If it's winter, then it must be time for cozy sweaters, festive gatherings, and . . . the dreaded cold and flu, complete with a sore throat. It can be difficult to treat cold symptoms, and your first instinct may be to go to the pharmacy to stock up on over-the-counter cold medications. But there's also a more natural way to ease your sore throat: by using essential oils.
Tina Gupta, MD, an ACE-certified fitness nutrition specialist who runs the wellness website Women's Health and Aesthetics, explained that, because a sore throat is caused by either a bacterial infection or a viral infection, the most effective essential oils are the ones that contain antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Here are the best essential oils to try if you have a sore throat, as well as some advice for using them safely.
Essential Oils That Can Soothe a Sore Throat
The experts POPSUGAR spoke with suggested the following essential oils, which, according to preliminary data, may offer some benefits for those fighting an infection.
Research has shown that eucalyptus oil may be effective in the treatment of many upper and lower respiratory tract infections. "All eucalyptus oils are reported to have some degree of antimicrobial action, hence why it's commonly used as an antiseptic in sore throats, cough, and colds," Dr. Gupta told POPSUGAR. "It's most effective against sore throats caused by gram positive bacteria (staph and strep)." For a sore throat, Dr. Gupta recommends inhaling 12 drops in 150 ml of boiling water up to three times a day.
In 2015, researchers demonstrated that peppermint oil inhibited the growth of microorganisms, which Dr. Gupta explained are the pathogens that could potentially cause a sore throat. "The results were comparable to the antibiotic gentamicin as well," Dr. Gupta said. She explained that peppermint oil has antiseptic, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties, which is why it's a great essential oil to use in the treatment of colds.
Dr. Gupta recommends taking it by inhaling two to three drops of the oil in hot water. She added that research shows peppermint oil also helps increase salivation. "[This makes] it an effective symptomatic relief for dry mouth, halitosis, and sore throat," Dr. Gupta said.
Dr. Gupta explained that tea tree essential oil has been shown to be an effective antiseptic solution against oral pathogens. "It acts through lysis and loss of cell membrane integrity of certain pathogens," she said. "[This] makes it an effective symptomatic treatment for sore throat, cough, bronchitis, and influenza." Because tea tree oil is quite concentrated, Dr. Gupta recommends adding one drop to boiling water and inhaling for several minutes up to three times a day.
"This essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate the symptoms of sore throat," Daniel Boyer, MD, of The Farr Institute, told POPSUGAR. He added that lavender also has antimicrobial properties against the bacteria that can cause a sore throat, and it's very relaxing, which is certainly always welcome when you're feeling under the weather. Dr. Boyer recommends putting up to two drops of the oil in a bowl of hot water or on a piece of clothing, then inhaling for around 10 to 15 minutes twice a day.
A 2011 study found that thyme essential oil has antibacterial properties, which may help fight the most common bacterias that cause a sore throat. "In addition, it may manage muscle spasm, a cause of cough that normally leads to a sore throat," Dr. Boyer said.
He explained that thyme essential oils can be applied directly onto your throat, as they're generally diluted and unlikely to cause skin allergies. (However, if you're worried about skin allergies, have your doctor perform a skin patch test to put your mind at ease.) "Massage the oil gently on your throat while warm compressing with a piece of clothing [three times] a day, some minutes before each meal," Dr. Boyer said, adding that this may reduce pain when swallowing.
"A scientific study suggested that blending essential oils gives a more effective health benefit, compared to benefits resulting from a single essential oil," Dr. Boyer said. For a sore throat, he recommends a blend of cinnamon, wild carrot, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils, explaining that their antiviral and antimicrobial properties are an excellent recipe to treat a sore throat. "[It] could also be used as an effective treatment option for both flu and pneumonia," he added.
However, Dr. Boyer cautioned that this blend should not be used internally because it could lead to dizziness or burning of the throat. "For aromatherapy purposes, add one drop of eucalyptus essential oil in a bowl of hot water, followed by three to 10 drops of the other essential oils, and inhale for around 10 to 15 minutes," he said.
What to Know Before Using Essential Oils
Dr. Gupta told POPSUGAR that, although the aforementioned studies have suggested essential oils can be used to manage a sore throat, it's important to note that there's not a lot of research examining the potential medical benefits of essential oils. "Further, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor nor regulate the quality of essential oils, meaning people are free to market and use whatever ingredients they'd like," she said.
For this reason, Dr. Gupta emphasized that essential oils should never be ingested, and she also advised that pregnant people avoid them due to lack of research. She added that you should avoid using a diffuser, particularly in a public area or if you're living with other people, especially children, because these oils affect people and animals differently.
Dr. Gupta told POPSUGAR that the three safest methods to use essential oils are with aromatherapy accessories, body oils, and aroma sticks. Aroma sticks are also called essential oil inhalers, which allow you to inhale the oil when you're ready. "Essential oils are highly concentrated and should only be used in the smallest dose possible," Dr. Gupta explained. Be sure to touch base with your doctor before you begin using essential oils and make sure to buy your oils from a reputable source.