Bacterial resistance to multiple antibiotics is a health problem. Essential oils (EOs) possess antibacterial properties and have been screened as potential sources of novel antimicrobial compounds. Terpenes and terpenoids are components derived from EOs. Some of these EOs show inhibitory activity against Staphylococcus aureus. Carvacrol has specific effects on S. aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis. Perilla oil suppresses expression of α-toxin, Staphylococcus enterotoxin A and B and toxic shock syndrome toxin. Geraniol shows good activity in modulating drug resistance in several gram-negative species. EOs could act as biopreservatives, reducing or eliminating pathogenic bacteria and increasing the overall quality of animal and vegetable food products. Although clinical studies are scarce, the uses of EOs for topical administration and as penetration enhancers for antiseptics are promising. Little information exists for oral administration. Published by Elsevier Ltd.