Can cinnamon oil fight bacteria? Can something as warming and fragrant as lovely cinnamon essential oil really be an effective slayer of streptococcus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus? An article last week in The New York Times (”Cinnamon Oil Kills Bacteria”) tackled the question and came to the conclusion that, yes: cinnamon oil has potent antiseptic properties.
According to the story, a recent study by a group of surgeons found that a solution made with cinnamon oil killed a number of common and hospital-acquired infections, like streptococcus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA–and in fact, did so as effectively as several antiseptics widely used in hospitals. Another study by French researchers in 2008 had similar results, showing that at concentrations of 10 percent or less, cinnamon oil was effective against Staphylococcus, E. coli and several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
With the opening of a new flu season and H1N1 virus (formerly known as swine flu) squealing in the headlines, clean hands, very clean hands, are preoccupying many. Bottles of hand sanitizer seem to be bumping candy and breath mints off the all-star spots at the checkout counter, while liquid hand soaps boasting super duper anti-bacterial properties are popping up on many a bathroom sink. So where does cinnamon oil play into this?
Anti-bacterial soaps have their host of problems–namely the chlorophenol chemical compound triclosan (scary stuff–read about it in The Trouble with Triclosan in Your Soap). Meanwhile, alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers are being touted by everyone from hand-wringing moms to school principals to the CDC, but they may raise some red flags of their own. The ingredients panel for a national leading brand lists the active ingredient ethyl alcohol and a long list of inactive ingredients that land it in the “High Hazard” ranking in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. With 62 percent of said sanitizer being comprised of alcohol, that leaves a balance of 38 percent for ingredients that scream “safety concern,” such as methylparaben, synthetic fragrance and diazolidinyl urea.
So, what’s a flu-fearing, germ-wary person supposed to do? Use hand sanitizers with questionable synthetic ingredients, or get swine flu? Well you can follow the advice of the CDC and “Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze” or you can make your own natural hand sanitizer, which is where cinnamon oil comes in.
In The New York Times article referenced above, Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who dispenses natural health advice on his blog, recommends his tried-and-true recipe for homemade hand sanitizer called thieves oil–his formula calls for cinnamon bark, lemon oil and eucalyptus. As legend has it, a group of 15th century European perfumers-turned-grave-robbers were able to defend themselves against the demons of bubonic plague (and other assorted bacterial maladies one might encounter while removing jewelery from corpses) by dousing themselves in a blend of essential oils, hence the name “thieves oil.”
Now there are any number of stories circulating about this legend, and just as many recipes, many of them with a vinegar base. But going on Dr. Rosen’s fail-safe recipe and the proven efficacy of cinnamon oil, I like the formula which includes equal amounts of: cinnamon bark, lemon, eucalyptus, clove, and rosemary therapeutic grade essential oils. Mix them with jojoba or olive oil as a carrier, and use on hands as a sanitizer. (Note: pure essential oils can be very potent, it’s important to test some on a small patch of skin to check for any adverse reactions.)
So what do you think? Are you willing to do like the thieves and give essential oils a try? Or does the H1N1 flu virus have you running scared, and getting theeself straight to the hand sanitizer aisle of the pharmacy?
As for me? I’m going to go whole hog and stick with good old fashioned hand-washing, followed with a nice splash of thieves oil. My kids may start to smell like Christmas, but at least we’ll be keeping the bubonic plague at bay.