Geranium, peppermint, thyme, lemon, and lavender essential oils may help relieve pain and itching associated with shingles. These should never be used on broken skin or active shingles rashes. Caution is advised.

Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is caused by the same strain of the virus as chickenpox. It can remain dormant in your nerve cells until you get older and reactivate as shingles.

The shingles vaccine is effective at preventing shingles flares and medications like antivirals and pain relieving ointments are effective at managing symptoms. Some nutritionists and osteopaths also recommend essential oils as part of a natural management approach. But, do essential oils work and are they safe?

“Although there are some reports that certain essential oils may have an antiviral effect, there is no data to support the use of topical oils as a first-line option for the treatment of shingles,” says Dr. Nicole Van Groningen, a clinical fellow at the UCSF School of Medicine in San Francisco.

Research on the therapeutic benefits of essential oils is limited and mostly comprised of animal studies.

From the clinical perspective, while essential oils aren’t a primary treatment, Dr. Van Groningen doesn’t discount them entirely. “There are reports in the medical literature that support the use of peppermint oil and geranium oil to treat pain associated with shingles,” she explains.

Long-term pain (postherpetic neuralgia) is a complication of shingles. Even after the rash clears up, some people continue experiencing localized pain in the affected area.

“Capsaicin, a naturally occurring component of chili peppers, is great at alleviating pain associated with a variety of conditions, including shingles,” Dr. Van Groningen adds. “Patients should know that there are many other evidence-based medications that can help reduce major nerve-related pain.”

Learn more about early symptoms of shingles here

For pain and itching related to shingles, Dr. Van Groningen recommends:

  • capsaicin
  • peppermint oil
  • geranium oil

These may work as complements to the shingles medications prescribed by your healthcare professional.

Birgitta Lauren, a holistic health expert based in California, also recommends oils like:

  • thyme
  • lemon
  • coconut

Lauren advises mixing these with geranium oil. You can add 10 drops of lemon, thyme, and geranium oils to about a tablespoon of high quality coconut oil and apply the mixture to a shingles rash.

Rubbing the mixture on areas that hurt may temporarily ease shingles pain for some people. The moisturizing effects of the coconut oil may also help prevent itching and cracking in the affected areas.

You can use this essential oil mix daily, but it’s a good idea to test any products in a small skin area and wait 48 hours before applying it to the rash.

Since stress is a common trigger for shingles, Lauren says that just taking time for self-care may provide benefits.

You may also try essential oils as aromatherapy. This consists of warming up the oil and inhaling its aroma.

A 2024 controlled trial on postherpetic pain found that using lavender oil in aromatherapy reduced the intensity and severity of pain in people with postherpetic neuralgia. Other natural chemicals found in flowers, like linalool and linalyl acetate, also had a relieving effect.

Other essential oils with potential pain-relieving and anti-infective properties may include:

  • clove
  • clover
  • rosemary
  • ginger

Using essential oils on the skin or as part of aromatherapy isn’t associated with major adverse effects. However, every body is different and what may work for someone else may not work for you. When using essential oils, or any other products, on your skin there’s a chance of irritation and allergic reactions.

The literature about the use of these oils is limited, which makes knowing the right dosage challenging. In addition, the quality of some essential oils in the market cannot be guaranteed. Some of them may be too diluted to have any therapeutic effect. Consider getting high quality products that aren’t mixed with other ingredients.

Some essential oils like clove and clover may irritate the skin, particularly if you have an active rash. Diluting these and other essential oils with coconut oil may be needed.

If you have an active shingles rash, you may want to discuss essential oils with a healthcare professional to go over safety and use protocols.

Bacterial infections are possible complications of shingles, and touching the area and introducing a foreign substance may increase the chance of developing one.

Essential oils should not be used on broken skin or oozing blisters to avoid the chance of infections and worsening of symptoms.

You may also want to check if essential oils interact with topical medications.

Shingles infections usually last up to 5 weeks and may resolve without treatment.

If you experience severe pain and itching, your healthcare professional may prescribe some medications.

Antiviral medications are also a common line of treatment for shingles to decrease the intensity of symptoms and help the healing process.

Dr. Van Groningen recommends that you make an appointment with a healthcare professional as soon as you have pain or the first sign of a rash. “These medications need to be prescribed by a physician or other healthcare provider within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms in order to have a maximal effect,” she says.

“Patients should know that there is an FDA-approved vaccine that can prevent shingles, now available for all people over 50 years old.”

Essential oils may be a complementary management strategy for shingles when you don’t have an active rash or brown skin. Essential oils, such as peppermint or geranium, diluted in coconut oil could provide some pain and itching relief. You may want to discuss the pros and cons with your healthcare professional before applying any products if you have shingles. Essential oils are not for use when you have oozing blisters or an active rash.