If you've ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know how irritating they can be. UTIs can be painful and are sometimes difficult to treat. Many people, especially women, have problems with recurring UTIs. As a result, doctors may prescribe multiple doses of antibiotics to get rid of the infection.

However, with growing awareness around the potential for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow and thrive, you may be looking for a different way to treat UTIs, such as using essential oils.

Can essential oils be an effective way to treat a UTI? Read on to learn more.

Chronic urinary tract infection »

Some studies show that essential oils can actually help fight bacterial infections. For example, lemongrass oil can be effective against drug-resistant microorganisms.

One study examined how well lemongrass essential oil worked against common harmful pathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), Bacillus cereus (B. cereus), Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis), Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae). The study found that lemongrass oil was effective in killing off the harmful pathogens.

Using essential oils to fight UTIs can be tricky. The urinary tract is normally a sterile area, so you don't want to introduce anything foreign into the area.

All essential oils must be diluted before you apply them to your skin. To dilute the essential oil, place 1 to 5 drops in 1 ounce of a carrier oil. Carrier oils include sweet almond oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, or olive oil.

In order to avoid irritation, be aware that:

  • Essential oils should not be applied to the mucous membranes of the vagina or urethra. This can irritate the female parts.
  • You shouldn’t apply essential oils directly to the skin.
  • The mixture of essential oil and carrier oil can be applied to areas around the inner thighs, mons pubis, and outside the labia.
  • You can also try blending a few of your favorite oils and using them in a hot compress placed on your lower abdomen. To do this, dilute one drop of the oil with one drop of the carrier oil.
  • You can use essential oils dropped into a diffuser for inhaling. This may be a good option if your skin is easily irritated.

One essential oil that’s helpful for any type of bacterial infection is a blend from Young Living called Citrus Fresh. This oil blends many different types of citrus oils, including orange peel, tangerine peel, grapefruit peel, lemon peel, and spearmint leaf extract. The blend of citrus oils is a powerful anti-bacterial agent. Other oils to try include oregano, rosemary, and basil oils.

As with any product you use for health purposes, use essential oils with caution. Be sure to take the following steps before using:

  • Dilute the essential oil: If using on your skin, dilute an essential oil in a carrier oil, such as olive or coconut oil.
  • Test it first: Test the oil to make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. For instance, the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) lists lemongrass as an essential oil that can cause skin irritation. Test a mixture of the essential oil and carrier oil on your forearm in a small area about the size of a quarter. If you don’t see any reaction in 24 to 48 hours, the oil mixture should be safe for you to use.
  • Don’t swallow essential oils: Some essential oil companies advertise that their oils are safe to ingest when diluted. However, the NAHA doesn’t recommend routine ingestion of any essential oil unless you’re under the supervision of a trained and certified aromatherapist.

Doctors traditionally treat UTIs with an oral antibiotic. Although antibiotics can be effective in killing off the bacteria that cause a UTI, they can also cause complications. They can help create drug-resistant bacteria and kill off the "good" bacteria in the body, too, which may lead to more yeast infections.

You have may have heard the common advice that cranberry juice can help treat and prevent UTIs. There have been some studies that show cranberry extract reduces the incidence of UTIs. Other studies have looked at the effect of cranberry juice on UTIs. Researchers can't seem to agree if the juice really works or not. The bottom line is that cranberry juice might help with UTIs and, unless you’re on a low-sugar diet, is worth a try. Most doctors also suggest following these basic tips to prevent recurring UTIs.

If want to try an essential oil to treat a UTI, be sure to speak to your doctor first. Talk to them to make sure there are no other health complications to consider.

When choosing an essential oil, opt for one that’s high quality. Next, dilute the oil in a carrier oil. It’s best to start by applying the oil to a compress instead of directly onto the skin to avoid any potential skin irritation.

To help your body fight off any type of infection, be sure to get plenty of rest, eat fresh, nutritious foods, and stay hydrated. More fluids will help your body flush out the urinary tract infection. You can talk to your doctor about using both an essential oil and an antibiotic if necessary.