Over 30% of the US population will develop shingles in their lifetime. This painful and uncomfortable condition can reduce your quality of life. In rare cases, a shingles outbreak can occur more than once.¹
There is no cure for shingles, but you can manage your symptoms using several methods. An effective shingles vaccine is also available and recommended for people over the age of 50 and those with weakened immune systems.
Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medications, topical creams, and pain relievers. You can also take advantage of home remedies, like essential oils. Be sure to check with your doctor before using essential oils since some of them cause side effects and could worsen pre-existing health conditions.
Let’s take a closer look at using essential oils for relieving shingles symptoms.
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Symptoms of shingles can vary from person to person. The following are the most common signs:²
Rash on one side of the body or face
Blisters filled with fluid
Pain (burning or shooting)
Stomach pain or upset stomach
The most common place for the shingles rash to develop is around one side of the waistline.
Some people may experience mild symptoms, such as itching and discomfort. For others, the rash is extremely painful.
A shingles episode typically lasts for 3–5 weeks.³
Contact your doctor immediately if shingles occurs on your face. Rashes near your eyes could lead to eye damage, blindness, face paralysis, and (in rare cases) brain inflammation.
If the rash appears in any other place, you should still speak to a doctor as soon as possible — preferably in the first three days. The faster you get a diagnosis, the easier it is to contain and treat the condition.
While there is not yet a cure for shingles, you can alleviate or curb the symptoms in many ways. For example, you can use an antiviral medicine (most effective during the infection’s early stages). Starting this treatment within 24–72 hours can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms.
Remember that rashes and fever can signify other conditions. Therefore, getting a correct diagnosis is important to proceed with the best treatment option for you.
To diagnose shingles, your doctor will study your medical history to determine whether you have had chickenpox. They will then examine your rash.
The shingles rash is usually easy to diagnose thanks to its unique appearance. In some cases, doctors will carry out a test by taking a swab from the fluid in your blisters and sending it to the laboratory for examination, testing, and confirmation. They will recommend a treatment plan when they are sure of your diagnosis.
There is currently no cure for shingles. Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms while you wait for the condition to run its course. The course of treatment depends on many factors, including your age, health, the extent of the condition, and when it began.
Common treatment options include the following medications:
Lotions and creams that relieve itching
If you would like to use home remedies like essential oils to relieve pain and itching, consult a doctor to ensure that doing so is safe.
You may face complications if you don’t treat shingles quickly, such as:
Postherpetic neuralgia, chronic pain that continues even after the rash is gone (this complication is possible even if you treat shingles during its early stages)
Bacterial infection, an infection in the rash area (this is especially dangerous near the eyes)
Complications are rare, but they can occur. For this reason, you should not let shingles run its course without seeking medical attention.
The key cause of shingles is the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus would have stayed in your body if you had chickenpox as a child. Your immune system usually keeps it inactive, but it can become reactivated.
More research is needed to identify varicella-zoster virus triggers. Advanced age, stress, HIV, AIDS, or a recent bone marrow transplant could weaken your immune system and cause the virus to resurface.
A vaccine against chickenpox and shingles is now available. Speak to your doctor about this option.
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. Research suggests they can have a therapeutic effect on people who suffer from pain.⁴
Remember that using essential oils for shingles may not be beneficial for everyone. They cause certain side effects, including allergic reactions.
Ensure that you do not apply essential oils to broken skin. Applying any type of oil on broken skin could cause complications like a bacterial infection. It could also worsen your symptoms.
Coconut oil contains many nutrients and can have a moisturizing effect. Studies indicate that it’s also antimicrobial. While more research needs to be done to confirm the therapeutic effect of coconut oil for people with shingles, some patients use it to soothe their pain.⁵
Eucalyptus has proven antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It can be a good pain-relief option for people with shingles and other rashes.⁶ ⁷
When applied, this oil creates cold and warm sensations that can contribute to pain relief.
It is thought that oregano oil can prevent a virus from replicating. While more studies need to be carried out to prove its effectiveness against the varicella-zoster virus (which causes shingles), many patients already use it for symptom relief.⁸
Clove oil has antiviral and pain-relieving properties that make it a good remedy for shingles.⁹
You may feel a short-lived warming effect when you apply clove oil to your rash, which can relieve pain and itching.
Oral use of clove can be more effective than topical application. Talk to your doctor about this treatment option.
Research suggests that thyme oil can have a therapeutic effect thanks to its antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties.¹⁰
Neither thyme oil nor other essential oils offer significant relief for severe shingles symptoms. If the oil you use doesn’t have any effect, consider focusing on topical medication prescribed by your doctor.
You can use essential oil for relief from shingles symptoms in several ways, including the following:
Studies show that aromatherapy can have a positive effect on people who experience pain. Some doctors may recommend trying this type of therapy to relieve shingles symptoms. To inhale essential oils, you can:¹¹
Fill a bowl with hot water (don’t use boiling water because it can decrease the oil’s positive effect)
Add several drops of oil to the water
Place a towel over your head
Bend down to the bowl and breathe in
Be careful not to keep your head too close to the bowl or you could get burned. The first time you do this, test the safe distance between your mouth and the bowl to prevent injuries.
Some people prefer using a diffuser. This device breaks the essential oil down into small molecules and diffuses them into the air. A diffuser is easier to use than a bowl with hot water. However, it produces a lower concentration of essential oil for breathing.
Topical application of essential oils (rubbing them on your skin) usually produces the fastest pain relief. Dilute the essential oil before applying it. You can do this by adding two drops of pure oil to a tablespoon of carrier oil. Then, apply this mixture directly to unbroken skin.
Try applying the mixture with a spray bottle if your rash is painful to touch. Simply put the diluted oil into a spray bottle and spray it over your shingles rash.
Shingles can cause several unpleasant symptoms, including pain and itching. Some essential oils can help relieve symptoms with antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial effects.
Essential oil is a complementary therapy. You should not use it without speaking to your doctor. They will recommend a treatment plan for your shingles and they may tell you that essential oil is safe.
Remember not to apply essential oils to broken skin.
Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and healing properties. More research is needed, but this oil may help relieve shingles pain and itching. Remember to dilute the tea tree oil with carrier oil before application.¹²
Some essential oils have antiviral properties, and all of them work against different viruses. Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medication if they diagnose you with shingles. They may also tell you it’s safe to use essential oils as complementary therapy.
The best essential oil may differ from person to person and depend on the severity of the symptoms. If you are planning to use essential oils for shingles, consult your doctor about the possible side effects.
If one oil doesn’t work, you can try others. An essential oil may work well for one person but have little effect on someone else.
Shingles (herpes zoster) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Shingles | National Institute on Aging
Aromatherapy for arthritis relief | Arthritis Foundation