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How Eucalyptus Oil Can Clear Your Cold, Reduce Pain, and Keep Bugs Away

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Best known for its woodsy-sweet scent, eucalyptus oil is also said to have a bunch of health benefits, from banishing brain fog to detoxifying the air in your home.

a close up of a glass vase on a table: Eucalyptus oil can help you breathe easier, reduce pain, ward off mosquitos, and disinfect your home, according to doctors, researchers, and aromatherapy experts.© Madeleine_Steinbach – Getty Images
Eucalyptus oil can help you breathe easier, reduce pain, ward off mosquitos, and disinfect your home, according to doctors, researchers, and aromatherapy experts.

While neither of these claims has been *definitively* proven (at least not yet!), there are actually quite a few research-backed ways you can use eucalyptus oil. 

“This essential oil has wide-ranging health benefits including decongestant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial properties,” says says Carrie Lam, M.D., co-founder and medical director of the Lam Clinic in Tustin, CA.

That’s why you can find eucalyptus oil in a number of products from topical ointments and mouthwashes to supplements and household cleaners. Wondering what it can do for you? Read on to learn everything you need to know about this surprisingly versatile essential oil and how to reap its benefits.

What is eucalyptus oil, exactly?

a white flower with green leaves: Closeup of green eucalyptus leaves and branches isolated on white table background. Modern floral composition, botanical frame, banner. Feminine styled stock image. Flat lay, top view.© Tabitazn – Getty Images
Closeup of green eucalyptus leaves and branches isolated on white table background. Modern floral composition, botanical frame, banner. Feminine styled stock image. Flat lay, top view.

Eucalyptus oil is an essential oil derived from the oval-shaped leaves of eucalyptus trees, originally native to Australia. Manufacturers extract oil from eucalyptus leaves by drying, crushing, and distilling them. More than a dozen species of eucalyptus trees are used to create essential oils, each of which offers its own unique blend of natural compounds and therapeutic benefits, per an article in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

While eucalyptus oil’s evergreen scent and much of its medicinal effects are primarily thanks to a compound called eucalyptol (a.k.a. cineole), eucalyptus oil is packed with numerous natural compounds that work in synergy to produce a variety of health-promoting effects. 

What are the benefits of eucalyptus oil? What can it be used for?

⚠️ Dilute any essential oil in water or a carrier oil such as almond or coconut oil before you use it. Then, patch test it by applying a small amount to your skin to be sure you’re not allergic.

1. Relieve cold symptoms.

When you’re sick, stuffed up, and can’t stop coughing, eucalyptus oil may help provide some relief (which is why it’s a key ingredient in Vicks VapoRub). This is because eucalyptol seems to work as a natural decongestant and cough suppressant by helping your body break down mucus and phlegm and opening up your airways, says Dr. Lam. For a soothing home remedy, simply add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of hot water and breathe in the steam, she says. 

2. Reduce pain.

Eucalyptus oil may help ease your pain, too, thanks to eucalyptol’s anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, adults who were recovering from total knee replacement reported significantly less pain after inhaling eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes for three days in a row compared to those who didn’t, according to a 2013 study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

To naturally treat aches and pains, Dr. Lam suggests breathing in eucalyptus oil by putting one to three drops in a diffuser. However, more research is needed to clarify just how effective eucalyptus oil might be for pain—so don’t expect it to replace your go-to pain meds. 

3. Freshen your breath.

“Eucalyptus oil’s natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties can be helpful in reducing the bacteria in your mouth that may contribute to cavities, gingivitis, bad breath, and other oral health issues,” says Alice Lee, D.D.S., co-founder of Empire Pediatric Dentistry in New York City. As such, you’ll often find it in products like toothpastes, mouthwashes, and even gum.

Be careful with do-it-yourself remedies, though: “A single drop of eucalyptus oil can go a long way,” says Lee. If you’re dealing with specific dental issues (like sore gums), contact your dentist to ID the cause and figure out the best line of treatment.

4. Clear up cold sores.

When a cold sore will not go away, any home remedy seems worth a try, and eucalyptus oil might actually help. Research shows multiple compounds in eucalyptus oil can help fight the herpes simplex virus, the source of that super raw spot on your lip, thanks to their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

While it’s not clear whether eucalyptus oil is more effective than traditional cold sore treatments, it could serve as a natural alternative if you’re looking for one. Just make sure to dilute it in a carrier oil to avoid irritating your skin, and wipe it off before you go outside to avoid a chemical burn in response to UV rays, advises Dr. Zeichner. 

5. Clean scrapes and cuts.

This folk remedy checks out: Eucalyptus oil’s antimicrobial properties can help prevent infection and even support wound healing when combined with olive oil, per a recent study in the International Journal of Nanomedicine. Again, highly-diluted eucalyptus oil can make for a safe, natural alternative if you’re dealing with a minor wound, but traditional methods like topical antibiotic creams and ointments are still the first-line recommendation, says Dr. Zeichner.

6. Keep mosquitos away.

If you’d rather not spray strong chemical bug repellents on your skin, diluted eucalyptus oil makes for a handy natural mosquito repellent, says Chris D’Adamo, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and director of research at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Case in point: A solution with 32% lemon eucalyptus oil can provide over 95% protection from mosquitoes in a 3-hour timespan, finds a 2014 trial.

For a DEET-free, plant-based bug repellent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends products like Repel and Off! Botanicals, both of which contain lemon eucalyptus oil.

7. Disinfect your home.

“Because it’s antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal, eucalyptus oil makes for a pretty effective household disinfectant, especially if you’re super sensitive to harsh chemical cleaners,” says D’Adamo. His recommendation: Use a solution of water, white vinegar, and a few drops of eucalyptus oil to wipe down surfaces.

Are there any side effects of eucalyptus oil?

If you’ve ever taken a whiff of this essential oil, you know it’s potent—especially in its highly-concentrated form. An important note: Eucalyptus oil is toxic when ingested, and while it’s likely safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding according to the National Institutes of Health, there’s simply not enough research to know for sure. Because eucalyptus oil can potentially cause dangerous side effects in children and pets, take care to store it out of their reach.

Finally, keep in mind that eucalyptus oil can impact how certain medicines are processed by your body (such as diabetes and cholesterol medications), so be sure to consult with your doctor before adding eucalyptus oil to the mix. Otherwise, eucalyptus oil is generally safe.

How to choose the best eucalyptus oil

If you’re ready to reap the benefits of eucalyptus oil but don’t feel like scrolling through hundreds of options, we’ve done the work for you. Here, our top picks:

Before you lay down big bucks on a bottle of eucalyptus oil, consider these expert tips before buying.

1. The more detail, the better.

“High-quality oils are derived from ‘non-sprayed’ or ‘wildcrafted’ materials, packaged in blue or amber light-resistant glass, and have clear labeling as far as species, production method, and country of origin go,” says Benjamin Malcolm, Pharm.D., an assistant professor of pharmacy at the Western University of Health Sciences who has studied essential oils.

Dr. D’Adamo agrees: It’s no guarantee, but a label with a clear breakdown of eucalyptus species (like Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus radiata) at least shows a company is doing its due diligence.

2. Look for third-party verification.

One sign of a reputable seller: They offer GC-MS reports from an outside agency, to verify the product’s unique chemical breakdown and ensure it hasn’t been tampered with, says Kathy Sadowski, a registered aromatherapist and licensed massage therapist. Ideally, if you contact the company, they should be able to provide it.

3. Opt for organic.

While it’s not a requirement, choose a eucalyptus oil with a certified organic seal if you can, advises D’Adamo. “Because essential oils are so concentrated, you want to make sure you’re not exposing yourself to anything problematic,” he says.

4. Beware of bulk deals.

Low-quality essential oils tend to be sold in large volumes for unbelievably cheap prices in non-light resistant containers like clear glass or plastic, says Malcolm. Labels like “natural oil” and “perfume oil” (as opposed to “essential oil”) indicate you’re getting something diluted or synthetic.

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