Essential Oils for Shingles: Medical Experts Weigh In

Understanding shingles

Nearly everyone gets chickenpox (or is vaccinated against it) in childhood. Just because you got those itchy, blistering rashes as a kid doesn’t mean you’re home free, though! Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the same strain of the virus as chickenpox. It can remain dormant in your nerve cells until you get older. The virus can lead to damage that can cause significant pain and the telltale shingles rash.

Almost one-third of Americans will experience a shingles outbreak at some point in their lives. Though most doctors are quick to point out the existence and efficacy of the shingles vaccine, it’s good to know what options are available to ease symptoms. Some nutritionists and osteopaths recommend essential oils for shingles. But do they work?

A doctor’s perspective

“Although there are some reports that certain essential oils may have an antiviral effect, there is no data to support the use of topical oils as a first-line option for the treatment of shingles,” says Dr. Nicole Van Groningen, a clinical fellow at the UCSF School of Medicine in San Francisco.

While the oils shouldn’t be used as primary treatment, Dr. Van Groningen doesn’t discount them entirely: “There are reports in the medical literature that support the use of peppermint oil and geranium oil to treat pain associated with shingles. One patient, who had not had any relief with traditional medications, tried peppermint oil and reportedly had an immediate effect. Capsaicin, a naturally occurring component of chili peppers, is great at alleviating pain associated with a variety of conditions, including shingles. That being said, patients should know that there are many other evidence-based medications that can help reduce major nerve-related pain.”

Using essential oils to treat shingles

Dr. Van Groningen recommends capsaicin, peppermint oil, or geranium oil as complements to the medications prescribed by your doctor. There are many brands of over-the-counter capsaicin lotions, patches, and ointments. You can also buy essential oils at your local health food stores.

Birgitta Lauren, a holistic health expert based in California, recommends mixing about 10 drops each of thyme, geranium, and lemon essential oils into about a tablespoon of high-quality coconut oil. Then apply the mixture to your blisters.