. You can find it here

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.
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