Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Cuts and Wounds

Your skin acts as a barrier between your body and the outside environment. A cut or wound on the skin may not be serious but it has the potential of allowing pathogenic organisms into the body. To treat a cut or wound with aromatherapy means applying essential oils to the skin. Certain essential oils can help decrease bleeding, decrease risk of infection, promote wound healing and decrease scarring. You should seek medical help if your wound is from a rusty object, if it bleeds heavily, if it is a deep puncture or if it does not get better in a few days.

Essential oils are produced from herbs by distillation. They are typically used by dissolving them in a carrier oil. Besides essential oils, another form of aromatherapy uses watery distillates or hydrosols that are extracted from herbs by distillation. These products are much more dilute, and thus safer to use on the skin in many cases.

How to Use Essential Oils for Cuts and Wounds

Most essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin undiluted as they are very concentrated and can cause irritation upon application or worse can cause sensitization. You can dilute your essential oil in a carrier oil, which can be almost any type of vegetable oil. Most people have olive oil at home—this makes a good carrier oil. Other carrier oils include walnut oil, almond oil and grapeseed oil.

The rule of thumb for dilution is to every 2 tablespoons of carrier oil add 15 drops of essential oil from a dropper. This will give you a 2.5 percent dilution. You can use slightly more concentrated oil if you are applying it to a small, localized area of the body. Once you make this healing oil, you should use it on the injured area several times a day.

Essential oils can also be used in the bath. Before adding them to the bath, dilute as instructed above so that the essential oil itself does not contact the skin undiluted. The essential oil will typically float on the surface of the water.

How Can Aromatherapy Help Treat Cuts and Wounds?

The first step in treating a cut or wound is to stop the bleeding. If there is severe bleeding, first apply direct pressure to the wound until the bleeding stops. The wound should then be cleaned and treated to prevent infection. Clean the wound with plain water or an herb tea, such as peppermint tea. An herb tea will give some of the beneficial properties of that herb, which include antiseptic action. A wound will heal better if it is open to air so that oxygen can reach it. Don’t apply an oil or balm immediately.

Once the wound is cleaned and examined for severity, you can apply an ointment made from essential oils. Many essential oils have been found to have antibiotic properties and are suitable for treating a wound.

Essential oils that can be used for this purpose include:

  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora, E. globules, E. radiata)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
  • Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
  • Juniper (Juniperus communis)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Lemon (Citrus limonum)
  • Melissa (Melissa officinalis)
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  • Orange (Citrus aurantium)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)
  • Tea tree oil (Malaleuca alternifolia)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Ylang ylang (Canangium odorata)

Of these essential oils, lavender oil is probably the most readily available, safest and most versatile of all.

Making a Healing Oil

To make your own healing oil, combine the following ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or grape seed oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops tea tree oil or thyme oil

Mix well and apply to your wound.

If the wound is inflamed you may want to use some essential oils that decrease inflammation, which include:

  • Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
  • German and Roman chamomiles (Matricaria recutita; Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  • Myrtle (Myrtys communis)
  • Yarrow (Achillea milleflorum)

Make an oil blend similar to the one above using one of these oils. The use of herbal distillates or hydrosols might also be beneficial for reducing inflammation. These distillates can be used directly on the skin by applying with a cotton ball or spraying with a spray bottle.

Stimulating cell growth to hasten healing can be done with calendula oil. This is not considered an essential oil; it is rather an oil extracted from the calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers. Studies have found that this oil can stimulate wound healing.

To prevent scarring of the tissue, some people have found that the essential oils of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), frankincense (Boswellia carterii) or helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) can help.

Is Aromatherapy for Cuts and Wounds Safe and Effective?

There is much scientific literature that documents the antiseptic activity of essential oils. There are only limited studies examining the use of essential oils on the skin to prevent infection and heal wounds. Several small studies have found benefits to lavender, tea tree and chamomile essential oils. Most documentation of the effects of essential oils on wound healing is in the form of testimonials or historical uses.

The danger of using essential oils includes skin irritation, skin sensitization and photoxicity. Irritation is a minor and temporary effect of the skin becoming red and itchy. This effect can be reversed by removing the essential oil from the skin. Sensitization is more serious and involves an immune system reaction similar to an allergy. In sensitization, the person will typically have no reaction with their first exposure to the sensitizer, but the second exposure will cause a severe skin reaction involving itching, redness and pain. Phototoxicity will cause a more intense reaction to the sun resulting in a deep burn.

Diluting the essential oil can decrease the risks of all of these side effects. Be careful when purchasing essential oils. There are unscrupulous vendors who may encourage unsafe practices, such as using essential oils undiluted directly on the skin. These are marketing ploys and may cause sensitization.

Although essential oils will not support growth of bacteria or fungus, the watery distillates will. Do not use a watery distillate that does not contain an appropriate preservative to prevent growth of microbes. Essential oils are generally said to last a year, but in most cases they can last far longer than that.

Additional Resources

AGORA: Aromatherapy Global Online Research Archives

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