Best known as a paint thinner, turpentine oil may be used medicinally to reduce pain and congestion. But it’s highly toxic and should never be consumed or inhaled directly.

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Although it’s best known as an ingredient used to clean paintbrushes, turpentine oil has recently gained traction as a potential natural remedy for everything from chronic pain to congestion.

In fact, turpentine oil is featured in many fragrances, cosmetics, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including chest rubs.

However, this oil is associated with a long list of serious side effects and is toxic when consumed directly.

This article examines the benefits, downsides, and uses of turpentine oil.

Turpentine oil is a colorless fluid derived from the resin of certain tree species, including pine trees.

However, it’s not the same as pine oil, which is produced through the steam distillation of wood from pine trees (1).

Thanks to its strong scent, turpentine oil is often added to perfumes, soaps, and deodorizers, as well as many OTC chest rubs, such as Vicks VapoRub.

Additionally, this oil acts as a solvent and is used to thin oil paint and clean paintbrushes.

Yet, while it’s sometimes distilled and used as a flavoring agent for certain types of foods and beverages, it’s considered toxic and can cause serious side effects if consumed directly (2).


Turpentine oil is derived from the resin of pine trees. It’s used as a paint thinner and added to many cosmetics and chest rubs. Although it’s sometimes distilled for use as a flavoring agent in very small amounts, it’s toxic if ingested directly.

Although there’s limited human research on the health benefits of turpentine oil — and this oil should never be ingested — it’s often used topically as a remedy for a variety of health conditions.

In particular, it’s known for relieving joint, nerve, and muscle pain.

According to a 3-month study in 300 people, turpentine oil was as effective as capsaicin cream at treating pain caused by diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage in people with diabetes, when applied to the skin (3).

In another small study in 20 people, a spray that consisted of menthol and camphor, plus turpentine, gaultheria, eucalyptus, and clove oils, reduced mild to moderate muscle pain (4).

Still, it’s difficult to know whether these effects were due to the turpentine oil or the specific combination of ingredients. Therefore, more research is needed.

Some people also use turpentine oil to relieve congestion and toothaches and to prevent infections. However, no current research indicates whether these are effective applications. If any such uses involve ingesting the oil, you should avoid them.


Turpentine oil may help relieve joint, nerve, and muscle pain when applied to your skin. Still, further studies are needed, and you should never ingest the oil.

Turpentine oil is considered toxic and can cause several serious side effects if ingested. Symptoms of turpentine poisoning may include (2):

  • kidney failure
  • vision loss
  • chest pain
  • swelling of your throat
  • vomiting
  • coughing
  • low blood pressure
  • blood in your urine

In severe cases, turpentine oil may be fatal if consumed in doses of 0.5–5 ounces (15–150 mL) or more (2).

Older research indicates that inhaling turpentine oil directly may irritate your airways and pose dangers for those with respiratory conditions such as asthma (5).

Furthermore, older studies note that applying this oil to your skin may cause dermatitis, or skin inflammation (6).

Additionally, children and people who are pregnant or nursing should avoid turpentine oil, as limited research is available on its long-term health effects and safety.


Turpentine oil is toxic and should never be ingested. It may also irritate your airways if inhaled and cause skin inflammation if applied topically.

Although turpentine oil is often used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, there’s very little research on its safety or effectiveness. What’s more, it’s highly toxic if ingested.

Applying very small amounts to your skin is likely the only safe medicinal use.

Even so, it’s important to use it only as directed. Consider starting with a patch test by applying a small amount to see how your skin reacts. And always dilute it with a carrier oil rather than putting it directly on your skin.

Finally, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before using turpentine oil or other essential oils, especially if you’re taking any medications or have any underlying health conditions.


Turpentine oil is toxic and should only be applied topically in small amounts for pain relief. Be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil and do a patch test to avoid adverse effects.

Although it’s best known as a paint thinner, turpentine oil is sometimes used medicinally to reduce pain and congestion.

However, it’s highly toxic and should never be consumed or inhaled directly. Children, people who are pregnant or nursing, and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma should avoid it completely.

While you can apply this essential oil to your skin, it’s important to exercise caution by diluting it with a carrier oil and performing a patch test before use.

Just one thing

Try this today: Plenty of alternatives to turpentine oil are safe and effective, including lavender, bergamot, and rose oils for pain relief and peppermint, tea tree, and eucalyptus oils for reducing sinus congestion.

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