Do Essential Oils Actually Work?

If you’re over the age of 25, you’ve probably seen your Facebook and Instagram feeds flooded with former high school classmates selling essential oils. Along with these posts (aka, ads) are claims that these oils can cure chronic conditions like depression and migraines.

There’s a lot of scientific evidence proving essential oils do work. For example, lemon can help with mood, lavender can aid with stress and anxiety, and peppermint can improve your breathing when you’re sick. Yet, a lot of the effects might be a result of the placebo effect.

Whether you’re into essential oils or not, there’s no doubt that they’re becoming increasingly more popular as each year passes. So, let’s go over everything you need to know about essential oils and their health claims.

What Essential Oils Are

Essential oils are most often used in aromatherapy, which is considered a holistic healing method. Essential oils typically come from all-natural sources, including fruits, flowers, herbs, and grasses.

Through aromatherapy, you supposedly can boost aspects of your physical and psychological health by simply inhaling essential oils.

The Popularity of Alternative Medicine

The reason that essential oils are so popular is that we’re living in an age where “all-natural” and “organic” are buzzwords.

A decent number of people want natural solutions to their health issues rather than taking prescription drugs or undergoing invasive surgery. While the purpose of alternative medicine comes from a good place, there are plenty of at-home therapeutic treatment methods that are nothing more than pseudoscience.

In essence, there’s nothing that proves that they actually work other than personal stories touting success.

Methods of Using Essential Oils

Depending on the claims of a specific essential oil, there are three ways that you can use them: Through a diffuser, directly on your skin, or in a bath.

Each method has its own benefits and purpose, so let’s talk about those first.

Diffusers

Diffusers are an absolute necessity if you’re trying out aromatherapy.

All you need to do is pour some water into your diffuser, add in a few drops of your favorite essential oil, and turn the diffuser on. 

In a matter of seconds, your diffuser will begin pumping out a gentle stream of steam that smells like the essential oil you added. Minutes later, your entire room (or house) will likely smell of the essential oil, which is where the benefits are supposed to occur.

Topical Application

Not all essential oils are meant to be applied directly to the skin. But, some are marketed as providing benefits to your skin or body when absorbed directly into your system.

A drop or two works fine in most cases. But, some essential oils will need to be combined with carrier oils or lotions to reduce their potency.

Baths

Using essential oils in the bath is quite unique because it allows you to take in the essential oils via inhalation and absorption.

For a bath, somewhere around 10 drops of your favorite essential oil should be okay. But, make sure you’re using an essential oil that’s gentle on the skin.

Popular Types of Essential Oils & Possible Scientific Backing

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of essential oils out there that are linked to pretty serious health claims.

So, we’re going to go over some of the more popular types of essential oils, what they’re supposedly able to do, and whether or not there’s scientific evidence backing these claims.

Essential OilClaimsTrue or False?
ChamomileAnxiety and Stress Relief
Better Sleep Quality
Reduced Inflammation
Improved Wound Healing
True
True
True
True
EucalyptusReduced Congestion
Insect Repellant
Wound Disinfectant
True
True
True
FrankincenseReduced Congestion
Anxiety and Stress Relief
Improved Respiration
True
Possibly True
Unclear
LavenderAnxiety and Stress Relief
Better Sleep Quality
Improved Mood
Improved Skin Appearance
True
True
True
Possibly True
LemonBetter Mood and Energy
Improved Skin Appearance
True
Possibly True
PeppermintDigestive Benefits
Improved Respiration
Reduced Pain
True
True
Possibly True
RosemaryGreater Brain Functioning
Anxiety and Stress Relief
Bettter Energy and Focus
Reduced Inflammation
True
True
True
True
Tea TreeSkin Condition Treatment
Antibacterial Agent
True
True

Possible Limitations

You might be looking at the chart above and come to the conclusion that essential oils do work.

There’s no doubt that most essential oils can provide some type of health benefit, but these benefits aren’t as extreme as you might think. 

So, you shouldn’t be using essential oils to replace actual medical treatments. That’s because essential oils work best when used in conjunction with other treatment methods.

Here are some examples of this concept.

  • Chamomile on its own won’t immediately sedate you, but it will be more effective if you spend an hour or so relaxing right before going to sleep.
  • Eucalyptus on its own won’t remove 100% of the germs from a fresh wound, but it’ll enhance the effects of antibacterial ointments.
  • Peppermint on its own won’t cure your Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but it might make the symptoms a little bit more bearable.

As much as you want essential oils to be your saving grace, they won’t fix every health ailment you have by just inhaling them or rubbing them into your skin.

Your best bet is to combine essential oils with other treatment strategies.

An Overview of the Placebo Effect

What you might not realize is that essential oils (and a ton of other health products) depend on the placebo effect to convince consumers that their products work.

The placebo effect means that your belief in the oil’s effectiveness will lead you to feel like it’s actually working.

Basically, your mind has convinced your body that the essential oil is working the way you believe it should.

You feel better and like your health has improved (which is good). But, that doesn’t mean that the essential oil actually worked the way you think it did.

Final Thoughts

Essential oils do have health benefits. But, they might not be as impressive as you think they are.

If we’re only taking into account the way they’re marketed (i.e. Cures to chronic health conditions), then yes, they are a gimmick.

Feel free to add essential oils to your routine to improve your health. Just don’t expect any major changes unless you’re combining essential oils with other treatment methods.

A balanced diet, exercise, and quitting unhealthy habits can improve health conditions too.