Sensitivity of Candida albicans to essential oils: are they an alternative to antifungal agents?

J Appl Microbiol. 2016 Dec;121(6):1530-1545. doi: 10.1111/jam.13282. Epub 2016 Oct 24.


Aims: Candida albicans is an important opportunistic pathogen, responsible for the majority of yeast infections in humans. Essential oils, extracted from aromatic plants, are well-known antimicrobial agents, characterized by a broad spectrum of activities, including antifungal properties. The aim of this work was to assess the sensitivity of 30 different vaginal isolated strains of C. albicans to 12 essential oils, compared to the three main used drugs (clotrimazole, fluconazole and itraconazole).

Methods and results: Thirty strains of C. albicans were isolated from vaginal swab on CHROMagar Candida. The agar disc diffusion method was employed to determine the sensitivity to the essential oils. The antifungal activity of the essential oils and antifungal drugs (clotrimazole, itraconazole and fluconazole) were investigated using a microdilution method. Transmission and scanning electron microscopy analyses were performed to get a deep inside on cellular damages. Mint, basil, lavender, tea tree oil, winter savory and oregano essential oils inhibited both the growth and the activity of C. albicans more efficiently than clotrimazole. Damages induced by essential oils at the cellular level were stronger than those caused by clotrimazole.

Conclusions: Candida albicans is more sensitive to different essential oils compared to the main used drugs. Moreover, the essential oil affected mainly the cell wall and the membranes of the yeast.

Significance and impact of the study: The results of this work support the research for new alternatives or complementary therapies against vaginal candidiasis.

Keywords: Candida albicans; Satureja montana; Thymus capitatus; electron microscopy; essential oils; metabolic activity inhibition; minimal inhibitory concentration.

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Candida / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / drug effects*
  • Candida albicans / isolation & purification
  • Clotrimazole / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Fluconazole / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Itraconazole / pharmacology
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Itraconazole
  • Fluconazole
  • Clotrimazole