Essential Oils for Inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s automatic, protective response to injury. It occurs when cells release a signal to neutrophils at the site of trauma, causing immediate inflammation. This then allows larger white blood cells (leukocytes) in the immune system to begin attacking harmful pathogens and dead tissue. The body will then start healing itself by repairing and re-growing cells in the area.1
We generally associate inflammation with the swelling that occurs at the site of injury such as a puncture wound, scrape to the skin, and muscle strain or sprain. This type of inflammation is known as acute inflammation, and while it can be painful and temporarily inhibiting, can subside with adequate rest and treatment. Acute inflammation can also be caused by infections, introduction to foreign bodies, and often results in immune reactions.
Chronic inflammation is often harder to treat, and is caused by repeated bouts of injury to the body. This can manifest itself from years of wear and tear from sports injuries (tendonitis), as well as from autoimmune issues (ulcerative colitis). Autoimmune inflammation occurs when your own cells cause the inflammation due to a genetic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the bone tissue in the joints and fingers. Other examples of chronic inflammation include asthma (a chronic inflammatory response in your bronchial tubes), and multiple sclerosis (inflammation in the central nervous system).2
Signs of inflammation can be identified by heat, swelling, redness, pain, and sometimes even loss of function. Another way of determining acute versus chronic inflammation is the prominence of these signs—generally chronic inflammation is subtle and develops over the course of days, as opposed to minutes or hours.
Though it is always recommended to discuss symptoms with a doctor, if the cause of inflammation involves a lengthy recovery or is the result of a chronic condition, the use of essential oils can be a safe and natural way to relieve pain and promote long-term healing. Essential oils for inflammation can be used in addition to necessary medications and supplement over-the-counter pain relievers, which may cause unpleasant side effects.
When it comes to essential oils, inflammation and pain in the body are targeted by various antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. The following essential oils for swelling and inflammation contain analgesic (pain-relieving) components that can be applied topically after dilution to areas of discomfort and swelling.
Best Anti Inflammatory Essential Oils
Anti-inflammatory essential oils can be used in hot or cold compresses for joint pain relief, or added to a bath to help target larger areas. For sinus pain, headaches or allergy relief, you can customize your own essential oil recipes to target specific conditions.
Using essential oils to reduce inflammation has been a key practice in traditional and holistic medicines to help alleviate both acute and chronic disorders. To determine what essential oil is good for inflammation you’re experiencing, consider the individual properties of the essential oils listed below.
Sandalwood Essential Oil
One of the benefits of sandalwood essential oil is its natural anti-inflammatory activity. In a 2013 study, santalol, a constitute found in sandalwood essential oil, was shown to significantly inhibit isolated cytokine and chemokine cells, two indicators of inflammation. The effects were noted to be similar to ibuprofen.
A separate 2017 study concluded that sandalwood essential oil may provide therapeutic benefits for patients with mild to moderate inflammatory conditions. Sandalwood essential oil is often considered the best essential oil for inflammation in the body.
Frankincense Essential Oil
The therapeutic benefits of frankincense essential oil include natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relief properties. Frankincense is often used in topical formulations and regarded as one of the best essential oils to reduce swelling, promote healing and may even improve skin tenderness. A recent clinical study suggests that frankincense essential oil possesses promising abilities to influence the cellular processes of inflammation and tissue regrowth.3
A 2016 study concluded that frankincense essential oil may be useful in treating patients with inflammatory conditions. Chemical constitutes found in frankincense essential oil were shown to inhibit the release of leukotrienes (inflammatory compounds) in isolated cells. These constitutes may help provide relief from various inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, bronchitis, and sinusitis.4
Chamomile Essential Oil
Known for its analgesic properties and calming aroma, chamomile essential oil is also considered an effective essential oil for joint pain and inflammation. Chamomile essential oil contains flavonoids that act as natural relief for joint and muscle pain. These compounds easily penetrate the skin’s surface and help reduce inflammation, making it effective essential oil for inflammation.
Additionally, a 2011 animal study shows chamomile essential oil may help reduce paw edema, colonic inflammation and colonic mucosa. Symptoms improved with the introduction of different concentrations of chamomile essential oil.5
Myrrh Essential Oil
Derived from the bark of the Commiphora tree, myrrh essential oil’s beneficial properties include natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity. Like frankincense, it’s known as one of the most effective essential oils for pain and inflammation caused by inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Studies have shown that myrrh essential oil may help reduce the inflammatory symptoms of colitis.
Thyme Essential Oil
One valuable quality of thyme essential oil is its pain-relieving property. A study from the Journal of Lipid Research found that a constitute in thyme essential oil suppressed an enzyme (COX-2) associated with triggering inflammation in the body. This activity was noted to be similar to a popular anti-inflammatory drug. Unlike traditional treatments, thyme essential oil has not been found to cause unwanted digestive side effects when used to treat joint pain.
These findings make thyme essential oil one of the most effective of the essential oils for muscle inflammation, and perhaps one of the best of the essential oils for joint pain and inflammation.
How to Use Anti-Inflammatory Essential Oils
When creating your own blend of essential oils for inflammation and pain, always make sure to dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil. For an easy essential oils inflammation blend, combine 2 drops each of frankincense essential oil and chamomile essential oil with 2 Tbsp. of a carrier oil such as jojoba, coconut or almond. Gently apply the mixture to the affected area and massage until fully absorbed.
For use in hot or cold compress, to be applied to areas of joint and muscle pain, take a pint of hot water and add a 2-4 drops of your desired essential oil. Use a clean towel to soak up the liquid, squeeze out any excess, and apply over the painful area. As with most compresses, you can choose to alternate between using hot and cold water dependent on your injury.
For pain relief, essential oils can also be added to bathwater for a therapeutic soak. Simply add one cup of Epsom salts to a full tub with 3-5 drops of your desired anti-inflammatory oils.
Essential oils for skin inflammation should never be applied directly to the skin, as they can cause irritation. They should also not be used on pregnant women or children, unless approved by a medical professional.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (2003, September). Understanding the Immune System: How It Works [PDF]. Retrieved April 28, 2017 from http://www.imgt.org/IMGTeducation/Tutorials/ImmuneSystem/UK/the_immune_system.pdf – View reference
- Beck, S. (n.d.). Acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved April 28, 2017 fromhttp://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/mcp/education/300.713%20lectures/300.713%202013/beck_08.26.2013.pdf
- Han, X. (2017 February). Biological Activities of Frankincense Essential Oil in Human Dermal Fibroblasts. Biochimie Open, 4, 31-35. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopen.2017.01.003
- Al-Yasiry, A. R. M. (2016 January). Frankincense – therapeutic properties. Postępy Higieny i Medycyny Doświadczalnej (Advances in Hygiene and Experimental Medicine), 70. DOI: 5604/17322693.1200553
- Dusan, F., Juhás, S., Bukovská, A., & Koppel, J. (2011). Anti-inflammatory effects of chamomile essential oil in mice. Slovak Journal of Animal Science, 44(3), 111-116. Retrieved April 28, 2017 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236023127_Anti-inflammatory_effects_of_chamomile_essential_oil_in_mice – View reference