Essential oils as topical anti-infective agents: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Complement Ther Med. 2019 Dec;47:102224. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102224. Epub 2019 Oct 24.


Objective: This study summarized evidence on the efficacy and safety of essential oils (EOs) in the treatment of topical infections.

Design and setting: Systematic review of clinical trials conducted and reported in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) guideline. Electronic databases of the Cochrane, PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Scopus were searched from inception to November 2018.

Intervention: Essential oil of any type, standard treatment and placebo.

Main outcome measures: Outcomes of the study include total acne count, acne severity index, reduction in total acne surface area, number of non-inflammatory acne lesions and inflammatory acne lesions, microbial cure rate, microbial decolonization rate, and new microbial emergence.

Results: Non-significant but higher proportion of MRSA was cleared in EOs group (69% [95%CI: 34%, 96%]) compared to routine care (45% [95%CI: 36%, 53%]). Essential oils significantly lowered level of new MRSA emergence (9% [95% CI: 5%, 14%], I2 = 86.59%) compared to routine care (53% [95%CI: 30%, 75%], I2 = 86.59%). Four of the five studies on acne treatment showed equal or superior efficacy of EOs and the remaining one showed inferior efficacy to a control. In treatment of topical fungal infections, efficacy of essential oils were non-inferior compared to a standard treatment but superior to a placebo.

Conclusion: Essential oils could be considered as alternative treatment for acne, decolonization of MRSA, and topical fungal infections, yet the low quality and heterogeneity among the studies calls for further studies.

Keywords: Alternative therapy; Aromatherapy; Clinical trial; Tea tree oil.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects*
  • Oils, Volatile / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Oils, Volatile