If you have skin cancer, you may be looking for alternative ways to treat it. Some online resources, and even clinical studies, suggest that essential oils can fight cancerous cells in the body. But there isn't enough reliable research to show that essential oils alone can be an effective treatment for skin cancer.
Some oils, however, may provide relief from certain side effects of cancer treatment.
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What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. They’re made by steaming or pressing different parts of a plant, such as the flowers, bark, leaves, or fruit.
You can inhale essential oils through your nose, which is called aromatherapy, and essential oils can also be rubbed onto the skin.
Some experts believe they work by:
- Absorbing into your body’s tissues
- Stimulating your sense of smell, which causes your body to respond
There are more than 400 essential oils on the market, and many of them are found in popular beauty products.
Some of the best-known oils include:
- Tea tree
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What Are the Claims About Essential Oils and Skin Cancer?
If you search “essential oils and skin cancer,” you’ll come across various sites that feature anecdotes about certain oils that are purported to cure the disease.
On some of the sites, patients write about applying the oils topically, inhaling the oils, or ingesting them.
The accounts vary, but many individuals claim that the essential oils completely eliminated their skin cancer lesions or moles.
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What Does the Research Say About Essential Oils and Skin Cancer?
A study first published in May 2019 in the medical journal Oncotarget examined how frankincense essential oil affects melanoma skin cancer. Investigators found the oil inhibited the growth of melanoma in mice grafted with melanoma tumors.
In a 2013 case report on a single patient, published in OA Alternative Medicine, researchers described their findings after using topical frankincense oil to treat a man with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) lesions on his arm and chest. The oil was applied several times a day for 20 weeks, and biopsies were performed before and after.
Results showed that the cancerous areas treated with frankincense oil responded to the treatment, and no side effects were observed. The authors wrote, “Pathological study demonstrated total resolution of the BCC on the arm and substantial resolution in the BCC of the chest after treatment.”
They did recommend that a larger study be conducted, however. Additionally, significant variability in the preparation of essential oils limits the likelihood that the experience of this patient could be re-created in another patient.
Though these two studies seem to suggest encouraging support for the use of essential oils for skin cancer, it’s important to note that the research is limited, and the first study was performed in inbred mice, the most commonly used cancer model but unfortunately also a poor predictor of what will work in humans. More studies with a larger human population need to be conducted before this alternative approach can become an accepted treatment.
Other literature has supported the use of essential oils to relieve side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting. The oils may also improve quality of life and lessen anxiety in some people with cancer.
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How Do You Use Essential Oils?
Some popular ways to use essential oils include:
- Wearable aromatherapy accessories Bracelets, necklaces, and keychains are made with materials that you can fill with essential oils.
- Aroma stick These portable plastic sticks contain an absorbent wick that soaks up the oil.
- Application on skin Essential oils are very concentrated, so you’ll have to dilute them with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Then they can be massaged right onto your skin.
- Massage A massage therapist may use essential oils during your session.
- Essential oil bath Try putting about 5 to 10 drops of essential oil mixed with liquid soap in your warm bath water.
- Oil burner or diffuser You can place a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser and breathe in the scent.
- A cloth or handkerchief Sprinkle a few drops of essential oil onto a handkerchief or cloth and hold it to your nose while you take deep breaths.
You might want to find an aromatherapy expert who can help you choose an appropriate oil and use it properly.
Warnings About Essential Oils
Tell your doctor if you have skin cancer and are thinking about using an essential oil. Some oils can interact with certain conditions, medicines, or treatments, so it’s important to let your healthcare provider know what you’re using.
Use caution when applying essential oils to your skin. Never put it on an area that’s sore, inflamed, or broken. Always dilute the oil with a carrier oil or lotion before using it on the skin.
Some possible side effects include:
- A skin reaction
- An allergic reaction
- Worsened asthma or breathing problems
- Increased sun sensitivity (if applied before sun exposure)
- An unpleasant smell
Essential oils should only be inhaled or used topically. Never swallow the oil or put it inside another body part, such as your eyes, ears, nose, anus, or vagina.
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Other Uses for Essential Oils
In addition to helping cancer patients, some studies suggest essential oils may also play a role in alleviating symptoms of:
- Stress and anxiety
- Low appetite
- Dry mouth
- Athlete’s foot
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Insect bites
The Bottom Line
When it comes to skin cancer and essential oils, there really is no solid evidence, thus far, that they are effective against skin cancer. Talk to your doctor if you have skin cancer and want to try an essential oil to alleviate stress associated with the diagnosis and treatment, but don’t use oils as a replacement for standard medical care.