Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is inflammation or infection in the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines the inside of your eyelid and covers the white part of your eye. It’s one of the most common eye conditions affecting children and adults. Pink eye is most often caused by a virus. Other possible causes include bacteria, allergens, and irritants.

There isn’t much doctors can do to treat a viral infection. Viruses have to run their course. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter artificial tears (saline eye drops) to reduce uncomfortable symptoms. There are also alternative remedies that can reduce your discomfort and some things you can do to prevent transmission to others. Essential oils, however, are not a safe or effective treatment for pink eye.

Essential oils are made by extracting natural chemicals from certain plants, using either pressure or steam. These oils retain the plant odor and medicinal compounds. The chemical compounds in essential oils are highly concentrated, which gives them more therapeutic potential than the plants themselves.

Essential oils have long been used in traditional folk medicine. After decades of modern medicine, they are making a comeback. Still, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of essential oils.

Important: Essential oils are not safe or effective against pink eye. You should never put essential oils in or around your eyes.

Many essential oils have powerful healing properties. They have been used for thousands of years to treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Many essential oils also have anti-inflammatory properties.

However, there is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that essential oils can help pink eye. You should never put essential oils directly into your eye.

Essential oils are highly concentrated and should never be used in or around the eyes. Even when diluted, essential oils can cause burning, pain, and irritation.

The only way to use essential oils for pink eye is to diffuse them in water vapor. You can add essential oils to a humidifier. You can also add a few drops into a small pot of boiling water, carefully allowing the steam to reach your face.

Common medicinal essential oils include:

If you accidently get an essential oil in your eye, use a mild carrier oil to remove it. Water and oil don’t mix well, so washing your eyes with water may not help. Instead, put coconut or olive oil on a soft cloth and wipe your eyes.

Coconut oil is a carrier oil. These mild oils are used to safely carry essential oils onto the skin. Coconut oil is an edible oil with a variety of health benefits. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

One study suggests that unrefined, virgin coconut oil may effectively treat dry eyes, although it has yet to be tested. It’s possible coconut oil may reduce inflammation and dryness, easing the symptoms of pink eye. However, more research is need to determine whether this is true.

Although pink eye doesn’t usually require medicinal treatment, there are a few natural treatments that may help sooth your eyes.

Green tea

People in China and Japan have been using green tea medicinally for thousands of years. Green tea contains a high dose of polyphenols, which may have antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

To use green tea for pink eye, steep two bags of green tea in hot water for a few minutes. Then squeeze the bags to remove excess liquid. Allow them to cool down so they’re warm or chill them in the refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes. Once the bags are cooled, place them over closed eyes for 15 to 30 minutes. Never place hot tea bags on your eyes.

Turmeric powder

Turmeric, also known as curcumin, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is taken orally. In traditional medicine, it has been used to treat a wide variety of inflammatory conditions.

One study found that an oral dose of 375 milligrams (mg) three times a day for 12 weeks was comparable to corticosteroids in treating inflammation in the eye. However, turmeric should never be applied to the eyes.

Do not use essential oils to treat pink eye in toddlers or infants.

Newborns with conjunctivitis should be treated immediately by a doctor. Bacterial infections in a newborn’s eyes can be very serious.

Conjunctivitis is common in small children and often spreads quickly through daycare facilities and classrooms. Viral conjunctivitis requires no treatment, but your child’s doctor may recommend antibiotic drops or artificial tears.

A warm compress may help reduce pain and itching.

Common symptoms of pink eye include:

  • itchy, irritated eyes
  • burning eyes
  • redness of the eyes
  • clear, thin drainage from the eyes
  • eyelids stuck together in the morning
  • swelling and redness of the eyelids

Conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own within a few days. If your symptoms persist longer, make an appointment with your doctor.

Essential oils are not a safe or effective treatment option for pink eye. If you or your child have pink eye, apply a warm compress or use over-the-counter artificial tears.