A study from Indiana University revealed that a chemical compound in essential oils may enhance wound healing, especially when applied topically. According to co-author Sachiko Koyama, essential oils – like those from lavender, rosemary, ylang-ylang and black pepper – contain a chemical compound called beta-caryophyllene. This contributes to improved wound healing, based on a murine model.
“This is the first finding at the chemical-compound level showing improved wound healing in addition to changes in gene expression in the skin,” said Koyama.
Beta-caryophyllene may decrease inflammation and accelerate re-epithelialization. The latter refers to the restoration of structure and function of injured tissues. During this process, epithelial cells at the wound start to migrate and cover the injured area. The researchers added that beta-caryophyllene may prevent cell death, allowing cells to survive and proliferate.
“I thought maybe wound healing would be accelerated if inflammation was suppressed, stimulating an earlier switch from the inflammatory stage to the next stage,” she added.
The team also noted increased gene expression of hair follicle stem cells in the treated tissue. This potentially indicate that there’s more to wound-healing activity of beta-caryophyllene than just activating genes.
“It’s possibly more complicated,” she added. “Our findings suggest the involvements of some other routes in addition to CB2. I hope to clarify the mechanisms of action in the near future.”
Koyama, a social neuroscientist at Indiana University, said that she wasn’t interested in studying essential oils at first, as her field of expertise was in pheromone and social status. However, her interest was sparked when she saw students working on the wound healing process in mice. She knew from experience that beta-caryophyllene can also activate cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), which has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Healing beyond smell
Most people know essential oils by way of aromatherapy. These are often used with diffusers, aromatic spritzers, inhalers, facial steamers and clay masks to bring out the aroma coming from the oil. Essential oils, in particular, may help with asthma, insomnia, fatigue and depression, among others.
In the study, the researchers did not find any relationship between the sense of smell and the healing properties of beta-caryophyllene. (Related: Curcumin found to aid in the healing of skin wounds.)
Koyama also offered a caveat for those looking to use essential oils for treatment, in particular, warning against the use of any essential oils. In the study, the researchers used essential oils that underwent purification processes to achieve that result.
“It’s not very precise to use the essential oils themselves because there are differences,” she added. “Even if you say you used lavender, when the lavender was harvested, where it was harvested, how it was stored—all of this makes a difference in the chemical composition.”
The team is also hopeful that their results will warrant further studies to determine an exact chemical composition for beta-caryophyllene that can be used to treat skin wounds.
“There are many things to test before we can start using it clinically, but our results are very promising and exciting; someday in the near future, we may be able to develop a drug and drug delivery methods using the chemical compounds found in essential oils,” she added.
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