Essential Oils and Eczema

By Sarah Malka, MD
Medically reviewed
November 9, 2021

Treating and managing eczema can be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process, as eczema is a chronic, lifelong condition.

However, many people find natural remedies and natural ingredients can be useful.

One of the most common alternative treatments is the use of essential oils, which, in some cases, may help relieve symptoms and manage common triggers, including anxiety

Essential oils are plant extracts made from various parts of the plant including flowers, bark, leaves, or fruit.

In the process of extraction, the compound that produces fragrance is concentrated and captured. 

Although there is no definitive consensus in the scientific community around the effectiveness of essential oils, but when used safely, many have found them to be a method of treatment for a variety of dermatological conditions, including infections, general skin maintenance, and inflammatory skin conditions, like eczema.

However, if used improperly, essential oils can cause worsening skin irritation and reactions.

Always consult with your health care provider before adding these into your treatment plan, and perform a test on a small patch of skin before using topically on any irritated or inflamed areas.

This article will discuss some essential oils that may be helpful in the treatment of eczema, how to use them, and the risk of using essential oils in your eczema care practice.

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What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are plant extracts made from various parts of the plant including flowers, bark, leaves, or fruit.

In the process of extraction, the compound that produces fragrance is concentrated and captured. 

There are three ways essential oils can be used: through aromatherapy, topically, or ingested.

Aromatherapy involves inhaling the oils, usually by adding them to water or carrier oil and putting them in a diffuser, and is said to help with stress and anxiety.

They should also be diluted for topical application, usually with carrier oil or with a cream (more on that below).

When applied topically, they can sometimes cause burns or damage, so it’s best to talk about any treatment with a dermatologist or health care provider before use.

You can ingest some essential oils in teas or by putting a few drops on your tongue, but they typically need to be diluted first and some are poisonous, especially to children, so they should only be ingested under the guidance of your physician — and in general, internal use is not recommended.

What Oils can be Used for Eczema?

Not all essential oils are safe or appropriate for treatment of eczema, which may cause sensitive skin that reacts to fragrances and irritants.

However, some essential oils contain minerals and nutrients that can help manage symptoms of eczema and have healing properties.

Typically, you’ll want to dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (more on those below) before applying them topically; another method for use is through aromatherapy or inhalation by using a diffuser, which may help with stress and anxiety.

Below is a list of some of the essential oils that may help with an eczema flare-up. 

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil, also known as “melaleuca oil,” is an essential oil commonly found in over-the-counter skin care products.

It is produced by distilling oil from the Melaleuca alternifolia (Myrtaceae), a tree that is native to Australia.

Tea tree oil is thought to possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties.

It is an excellent choice when treating eczema flare-ups, as well as acne, psoriasis, and dandruff.

With all essential oils, some may find tea tree oil irritating when applied directly to the skin, so it is best to use it diluted with a carrier oil, or in a product such as hand soap.

Tea tree oil should not be ingested.

Chamomile Oil

Studies suggest that chamomile oil may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can be helpful for dermatitis.

Chamomile oil is shown to be safe for most, but young children and those who are pregnant should always practice caution when using essential oil. 

Peppermint

Peppermint oil has been studied for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, among other uses.

It contains menthol, which in addition to having a distinctively strong “minty” odor and taste, is often followed by a soothing, cooling feeling and can help ease eczema symptoms.

However, as with other essential oils, this oil is highly concentrated and can be irritating or cause allergic reactions.

You should avoid using peppermint oil on your face, and it’s recommended that you dilute it with a carrier oil.

Frankincense

Frankincense has been used for centuries and is believed to be anti-inflammatory.

It is made from the extracted resin of a tree called Boswellia, which is found in regions in East Africa and China, as well as the Middle East.

Frankincense may be effective for treatment of bruises and sores, and may help soothe irritated skin when properly diluted with a carrier oil.

Eucalyptus

Studies show that Eucalyptus has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat various medical conditions, including colds, flus, fever, and bronchial infections.

Eucalyptus oil also has antimicrobial effects. It should not be ingested, and should always be diluted with a carrier oil before use. 

Cedarwood

Cedarwood is the essential oil gathered from conifers, usually pine or cypress trees.

It may be helpful in treating dermatological conditions including acne, cracked skin, eczema, contact dermatitis, dandruff, and other ailments. 

Patchouli

Patchouli is derived from a species of flowering plants called Tamil paccuḷi, which is the same family as mint or deadnettle.

It is often used via inhalation (using a diffuser) to help treat stress, as well as common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, all of which can be common triggers for eczema flare-ups. 

Cape Rose Geranium

Cape rose geranium is an essential oil that may help reduce inflammation and redness, and smells very similar to a rose.

It can be found in many cosmetic lotions or soaps and is best used diluted in a similar topical form.

Lavender

Lavender oil can help ease irritation and redness.

It has been shown to help reduce the dryness and flakiness that is a common side effect of eczema.

As others, this essential oil should be used with a carrier oil and applied directly to the skin.

You can also use a cotton ball to apply to a specific infected area.

Carrier Oils   

Carrier oils are unscented natural oils that are an important part of essential oil treatment and can help dilute them so that they can be more safely applied to the skin.

When essential oils are used with a carrier oil, it “carries” the essential oil into the skin, allowing it to absorb instead of evaporating off the skin quickly. 

Coconut Oil

Studies show that compared to other mineral based oils, virgin coconut oil in particular makes a great carrier oil for essential oils in patients experiencing atopic dermatitis.

However, some do experience severe allergic reactions to coconut oil or worsening skin irritation.

If you experience worsening of symptoms or a possible allergic reaction, stop use and contact your health care provider immediately.

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower seed oil itself has anti-inflammatory aspects and contains vitamin E, which can also help with itchy skin, inflamed skin, as well as help the skin retain moisture. 

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is a moisturizing option that comes from the seed of jojoba, which grows in dry regions like Mexico and the southern United States.

It’s naturally high in vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc, which can help heal skin. 

How to Use Essential Oils to Treat Eczema

The most common way to use essential oils for eczema is to make them into a cream or dilute them with a carrier oil before applying topically.

When using essential oils, it’s important to dilute them, as they can be quite potent and strong and can cause burns, irritation, and allergic reactions when applied directly to the skin.

Add just a few drops of the essential oil to a carrier oil, like coconut or sunflower oil, and mix the solution before applying to the affected area as a topical eczema treatment.

Not only is this much safer, but it also helps to ensure your body gets the benefits of the essential oil, as the carrier oil helps your body absorb the essential oil. 

You could also try adding a few drops of essential oil to bath water; be sure to use water that’s warm, rather than hot, so as not to irritate the skin further. 

It’s always best to consult a doctor before using essential oils for your eczema, especially if you are using other prescription topical or oral solutions or have any allergies or sensitivities.

Risks of Using Essential Oils

Like any alternative course of treatment, it’s important to consult a medical professional before beginning use.

As these are not traditional treatments, they have not been thoroughly studied, and their effectiveness has not been proven.

There is also a risk of allergic reactions or irritation with use of essential oil.

A good way to avoid a possible reaction is to do a patch test on a small area of your skin before using it on a larger area; it’s also important to manage the potency of the essential oil you’re using.

This is done by using the right carrier oil. It’s also best to avoid direct sunlight or tanning 24 hours after use.

In some cases, essential oils can actually make dermatitis flare-up and worsen your symptoms of eczema.

Avoid oral ingestion of essential oils, as they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can cause allergic reactions, or even be toxic, and should be taken only with the guidance of a licensed medical professional. 

The risks of essential oil to pregnant women and infants is still widely unknown and you should consult your health care provider for medical advice before using them during pregnancy or before administering to children under 2 years old.

Some can be toxic or even fatal in infants and children if ingested or inhaled, and many can cause severe eye or skin irritation.

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When to See a Doctor

If you experience irritation such as redness, itchiness, or hives, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to the essential oil you’ve used and should see a provider for treatment.

It’s always best to consult your physician or a dermatologist before using essential oils for treatment, especially if you are using any other traditional treatments for eczema. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can essential oils make eczema worse?
Yes. It is possible that certain essential oils can make your eczema worse. It is always best to dilute the oils, as high concentrations of essential oils are more likely to cause irritation or even burns. If you are concerned about an adverse reaction or have sensitive skin, you can do a patch test on a small part of your skin using small amounts of the oil to see if you have an unpleasant reaction.
Will essential oils burn my skin?
If you do not properly dilute essential oils, they can cause a burn on your skin. Some essential oils, like angelica root and rue, contain furanocoumarins, which can cause severe burns and skin irritation when exposed to UV or sunlight.
Is it safe to ingest essential oils?
While some essential oils are safe for ingestion, it is best not to ingest essential oils without close guidance as some can be poisonous or cause severe oral irritation or even burns. For the purpose of treating eczema, ingesting essential oils is not recommended.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Sarah Malka, MD

Dr. Sarah Malka is a board certified emergency medicine physician with K Health. She completed her residency at Harvard Medical School.