The increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the healthcare environment has left clinicians with fewer treatment options and increased the possibility of returning to a pre- antibiotic era.

In the United Kingdom, there has been a 26% reduction in the number of antibiotics available for prescription compared to twenty years ago because common pathogens have developed resistance to first generation antimicrobials. In addition, many large pharmaceutical companies have stopped looking for new antibiotics because the cost of development of a single antibiotic can be cost prohibitive.

The Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, has for the first time, encouraged researchers to look for novel agents and assess them alongside conventional treatments. Essential oils (EO’s), commonly known for their use in aromatherapy are being actively investigated as possible alternative treatments for treating non-life threatening infections. Essential oils are used in personal care products but their primary function is related to smell rather than their antimicrobial activity.

There are already over four hundred different EO’s available, some with known antimicrobial activity and their activity has been assessed against a number of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Blending EO’s can enhance activity of individual EO’s. In addition, the vapours of EO’s can reduce the number of airborne bacteria, thus reducing cross infection in the healthcare environment. EO’s are very active at low concentrations and also have a potential role in a number of healthcare related fields. The complex nature of EO’s and the future development of resistance to these agents are unlikely if used appropriately.