In case you’re not familiar, “essential oils are the essence of a plant,” says Jenelle Kim, DACM, LAc, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, herbalist, and founder and lead formulator of JBK Wellness Labs. “Either the whole plant, or a portion such as the leaves or the roots go through an extraction process to create an oil that contains concentrated amounts of compounds from the plant, which are known to offer healing benefits.”
And, because essential oils are derived from many different natural sources, she adds that their benefits range as well. Depending on the type of essential oil, those benefits can include allergy relief, reduced inflammation, improved digestion, increased energy, promoted relaxation, help with sleep, support healthy skin, and more.
For allergy relief, in particular, “essential oil is really good at treating symptoms like nasal congestion,” says Yufang Lin, MD, a physician at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. They won't cure your allergies no matter how many days in a row you diffuse an elaborate blend. However, certain types have anecdotally been effective for allergy relief, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties.
“You want to reduce exposure [to your allergen], but you want to reduce the symptom response as much as possible, too,” Dr. Lin says. After environmental controls, like keeping your windows closed or taking herbs like quercetin or bromelain to reduce histamine response, Dr. Lin says essential oils are great to add into the mix for extra relief.
One thing to remember, though, is that specific essential oils you choose may not pack an antihistamine response or target all of your allergy symptoms. “Sometimes all you’re getting is the nasal symptom control,” Dr. Lin says. Regardless, any kind of relief cannot be underestimated during allergy season.
Smell, er, sound good? Here are some essential oils for allergies that can calm your most annoying symptoms. Plus, learn about potential side effects, and pro tips on how to use essential oils for allergies properly.
7 of the best essential oils for allergies worth trying
Eucalyptus essential oil has been found in research to have anti-inflammatory components, offering a menthol-like feeling. It’s been shown to break up mucus and phlegm, clearing out your sinuses to help you breathe a bit better. Diffuse it or mix with a carrier oil and put a dot on your chest, as you would with Vicks VapoRub.
Dr. Lin touts lemongrass as an essential oil that may have antihistamine properties, which helps keep nasal congestion at bay. You can diffuse lemongrass, or sip on lemongrass tea to enjoy the same congestion-clearing benefit.
It’s difficult to rest and relax when you’re clogged up with allergy symptoms. The ever-versatile lavender essential oil is calming, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory that can potentially decrease mucus. And those are magic words for any allergy sufferer.
Along with lemongrass, Dr. Lin says chamomile oil’s antihistamine properties help target your stuffiness. It’s also another herb great for calming your nervous system, and it makes a lovely cup of allergy-busting tea.
While mint oils haven’t shown an antihistamine response, says Dr. Lin, they’re Best in Class when it comes to clearing up your sinuses. Peppermint has, however, been shown to lower inflammation and ease coughing because of its calming effect on muscles. “It makes you feel better, but it’s not really reducing the allergy response per se,” she says. That said, anything that helps you breathe out of your nose again is more than welcome.
Research shows this bright citrus oil could help treat allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Those who used a nasal spray that included lemon pulp extract in studies felt better than those who did not, and experts saw less sinus inflammation. If you choose to use lemon oil topically, though, Dr. Lin warns not to go outside immediately after, as it can cause photosensitizing effects (aka sunburn).
In one small 2016 study, a blend of sandalwood, frankincense, and Ravensara oils helped alleviate runny and itchy noses, cleared nasal passages, and curbed sneezes. Those with hay fever who inhaled the blend for a week felt happier and slept better. Dr. Lin adds that in vitro studies showed sandalwood essential oil combined with lemongrass and chamomile oils reduced histamine response by almost half (although this a very preliminary finding, since it was not performed on living human subjects). To use it , she suggests using aromatherapy, or diluting the oil properly and putting it on your skin for relief through absorption.
Possible side effects of using essential oils for allergies
Generally, Dr. Kim says, properly formulated essential oils are very safe to use for most people and the only potential risk is if your body is allergic or easily irritated by a component in the essential oil. For instance, she says, peppermint oil contains menthol, which some people are allergic to. If you use essential oils for allergies topically, an adverse reaction may manifest as a rash. If used as aromatherapy, an effect may be an irritated nasal passage or headache.
For that reason, Dr. Kim recommends testing the essential oil first. If you’re using it topically, she instructs applying a small amount of the oil and waiting a day or two to ensure there’s no adverse reaction. For aromatherapy, she suggests introducing a new essential oil with a few drops, and if you feel any discomfort or have a reaction, stop use immediately. That said, if you are concerned about an allergic reaction, Dr. Kim advises consulting your doctor before using essential oils for allergies or other benefits, just to be safe.
5 pro tips for using essential oils properly
1. Ensure you’re buying quality essential oils
Not all essential oils are created equally. Dr. Kim emphasizes the importance of doing your research and opting for essential oils that are pure and have been properly formulated. “If essential oils are not properly formulated, they may not offer any benefits at all. Or worse, they could contain toxins or additional ingredients that could be harmful to your health,” she says. “Visiting a brand's website and seeing what information they provide about where they source their ingredients can tell you a lot.”
2. Use a diffuser
According to Dr. Kim, the best and easiest way to use and enjoy essential oils is by using a diffuser. “Diffusers are very simple to use and you can begin experiencing the effects rather quickly,” she says.
3. Make an essential oils mist
Using an essential oil mist, which you can buy or make yourself, is another alternative Dr. Kim suggests. To make your own, simply dilute essential oils in water inside a spray bottle. “You can spray the mist into the air or onto your face mask to experience essential oil benefits including allergy relief,” she says.
4. Do not take essential oils orally
“Most essential oils on the market are not approved to be digested,” Dr. Kim. When you make a tea, such as the [aforementioned] lemongrass tea, it is not an essential oil. The tea is made from the same plant as the oil, so it offers the same natural benefits in a different way.”
5. Apply essential oils topically
Some essential oils for allergies can also be applied topically to the skin. However, Dr. Kim cautions that it’s important to ensure the essential oil you use is approved for topical use. If it is safe for topical use and not already diluted, “you can add a few drops of the essential oil to a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil and then apply to skin,” she says.
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