Last week, beauty guru Michelle Phan made a claim on Instagram that essential oils could kill off viruses.
The YouTuber, who has more than two million followers, posted an Instagram story advising people to burn ‘antiviral’ tea tree, lavender, clove bud, lemon, ravensara, and eucalyptus globulus oils.
Michelle used an essential oil diffuser to burn the oils and she posted a picture of it with the caption; ‘Our first point of contact for viruses is our nose. If you are burning antiviral essential oils around you this will kill off the virus before it enters your system.’
But, Dr Sandra Lee – better known as Dr Pimple Popper – was quick to call out the influencer.
The famous spot-squeezing dermatologist of tweeted a screenshot of Phan’s Story and wrote, ‘Sorry, antiviral essential oils DON’T EXIST.’
With concerns growing about the coronavirus – which is currently sweeping through China, with the first cases popping up in the UK – it’s important to have our facts straight when it comes to catching and spreading disease.
So what is the truth?
Can ‘anti-viral essential oils’ prevent viruses?
The official line seems to be, no.
We asked a couple of experts, and they both agreed with Dr Pimple Popper. Michelle Phan’s claims that burning oils can kill a virus doesn’t seem to stand up. However, they’re not completely useless.
‘Antiviral essential oils are an alternative form of treatment for some of the symptoms of colds and flu and can alleviate conditions like a blocked nose, or aid sleep to improve recovery times,’ explains Dr Simran Deo at UK-based online doctor, Zava UK.
‘However, there is no evidence to suggest that inhaling or applying essential oils to the skin can prevent infection in the first place,’ she adds.
‘Viruses are spread by coming into close contact with someone who has one, or touching infected surfaces or objects and then putting your hands in your mouth.’
Sorry, antiviral essential oils DON’T EXIST @MichellePhan 🙈😬. #drpimplepopper pic.twitter.com/b6vLxl5PVW
— Dr Pimple Popper (@SandraLeeMD) February 3, 2020
Dr Diana Gall agrees on the lack of evidence. She doesn’t think essential oils can have a preventative effect against viruses.
‘While they may help to soothe the symptoms of viruses such as flu, they have very little effect in stopping viruses making their way into the body,’ she says.
She adds that some essential oils have shown to be effective natural treatments to reduce the symptoms of some viruses, though.
‘For instance, the cold sore virus can be treated with essential oils such as tea tree oil because of its anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties,’ she explains.
‘It is true that essential oils are antimicrobial and are therefore effective against various pathogens such as bacteria. However, essential oils should be used with care, they shouldn’t be used internally and you should avoid ingesting these substances.’
She adds that essential oils aren’t always regulated like medicines are, so you should speak to a doctor before using them.
How can you lower your risk of catching a virus?
The NHS has issued official advice on how to prevent catching and spreading germs – and to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
They say you should always carry tissues with you and use them to catch your cough or sneeze. Then bin the tissue, and wash your hands, or use a sanitiser gel.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and make sure to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
The biggest one, though, is washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water.
Dr Simran Deo agrees: ‘The best thing you can do to help prevent infection is to make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and water, particularly before eating, after visiting the toilet or after touching surfaces that viruses can live on, such as countertops or handrails,’ she says.
She also says it’s helpful to make sure your immune system is fighting fit.
‘Make sure you are eating a healthy balanced diet, and in the case of the flu, you may want to consider having an annual vaccine, particularly if you’re elderly, pregnant or have a medical condition that weakens the immune system.’
Dr Diana Gall also gave the handwashing advice and is very pro sneezing in tissues.
‘You can also get vaccinated against some viruses, quit smoking if you smoke, take vitamin supplements, and lead a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a balanced diet,’ she adds.
So, now you have all the tools to keep yourself healthy over the next few months – and burning essential oils doesn’t really make the cut.