Fact-checked by Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS.
Written by Emily Ziedman
The wellness scene is a multi-billion dollar industry, including everything from yoga classes to expensive creams and massages.
And essential oils have definitely found their place among the wellness hype. Sure, they smell amazing, but can they really help with things like weight loss, headaches, and sleep?
Is there science behind the hype?
It turns out — essentials may just be a valuable addition to your wellness plan.
They certainly won’t replace good eating habits and consistent exercise when it comes to weight loss or conquering certain symptoms.
But essential oils may help promote weight loss, control blood sugar levels, increase energy, and help reduce stress. This article covers the best essential oils you can use to burn body fat and lose weight.
Essential oils come from aromatic medicinal plants. When you slice into a lemon or smell your favorite flower, the aroma you experience is produced by the plant’s essential oils.
Plants that produce essential oils can store them in several different areas, including the flowers, stems, wood, roots, resins, seeds, fruits and leaves.
Essential oils are more than just a pleasant smell. They protect the plant from predators like insects, fight off infection, and can even help the plant heal if it’s been injured.
Similarly, many people use essential oils for their medicinal and health-promoting properties.
Essential oils are highly concentrated — it takes a large amount of plant material to produce a small amount of oil. For instance, to create one drop of rose oil, it can take up to 50 rose blossoms.
Because pure essential oils are so concentrated, a little bit of oil can go a long way. Just a few drops of essential oil contains valuable compounds that affect your health.
People claim that essential oils help with everything from weight loss to cancer. While there’s some science on essential oils, you’d do well to be wary of the more extreme claims.
Essential oils are supplemental at best and are not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. They’re definitely not a substitute for medical care.
That said, there are a few genuine uses for essential oils.
#1: Headaches and migraines
Peppermint and lavender essential oils may help relieve headaches and migraines.
People who applied peppermint oil to their foreheads after getting a headache noticed a significant reduction in pain, which continued for a full 60 minutes. The effects were equivalent to taking acetaminophen (Tylenol)[*].
Another study looked specifically at migraine headaches. People with migraines inhaled lavender essential oil through a diffuser for 15 minutes. They had significant migraine relief with no side effects[*].
Another study with the same setup found that lavender oil is particularly useful for postpartum women, a group for whom sleep troubles are common[*].
#3: Concentration and Learning
Essential oils may help you concentrate, too.
One study found that aromatherapy with salvia officinalis (sage) improves memory and cognition. As people increased the dose, their mood, alertness, calmness, and contentedness all improved[*].
Rosemary essential oil is also known for increasing mental performance, memory, and speed of memory, compared with controls[*].
#4: Respiratory Health
Essential oils can help with respiratory issues ranging from allergies to asthma (although they definitely aren’t a replacement for an inhaler).
Eucalyptus oil improves respiratory health through its antibacterial and expectorant activity. It relieves issues like bronchitis, sinusitis, and allergies[*].
One study examined the use of eucalyptus for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and found that the group using eucalyptus experienced an increase in lung function as well as enhanced quality of life[*].
#5: Insect repellent
Another topical use for tea tree oil is to replace harmful insect repellents like DEET.
One group of researchers tested the efficacy of tea tree oil against house flies on cows. The cows were treated with tea tree oil at a concentration of 5% essential oil. After 12 hours the tea tree oil treatment showed 100% insecticide efficacy in repelling flies from the cows[*].
Essential oils don’t trigger weight loss directly, and they’re no substitute for a good diet and consistent exercise. However, they may indirectly promote weight loss in a few different ways.
Essential oils like bergamot and peppermint may be the key to enhancing your physical activity when you’re in a lull.
Whether it’s the stress of daily life keeping you down or physical exhaustion — essential oils can make you feel more energetic, which could help you get to the gym on those days when you don’t feel like going[*][*].
Lemon and grapefruit essential oils affect your autonomic nervous system, and may specifically target the nerves running through your fat tissue. Animal models have shown that the use of lemon and grapefruit oils resulted in decreased body weight and increased fat breakdown[*][*].
Sleep is a crucial — and often underestimated — factor in weight loss. Low-quality sleep is an excellent predictor of obesity[*]. When you’re trying to lose weight, getting your sleep on track is essential.
Stress can slow your metabolism and trigger emotional eating that sabotages a well-designed weight loss diet[*].
One of the compounds found in the essential oil of grapefruit, nootkatone, has been getting some press recently for its potential to assist in weight loss.
A study on mice found that long-term intake of nootkatone sped up weight loss and improved physical performance[*]. The researchers suspect that the effect was due to increased metabolism of fat and glucose in skeletal muscle and liver.
Another compound found in grapefruit oil, limonene, may also have weight reduction effects. When a group of rats was exposed to the scent of grapefruit essential oil for 15 minutes three times a week, they showed a significant reduction in food intake as well as body weight[*].
Bergamot essential oil relieves low mood and fatigue, which is great when you need to find the energy to stick to your goals.
One study found that women given bergamot essential oil aromatherapy experienced an increase in mood, lowered anxiety, and an increase in energy[*]. That means no more excuses not to hit the gym after a stressful workday.
Lemon essential oil is a natural stress reliever. It works through the dopamine pathway to relieve stress and reduce physical pain[*].
Animal models have shown that lemon essential oil may also help you burn more fat. When mice were treated with lemon essential oil, it activated their sympathetic nervous system — specifically the nerves running through their white adipose tissue (fat tissue).
The increase in sympathetic nerve activity increased fat breakdown and suppressed weight gain[*].
People who drank water infused with peppermint oil for 10 days showed an increase in overall exercise performance, physical work capacity, and power.
The scientists believed these effects were due to peppermint’s ability to relax bronchial smooth muscles, increase ventilation and brain oxygen concentration, and decrease blood lactate levels[*].
The two most common ways to use essential oils are aromatherapy and topical application. Some essential oils can be taken internally, but many are not for oral consumption. Always check the bottle before swallowing an essential oil. And always dilute them with water.
Aromatherapy is the most well-known application for essential oils and is usually the safest bet when you aren’t sure what to do with your oil. Most people use a diffuser that blends your oil with water and releases it as steam into the room.
Topical application is also a popular way to use essential oils, as long as you use a carrier to dilute the oil so it doesn’t burn your skin.
Common carriers for essential oils are cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, aloe, sweet almond oil, and jojoba oil.
You absorb essential oils through your skin and they get to your bloodstream, which is why topical essential oils are effective[*].
Essential oils can be a great tool to have in your back pocket when you’re trying to lose weight, but the best ways to lose weight are the classics:
- Diet: You can’t add oil to a poor diet and expect to lose weight. What you eat is the single biggest factor in weight loss. The keto diet is an excellent way to increase fat burning while also enhancing your energy and mental focus. For tips on how to get started on the keto diet, check out the Keto Kickstart Guide for a 30-day step by step program.
- Physical activity: Exercise is another cornerstone of weight loss and overall health. Whether you’re doing bodybuilding, fasted training, or cardio, make sure you keep moving if you want results.
- Sleep: Getting a proper night’s sleep is essential for weight loss. Weight loss is hard on your body; you need good sleep to recover properly[*][*].
The Takeaway: Do Essential Oils Really Work?
Essential oils are a fantastic tool to have with you on your health journey. They can help shorten a headache and may help you fall asleep.
Some may even aid in your weight loss journey.
But just like any other aspect of weight loss, they can’t do the job on their own. Combined with a good diet, consistent movement, and proper rest, essential oils can help you reach your physical goals.