Essential oils have properties that have been applied in traditional medicine since ancient times and are still widely used today for the treatment of a variety of problems, including cuts. Danny O’Rawe has spent over 30 years working with plants, practicing as a Herbalist, Naturopath and Aromatherapist. Here is what he had to say about aromatherapy and the way to use essential oils to heal cuts.
What are essential oils and what are they usually used for?
Essential oils are the volatile components of plants or trees extracted by various methods but usually by distillation or solvent extraction. The fragrance, or essence, of each particular oil is what makes it ‘essential’ per se. Essential oils have a long history but their employment as medicines is thought to be a more recent development; likely beginning with the 1937 publication of Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales by the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé. This work was later developed by Jean Valnet and Robert Tisserand but the clinical work of Paul Belaiche in 1979 offered extensive in vitro research to underpin the efficacy of aromatherapy as a medical model.
Essential oils can be used in any number of conditions, often in massage therapy, though inhalation and baths are also excellent methods. Several oils can be ingested though I must stress that you should consult a professional Aromatherapist before ingesting oils as some can be toxic. Generally the mode of application is through the skin which allows more direct therapeutic action by bypassing the digestive system.
Can essential oils be used in case of a cut or scrape?
There are a number of essential oils that can be used on cuts and scrapes though several things need to be borne in mind before using them. The wound should be thoroughly cleaned in advance for example to reduce chances of infection. Always use oils which are known to be suitable for the condition you are treating and if you are at all in doubt then consult with a professional.
What are the best antiseptic essential oils?
All plants develop protective mechanisms and components to stave off pest and disease. In herbal medicine we call these secondary metabolites and collectively we can refer to them as phytochemistry. Many plants have developed anti-infective agents as part of their phytochemistry and these are the ‘active ingredients’ found in essential oils.
Tea tree (Melaleuca sps) saw widespread use during WW1 as an anti-infective agent due to short supply of standard medicines. Tea tree, which is rich in terpenes, has a mild analgesic effect on skin but is also an anti-infective agent and is active against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pseudomonas and Escherichia coli for example. It is worth noting in passing that Tea Tree is useful when going into hospital to prevent the spread of MRSA – apply neat to any wound or cut beforehand to prevent spread of this highly infective agent.
Any oils which contain phenols are antiseptic and bactericidal however care needs to be taken as many oils should not be applied undiluted to skin. One familiar oil which can be applied neat is Lavender (Lavandula sps). Lavender is also useful in burns as it is cooling on the skin.
For larger wounds Helichrysium angustifolium, sometimes called Everlasting Oil, is very useful and can also be applied neat. It is active against all the agents listed above as well as Pseudnomas aeruginsa, Enterobacter cloaceae and Klebsellia pneumoniae.
Other good antiseptic oils include bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), German Chamomile (Matricharia recutita) especially if the wound is infected. Rose (Rosa damascena) is also excellent though prohibitively expensive.
How would you use them for a cut?
First of all stop the bleeding – apply pressure around the wound until you find the source and hold until bleeding ceases. As suggested, remove debris and clean the wound thoroughly with whatever you have to hand, alcohol wipes are good, though old fashioned soap and water will do.
Pat dry and apply the oil either onto the wound directly or onto the plaster or bandage you are applying as long as it makes direct contact with the wound. A 50/50 blend of Tea Tree and Lavender will be useful in most cases and should be a regular item in any home. Change the dressing as appropriate.
Itching is generally a sign of healing though both the oils mentioned have anti-pruritic properties (anti-itch). They will also reduce reddening and wound-healing. Don’t leave the wound covered too long and expose to air to enhance healing.
If there are signs of infection you should seek out medical attention particularly if the wound was caused by rusty metal, animal bites or needles.
Oils can also be added to creams and used appropriately. There are a number of base creams available nowadays.
Are there any risks of using essential oils on a cut?
There are a number of common sense rules one should consider when using essential oils. Potentially anyone can have an allergic reaction to any substance so, whatever oil you decide to use, put a single drop into 5ml of olive oil and dab onto the forearm once. If there is sudden reddening and swelling or development of rash then that oil should be avoided. Other oils can be photosensitive (they can react to sunlight) though the oils mentioned above should be fine.
Check with an Aromatherapist if you wish to use any oils not mentioned here. Lavender oil, if used excessively, may have an estrogenic effect in young boys according to recent research.
Can aromatherapy help reduce scarring and scar redness too?
Absolutely, both tea tree, lavender and chamomile and many other oils are very cooling in nature and will thus reduce inflammation and redness. Helichrysium is an excellent oil to use against scarring particularly over time and blends well with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Frankincense (Boswellia carteri). This blend is also useful on post-operative scars as well. Jojoba base oil (Simmondsia chinensis) with a few drops of neroli oil (Citrus aurantium) are excellent at regenerating skin.
Would you recommend other natural remedies for a cut?
There are any number of herbs which could be used in the form of poultices, tinctures, salves and creams. As above the wound should be cleaned thoroughly before application. Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is a good one and blends well with Myrrh (Commiphora mol mol) and Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea sps) tinctures especially if infection is present.
Herbs with astringent qualities such as Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) are used for binding wounds, though distilled witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is excellent. St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) makes a good wound-healing cream. During the Civil War leaves of Comfrey (Symphytum sps) were used as bandages and washed sphagnum moss was employed as a substitute for cotton wool.
Honey is excellent for wounds and cuts and has noted antimicrobial properties. In larger wounds were scars may be an issue a supplement of vitamin E and other antioxidants would be useful.
Prevention is always better than cure. The best thing, of course, is walk carefully thru life – take your time and observe what is going on around you and less accidents will occur. Too many people let their lives be run on auto-pilot so do be careful and mind your step.
Thank you Danny O’Rawe for sharing your knowledge of essential oils!