Forest Volatile Organic Compounds and Their Effects on Human Health: A State-of-the-Art Review

Michele Antonelli, Davide Donelli, Grazia Barbieri, Marco Valussi, Valentina Maggini, Fabio Firenzuoli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The aim of this research work is to analyze the chemistry and diversity of forest VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and to outline their evidence-based effects on health. This research work was designed as a narrative overview of the scientific literature. Inhaling forest VOCs like limonene and pinene can result in useful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the airways, and the pharmacological activity of some terpenes absorbed through inhalation may be also beneficial to promote brain functions by decreasing mental fatigue, inducing relaxation, and improving cognitive performance and mood. The tree composition can markedly influence the concentration of specific VOCs in the forest air, which also exhibits cyclic diurnal variations. Moreover, beneficial psychological and physiological effects of visiting a forest cannot be solely attributed to VOC inhalation but are due to a global and integrated stimulation of the five senses, induced by all specific characteristics of the natural environment, with the visual component probably playing a fundamental role in the overall effect. Globally, these findings can have useful implications for individual wellbeing, public health, and landscape design. Further clinical and environmental studies are advised, since the majority of the existing evidence is derived from laboratory findings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInt J Environ Res Public Health
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sep 7 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Air Pollutants/analysis
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Forests
  • Humans
  • Trees
  • Volatile Organic Compounds/analysis


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