Essential Oils: Anti-Microbial Truths and Myths

Posted on March 21 2020

Jasmine Diffuser by Stadler Form

The purpose of this piece is not to completely down-play the use of essential oils, because when used appropriately and in low dilutions they do possess many positive features.

From a psychological perspective people are definitely starting to panic during this Covid-19 pandemic and I can not stress enough that folks should not be using excessive amounts of essential oils at this time. 

From a health and safety perspective it is imperative to follow Approved Government Health Directives.

For many, the use of essential oils and related aromatherapy products have become an integral part of a conscientious and healthy living regime. Many folks choose to use essential oils in ultrasonic mist diffusers in order to emit a pleasant aroma throughout their home.

The psychological effects of essential oils and other odorants can have far reaching effects, which can be pleasant or even unpleasant, depending on the idiosyncratic nature of an individual and past as well as present experiences, which may evoke changes in mood etc. Pleasant feelings can usually be achieved by using ‘nicely scented’ odorants (essential oils), and the general feeling of well-being and relaxation can be greatly enhanced through the concomitant use of massage, a relaxing atmosphere, a friendly person to listen to one’s problems and a comfortable and warm bed to lie on.  How much of the benefit of such essential oil therapy is due to the essential oils has not be determined, and could vary, but a large proportion is probably due to the placebo effect, which is purely a psychological effect. (Lis-Balchin, 2005 p. 74)

Some folks prefer to use body care products, perfumes and massage oils that have been scented with essential oils rather than with synthetic fragrances. 

Many people also like to use essential oils as part of their disinfecting cleaning regime and that's fine but please be aware that Mixing Different Cleaning Chemicals can be very dangerous, and adding essential oils could create further chemical changes. Click here for Poster.

Research indicates that essential oils do possess some antimicrobial properties. However, antimicrobial is a broad statement that covers a wide range of microorganisms. A microorganism is simply a tiny organism. Many organisms are an essential component to all life on our planet, while other organisms can wreak havoc.


There are many scientifically proven antimicrobial solutions and pharmaceutics drugs that help to control the spread of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. Antimicrobial solutions used for disinfection purposes must also meet efficacy and safety standards depending upon the setting and application.

There is no empirical evidence indicating that essential oils are antiviral or virucidal substances.

Essential oils are concentrated highly aromatic volatile chemical compounds derived from plants. Every essential oil possesses a unique profile that is comprised of anywhere from 50 to 300 different organic compounds such as terpenes, monoterpenes, and several oxygenated compounds such as alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ketones, oxides and phenols. Often, it is simply just one or two of these particular constituents that occur within the matrix of an essential oil that when isolated may have some promising applications depending upon the context with which they are used.† Sometimes that one constituent that occurs in a higher volume which may possess some therapeutic action, but that same substance could cause ill effects due to the oxidization of that particular chemical.

For these reasons it is imperative to have a solid understanding as to which essential oils may cause: dermal, mucous and respiratory irritation, and which oils are not indicated to be used with children, the elderly, and by those who have underlying health issues, or by pregnant and nursing mothers, therefore it is always advisable to consult with your physician before using any natural health product if you have health concerns that relate to contraindications.

Despite the ‘we don’t test on animals’ movement – science must test on animals and to-date there is little scientific evidence that essential oils are valid treatments for animals or humans when it comes to preventing or curing disease.

Much of the scientific research that involves essential oils pertains to in vitro testing. Which simply means science in a dish.  Whereas in vivo pertains to research that is conducted within a living organism such as in humans and animals. From a microbial perspective, most of the evidence comes from in vitro testing where essential oils have been studied to determine the efficacy of controlling microbes in a petri-dish.  Often the science points to only a handful of constituents within an essential oil that may support the research hypotheses.

There are diverse functions of essential oils, depending on the mode of application, the actual essential oil, the adulteration of the essential oil, the species of animal to which the essential oil is applied, etc. The pharmacological effect in vitro on different tissues in the same and different animals can also vary. It is therefore not possible to generalize about the bioactivity of essential oils on microorganisms or in animal tissues in vitro, let alone in vivo in humans. (Lis-Balchin, 2005 p. 57)

For further information about Essential Oils consider reading some of my other blog posts at

Sharing Truths - Not Nonsense.

Sandra Topper, has been a Certified Aromatherapist in Canada since 1993 and is registered with the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy as a Clinical Aromatherapist & Aromachologist.

References & Good Resources:

Lis-Balchin, M. (2005). Aromatherapy Science: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals (1st ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Lis-Balchin, M. (1995). Aroma Science: The Chemistry & Bioactivity of Essential Oils (1st ed.). United Kingdom: Amberwood Publishing.

Tisserand, Robert, and Rodney Young*. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. 2nd ed., Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
        *This author is not affiliated with the Young Living Oil company.

Click here great resource: Irritant and Allergic Reactions to Essential Oils

Click here great resource: Essential Oils and Coronaviruses


†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or by Health Canada. This information and/or these statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and should not be relied upon when making important medical decisions.
Note:  Aromatherapy, like any other natural therapy is intended to complement not replace traditional medicine.

When in doubt about any medical condition, always seek medical advice.
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