Essential Oils and Health

Yale J Biol Med. 2020 Jun 29;93(2):291-305. eCollection 2020 Jun.


Essential oils (EOs) have risen in popularity over the past decade. These oils function in society as holistic integrative modalities to traditional medicinal treatments, where many Americans substitute EOs in place of other prescribed medications. EOs are found in a multitude of products including food flavoring, soaps, lotions, shampoos, hair styling products, cologne, laundry detergents, and even insect repellents. EOs are complex substances comprised of hundreds of components that can vary greatly in their composition depending upon the extraction process by the producer or the origin of the plant. Thus, making it difficult to determine which pathways in the body are affected. Here, we review the published research that shows the health benefits of EOs as well as some of their adverse effects. In doing so, we show that EOs, as well as some of their individual components, possess antimicrobial, antiviral, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties as well as purported psychogenic effects such as relieving stress, treating depression, and aiding with insomnia. Not only do we show the health benefits of using EOs, but we also indicate risks associated with their use such as their endocrine disrupting properties leading to the induction of premature breast growth in young adolescents. Taken together, there are many positive and potentially negative risks to human health associated with EOs, which make it important to bring awareness to all their known effects on the human body.

Keywords: Endocrine disruptors; anti-inflammatory; antimicrobial; gynecomastia; prepubertal; psychological.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aromatherapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional / methods
  • Oils, Volatile* / adverse effects
  • Oils, Volatile* / pharmacology
  • Risk Assessment


  • Oils, Volatile