16 Supernatural Antibacterial Essential Oils

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Essential oils can do so many different things. If you look up the specific actions of each oil, you’ll find a list of their benefits, and for a majority of essential oils one of those benefits is the ability to kill or inhibit bacteria.

Some oils have antibacterial qualities which means that they kill bacteria or hinder their reproduction. Others will also be antiseptic, which is the ability to inhibit the growth and reproduction of many microorganisms on the skin. And there is yet another germ killing property – antimicrobial – which is a substance used to treat infections.

Essential oils have hundreds, sometimes thousands of natural chemical components. Even when scientists have fully identified all of the chemical structures in an essential oil, they can’t then take separate chemicals and recombine them (using exact proportions) to produce an essential oil with the same therapeutic qualities as the original. Plant’s are master chemists, they make our unquestionably brilliant scientists look like amateurs.

Plants have been refining their processes for millions of years, humans have only been playing around with chemicals in earnest for a few hundred years, so we’ve got some catching up to do!

Luckily we don’t need to wait for scientists to produce some powerful healing compounds in their laboratories, we can just use the plant oils that humans have been benefiting from for thousands of years.

The earliest evidence that we have of plant oils being distilled dates their use to around 5000 years ago.

Complex essential oils don’t have the negative consequences of antibiotics, simple antiseptics and disinfectants, they don’t contribute to bacterial resistance.

Bacteria are truly incredible. Even though some of them cause us nothing but trouble, others are essential to our survival.

In a very short time these awe-inspiring life forms work out how to foil even the strongest antibiotics that we have. Within a year of penicillin being discovered a number of bacteria were already resistant.

Through mechanisms that we don’t fully understand, the bacteria that learn how to resist our attempts to kill them pass on that learned resistance to any and all bacteria that they encounter. They even send out chemical signals to attract bacteria to them so that they can pass on a snippet of DNA that contains the resistance instructions.

But even more amazingly – and this is the bit that defies our rational understanding of how the world works – bacteria that have never come into contact with antibiotic resistant bacteria, also gain that resistance. I like to compare bacteria to the Borg from Star Trek. Whatever one knows they all know!

The good news for us in all of this is that even though bacteria can easily work out resistance to our antibiotics they can’t resist the hundreds and thousands of constituents that work synergistically in herbal medicines and essential oils.

The Different Properties In Essential Oils

Like all organic compounds, essential oils are made up of hydrocarbon molecules. The different configuration of these molecules creates different substances and different therapeutic effects.

In essential oils we find alcohols, esters, phenols, aldehydes, ketones, oxides, etc.

A majority of the compounds found in essential oils are terpene hydrocarbons. Terpenes are made up of chains of carbon atoms and these carbon atoms are made up of 5 isoprene units.

The monoterpenes which feature heavily in citrus oils are made up of 2 isoprene units and they have 10 carbon atoms. Monoterpenes are good all round antiseptics, antibacterials antivirals and anti-inflammatories.

Sesquiterpenes are made up of 3 isoprene units and have 15 carbon atoms. They are very strong anti-inflammatories and also have antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Isoprenes are not terpenes, but all terpenes are made of isoprenes.

Some of these terpenes are already present in the plant oil, while others are formed during the extraction process as the plant material reacts to the stresses that it’s being subjected to.

Once a plant is cut or crushed, or subjected to heat, its chemical structure changes as it tries to stay alive.

For example, terpenes are already formed in citrus oils pressed from the rinds of the fruits, but in rose essential oil the terpenes are formed during the steam distillation process. In a solvent extracted rose concrete or absolute the terpenes are very low or missing altogether.

Phenols are another source of antibacterial activity in essential oils. These phenols are found in compounds like thymol, eugenol and carvacrol. Oils with high phenol content are very effective but they can be skin irritants and used in high quantities they will make the liver work harder to excrete them. Essential oils with high phenol content include clove oil and cinnamon oil and these oils should be used very sparingly.

Antibacterial and antimicrobial essential oils can be used to prevent and treat infection of the skin, they can be inhaled via a steam or by vaporization with a diffuser to kill bacteria in the respiratory tract, they can be absorbed through the skin to help the immune system and they can be used in place of chemical cleaning products.

Inexpensive essential oils like tea tree, lavender, lemon and eucalyptus are great for adding to cleaning products. The more expensive oils however, like sandalwood and frankincense should be kept for personal use – although a drop or two of their amazing aroma is hard to resist when making up blends for cleaning sprays!

As a rough guide there are about 20 drops in one ml of essential oil. So a 15ml (1/2 ounce) bottle would provide 300 drops and a 100ml (3.3 ounce) bottle would give 2000 drops.

Essential oils can be diluted with carrier oils, like sunflower oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil, or a few drops can be added to water to make wound washes or added to bath water.

Dilution ratios are as follows:

  • A 2.5% dilution uses 15 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
  • A 3% dilution uses 20 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
  • A 5% dilution uses 30 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.
  • A 10% dilution uses 60 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.

Essential oils with a high terpene content – like citrus oils – oxidize quickly compared to the other oils. Buy small bottles that you’ll use up within 6 months to prevent waste. Oxidized essential oils no longer have therapeutic qualities and shouldn’t be used on the skin. Use them up in disinfectants, or as deodorizers in garbage cans or shoes.

Let’s take a look at some of the best antibacterial oils and find out what other conditions they can help with.

1. Tea Tree Essential Oil – Melaleuca alternifolia

Origin – the oil is extracted from the leaves and twigs of the tea tree via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic, expectorant.

Characteristics – a pale yellowy-green  or clear liquid with a warm fresh spicy-camphoraceous odor.

Useful for – Abscesses, acne, athlete’s foot, burns, blisters, cold sores, dandruff, insect bites, rashes, wound cleaning, asthma, catarrh, coughs, sinus infections, colds and cleaning products.

Small amounts can be used undiluted on skin for treating spots and athlete’s foot. Otherwise combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $25 for 100ml

2. Eucalyptus Essential Oil – Eucalyptus globulus

Origin – the oil is extracted from the leaves and young twigs of the eucalyptus tree via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, analgesic, antiviral, antiseptic, expectorant, decongestant.

Characteristics – a colorless liquid with a camphoraceous odor and sweet woody undertone.

Useful for – burns, blisters, insect bites, wound cleaning, asthma, catarrh, coughs, throat infections sinus infections, colds, headaches, muscular aches and pains, and cleaning products.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $20 for 100ml

3. German Chamomile Essential Oil – Matricaria recutica

Origin – the oil is extracted from the flower heads of the chamomile plant via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, analgesic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, cicatrisant, antispasmodic.

Characteristics – a thick inky blue liquid with a sweet warm herbaceous odor.

Useful for – acne, boils, burns, cuts, dermatitis, insect bites, rashes, eczema, wound cleaning, colds, headaches, muscular aches and pains, arthritis, neuralgia, toothache.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $20 for 5ml

4. Clove Bud Essential Oil – Syzygium aromaticum

Origin – the oil is extracted from the buds of the clove tree via water distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antiseptic, antibiotic, anti neuralgic, antiviral, expectorant and carminative.

Characteristics – a pale yellow liquid with a sweet spicy odor.

Useful for – acne, athlete’s foot, bruises, burns, cuts, ulcers, wound cleaning, colds, asthma, bronchitis, arthritis, toothache.

This oil is very strong and should only be used in dilutions of less than one percent – 6 drops in one ounce of carrier oil. Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $7.50 for 10 ml

5. Lavender Essential Oil – Lavandula angustifolia

Lavender Essential Oil

Origin – the oil is extracted from the flower heads of the lavender plant via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, analgesic, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, cicatrisant, nervine, sedative.

Characteristics – a colorless liquid with a sweet floral herbaceous scent, and a balsamic woody undertone.

Useful for – abscesses, acne, athlete’s foot, boils, bruises, burns, cuts, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, insect bites and stings, psoriasis, rashes, sunburn, wound cleaning, colds, headaches, muscular aches and pains, arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, throat infections, stress, depression and hypertension and cleaning products.

This essential oil is one of the most versatile essential oils, as I’m sure that you can see from the above partial list of its uses. It’s inexpensive, and it’s the one oil that every home should have in their medicine cabinet. It can be used undiluted on the skin for small areas very safely, and even over larger areas, but since you only need a few drops to experience the benefits, it’s best to dilute it, so none is wasted. Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $39 for 100ml

6. Lemon Essential Oil – Citrus limon

Origin – the oil is cold pressed from the outer rind of the lemon.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, cicatrisant and diuretic.

Characteristics – a pale greenish yellow liquid with a light fresh lemony scent.

Useful for – acne, boils, cuts, corns, wound cleaning, brittle nails, oily skin, insect bites, mouth ulcers, warts, colds, arthritis, nosebleeds, poor circulation, high blood pressure, asthma and cleaning products.

Don’t go out into direct sunlight after using lemon essential oil on your skin. It is phototoxic and can cause a reaction that leaves you with a long lasting dark rash and blisters. Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion. Store in the fridge to preserve its shelf life.

Costs – around $20 for 100ml

7. Oregano essential Oil – Origanum vulgare

Origin – the oil is extracted from the dried herb via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, analgesic, antispasmodic, antiviral, carminative, expectorant.

Characteristics – a pale yellow liquid with a warm, spicy, herbaceous, camphoraceous odor.

Useful for – joint pain if very well diluted to less than 1%. Cleaning products, especially when cold and flu season is in full swing or if other infections are present at home. You will find plenty of proponents online of taking oregano oil internally or using it for skin problems. This isn’t considered to be safe, so please be aware of the risks if you come across information that advises you to use oregano oil in this way.

Oregano essential oil is also known to be a dermal irritant, use with caution!

Costs – around $50 for 100ml

8. Myrrh Essential Oil – Commiphora myrrha

Origin – the oil is extracted from the shrubby, small Commiphora trees via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, expectorant, carminative, sedative.

Characteristics – a pale yellow to amber oily liquid with a warm sweet slightly spicy odor.

Useful for – athlete’s foot, cracked skin, eczema, ringworm, wound cleaning, wrinkles, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, gum infections and gingivitis, mouth ulcers, sore throat, colds.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $16 for 5ml

9. Sandalwood Essential Oil

Origin – the oil is extracted from the roots and heartwood of the white and yellow sandalwood trees via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antifungal, antidepressant, antiseptic, astringent, cicatrisant, antispasmodic, expectorant.

Characteristics – a pale yellow green thick liquid with a soft sweet woody balsamic scent.

Useful for – acne, greasy skin, cracked skin, rashes, bronchitis, coughs, catarrh, sore throat, colds, nausea, depression, insomnia, nervous tension and stress related conditions

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $35 for 5ml

10. Patchouli Essential Oil – Pogostemon cablin

Origin – the oil is extracted from the leaves of the patchouli herb via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic, antiviral, cicatrisant, digestive, nervous stimulant.

Characteristics – a thick dark orange or amber liquid with a sweet, rich, earthy, herbaceous odor.

Useful for – acne, athlete’s foot, cracked skin, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, impetigo, sores, oily hair and skin, cleaning wounds, wrinkles, stress related complaints.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $8 for 10 ml

11. Grapefruit Essential Oil – Citrus x paradisi

Origin – the oil is cold pressed from the outer rind of the grapefruit.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antiseptic, astringent, digestive and lymphatic stimulant, tonic.

Characteristics – a yellow liquid with a fresh sweet citrus aroma.

Useful for – acne, oily skin, muscle fatigue, stiff muscles, water retention, colds, depression, headaches, stress.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Store grapefruit oil in the fridge to prolong its shelf life.

Costs – around $7 for 10 ml

12. Coriander Essential Oil – Coriandrum sativum

Origin – the oil is extracted from the crushed coriander seeds via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, analgesic, antifungal, antioxidant, antispasmodic, carminative, nervous system and circulatory system stimulant.

Characteristics – a colorless to pale yellow liquid with a sweet woody spicy slightly musky fragrance.

Useful for – colds, infections, headaches, migraine, muscular aches and pains, neuralgia.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $10 for 10 ml

13. Lemongrass Essential Oil – Cymbopogon citratus

Origin – the oil is extracted from the fresh and partially dried grass plant via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, analgesic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, cicatrisant, antispasmodic.

Characteristics – a yellow to amber liquid with a fresh grassy citrus scent.

Useful for – acne, athlete’s foot, sweating, open pores, muscle pain, circulation, indigestion, fevers, infectious diseases, headaches, nervous tension and stress related conditions.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $19 for 100ml

14. Pine Essential Oil –  Pinus sylvestris

Origin – the oil is extracted by dry distillation of pine needles.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antirheumatic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant.

Characteristics – a colorless to pale yellow liquid with a strong balsamic odor.

Useful for – cuts, wound cleaning, excessive perspiration, arthritis, gout, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, sinus infections, sore throat, colds, fatigue, stress neuralgia.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $14 for 30ml

15. Rosemary Essential Oil – Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary Essential Oil

Origin – the oil is extracted from the flower heads of the rosemary plant via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antispasmodic, analgesic, astringent, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, nervine, tonic, vulnerary.

Characteristics – a colorless or pale yellow liquid with a strong, fresh, minty, herbaceous scent.

Useful for – acne, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, oily hair and skin, lice, varicose veins, fluid retention, gout, muscle pain, rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, trapped gas, colds, headaches, hypotension, neuralgia, mental fatigue, nervous tension and stress.

Combine a few drops with a carrier oil and massage onto the skin or add a few drops to water and inhale as a steam or via diffusion.

Costs – around $11 for 30ml

16. Garlic Essential Oil – Allium sativum

Origin – the oil is extracted from the crushed bulb via steam distillation.

Main Actions – antibacterial, antibiotic, antiviral, antiseptic, antimicrobial, antifungal, diuretic, expectorant, carminative, hypotensive.

Characteristics – a colorless to pale yellow liquid with a strong garlic odor.

Useful for – respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, urinary tract infections, circulatory problems.

This oil is taken as capsules for internal use.

Costs – around $8 for 250 x 1500mg capsules.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.