13 Uses and Benefits of Manuka Essential Oil

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Manuka is a fairly recent addition to the essential oil family. Manuka essential oil is related to tea tree oil and the two share some similar properties. The manuka trees are the source of the pollen used by bees that produce New Zealand’s prestigious antimicrobial Manuka Honey.

Manuka essential oil is obtained from the leaves of the manuka tree Leptospermum

Scoparium, a tree in the Myrtaceae family. Its leaves and bark have been traditionally used by the Maori people to treat a range of ailments.

Its leaves were boiled in water and the steam inhaled for head colds, blocked sinuses, hay fever, bronchitis and asthma. Its leaves and bark were boiled and the warm liquid was rubbed on stiff backs and rheumatic joints. The leaves and young branches were used in hot baths. The crushed leaves were applied as a poultice to treat skin diseases and were also used on wounds to speed healing and reduce the risk of infection.

The young shoots of the Manuka tree were ingested for dysentery. A decoction of Manuka leaves was used to treat urinary infections and to reduce fever. Manuka has also been used to treat fungal infections like ringworm, and to treat sores and eczema.

While the majority of essential oils have centuries of documented therapeutic use for us to draw on, manuka essential oil is only a few decades old.

In the late 1980’s, Alan Cooke, a researcher at the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand investigated the properties of an oil extracted from the leaves of the manuka trees from a reserve owned by a Maori trust. The initial testing produced promising results and after several years of further research the institute published their findings in a paper called the Cooke and Cooke report which detailed the effectiveness of manuka oil against 39 different organisms.  

The researchers tested East Cape manuka essential oil against the related tea tree oil, East cape kanuka oil (another relative) and high terpineol pine oil (the active ingredient in Dettol). Manuka oil proved to be the most effective oil out of those tested at killing bacteria and other microbes, needing only very low concentrations to achieve its antimicrobial effects. In some instances it proved to be 30 times more effective than tea tree oil.

The active ingredients in manuka oil are a class of chemicals called triketones, and one of the major industrial uses of manuka oil has been to control Legionella in air conditioning systems throughout the United States.

Their testing showed that manuka oil was effective against a wide range of organisms from the very serious microbes like MRSA to the far less serious microbes that are responsible for Athlete’s Foot. The main compounds identified for their antimicrobial activity are Leptospermone, Isoleptospermone and Flavesone, which have also demonstrated an ability to prevent the toxins from insect bites and stings from diffusing which results in a significantly reduced amount of pain, itching and irritation.

The Cawthron Institute reported than when compared to tea tree oil, manuka oil was  20 to 30 times more active against gram positive bacteria, and 5 to 10 times more active against fungi. However other research concludes that manuka essential oil is less effective against fungi than tea tree oil. Manuka oil has also been shown to have antioxidant properties that are absent in tea tree oil.

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Later testing by the Department of Microbiology of the University of Otago, New Zealand, has demonstrated that East Cape manuka essential oil is effective against the bacteria associated with acne vulgaris, those that cause body odor and foot odor and in combating the fungi that cause athlete’s foot.

Manuka essential oil certainly looks like a valuable addition to a home remedy essential oil kit.

Its therapeutic actions include:

  • Analgesic – relieves pain.
  • Anesthetic – causes loss of sensation.
  • Antiseptic – destroys microbes.
  • Antibacterial – kills bacteria and prevents them from multiplying.
  • Anti-inflammatory – prevents or reduces inflammation.
  • Antifungal – kills fungus and prevent it spreading.
  • Antihistamine – treats allergic conditions and counteracts histamine.
  • Antiviral – kills viruses.
  • Cicatrisant – promotes healing by forming scar tissue.
  • Cytophylactic – increases the activity of leukocytes (type of white blood cells) to protect the body against infection.
  • Deodorant – masks or removes unpleasant odors.
  • Expectorant – loosens mucus from the respiratory system and aids in its expulsion.
  • Immune Stimulant – improves the functioning of the immune system.
  • Relaxant – soothing, relieving strain or tension.
  • Sedative – calms the body and mind.
  • Vulnerary – aids wound healing.

The essential oil is considered to be less irritating for sensitive skin than tea tree oil. Manuka oil is more expensive than tea tree oil when comparing product sizes but as it is so much more potent than tea tree oil, therefore needing much smaller doses, the two oils are actually very similar in price.

Analysis of oils from 261 individual manuka trees from 87 sites throughout New Zealand showed that the oils produced from trees on the East Cape of the North Island had the highest levels of triketones – the active healing compounds. Oils produced from the East Cape manuka had levels of triketones in excess of 20% while oils from other regions contained varying concentrations, mostly ranging from less than 5% to 10%. Look for ‘East Cape’ on the label of products that you buy to get the highest potency oils.

Manuka Essential Oil

1. Manuka Essential Oil Can Help Acne

While the root cause of acne is a hormonally derived overproduction of sebum, it’s important to get the bacteria that feast on the sebum in blocked pores under control to reduce inflammation and improve the appearance and health of the skin. As the bacteria infect each hair follicle (pore) they produce enzymes which weaken the wall of the pore and cause the pore to burst and spread the bacteria to surrounding tissue. Killing the bacteria is an important part of any acne treatment regimen.

In testing with the bacteria associated with acne vulgaris manuka essential oil was effective against:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Propionibacterium acnes
  • Peptostreptococcus species
  • Bacteroides species

A concentration of manuka oil as low as  0.07% completely inhibited bacterial growth.

Dilute manuka essential oil in water or a non comedogenic carrier oil and apply to affected skin twice a day.

2. Prevent Body Odor With Manuka Essential Oil

While most people associate sweat with body odor, it’s actually the microorganisms that feed on sweat that cause the odor. The sweat itself has no smell at all. The balance of bacteria on healthy skin prevents body odor from getting too intense, but for some people body odor is a severe problem even though they keep clean and use deodorant products. This is because their skin is harboring an out of balance bacterial population. Regular use of a natural product like manuka essential oil can kill off those bacteria responsible for the abnormal body odor and solve the problem.

The bacterial species found on human skin responsible for producing body odor include:

  • Corynebacterium spp.
  • Micrococcus luteus
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus homini

A concentration of manuka essential oil as low as 0.03% was shown to inhibit the growth of these bacteria.

Manuka oil can be added to lotions and carrier oils and massaged into the skin, and it can be mixed with a liquid soap or shower gel each time you bathe or shower.

For best results use daily to keep the bacteria at bay.

3. Bid Farewell To Stinky Feet With Manuka Essential Oil

Foot odor plagues many people. It’s embarrassing, unpleasant, and it makes shoes unwearable after they become saturated with the funky smell. Manuka essential oil has been tested against the strains of bacteria associated with foot odor:

  • Oxford Staphylococcus aureus
  • Micrococcus luteus
  • Brevibacterium species
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Acinetobacter calcoaceticus

At concentrations below 0.01% for most of the test bacteria, manuka oil proved to be bactericidal.

To combat foot odor dilute a few drops of manuka oil in your shower gel or liquid soap and wash feet well every day. You can also pop a few drops of the oil into a foot spa or a bowl of water and give your feet a relaxing antibacterial soak.

Manuka oil would make a very useful oil to have on hand if you have teenage boys, who are notorious for smelly feet, ripe body odor and skin afflicted with spots. A clean diet helps with all of those problems but getting teens to follow one is easier said than done, so use Manuka oil as your go to remedy to spruce up the young men in your family.

4. Ease The Discomfort of Insect Bites And Stings With Manuka Essential Oil

As the researchers discovered when they investigated manuka oil, the oil can prevent the toxins from bites and stings diffusing through tissue. Coupled with its antihistamine properties which prevent the release of inflammatory histamines by the immune system, manuka essential oil makes a perfect remedy that will stop bug bites turning into big itchy swellings that cause major irritation and discomfort. The antibacterial properties of the oil will stop any infections from creeping into broken skin which makes bites take longer to heal.

Dilute a few drops of manuka oil in a little water and dab onto bites and stings several times a day.

5. Use Manuka Essential Oil To Clean Wounds And Speed Healing

Given the wide range of bacteria that manuka oil has proven effective against, it makes sense to choose manuka essential oil as your main remedy to clean and disinfect wounds. Manuka oil is also a cicatrisant which means that it promotes healing by encouraging the formation of scar tissue which is the first stage of wound healing.

Clean wounds with plain, cool water first and be sure to flush out any dirt and debris, then use a wash made with manuka essential oil to disinfect the area. Use several drops of oil in a small amount of water and stir briskly to mix. Use a cotton ball to dab the wash onto the wound.

6. Treat Athlete’s Foot With Manuka Essential Oil

Athletes foot fungus responds well to manuka oil. Some people have had good results using the oil undiluted on their skin, but undiluted oils can result in skin sensitisation so it’s better to err on the side of caution and use the oil diluted. It may take longer to clear the infection but diluted oils carry very little risk of irritation and safety is always an important consideration when using any medicinal remedy.

Skin should be kept dry in between application of the oil to remove the moisture that the fungus need to survive. Use swatches of soft cotton or pieces of cotton balls or pads and tuck them between toes to soak up moisture.

7. Remedy Itchy Scalp And Dandruff With Manuka Essential Oil

Add manuka essential oil to your regular shampoo to make an effective anti dandruff shampoo. Just add a few drops of the oil to a normal amount of shampoo each time you wash. The anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties of the oil will soothe inflamed skin and combat the microbes causing the itching and flaking skin.

You can also make an overnight treatment by mixing manuka essential oil with coconut oil or another carrier oil. Massage it into your scalp and through your hair then cover up with a shower cap to protect your bed linens. In the morning shampoo your hair as normal to wash out the oil.

8. Use Manuka Essential Oil To Soothe Sunburn

Manuka oil is anti-inflammatory and pain relieving which is a great combination for sore sunburnt skin. If skin is too sore to accept an oil being smoothed over its surface, you can mix manuka oil with water and spray it onto the affected skin, or mix manuka with soothing aloe vera gel. The gel is an effective remedy itself that cools and heals sunburn and the addition of manuka essential oil will provide even more relief and effective healing. Aloe vera gel slides over severly sunburned skin without causing pain and it’s even more soothing if you keep it in the fridge.

9. Help To Relieve Symptoms Of irritable Bowel Syndrome With Manuka Essential Oil

The anti-inflammatory properties of manuka oil are reported to be particularly beneficial for digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and crohn’s.

To assist with these disorders, a massage oil can be made with several drops of manuka oil and a carrier oil, like coconut oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, etc and massaged into the lower abdomen.

Essential oils are readily absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream where they are circulated to all parts of the body to deliver their therapeutic benefits. Massaging the affected area allows the strongest level of the oils inflammatory benefits to be absorbed into the digestive tract first. Typical dilutions for an essential oil massage oil are:

2.5% dilution – use 15 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.

3% dilution – use 20 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.

5% dilution –  30 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.

10% dilution –  60 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.

Always start off with a smaller percentage of essential oil and asses how your symptoms react. If you need to increase the oil you can always add more but don’t go over a 10% dilution.

10. Treat ToeNail Fungus With Manuka Essential Oil

Soak infected toenails in a bowl of water that has manuka essential oil added to it. Dry feet with a clean towel and massage a little manuka oil mixed with a carrier oil into the affected nails. Make sure that you launder towels after use and change socks every day to prevent re infection from fungus that’s transferred to those items. You can also add manuka oil to your washing machine for extra insurance against lingering fungus.

11. Relieve Congestion With Manuka Essential Oil

Relieve Congestion With Manuka Essential Oil

Manuka oil’s expectorant action will unblock stuffy noses and loosen mucus on your chest. Dilute the oil with a carrier and massage into your chest, back and throat. Use a steam to quickly clear nasal and sinus congestion.

Boil water and carefully pour it into a ceramic bowl (the oil will taint plastics) and add 2 or 3 drops of manuka essential oil. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the steaming water, using the towel to make a tent that traps the steam. Don’t lean too close to the water or the steam will scald your face. Keep your eyes closed to prevent irritation, and inhale the decongestant steam. Take breaks as you need to so that you can blow your nose. Keep inhaling the steam until the water cools and the steam is gone.

12. Treat Poison Ivy And Poison Oak With Manuka Essential Oil

Manuka essential oil is a good choice for these types of rash. Anti-inflammatories and antihistamines work to reduce inflammation and calm the allergic response, while the analgesic qualities of the oil offer welcome pain relief.

Wash the affected skin thoroughly then use a cold compress infused with manuka oil over the skin. If a large area of skin is affected, add 10 to 20 drops of the essential oil into a lukewarm bath and soak for half an hour.

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To make a cold compress, mix several drops of manuka oil in a bowl of cold water then soak a washcloth in the water. Gently squeeze some of the water from the cloth and lay it over the affected area. You can soak and apply the compress 3 times before the oil will be used up.

Use a fresh compress as needed to relieve discomfort.

13. Use Manuka Essential Oil To Release Tension

Manuka is able to promote relaxation and ease aching muscles. Its sedative properties help to calm an overactive mind and induce sleep.

Add manuka oil to your evening bath, use it as a massage oil or add a few drops to an aromatherapy diffuser and enjoy the calming aroma.

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.