A good episode about the science of essential oils

PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
Here's a podcast I like and they've done an episode about essential oils.

Listen here and post your comments. Do you think essential oils are little more than placebos?


They don't get into topical treatments of essential oils but there isn't much evidence that I've found for beneficial use of them either.


  • Thank you @Perry. I am a bit surprised that they said that antimicrobial effects are not proven. The study that you shared in my discussion about essential oils says that tea tree oil is cytotoxic and as such has an anti-microbial effect. I, however, agree that the labels (relaxing, energizing, calming etc.) that suppliers put on the EO have a significant placebo effect.
  • SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
    @ngarayeva001- They are not wrong, if you generalize then several essential oils would not have an antimicrobial effect in lower concentrations (they probably would pure) some specific essential oils with certain compounds will, however. Tea tree oil works because it contains 4-carvomenthenol.

    Thyme contains thymol
    Oregano contains carvacrol
    Cloves have eugenol
    Lavender contains linalyl acetate (Angustifolia contains the most).
    Mugwort contains Sabinene
    I could continue...

    All of these chemicals (and many more) have an antimicrobial effect to varying degrees. However, the issue with essential oils just with plant extracts is standardisation. The ranges in which compounds may be present vary a lot, particularly between species, so it is not exactly reliable.
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
    @Perry For the most part - Yes, considering how many essential oils have been characterised it would be odd if not compound or mixture of compounds had been isolated and deemed efficient.

    But I also find the issue with most aroma-therapy/essential oil based study to be lacking a useful control group. I mean, if you were to do a double-blinded test on a cream, it would be REALLY difficult to keep the investigator blinded.  Allowing for experimenters bias.

    On the other hand, I think we need to be open to well designed studies proving efficacy.

    As for the podcast - here's the transcript:

    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • Quite a good summary here on essential oil reserch

    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
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