Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
It’s THAT season again — you know, the chilly one that causes your arthritic aches and pains to flare up, your nose to get stuffed up and your skin to dry up. Nobody wants these irritating ailments to ruin their precious time with loved ones during the holidays. But before you reach for the typical chemical-laden over-the-counter drug treatments, consider choosing a remedy that cultures around the world have favored for thousands of years: essential oils.
Essential oils are highly concentrated organic compounds extracted from the bark, flower, fruit, leaf, seed or root of a plant or tree. They are commonly created through a steam distillation process that separates the oil from the water-based compounds of plants.
“Essentials oils have been shown to have amazing healing properties when used topically, aromatically, as well as internally,” says Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of DrAxe.com and author of Eat Dirt (Harper Wave, 2016) and Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine (Destiny Image, 2017). “Many people love to use essential oils medicinally because they are noninvasive and not overly expensive, and a single drop can be enough to see benefits. Unlike medications, essential oils can be used in a preventative fashion and are derived from completely natural sources — unlike so many medications these days, which come with a plethora of unwanted and potentially serious side effects.”
Let’s explore some of the best essential oils for common cold-weather conditions and tips for proper usage:
Thyme Oil: Try this anti-bacterial, spasmolytic and expectorant oil to help quell coughing, drain congestion and detoxify the body. Apply topically to your chest and neck, take one to two drops internally, or add five to seven drops to boiling water and inhale the steam. Safety: Avoid use during pregnancy, if you have high blood pressure or are epileptic. Toxic to pets.
Ginger Oil: This oil relieves discomfort caused by congestion and infections while clearing mucus from the throat and lungs. Add one drop to a cup of green tea twice a day. You also may apply topically to your chest. Safety: Dilution is recommended for those with sensitive skin.
Wintergreen Oil: This natural analgesic relieves pain and swelling. Dilute three to five drops with equal parts carrier oil and apply to areas of concern. Safety: Do not take internally. Toxic to pets.
Peppermint Oil: Another natural analgesic, this muscle relaxant helps sooth joint discomfort. Dilute two to four drops and apply to the area of concern. Safety: It may adversely interact with some medications, so consult your physician.
Frankincense Oil: Improve your circulation and relieve joint pain with frankincense oil. Massage two to three drops into the painful area or diffuse five drops and breath in for five minutes. Safety: It may cause blood-thinning effects; people with clotting issues should avoid or consult their physician.
Turmeric Oil: This oil’s active ingredient, curcumin, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Dilute a few drops and apply directly to the source of your pain. Safety: It can easily stain clothes and skin, so use caution around fabrics and dilute before topical use.
Almond Oil: An excellent carrier oil for dry skin, almond oil protects from UV damage, reduces inflammation, and has a sweet and nutty aroma.
Patchouli Oil: This oil helps regenerate new skin cells to heal dry, cracked skin. Dilute five drops with coconut or jojoba oil and apply topically. You also can add it to a face wash or lotion. Safety: It may inhibit blood clotting.
Jasmine Oil: Calm skin irritation and inflammation with jasmine oil, which promotes youthful, radiant skin. Mix one to three drops into lip balm, face wash or lotion. Safety: Avoid use during pregnancy.
Lavender Oil: This oil provides nourishment and hydration for dry or cracked skin. Dilute one to two drops and apply to the area of concern.
Lemon Oil: This oil supports lymphatic drainage and purges impurities, working as a natural antihistamine to help clear mucus and phlegm. Inhale lemon oil directly from the bottle, or take one to two drops internally (mixed with equal parts of peppermint and lavender oil). Safety: Avoid direct sunlight for up to 12 hours after external application.
Peppermint Oil: This oil helps relax muscles in nasal passages and clears out mucus and pollen. Diffuse five drops and inhale it directly from the bottle. Or dilute two to three drops and apply it topically to your forehead, neck and chest. Safety: Some medications may adversely interact with peppermint oil, so consult a physician about drug interactions.
Lime Oil: This powerful oil has anti-bacterial, antiseptic and anti-viral properties. Take one to two drops internally by placing the oil under your tongue, or apply two to four drops topically, along with peppermint, on your throat. Safety: Avoid direct sunlight for up to 12 hours after topical application.
Cardamom Oil: This oil’s warming properties heat up the body to promote sweating, congestion clearing and cough reduction. Apply one to two diluted drops to your chest to sooth a sore throat. Safety: Do not apply on or near the face of infants or small children.
Cinnamon Bark Oil: Support your immune function and ease a sore throat with cinnamon bark oil. Enjoy a cup of hot lemon water, honey and one drop of cinnamon oil in the morning. Safety: People with sensitive skin may experience skin irritation when using topically or internally.
Oregano Oil: This natural antibiotic should be diluted with a carrier oil and applied topically to the soles of your feet. You also can take it internally, for up to 10 days at a time. Safety: Pregnant women, infants and small children should avoid; it may cause skin irritation. Toxic to pets.
Eucalyptus Oil: This oil aids in clearing the lungs and sinuses. Adults, gargle with one to two drops or dilute and apply topically to your chest. Safety: Dilute before topical use; do not use near the face of young children.
Peppermint Oil: This oil helps reduce swelling associated with sinusitis.
Inhale vapors directly out of the bottle or dilute two to four drops and apply to the back of your neck and on your chest. Safety: It may adversely interact with some medications, so consult your physician.
“For me, essentials oils are a top choice for both prevention and treatment of a health concern,” Axe says. “I use essential oils every single day to ward off sickness and boost my overall health. High-quality essential oils can easily be found online and at health stores. Look for ones that are certified USDA Organic because these are the highest grade of essential oils with the greatest healing properties.”
Important Usage Tips
- To dilute an essential oil means that you are decreasing its potency. Because essential oils are so strong, some of them need to be combined with a mild carrier oil — such as coconut or almond oil — before use. Dilution recommendations can vary depending on the oil used, the health concern being addressed and individual skin sensitivity. A common dilution ratio is one to two drops of an essential oil mixed with equal parts carrier oil.
- To diffuse an essential oil is a form of aromatherapy. Using a device called a diffuser, essential oils’ molecules can be evaporated into the air of a surrounding environment. You can choose from several types of diffusers depending on what appeals to you. Some diffusers require water while others do not.
- Essential oils are potent and effective independently, but the benefit of combining multiple essential oils is that you can often address a wider variety of symptoms and therefore increase overall effectiveness.
- If you find that essential oils don’t improve your symptoms or your symptoms are getting worse, you should always use your best judgment and seek medical attention, if needed.