It's happened: Your throat stings, the glands just below your jaw are the size of Milk Duds, your nose is congested—you've got a cold. Drat. While the common cold won't completely knock you out of commission, it's uncomfortable, painful, and just plain annoying. And while you can curb symptoms with medications, a natural remedy is less artificial or prone to side effects.
Enter: essential oils. "Essential oils are most commonly seen in our skincare, haircare, and home care products, but there has been a lot more research lately about how essential oils can boost our moods, heal our bodies, and even help treat and prevent sickness," explains Adina Grigore, the founder of the organic skincare brand S.W. Basics and author of Just the Essentials: How Essential Oils Can Heal Your Skin, Improve Your Health, and Detox Your Life.
"Beginning thousands of years ago and across a range of cultures—the ancient civilizations of Egypt, China, India, and Rome, to name a few—essential oils were critical elements in healing and wellness rites," she adds. Since it's cold season, Grigore revealed the best essential oils for helping with those terrible symptoms.
Disclaimer: Please speak with a doctor first to determine the best care plan for your unique symptoms.
"Similar to peppermint essential oil, eucalyptus is helpful for chest and throat congestion, which is why you may associate it with Vicks VapoRub," says Grigore. "Eucalyptus is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. It contains a high amount of the oxide called eucalyptol, which loosens mucus secretions, relaxes muscles, and opens the airways for easier breathing. Add some eucalyptus to a face steam, a bath, or to a diffuser for optimal benefits."
"Lemongrass essential oil is antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory, and it alleviates pain thanks to its analgesic properties," says Grigore. "In traditional Chinese medicine, lemongrass essential oil is used to help soothe stomachaches, headaches, and colds. It can be diffused to help prevent a cold, and I also add some lemongrass oil to my bath when I feel a one coming on."
"Moreover, the scent of lemon oil has also been shown to have a powerful effect on mood," Grigore adds. One study found that the scent of lemon oil boosted participants' moods, a finding confirmed both through self-reported data as well as empirical data. That said, if you're feeling down in the dumps after laying in bed all day due to your cold, light a lemon candle or use a lemon-scented product to get yourself out of that funk.
"Tea tree oil is pretty awesome stuff—and not just for your skin," says Grigore. "Tea tree essential oil contains antiseptic, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, making it great for getting rid of your winter cold. Traditionally, native Australian cultures used tea tree leaves to treat coughs and colds, heal wounds, and alleviate sore throats and skin ailments. In addition, tea tree is also a natural disinfectant, so you can use it to kill germs to prevent a cold from coming on in the first place."
"Peppermint oil is made up mostly of menthol and menthone, explains Grigore." It is a stimulant, and it's antispasmodic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antioxidant. Peppermint will help alleviate chest and throat congestion, and can also soothe those annoying body aches and pains that often come with being sick. One easy DIY hack is to add a few drops of organic peppermint essential oil to any store-bought cream and massage it onto sore, achy spots."
"Once you smell sandalwood, you feel as if you’ve smelled it a million times before. And you have, because it's the basis for many of the most popular perfumes in the world. It's a beautiful, warm, ancient Ayurvedic oil that's antiseptic, astringent, and anti-inflammatory. When inhaled, it's wonderful at helping treat chest colds."
"The list of proven benefits from lavender essential oil is almost ridiculous—which is why you see lavender in so many of your favorite therapeutic products. Lavender is (get ready for it!) a sedative, and it's antispasmodic, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, anesthetic, anticarcinogenic (meaning it counteracts the effects of cancer causing chemicals), immune-boosting, and antiviral. Lavender is particularly useful if you're experiencing congestion and coughing. When inhaled, it can loosen up phlegm and alleviate breathing issues."
"Ginger essential oil is anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants," explains Grigore. "It's also great for treating nausea, an upset stomach, and a sore throat. It's my crutch when I'm sick. I make a hideous beverage from grated ginger and the juice of an entire lemon. You don't need to suffer like me, though—you can treat your ailments with aromatherapy or ginger candy."
"There are various and wide-ranging uses of rosemary for well-being," notes Grigore. "It's antiseptic and antibacterial, and it's a decongestant. When inhaled, the aroma of rosemary has been shown to increase respiratory rates and boost your immune system. Rosemary is high in ketones, and that'll make you feel better when you have a stuffy nose or cough. Breathe it in and feel better instantly."
"Cinnamon leaf oil is high in phenylpropanoids, which are antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic. They can kill airborne bacteria and microbes. They also fight stress and boost the immune system," says Grigore. "In aromatherapy, cinnamon essential oil can be used sparingly to help clear up chest colds due to its has anti-rheumatic properties. Applied topically (dilute four drops in two tablespoons of base oil), it can soothe muscle aches and pains thanks to its antispasmodic and analgesic properties."
Note: Test the oil for skin sensitivity on inner elbow and observe for up to 24 hours. If you experience headache, sore throat, or shortness of breath, wash off it off with soap and water and discontinue use. If you are on medication or pregnant, consult your doctor before use and do not use during the first trimester. Store out of children’s reach and do not expose essential oils to infants for 12 months (peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree for up to 24 months).