Essential oils come from plants. The extraction and distillation of the oils create a highly concentrated form of the plant. It is possible to inhale essential oils using a diffuser or to dilute them in a carrier oil before applying them directly to the skin.
The research underlying the efficacy of essential oils for treating nausea is still inconclusive, but it is possible that specific oils may have some benefits.
Five essential oils for nausea
There are five essential oils that may be beneficial for people with nausea.
1. Ginger oil
Ginger essential oil may help to relieve nausea and digestive issues.
Many people use ginger oil to relieve digestive issues and treating nausea is one of its most common uses.
The authors of a review paper in 2012 concluded that ginger oils reduce the occurrence and severity of nausea.
The results of a more recent study in 2017 showed that ginger oil helped to reduce nausea and vomiting following abdominal surgery.
2. Peppermint oil
Mints and mint teas may help manage the symptoms of colds and illnesses, including nausea. It is possible that a more concentrated form of peppermint oil will provide more effective relief from nausea symptoms.
One study in 2004 found that inhaling peppermint oil was effective in reducing post-operative nausea, although this may have been due to the slow breathing motion rather than the specific aroma.
A later review paper in 2012 suggested that peppermint oil may reduce nausea symptoms, but the researchers acknowledged that they were unable to fully confirm this on the basis of the existing research.
3. Lavender oil
Lavender has relaxing properties and is an ingredient in many products.
Researchers have tested it as a treatment for anxiety disorders and as a pain reliever. It is possible that lavender oil could also help to reduce nausea symptoms, particularly if anxiety or pain is responsible for causing them.
4. Fennel seed oil
Many people associate fennel seeds with aiding digestion and treating an upset stomach. Fennel seed oil may also be helpful for reducing bloating and gas.
These properties are likely to be due to the phytoestrogens that the oil contains, as these are a digestive aid. It is possible that fennel seed oil could relieve nausea symptoms by easing digestion and settling the stomach.
5. Lemon oil
Lemon oil is beneficial for skin health, and some people believe that it also aids digestion. It could have benefits for reducing nausea too, especially if a digestive issue causes this symptom.
A study in 2014 found that pregnant women who inhaled lemon oil experienced less nausea and vomiting than those in the control group who took a placebo instead.
How do you use essential oils?
A diffuser will allow for safe inhalation of essential oils.
Essential oils are an aromatherapy treatment. There are a few different ways to use them.
Usually, people will use a diffuser to inhale essential oils. A diffuser will gradually release essential oils into the air at room temperature and those present in the room can inhale them.
Many essential oil diffusers are available to buy online.
Another method is to use steam inhalation. This involves mixing a few drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot water.
The individual should dip a hand towel or handkerchief into the bowl, wring it out and then place it over the nose and mouth.
By breathing normally, they can gently inhale the essential oil.
It is also possible to apply essential oils topically, but it is vital to dilute them with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, or almond oil, before massaging them into the skin. This is because some essential oils, including lavender oil, may cause skin irritation.
The essential oil should only represent 2–3 percent of the mixture, which is about 3–5 drops of essential oil for 0.5–1 ounce (oz) of carrier oil.
If skin irritation does occur, it is best to discontinue use. Some people are allergic to certain essential oils.
Risks and considerations
There is still a need for additional evidence supporting the use of essential oils for treating nausea.
In 2018, the Cochrane Collaboration investigated the efficacy of all the essential oils that researchers had systematically tested for treating nausea.
The authors concluded that no oil was significantly effective in reducing nausea, but that the available evidence was of low quality.
Therefore, it is not possible to make any firm recommendations regarding the effectiveness of essential oils until results from additional, well-designed studies become available.
Addressing the underlying cause
Essential oils may provide temporary relief from mild nausea, but treating the cause of this symptom remains the most effective treatment. For this reason, it is best to only use essential oils alongside regular medications.
There is some evidence to suggest that certain essential oils offer a natural and low-risk alternative method of treating nausea, but there is a need for more research to confirm this.
Most essential oils should be safe for use by the majority of people and do not have severe associated health risks. Pregnant and breastfeeding people should talk to their doctor before using essential oils though. It is also crucial to speak to a doctor before allowing children to use them.
Even if people decide to try using essential oils, they should continue treating the cause of their nausea using traditional medications.