I have a bit of a soft spot for geraniums. My grandfather used to grow them in his front garden and introduced me to their ability to display a range of strong smells. The lemon geranium was my favourite, closely followed by the rose geranium. I was also impressed to come across a scheme that encouraged African farmers to grow geraniums instead of tobacco. The geraniums were used to produce scent ingredients rather than cigarettes which is healthier for the end user. It is also better for the long term health of the soil – tobacco being a crop that requires a lot of chemical and mechanical input. So I was intrigued to see a website advocating geranium oil as an antiseptic and anti-fungal that should be kept handy for cuts and bruises.
There is nothing inherently implausible in this claim. Witch Hazel has been used for this kind of thing for centuries and seems to do the trick nicely. Is geranium oil a good alternative? You can certainly demonstrate that geranium oil has an anti-fungal effect. For example in 2004 a paper was published comparing a range of oils with the anti-fungal drug ketoconazole. They first looked at oils alone, and geranium oil and lavender showed the strongest effect. They then looked at combining geranium oil with ketoconazole and found that the two together worked better than either individually.
This paper looked specifically at the effect on Trichophyton. Working well against this is a handy quality as this is the organism responsible for athlete’s foot. There is also evidence of a more general antiseptic activity. I have put a couple of references below, but there is a reasonable body of work on this oil that supports its use as an antibacterial.
So should you use it as antiseptic for cuts and grazes? It’s a reasonably safe material. It has caused a mild sensitisation to the skin of animals, but in a small study had no effect on humans with healthy skin. It provokes a low level of reactions in dermatitis sufferers. And geraniums have been handled for many years without issues. So there is no obvious risk from using it.
There is the fact that it is an oil and it will probably temporarily disrupt the skin’s barrier function if you say apply it and remove it with cotton wool. This is unlikely to cause much of a problem, but you should avoid overdoing it.
The biggest drawback is simply the smell. You possibly don’t want to go around smelling of geranium. The main components of the oil are citronellol and geraniol, both of which are pleasant enough but hard to ignore.
So if you want an alternative to witch hazel or an antiseptic cream there is good reason to switch to geranium oil. I haven’t done enough hunting through the literature to see if it is the best essential oil choice for this job, but it is definitely a good choice. I quite like the idea of a ketoconazole/geranium oil combination for treating athlete’s foot and dandruff. If you do too and have the money to fund a clinical trial, get in touch. In the meantime we can all enjoy the smell of geranium oil any time, and indeed the smell of geraniums.