17 Best Essential Oils for Inflammation

The advent of modern medical science encourages to use traditional medicine, which is naturally obtained from different organic sources. Because this is a better approach to drug resistance and to minimize adverse effects of synthetic drugs.

The essential oil is naturally obtained the plant-based product. Introduction of essential oil as an anti-inflammatory medicine in the therapeutic practice with describing its efficacy and safety profile definitely get a huge success.

The application of the naturally obtained essential oil for therapeutic purposes is well known as ‘Aromatherapy’. Our ancestors invent aromatherapy in a long back and gradually it gets recognition around the globe.

Research studies showed that an application of different essential oils obtained from naturally growing plants, tree or shrubs can manage anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, nausea, muscle tension & pain, which are also common in many inflammatory patients.

Some experts also suggested that stimulation of olfactory nerve by applying essential oil is an effective way to relieve pain, manage blood pressure, pulse rate, skin temperature, and brain activity. It also assists to revive inflammatory condition.[1]

The main advantage of the clinical application of naturally obtained essential oil is cost-effective treatment option due to its low cost. In addition, they are mostly side-effect free; United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recognized many essential oils as safe for human use, which is used for medicinal purposes. [1]

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a very common sign that occurs immediately after an injury. So, we aware of its symptoms, which includes redness, swelling, heat, pain and reduce the functionality of the affected area.

But do you know, why these symptoms occur?

Here is the answer

  • The surrounding blood vessels of the underlying damaged tissue become dilated
  • Excess blood flows through the dilated vessels and heat is generated due to rapid blood flow
  • Sudden increase of the temperature at the affected area causes redness
  • Body fluids get accumulated in the dilated vessels and swelling develops
  • The underlying sensory nerves present beneath the damaged muscular tissue become stretched and stimulate pain center of the brain and pain develops
  • These pathophysiological alterations cause reduction of the functionality of the area [2]

Sometimes, we have pain and inflammation without injury and this type of pain and injury mostly occurs with increasing age.

These type of pain and inflammation may occur due to overuse of body tissues. Wear and tear due to excessive use and reduced repairing ability gradually damage the underlying tissue. Some individuals may also have autoimmune diseases.

However, some inflammatory mediators like T-cells, B-cells, mast cells, neutrophils, basophils from our immune system are also involved in every inflammatory condition. These mediators may trigger or control the inflammation. Therefore, inflammation is a complex condition and a common symptom of most of the diseases. [2]

What is essential oil and how they work against inflammatory condition?

The volatile oil extracted from the plant sources is known as essential oil. The essential oil has a distinct fragrance depending upon the active ingredient present in it. Essential oils are not only collected from the specific plant, but the plant part is also distinctive; like some essential oil is collected from flower or bark or leaves or peel. [3]

The essential oils absorb directly into the blood vessels present underlying the skin and through olfactory system spreads from nose to brain. Some essential oils soak into the skin pores and gradually enter into the deeper tissue lining. [1] Apart from aromatherapy,  some essential oils are also used in topical, inhalation and oral medicine preparations.

Best Essential Oils for Inflammation

Lavender oil

Obtained from: Lavender oil is an essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia flower, which belongs to Lamiaceae family. Steam distillation is the usual method to extract the essential oil from the flower.

Lavender Essential Oil Bottle

Main constituents: Lavender oil composed of linalyl acetate, linalool, lavandulol, 1,8-cineole, lavandulyl acetate, and camphor.

How to use: Undiluted lavender oil directly applied to the skin of the affected area.

How it works:  Lavender oil has following properties which is effective to treat the inflammatory condition:

  • Provides local anaesthetic effect
  • Activates cholinergic nerves and exerts opioidergic effect and control pain symptoms.
  • A research study showed that lavender oil can inhibit interleukin and reduces the generation of free radicals to control inflammation. It also increases the viability of the cellular structure. [4]

Study evidences

A human study showed the postoperative application of Lavender oil can reduce pain symptoms. It also controls a migraine and aphthous ulcers. [4]

Efficacy and safety

Lavender oil absorbs very fast and the action starts within 19 minutes. The safety study also showed the topical application of lavender oil is safe. However, some individuals may have nausea and dyspepsia after ingestion of lavender oil. [5]

Chamomile Oil

Obtained from: Chamomile oil is obtained from two different verity of chamomile flowers – Matricaria chamomilla or German chamomile and Chamaemelum nobile or Roman chamomile. These plants belong to Asteraceae family. Chamomile oil usually obtained from a different solvent extract of dry Chamomile flower.

Chamomile Flowers

Main constituents:  The total essential oil present in Chamomile flower is only 1–2 percent, which includes different volatile substances like alpha-bisabolol oxides A and B, alpha-bisabolol, and matricin.

How to use:

For oral ingestion Chamomile tea is available, which contains all the essential oil ingredients. Chamomile oil is also available in a vaporized form for inhalation purpose. A topical preparation of Chamomile oil is also available for direct application to the skin. [6]

How it works: 

Chamomile oil is readily absorbable through the skin surface and reached to the deeper layer and provides an anti-inflammatory effect. It inhibits prostaglandin E release and reduces the activity of COX-2 (cyclooxygenase 2) enzyme. But it does not interfere with cyclooxygenase 1 enzyme activity. [6]

Study evidences

Human research evidence showed that topical application of chamomile oil accelerates wound healing, skin eczema. It has a wide range of application and can control edema. [7] Oral ingestion also controls different gastrointestinal disorders.

Efficacy and safety

Chamomile oil effective to treat skin inflammatory conditions including rashes, sunburn, sores etc. The anti-inflammatory effect of Chamomile oil can treat eye inflammation and muscle spasms.  Different gastrointestinal inflammatory conditions, even H. pylori-induced infection also controlled by chamomile oil. FDA is enlisted Chamomile oil under generally recognized as safe (GRAS). [6]

Ginger oil

Obtained from: Ginger oil is obtained from the rhizome of Zingiber officinale Rosc., which belongs to Zingiberaceae family. The concentration of ginger oil is more in aged ginger, therefore, at least nine months longer ginger is selected for extracting the ginger oil. [8]

Ginger Essential Oil

Main constituents:  Ginger oil contains more than 14 bioactive components, among them chief components are gingerol, paradol, shogaol, gingerdione, hexahydrocurcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin, gingerenone A etc.

How to use: Oral ginger oil supplementation is available in the market to treat arthritis, muscle pain. [8]

How it works: 

The bioactive compounds present in ginger oil reduce the synthesis of leukotriene and prostaglandins. It inhibits pro-inflammatory factors like  Interleukins, TNF- α. It also down-regulate COX2 enzyme. The analgesic action of ginger oil can able to reduce pain symptoms. [8]

Study evidences

Multiple clinical studies provide the evidence that ginger is effective to treat osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and muscle pain. Animal studies also suggested an anti-inflammatory effect of ginger may be treated several inflammatory conditions, including cancer. [8]

Efficacy and safety

Both animal and human study evidence showed ginger oil is effective anti-inflammatory agent and ginger are also enlisted under FDA – GRAS. [9]

Lemon Grass Oil

Obtained from: Lemongrass oil is obtained from the fresh leaves of the Cymbopogon citratus, which belongs to Poaceae family. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation method. [10]

Lemon Grass

Main constituents:  A wide variety of bioactive phytochemicals are present in Lemongrass oil. Some of the important constituents are β-Myrcene, Limonene, α and β-Ocimene, Terpinolene, geranial, Geranyl acetate and neral. [10]

How to use: It is used in aromatherapy and also topically applied to the affected area.

How it works:  Topical application of lemongrass oil easily penetrate through skin pores and provides an anti-inflammatory effect. It can reduce canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, tissue edema. lemongrass oil also has a potential antifungal effect.  It reduces pro-inflammatory mediators and down-regulates neutrophil accumulation. [10]

Study evidences

Animal study evidence showed that topical application of lemongrass oil has a potent anti-inflammatory effect. [10]

Efficacy and Safety

Animal study reports showed Lemongrass oil is an effective anti-inflammatory effect, but oral ingestion may cause mild gastric irritation in experimental animals. [10]

Rose geranium essential oil

Obtained from: Rose geranium essential oil is extracted from the leaves and stems of Pelargonium graveolens which belongs to Geraniaceae family. Steam distillation is the method applied to extract the essential oil from this plant. [11]

Rose Geranium Flowers

Main constituents:  Rose geranium essential oil primarily contains citronellol, geraniol, citronellyl formate, geranyl tiglate, and linalool.  [11]

How to use: Topical application of Rose geranium essential oil on the affected area and benefits start to observe usually after 30 min of application. It also an important ingredient of aromatherapy. [11]

How it works:  Rose geranium essential oil has the ability to inhibits more than one inflammatory mediators and provides anti-inflammatory effects.  [11]

Study evidences

Laboratory-based research evidence proved that the strong anti-inflammatory effect of Rose geranium essential oil able to control bone degeneration and has preventive and curative effect against arthritis. It also controls skin irritation, inflammation, edema. It has remedial effect against neutrophil accumulation and can treat aphthous stomatitis, fungal and bacterial infections and rheumatoid arthritis. [11]

Efficacy and safety

Different analytical research studies reported that Rose geranium essential oil has anti-inflammatory effect and application of this oil is safe. FDA also granted GRAS status of Rose geranium essential oil. [11]

Eucalyptus essential oil

Obtained from: There are multiple species of Eucalyptus and they belong to Myrtaceae family. But Eucalyptus globulus is a rich source of  Eucalyptus essential oil content. [12]

Eucalyptus leaves

Main constituents:  Eucalyptus oil contains monoterpenoids, α-pinene, citronellal, eucalyptol and 1,8-cineole. These phytochemicals have different therapeutic benefits. [13]

How to use:  Eucalyptus oil is mainly used in aromatherapy and in aroma inhalation therapy.

How it works:

In multiple inflammatory conditions including postoperative inflammation, respiratory inflammatory diseases, edema etc. can be treated by Eucalyptus oil therapy.

Anti-inflammatory effect of eucalyptus is wide as it inhabits both central peripheral sensory stimulation arises due to inflammatory mediators like cytokines, histamine. It also reduces prostaglandin synthesis.

Study evidences

Animal study report showed the anti-inflammatory effect of eucalyptus oil effective against paw edema. [12]

Human study report showed the application of eucalyptus oil aroma inhalation therapy can reduce pain after total knee replacement surgery. [13]

Efficacy and safety

The efficacy of anti-inflammatory effect of eucalyptus oil is well-researched. Yet FDA is not granted GRAS status for eucalyptus oil. Therefore it is recommended that this oil should be applied under the supervision of the healthcare professional.  [14]

Thyme essential oil

Obtained from: Thyme essential oil is obtained from the plant of Thymus vulgaris, which belongs to  Lamiaceae family. Steam distillation method is used to extract the Thyme essential oil.  [15]

Thyme Essential Oil

Main constituents:  Multiple bioactive phytochemicals present in Thyme essential oil, including terpenoids, flavonoids (both glycosides, aglycones) and phenolic acids. Among these, major components are thymol and carvacrol.  [15]

How to use: Topical application of the Thyme essential oil on the inflamed area effectively reduces the inflammation. The aromatic volatile ingredients of  Thyme essential oil is also ideal for aromatherapy.  [15]

How it works:

The anti-inflammatory effect of Thyme essential oil is due to the presence of carvacrol. Carvacrol suppresses COX-2 and thus inhibits cytokine production and inflammatory mediators release. [15, 16]

Study evidences

Laboratory study and animal model experiments showed that both topical and systemically administration of  Thyme essential oil effectively reduces ear edema in an animal model. [15]

Efficacy and safety

In a comprehensive study, it has been established that Carvacrol present in thyme oil provides the equivalent anti-inflammatory effect of dexamethasone. Toxicology study also provides the evidence that Thyme essential oil is non-toxic and relatively safe to the application as an anti-inflammatory medication. [15]

Bergamot Essential Oil

Obtained from: Bergamot essential oil is obtained from Citrus bergamia plant, which belongs to Rutaceae family. Bergamot essential oil is collected by cold pressing of Bergamot fruit peels. [17]

Bergamot

Main constituents:  Bergamot essential oil is composed of both volatile and nonvolatile substances. Linalool, linalyl acetate, citral, γ-terpinene, and β-pinene are volatile in nature. The non-volatile substances, which belongs to psoralen group such as bergapten, bergamottine are also present in Bergamot essential oil. [17]

How to use: Topical application of psoralens free Bergamot essential oil has several therapeutic benefits including anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-proliferative and analgesic effect. Bergamot essential oil is also widely used in aromatherapy and massage treatment. [17]

How it works:

The volatile ingredients of Bergamot essential oil inhibit inflammatory mediators like cytokines, it also inactivates eosinophils evacuation and reactive oxygen species production. Thus   Bergamot essential oil provides an anti-inflammatory effect. In addition, it also alters neurotransmitters activities, which carry the pain signals to the brain. Thus it provides an analgesic effect.  [18]

Study evidences

The rat paw edema test result showed that Bergamot essential oil has anti-inflammatory potency. [19] A clinical trial report also showed that Bergamot essential oil aromatherapy can reduce pain and nausea tendency in post stem cell transplantation procedure. [17]

Efficacy and safety

Preclinical study report showed Bergamot essential oil has anti-inflammatory efficacy; however, clinical data showed its anxiolytic effect. Certain phytochemicals like bergapten, bergamotene , citropten, have photo-toxicity, whereas psoralens induce skin cancer. Therefore, an animal study showed all photo-toxic components and psoralens free Bergamot essential oil is safe to use as a topical preparation. [17]

Clove Oil

Obtained from: Clove oil obtained from the flower buds of the Eugenia caryophyllata, which belongs to Myrtaceae family. Steam distillation is the usual method applied to extract the clove oil. [20]

Cloves

Main constituents:  Clove oil primarily contains eugenol, other constituents are tanene and fixed oil.

How to use: Traditionally, the application of clove oil in a toothache is very potentially reduced pain symptoms. But now a day’s different topical clove oil preparation is available as anti-inflammatory herbal medication.  [20]

How it works:

Clove oil interferes with prostaglandin synthesis and its functioning, thus it controls inflammation and pain symptoms. In addition, it also controls the release of inflammatory mediators like serotonin, histamine, etc. [20]

Study evidences

The animal model test showed clove oil can reduce mouse paw edema and it also controls pain symptom. Clinical study also showed clove oil has a significant role to control inflammation by altering inflammatory signaling pathway.[21]

Efficacy and safety

Both animal study and human research data showed clove oil has a potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic effect. Toxicity study also showed clove oil has wide safety profile. [20]

Peppermint oil

Obtained from: Peppermint oil is collected from leaves of Mentha piperita; belongs to Lamiaceae family by hydrodistillation process. [22]

Peppermint leaves

Main constituents: Menthol, menthone, and menthy acetate are three main constituents of Peppermint oil. [22]

How to use: Topical application of the affected area provides a significant reduction of inflammation.

How it works:

Peppermint oil and its active constituents inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandin and nitric oxide. Thus, lipopolysaccharide activation suppressed and thus controls inflammatory mediators secretion.  [22]

Study evidences

Laboratory experiments conducted on peppermint oil analyzed the anti-inflammatory effect of Peppermint oil and result reported a positive outcome.  [22]

Efficacy and safety

Laboratory test report showed that peppermint oil has a potent anti-inflammatory effect.[22] FDA is recommended to peppermint oil should be administered under the supervision of the medical professional, as it does not come under GRAS. [14]

Juniper essential oil

Obtained from:  Juniper essential oil is collected from berries of Juniperus communis, which belongs to Cupressaceae family. The hydro-distillation process is applied to collect the essential oil. [23]

Juniper Berries

Main constituents:  Juniper essential oil is a rich source of alpha-pinene.

How to use:

Topical application can improve wound healing by reducing inflammation. The broad anti-inflammatory effect of Juniper essential oil has the potency to prevent cancer also. [23]

How it works:

Juniper essential oil inhibits pro-inflammatory chemokines production and has immunomodulatory and tissue remodeling effect.

Study evidences

Human tissue modeling study conducted on dermal fibroblasts tissue showed Juniper essential oil has a potent anti-inflammatory effect, and effective to treat cancer cell also.  [23]

Efficacy and safety

Initial study report showed the anti-inflammatory efficacy of Juniper essential oil. However, further detail clinical studies are required to establish its efficacy and safety profile.  [24]

Frankincense oil

Obtained from:  Frankincense oil is extracted by steam distillation process of frankincense gum resin, obtained from Boswellia frereana, Boswellia serrata and other Boswellia genus tree. These trees belong to Burseraceae family. [25]

Frankincense & Myrrh

Main constituents: Frankincense oil composed of various bioactive components like boswellic acids, 11-keto-β-boswellic acid, and 2 cembrane-type diterpenes.

How to use: Frankincense oil is one of the prime ingredient in aromatherapy and able to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease etc. But recent research findings support that direct administration of this oil in the bladder through a catheter (which is also known as intravesical therapy) is effective to treat bladder cancer. [25] This oil is also recommended for oral administration. [26]

How it works: It can modulate cytokines production and provides an anti-inflammatory effect. This oil promotes apoptosis and prevents cancer progression. [25]

Study evidence: Contemporary study reports provides the evidence that Frankincense oil is an effective anti-inflammatory agent and it has antitumor effect. [27]

Efficacy and safety: The different Contemporary studies and human cell lining examinations showed its anti-inflammatory efficacy.  Some experts recommended it is safe for human use. [28]

Wintergreen oil

Obtained from:  Wintergreen oil is obtained from Gaultheria procumbens, which belongs to Ericaceae family. Wintergreen oil is extracted mainly from leaves, however, whole aerial part of the plant can be used. [29]

Wintergreen Berries

Main constituents:  Methyl salicylate derivatives present in  Wintergreen oil is mainly responsible to exerts its anti-inflammatory effect. [30]

How to use: Topical application of Wintergreen oil is effective to treat inflammation and its analgesic effect relieves pain. Experts belief Wintergreen oil has an anti-rheumatic effect. [30]

How it works: Methyl salicylate derivatives of Wintergreen oil similarly works as aspirin. Methyl salicylate derivatives block the prostaglandin synthesis by inhibiting COX enzyme. [30]

Study evidences

The different published scientific article demonstrated anti-inflammatory effect of Wintergreen oil similar to aspirin. [31]

Efficacy and safety

A study conducted in a patient with chronic low back pain showed Wintergreen essential oil is effective to treat the back pain without providing significant side effect. FDA approved Wintergreen oil containing topical OTC products. [29]

Helichrysum essential oil

Obtained from: Helichrysum italicum is a medicinal plant belongs to Asteraceae family. The essential oil is extracted from the green aerial part of this plant by hydro-distillation.   [32]

 

Main constituents:  The main bioactive constituents are α-Cedrene, α-Pinene, α-Curcumene, Limonene, Geranyl acetate, Nerol, and Neryl acetate. [32]

How to use: Topical application of this oil on the affected area provides significant therapeutic benefits including anti-inflammatory effect, kidney stone prevention and different skin disease prevention.[33]

How it works: The different bioactive compounds present in Helichrysum essential oil inhibit arachidonic acid metabolism pathway and also obstructs the release of pro-inflammatory mediators. [34]

Study evidences

Laboratory study report provides the evidence of the anti-inflammatory effect of Helichrysum essential oil. [34, 35]

Efficacy and safety

Safety and efficacy of this oil are reviewed through available scientific data. [34]

Camphor

Obtained from: Camphor is a white crystal obtained from the wood, bark, twigs, and leaves of Cinnamomum camphora tree, which belongs to laurel family; however, it can also obtain from other trees belongs to the same family. Steam distillation and sublimation process are applied to extract the camphor. [36]

Main constituents: A variety of chemical constituents are present in Camphor, including cineol, camphene, eugenol, linalool,  limonene,  p-cymene, a-pinene, ß-pinene, safrole,  ß-myrecene, nerolidol, a-humulene, borneol. [36]

How to use: Topical application of camphor in the inflammation related to joint pain, sprains, muscle pain, bronchitis, and rheumatism are common therapeutic use. Camphor is also administered through oral, parenteral and inhalation route. [36]

How it works: Camphor easily absorbed through the skin and activates some transient receptor potential, which provides counter irritation and cooling effect; thus relieves pain. In addition, it blocks the sensory nerves stimulation and provides an anesthetized feeling.

An oral dose of Camphor is effective against inflammation, as it prevents neutrophil accumulation in the inflamed tissue by inhibiting neutrophil migration.  [36]

Study evidences

Laboratory research conducted on animal tissue model showed an oral dose of camphor can able to reduce ear edema by inhibiting infiltration of chemotaxis and leukocyte.

Efficacy and safety

Camphor has an anti-inflammatory effect; but some patient, especially children may develop an allergic reaction after direct application on the skin. Better to take advice before administration of camphor, especially for the pediatric patient. [37]

Vativer

Obtained from: Vativer oil is obtained from the root of Vetiveria zizanioides plant, belongs to Poaceae family. The steam distillation process is applied to extract the oil.  [38]

Main constituents: The chemical constituents present in Vativer oil are α-amorphene, α-gurjunene, β-vatirenene and cedr-8-en-13-ol. [38]

How to use: It is used in aromatherapy and some topical preparation of Vativer oil is available in the market.

How it works: Vativer oil regulates enzymes like cyclooxygenase, nitric oxide synthase etc. which induce inflammation and it also suppresses inflammatory cytokines release.   [38]

Study evidence:  Laboratory research-based study evaluates anti-inflammatory effect of Vativer oil. [38,39]

Efficacy and safety

Research studies and experts recommendation already prove the anti-inflammatory effect of Vativer oil. Topical application of Vativer oil is relatively safe to use, as it does not cause any toxic reaction or irritation.  [39]

Yarrow or Essential oil of Achillea

Obtained from: Yarrow is local name of Achillea millefolium, which belongs to Asteraceae family. The essential oil is one of the major constituents of this plant. The essential oil is extracted from the aerial part of this plant through steam distillation process. [40,41]

Main constituents: The different constituents of Yarrow are  apigenin, rutin, chamazulene, α-, β-pinene, luteolin, tannins, isorhamnetin,  matricine etc.  [42]

How to use: Topical application of Yarrow provides anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect.

How it works: Chamazulene, the active constituent like of Yarrow inhibits 5-lipoxygenase and suppress the activity of leukotriene B4. Thus this essential oil provides an anti-inflammatory effect. [42]

Study evidences

Phytochemical analytical studies showed that chemical constituents present in essential oil of Achillea have an anti-inflammatory effect.[41]

Efficacy and safety

Published scientific literature already evaluates the anti-inflammatory efficacy of Yarrow. It does not provide potential herm but may cause skin reaction in combination with other herbal preparations. [41]

The above mentioned evidence-based detailed description of anti-inflammatory effect and safety profile of seventeen different varieties of essential oils illustrated that incorporation of these natural therapeutic agents not only manage our daily inflammatory and pain symptoms but able to reduce the risk of chronic inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer without increasing synthetic anti-inflammatory drug-induced co-morbidity burden.

References

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Dr. Nita Sharma Das
 

Dr. Nita is a freelance medical writer with an experience of more than 14 years in Indian healthcare industry with a strong niche in Nutraceutical. As per academia, she is a Doctor of Naturopathy and did her PhD in Alternative Medicine.

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