What Are Yeast Infections?
Yeast is a fungus that naturally occurs in and around the body. It’s most often found in the vagina, but can also occur wherever there is an enclosed, moist environment, such as beneath skin folds or in the gum lining of your teeth. In small numbers, yeast is a normal part of the body’s bacterial environment. These different types of bacteria and fungi are essential in carrying out various biochemical functions. However, when the yeast population grows too large, this environment becomes unbalanced and causes an infection. The most common strain of yeast is Candida alibicans, and an overgrowth of this fungus causes the common inflammatory condition, Candida.
Symptoms of Yeast Infections
Vaginal yeast infections are most likely to occur the week before you start your menstrual bleeding. Symptoms include:
- Itching or soreness in or around the vagina
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- Pain or burning during sexual activity
- Thick, clumpy, white discharge (looks similar to cottage cheese)
Cutaneous Candida (a Candida infection on the skin) most often forms in the folds of skin. It can appear beneath your breasts, in the armpits, groin area, between fingers, at the edges of nails, or in the corners of your mouth. Signs of a yeast skin infection include:
- Red, itchy or burning rashes
- Swollen, cracked, or peeling skin
- Blisters or postules
Causes of Yeast Infections
Yeast infections, whether vaginal or on the skin, most often occur because of a shift in your bacterial ecosystem. The bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus is the main bacterial strain in charge of keeping yeast and other potentially harmful organisms under control. When the Lactobacillus acidophilus population declines too much, a yeast overgrowth commonly occurs.
This shift in balance can be caused by a variety of reasons, including:
1. Taking Antibiotics
Although often necessary for serious medical treatments, one side effect of taking antibiotics is that they kill all bacteria, including the good kind, which can allow fungus to spread out of control.
2. Changing Estrogen Levels
A shift in hormones is another common way your body’s bacterial environment is affected. Estrogen levels shift around your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and menopause, and if you take birth control or other forms of hormone therapy.
3. Chronic Disease
Chronic health conditions or viral infections can also trigger a yeast overgrowth. These can be far-ranging and different on a case-by-case basis, but often include diabetes, obesity, bowel diseases such as Crohn’s or IBS, sexually transmitted diseases, or any condition that weakens your body’s immune system.
How Can Essential Oils Treat a Yeast Infection
Many essential oils have antibacterial, antiviral, or anti-fungal properties and are received by the body just like any nutrient consumed in your food. Used topically, they are absorbed by the skin and can penetrate cell walls within 20-30 minutes after application, even affecting cells which have been damaged or hardened in harsh conditions.
Since essential oils are very concentrated, you’ll usually need to dilute the oil before application in order to avoid irritating an already sensitive area of your skin. Be sure that you understand how to use each type of oil, as some (like tea tree) are safe to use topically, but can be poisonous if swallowed. Even oils that come from edible herbs, such as rosemary, can be toxic if ingested in the form of a concentrated essential oil. Keep your oils out of reach of children and check with your doctor prior to use if you are pregnant.
Also keep in mind that not all essential oils are created equally. Although most essential oils sold in stores smell just as strong as their competitors, you’ll need to do your research in order to get high quality oils if you intend to use them for medicinal purposes. Depending on the manufacturer and distillation process, the medicinal properties of the plant may or may not have carried through to the oil sold on the shelf. Likewise, the oils may have been mixed with other compounds or synthetic chemicals, which can change an oil’s effectiveness at treating wounds or infections.
Best Essential Oils to Treat Yeast Infections
1. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree is widely used to treat a variety of infections and is considered to be one of the more powerful infection-fighting oils. It is often used specifically to combat Candida. It is important to only use tea tree oil externally, as ingestion can cause serious illness or even death. Also be sure to dilute this oil, as its strength can be irritating to sensitive skin.
2. Lemongrass Oil
Lemongrass is a popular herb in Southeast Asia, used both for cooking and medicine. The chemical properties of lemongrass make it antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, which makes it applicable in a variety of treatments.
3. Clove Oil
Clove is particularly effective against fungal infections and is often used in treating vaginal yeast infections specifically. When used together with lemongrass, studies have shown that this combination can dismantle the biofilm that Candida produces, making it particularly useful for women who experience yeast infections on a recurring basis.
4. Thyme Oil
Thyme is another essential oil which is particularly effective against yeast infections. Alongside oregano oil, thyme contains compounds that inhibit the growth of Candida albicans.
5. Oregano Oil
Some studies have shown Oregano oil to be the most effective essential oil against Candida-specific fungal growth. If your budget only allows for the use of one essential oil, most homeotherapists recommend either tea tree or oregano for the treatment of yeast infections.
6. Lavender Oil
Lavender is potent against a variety of fungal infections, making it another versatile essential oil. Where other essential oils block growth, the chemical properties of lavender actively kill fungal strains, so it can be used in conjunction with other herbs to create a comprehensive herbal treatment.
How to Use Essential Oils
All of these oils are for external use, but can be applied in different ways.
To apply directly to a skin rash, first mix a couple drops of your choice of essential oils into a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil, in order to dilute the strength so that your skin won’t become more irritated. Coconut oil is also antimicrobial, so it will help prevent the spread of the infection. Then apply the mixture to your rash 2-3 times a day.
For a full-body treatment, add essential oils to your bath water. Because the oils will be greatly diluted in a full bathtub of water, this is best for only mild infections.
Last, for a vaginal infection, mix 5-8 drops of essential oils into a liter of water. Use this mixture in a douche. When douching, be careful to keep the concentration of oils low and do not add anything else, other than water, since the vagina is extremely sensitive and improper douching can cause further infection or other complications. Also, if you are pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor before using a douche.
Other Natural Remedies
1. Coconut Oil
In the case of mild infections, coconut oil can be used without essential oils to treat skin rashes. It can also help boost your immune system when used in cooking, as it contains both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Honey is also antibacterial and has been used in traditional medicine to treat wounds, promote healing and prevent infection. It can be applied topically or simply incorporated into your diet.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a strong disinfectant that can help control a Candida overgrowth both inside and outside of your body. Mix it into your bath, or drink two tablespoons in a cup of water each day. It can also be applied directly to rashes.
Garlic has been used for centuries as a strong and versatile medicinal herb. It is antifungal, antibacterial and contains natural antibiotic properties. Incorporate garlic into your cooking, take it as a supplement, or crush it into a paste to apply directly to the skin.
Although normally used to treat urinary tract infections, the antibacterial and antifungal components of cranberries make it similarly effective in treating yeast infections. Cranberries can either be taken as a supplement or you can drink unsweetened cranberry juice as part of your daily routine.
6. Boric Acid
Boric acid is a natural antiseptic and antifungal chemical that can be used in place of over-the-counter drug treatments. It is not recommended for pregnant women and should not be ingested, but can safely be used on rashes or in bath water.
One of the best ways to prevent yeast infections is to increase your population of good bacteria that will keep the yeast fungus in check. Probiotics can be found in yogurt and fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. They can also be taken as a supplement. If you find yourself getting yeast infections repeatedly, it’s probably a sign that you need to incorporate probiotics of some kind into your regular diet.
8. Loose, Breathable Clothing
Since Candida grows best in moist, warm environments, one easy way to prevent outbreaks is to wear loose, breathable clothing. Try to avoid polyesters and rayons, as well as anything that fits too tightly.
9. Diet and Exercise
Because your body’s bacterial ecosystem is greatly affected by hormones and your body’s overall pH, sticking to a healthy diet and regular exercise is one of the most effective ways of preventing all kinds of infections. Keep sugar and dairy to a minimum, and eat lots of fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system strong. Exercise, along with keeping your body fit, also helps to reduce stress, which will keep hormone levels more balanced.
10. Unscented Hygiene Products
Last, you may want to consider switching to unscented hygiene products if you regularly get rashes or infections of any kind. You may be allergic to some chemicals in the lotions or soaps that you’re using, which can affect your body’s immune system. Scented female hygiene products can also disrupt your vagina’s pH and bacterial environment. Studies show that women who use scented tampons over unscented ones tend to have a higher rate of developing yeast infections, as well as other vaginal complications.
Although the scientific community is still in debate over the effectiveness of essential oils in medical treatments, many studies have proven their effects to be both significant and practical. If you’re looking for a more natural remedy to yeast or any other kinds of infections, essential oils can be a viable alternative to over-the-counter medications.