What You Need To Know About Essential Oils for Shingles

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Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella (herpes) zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chicken pox. Before the rash is visible, many people feel pain, itching, or tingling in the area where it develops. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 1 million people develop shingles each year in the United States. Almost 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime. If you’ve had chicken pox, you can get shingles at almost any age, but it is more common in older adults.

The blistering, painful rash typically erupts in a strip on one side of the body or face. The pain can be intense and is often described as burning, aching, or stabbing. Some people with shingles develop fever, headache, chills, sensitivity to touch, and an upset stomach. 

Many people turn to natural remedies—such as essential oils—to help ease the pain and discomfort caused by shingles. As with any home remedy, it’s important to use essential oils as a complementary treatment and not a substitute for any treatment your doctor suggests. 

In this article, learn which essential oils may provide relief, the conventional treatments they complement, and how to use essential oils.

Older woman using essential oil

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Essential Oils for Shingles

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts taken from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits of plants. These extracts have therapeutic properties that may offer health benefits and pain relief.

Some essential oils have been proven to have antiviral effects in clinical studies. This may make them a good addition to your treatment plan for shingles. 

Rose Geranium Oil

Shingles sometimes results in postherpetic neuralgia, a condition that affects the nerve fibers and skin. This condition can cause severe pain and impact a person’s quality of life. However, there are few treatments available.

Applying rose geranium oil topically (directly on the skin) may help reduce postherpetic pain. But note that no essential oil should ever be applied to broken skin (such as a burst herpes vesicle).

A review found one older study showing rose geranium (Pelargonium species) oil can significantly reduce pain within minutes of application. The pain-relieving effects of the oil are temporary. It must be reapplied for ongoing relief.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus oil is popular thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. It is commonly used for cleansing the air and surfaces to eliminate bacteria. This soothing oil can also be used to provide pain relief for minor skin conditions, including sores, cuts, and burns.

The oil can be diluted in warm water for a bath/soak to relieve discomfort and skin inflammation caused by shingles. Never apply undiluted oil directly to the skin, use it for long time periods, or use it on broken skin.

Inhalation of eucalyptus oil (known as aromatherapy) may decrease pain and inflammation, too. One study found that patients who inhaled eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes had a reduction in pain levels after knee surgery, and lowered blood pressure.

In lab studies (in vitro, not in humans), eucalyptus oil has antiviral properties and is effective at eliminating various viruses, including the herpes simplex virus. 

Clove Oil

Clove essential oil has been used throughout history as a natural painkiller. It is rich in flavonoids, which are plant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Clove oil is believed to work by blocking nerve signals that send pain messages from the body to the brain. This provides temporary relief. In animal studies, clove oil was shown to alleviate neuropathic (nerve) pain.

It’s important to dilute the clove oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. Then a small amount can be applied to the shingles rash or blisters. It has a warming effect at first. This is followed by numbing relief, which may provide temporary pain relief for minor cases of shingles.

Thyme Oil

Thyme essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce shingles pain and swelling when applied to the skin.

Research found that thyme oil has an antiviral effect against certain viruses. These include herpes simplex virus type I, human rhinoviruses, and influenza viruses. The same study determined thyme essential oil has antifungal and antioxidant properties. 

Do not consume thyme essential oil. It is most effective for pain when applied topically. Be sure to dilute thyme oil with a carrier oil, such as olive or coconut oil, before applying it to the skin. 

How To Use Essential Oils

There are a few ways to enjoy the benefits of essential oils, including: 

  • Inhalation: Breathe in the oils (without drinking/eating) for their aroma. 
  • Diffusing: You can use a diffuser meant for essential oils or add a few drops of oil to the water in your humidifier.
  • Applied topically: If you plan to use essential oils on the skin, always dilute the pure essential oils with a carrier oil (e.g., almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil) before applying it. Generally, 2 to 3 drops of essential oil can be added to 1 to 2 tablespoons of the carrier oil.
  • Spray bottle: If your shingles rash is too painful to touch, try adding essential oil diluted with witch hazel or aloe vera to water in a spray/spritzer bottle and spraying over the rash to avoid direct contact. 

Some personal care products may contain essential oils, such as creams, lotions, and ointments. Follow the recommendations and instructions on the labels of any packaging of these products before use.

Avoid prolonged use of a single essential oil in any form. The chemical constituents can be absorbed and build up in the body. This has a potential for adverse effects. Never apply essential oils to broken skin. Discontinue use if a rash develops.

Essential oils should never be taken orally without consulting a provider knowledgeable in their therapeutic applications.

Treatment of Shingles

There is currently no cure for shingles. Your doctor may prescribe conventional treatments to help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the outbreak. Antiviral medications such as Valtrex (valacyclovir), Famvir (famciclovir), or Zovirox (acyclovir) may be prescribed.

How Shingles Is Treated

Treating shingles typically involves a multipronged approach.

If you are experiencing pain, your doctor may recommend a topical shingles cream that contains capsaicin, a naturally-derived numbing agent applied topically to reduce pain. You may also take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce inflammation and pain. 

If you are over the age of 50 and have had chicken pox or a previous shingles outbreak, you may be eligible for the shingles vaccine. This can prevent recurring shingles outbreaks.

Using essential oils for reducing the symptoms of shingles should be a complementary therapy and not a replacement for conventional medicine.

It is important to take any medications recommended by your doctor. Speak to your doctor before adding essential oils to your treatment plan. Some oils may worsen symptoms or interfere with the medications you are taking.

Summary

Certain essential oils may have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. They can be applied to the skin or as aromatherapy. Essential oils might be used in addition to conventional treatment.

A Word From Verywell

More research is needed to determine what effect essential oils have on relieving shingles-related pain. As with any virus, shingles will eventually run its course and go away.

Eating a healthy balanced diet, getting regular exercise, sleeping well, and avoiding stress when possible can boost your immune system. This may help prevent future outbreaks.

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