Lemongrass Oil and Other Natural Remedies for Scabies
We can now add lemongrass to the list of plant oils (essential oils) that kill the Sarcoptes scabiei mites that cause scabies.
Scabies is a dreaded condition caused by an infestation of the Sarcoptes scabiei mite into the skin of mammals. In humans, the Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis mite is the cause. Animals can also be infected, but typically from a different species, for example, Sarcoptes scabiei var. cuniculi, which can infect rabbits, sheep and other animals, and Sarcoptes scabiei var. canis, which can infect dogs.
There have been some instances where these other species have infected humans, but the S. cabiei var. hominis is the most prevalent species that infects humans.
Scabies in humans
Hundreds of millions of people contract scabies each year. In 2018, the World Health Organization added scabies as a neglected tropical disease (NTD). Scabies affects people regardless of their socio-economic position, however. This is because it is highly contagious.
The scabies mite typically infects humans via skin contact. However, because the mites can survive for 2-3 days or more on inanimate surfaces, they can also be transmitted via contact with clothing, furniture and other surfaces.
Once in contact with the human skin, the mite will penetrate the skin and create tunnels within the epidermis layer. Females will burrow into molting pouches. If the female is fertile she will begin to lay eggs.
The female mite will lay her eggs under the skin, and continue to burrow through the skin laying 2-3 eggs per day. Her eggs will hatch in 3 to 4 days.
Once the eggs hatch, the young mite nymphs will remain in the molting pouch for another 3 or 4 days until they become adults. The adult males will emerge on the skin on the hunt for females.
The males will enter the molting pouches or elsewhere where there are fertile females. They will enter the molting sac or meet the female on the skin, where they will mate. Once they mate, the female will be fertile for the rest of her life (1-2 months), unless treated.
The fertilized female will then begin creating her own burrows where she will lay more eggs and the cycle repeats itself.
About 1 in 10 of eggs laid will eventually become adults under the right conditions. The number of female mites infecting a person might number in the dozen or two, which will grow with time without treatment.
A person may be carrying scabies mites for several weeks before symptoms begin to become noticeable. Symptoms include red marks on the skin that can look like atopic dermatitis. The distinguishing characteristics are red tracks that will often fill into cracks and crevices of the skin. These include between the fingers, toes, wrists, elbows and elsewhere.
Another characteristic of scabies is the intense itch, which can feel like a burning pinch. This results from the body’s inflammatory response.
Elderly persons and those with compromised immune systems may develop crusted scabies. This is characterized by millions of mites that produce layers of thickened skin.
Mite survival times
Mite survival is one of the primary reasons for continued infection and re-infection of scabies after treatment.
A 1984 study found S. scabiei var. hominis (human) mites survived off of a host for up to 36 hours in room conditions of 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) and between 40 and 80 percent humidity. Greater humidity and lower room temperatures led to longer survival times.
This study also tested hominis mites and found if they were at room temperature for 12 hours and refrigerated for another 12 hours they remained infective for 96 hours. This might apply to regions where temperatures drop at night.
Colder temperatures and higher humidity increases mite survival times. A 1989 study found that at 10-15 degrees C, mites survived for as long as three weeks at 97 percent humidity, and up to 2 weeks at 75 percent humidity, and 5-8 days at 45 percent humidity.
Higher temperatures decrease mite survival time. At 20-25 degrees C (68-77 F), all life-stages of canis variety mites (dogs) died within two days at 25 percent humidity and five to seven days at 75 percent humidity. See chart for different temperatures (Courtesy Parasites and Vectors Journal).
Other studies have tested heat for killing mites. The 1984 study found that at 50 degrees Celsius (122 F), mites were all dead as early as 10 minutes.
Many have solely quoted this study, and the Centers for Disease Control have repeated this information that 122 F (50 C) for 10 minutes should kill all mites, https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html based on the 1984 study mentioned above.
However, a 2019 study from Bangkok’s Mahidol University School of Medicine performed heat survival tests on Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis (human mites). They found that most mites actually survived at 50 C after 10 minutes.
Their research also found that all mites were killed by 50 C heat for 30 minutes, and all mite eggs were also dead after 35 minutes.
It is for these reasons that experts typically advise that clothing is dried in a hot dryer to kill mites. This likely also accounts for anecdotal reports that saunas and topically-applied hair dryers provide some relief. Assuming the temperatures and timing correspond with the studies quoted above.
But the extended survival times beyond 10 minutes should be taken into account.
Conventional treatments for Scabies
The primary treatment prescribed by conventional medicine is Permethrin, a topical insecticide.
Permethrin is an analogue of pyrethrins, which come from the Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium flower. These flowers utilize the chemical to deter insects from infecting the plant.
The typical prescription is a five percent solution of Permethrin that is topically rubbed all over the body from the neck down to the soles of the feet. This is often prescribed to be done on a weekly basis to coincide with the life cycle of the mites (3-4 days incubation and 3-4 days larval stage).
While many doctors believe that one treatment of Permethrin will suffice, typically multiple treatments seven days apart have been documented to completely resolve the infestation.
A 2020 study from Denmark’s Odense University studied the effectiveness of Permethrin on scabies mites taken from people with scabies infestations.
The researchers set up 20 petri dishes and coated each with 5% Permethrin cream. They also set up 30 petri dishes with mites that were not coated with the cream.
The study found that 65 percent of the mites survived after 8 hours. This compared to 75 percent of the mites in the control dishes (no Permethrin cream).
After 12 hours 25 percent of the mites in the Permethrin-treated dishes were still alive, compared to 60 percent in the control dishes.
Most prescriptions advise that Permethrin cream be left on for between 10 to 14 hours. By this study it appears the longer part of the range is more efficacious.
A newer treatment, Ivermectin has also been prescribed for tougher cases. This is sometimes in a single dose, or in combination with Permethrin.
A 2018 Cochrane review of research from the University of Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health studied the efficacy of Permethrin compared to Ivermectin. The research analyzed 15 studies that tested 1896 people.
The research found that Permethrin had higher effectiveness after one week – at 65 percent clearance of scabies. This compared to 43 percent clearance Ivermectin after one week.
But after two weeks, the two had similar effectiveness rates, but again permethrin was more effective at 74 percent. This compared to Ivermectin’s 68 percent average clearance rate.
When the dosage and application frequency is expanded to up to three treatments and four weeks of followup, they get closer. Permethrin treatments resulted in 93 percent clearance and 86 percent for Ivermectin.
Ivermectin can be taken in a pill orally or taken as a lotion. The researchers analyzed two studies and found that after four weeks the lotion resulted in 96 percent clearance while oral ivermectin resulted in 97 percent clearance.
In terms of adverse events, 4 percent of the permethrin groups and 5 percent of the ivermectin groups reported at least one adverse event.
Other conventional treatments have included lindane, benzyl benzoate, crotamiton, malathion and sulfur.
Scabies mites and treatment resistance
Multiple studies have documented that Sarcoptes scabiei mites have increasingly become resistant to both oral ivermectin and 5% permethrin. Studies have also found resistance with treatments of lindane, benzyl benzoate and crotamiton.
A study from Australia’s Charles Darwin University stated:
“Limited effective treatments, coupled with recent observations of emerging drug resistance to oral ivermectin and 5% permethrin, raise concerns regarding the future control of scabies, especially in severe cases and in endemic areas where repeated community treatment programs are in place.”
“There is consequently an urgent need to define molecular mechanisms of drug resistance in scabies mites and to develop and assess alternative therapeutic options, such as tea tree oil.”
University of Queensland researchers also recognize this developing issue. They stated in a 2009 study:
“Recent evidence from a prospective study of in vitro acaricide sensitivity has demonstrated increased tolerance to permethrin of scabies mites collected from indigenous communities across northern Australia.”
These researchers tested the ability of synergistic applications to help curb the resistance of the two conventional go-to treatments, ivermectin and 5% permethrin cream.
Both studies acknowledged the potential usefulness of applying essential oils, even when used in combination with conventional treatments.
Lemongrass oil kills scabies mites
A 2020 study from China’s Guangxi University, Australia’s Infectious Diseases Program and University Paris East studied Lemongrass oil. This is the essential oil from the Cymbopogon citrates plant.
The researchers tested several concentrations of lemongrass oil: 10%, 5%, 1%, 0.5%, and 0.1% with oil.
The researchers placed mites of all stages – adult mites, nymphs and eggs in Petri dishes.
Parafin oil was put in negative control dishes, and benzyl benzoate was placed in positive control dishes. The researchers studied the mite survival every 10 minutes for one hour and then after 3 hours, six hours, 12 hours and 24 hours.
The 10 percent concentration of lemongrass oil killed all the mites within 10 minutes. The 5 percent concentration killed all mites and eggs within 25 minutes.
The 1 percent concentration lemongrass killed all mites within 24 hours.
This compared to the 25% benzyl benzoate, which killed all mites in an average of 66 minutes.
The lemongrass oil also decreased egg hatching. Only 5 percent of the eggs hatched at a 10 percent concentration. And 20 percent hatched at 5 percent and 23 percent hatched at 1 percent concentration.
The final analysis was that at 10 percent concentration, lemongrass oil killed 100 percent of mites within 10 minutes and only 5 percent of those eggs hatched. And 5 percent lemongrass oil killed all mites within 25 minutes.
On the 25% benzyl benzoate plates, 8.3 percent of the eggs hatched.
The researchers analyzed the lemongrass oil for compounds. Primary constituents included geranial and neral, which are both forms of citral (A and B respectively). In all, citral accounted for about 70 percent of the lemongrass oil.
Lemon oil for scabies mites
Citral is also the primary compound in lemon oil (Citrus limon). In a 2016 study, researchers from Egypt’s Beni Suef University tested different dilutions of lemon oil with distilled water. They tested 2.5%, 5%, 10%, 20%, 50% and 100% in the laboratory, against Sarcoptes scabiei var. cuniculi mites.
Petri dishes were observed at 1 hour, 12 hours and 24 hours. The researchers found that the 10 percent and the 20 percent dilutions of lemon oil killed 100% of the mites within 24 hours.
The researchers then tested the 20 percent dilution on 24 rabbits that were naturally infected with the scabies mites. They round that they all rabbits given the 20 percent lemon oil recovered after two weeks of treatment.
The lemon oil treatments were compared with deltamethrin treatments. Though it also had a high recovery rate, the lemon oil-treated rabbits had faster skin recovery and hair growth compared with those given the deltamethrin.
Clove essential oils
Cloves contain significant amounts of a compound called eugenol. They also contain related compounds such as isoeugenol, acetyleugenol and methyleugenol.
In a 2010 study, researchers from Australia’s University of Queensland tested scabies mites (S. scabiei var canis) that were resistant to permethrin treatments. The researchers tested the mites against clove, nutmeg, ylang ylang essential oils – all reported to kill scabies mites.
The researchers found that clove oil concentrations as low as 1.56 percent killed all normal (non-resistant) scabies mites within 15 minutes. But it took 6.25 percent concentrations to kill the permethrin-resistant mites within 15 minutes.
The mites did not have the same level of mortality for the nutmeg and ylang ylang oils. They required greater concentrations. For example, nutmeg oil and ylang ylang oil both required 25 percent concentration for four hours or more to kill all the mites in the testing.
The researchers also tested the major compounds in clove and found that the eugenol and its associate compounds acetyleugenol, and isoeugenol had the greatest killing effect on the mites – each killing them within an hour.
Essential clove oils will contain between 70 to 90 percent eugenol and 6 to 20 percent acetyleugenol.
Nutmeg oil contains isoeugenol along with pinene and other compounds. Ylang ylang oil doesn’t contain any eugenols, but contains linalool and extraction methods result in nearly 20 percent benzyl benzoate, which could explain its minor ability to deter mites.
Tea tree oil for scabies
Laboratory studies have confirmed that tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) can also kill scabies mites, in particular, sarcoptes scabiei var hominis.
In 2004, scientists from Australia’s Menzies School of Health Research laboratory at the Royal Darwin Hospital tested 5 percent concentrations of tea tree oil against 2.1% terpinen-4-ol, 5 percent permethrin, and ivermectin.
The study was done in particular due to developing resistance to 5% permethrin and oral ivermectin along with treatment failures of lindane, crotamiton, and benzyl benzoate.
The researchers tested the above compounds against mites, eggs and nymphs collected from a crusted scabies patient.
Mites survived an average of 60 minutes with the 5% tea tree oil (mean survival time). After an hour, 60 percent of the mites were dead with the TTO. With a combination mix of the 2.1% Terpinen-4-ol and TTO, 90 percent of the mites were dead in an hour.
In comparison, only 10 percent of the mites were dead in an hour with the 5% permethrin and ivermectin. (Though in fairness, it should be noted that both of these typically take 10-14 hours on application.)
After doing these tests, this crusted scabies patient was successfully treated by the doctors with a solution of 5% tea tree oil with 25% benzyl benzoate, as well as oral ivermectin.
In a 2000 study at the same research center, researchers tested mites from 7 crusted scabies patients. They found that 5% tea tree oil killed all mites within three hours of exposure.
In comparison, 35 percent of the mites were alive after three hours of 5% permethrin, and after 18-22 hours, there were 4% of the mites alive.
Does Neem oil kill scabies mites?
Neem oil from the Azadirachta indica plant has also been studied for its ability to combat scabies infections. Some studies have shown little or no mite killing potential. However, other studies have showed that mites are critically damaged when in contact with neem.
A 2010 study by China’s Sichuan Agricultural University tested a microemulsion of neem to cuniculi variety mites in the laboratory. They found the product killed all mites within 192 minutes.
A 2014 study from China’s Sichuan Agricultural University tested neem against Sarcoptes scabiei var. cuniculi mites. They found that after 24 hour treatment at a concentration of 20 milligrams per milliliter, the neem caused lesions in the mites. It also created an interruption of the energy metabolism of the mites, eventually resulting in their death.
A 2019 study from Egypt’s Animal Health Research Institute studied neem with scabies infected rabbits. They found that a water extract of neem was applied topically every three days for three weeks. They counted mites on the rabbits every other week and then over a month later.
The researchers found that the neem extract resulted in 93 percent killing of mites within 28 days of treatment completion and complete removal 42 days after treatment, and 48 hours after application in the laboratory.
The neem also killed all mite eggs within the rabbits and within 24 hours in the laboratory.
Another study on mite-infested dogs found treatment success in many after 14 days of topical application.
Other essential oils for scabies
In a 2016 study from France and Chinese researchers, ten different essential oils were tested against scabies mites collected from pigs.
The researchers tested:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium amara)
- Geranium (Pelargonium asperum)
- Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiate)
- Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
- Cade (Juniperus oxycedrus)
- Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
- Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini)
They tested all the oils at 10 percent, 5 percent and 1 percent concentrations, with paraffin oil. These were all tested against a control solution of paraffin oil.
They inspected each Petri dish every 10 minutes in the first hour, then every 30 minutes thereafter.
Of these clove oil killed the mites the fastest. The lowest concentration of clove oil – at 1% – killed all mites within 20 minutes.
The order of effectiveness of the oils (average lethal times of 5% concentration, which means first dead divided by last dead):
- clove (10 minutes)
- palmarosa (10 minutes)
- geranium (20 minutes)
- tea tree (30 minutes)
- lavender (35 minutes)
- manuka (60 minutes)
- bitter orange (50 minutes, but 10% manuka was better)
- eucalyptus (150 minutes)
- Japanese cedar (180 minutes)
The cade oil did not kill any mites within an hour.
Another potential plant oil is Snakeroot (Eupatorium adenophorum). In 2012, Chinese researchers found that 0.50 grams per milliliter concentration of snakeroot extract killed Sarcoptes scabiei mites inside of an hour.
A 2020 study from Pakistan’s Government College University Faisalabad reviewed the various research on these and other essential oils.
Outside of the other oils covered in this article, the research uncovered several other potential herbal products that are helpful for scabies:
Aloe (Aloe barbadensis Mill) – research found using gel or syrup applied to the skin three times a day.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – has been found to kill mites along with drying up wounds and bruises rapidly.
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) – Shown to kill scabies mites with external application, also dropping small amounts to bath (caution, as cayenne can burn the skin easily).
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum camphor) – this botanical has insecticidal activity has shown success with applying oil topically for 10 days.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – has shown improvements when applied together with neem juice.
Fennel (Pimpinella anisum) – has shown some success topically applied oil.
Other plant extracts used in traditional medicine for scabies have included:
- Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
- Giduchi (Tinospora cordifolia)
- Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum)
- Ficus (Heliotropium indicum)
- Fumaria indica Linn, Madamol (Solanum nigrum L)
- Solanum hannemanii
- Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
- Bael (Aegle marmelos)
- Snakeroot (Eupatorium adenophorum)
Using essential oils for scabies
Essential plant oils have been shown to provide health benefits and safety if applied carefully and judiciously. Essential oils applied topically can easily cause skin burns and allergic rashes. Using just a few drops applied to a healthy skin cream is the primary method for applying essential oils. Even then, the lotion should be tested in a small part of the skin for some time before applying in a broad manner.
Do not orally consume essential oils.
Talk to your doctor or health professional before applying essential oils. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment without doctor consultation is not recommended for Scabies.
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