Dealing with inflammation is never fun, but when you experience unexpected flare-ups, there is one tool you can use to calm symptoms: essential oils. These tinctures are known to help with a lot of problems (including insomnia), so it's no surprise that they are also touted as a means to reduce inflammation in the body. To better understand how these oils work—and which ones work best for inflammation, in particular—we turned to an expert. Ahead, Melissa Murray, a certified aromatherapist and founder of Airmid Holistic, shares everything you need to know.
Essential oils work in two ways.
According to Murray, essential oils are concentrated plant essences that are extracted through the process of mechanical pressing or distillation. They contain the chemical compounds of the plants they come from and are known to have a variety of therapeutic benefits, she notes. Ultimately, there are two main ways to enjoy essential oils: aromatically or topically. When you inhale essential oils, they travel through the olfactory system (the part of the body that is responsible for our sense of smell) and trigger the limbic system (the area of our brain that is responsible for emotion and memory; it communicates with our nervous system). And when you apply essential oils topically (which requires dilution), they sink into the skin, explains Murray.
Thyme, clove, and peppermint are the major essential oils studies show have anti-inflammatory properties.
According to a study published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, essential oils like thyme, clove, eugenol, and peppermint are proven to help with inflammation. Murray affirms this: Thyme is shown to reduce the inflammatory enzyme in the body by 75 percent. Clove, she continues, contains an ingredient called eugenol that increases blood flow to an area and creates a warming, soothing sensation when applied. Peppermint does the opposite thanks to its high menthol content—it has a cooling effecton inflamed areas.
Ginger, helichrysum, and Roman chamomile work, too.
Murray names ginger, helichrysum, and Roman chamomile as other essential oils that contain anti-inflammatory properties; she also loves black pepper and sweet marjoram for sore muscles. These two are the key players in her Loose Limbs formula, which also contains cinnamon, clove, ginger, and peppermint; the warming blend can be applied directly to sore muscles and joints.
Less is more.
When it comes to putting on essential oils—especially in the presence inflammation—less is always more, explains Murray. You must dilute them in a carrier oil (she recommends looking to this chart from the Tisserand Institute when identifying proper measurements) and then massage the mixture into the area—your elbows, your knees, a pulled hamstring—that is experiencing pain. You can use these essential oil blends up to three to four times a day, or more frequently for short-term issues.