Effects of lavender oil



Generic Name: lavender (LAH ven der)
Brand Name:

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com on Jul 24, 2019 – Written by Cerner Multum

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What is lavender?

Lavender is an herb also known as Alhucema, English Lavender, French Lavender, Garden Lavender, Huile Essentielle de Lavande, Lavanda,Lavande des Alpes, Lavande du Jardin, Lavande Espagnole, Lavande Fine, Lavande Française, Lavandula, Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula dentate, Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula spica, Lavandula stoechas, Lavandula vera, Lavender Essential Oil, Ostokhoddous, Spanish Lavender, Spike Lavender, and other names.

Lavender has been used in alternative medicine as a possibly effective aid in treating hair loss, anxiety, canker sores, pain after a C-section, and to help prevent falls in older adults.

Lavender has also been used to treat cancer-related pain, dementia, and pain around the vagina and anus. However, research has shown that lavender may not be effective in treating these conditions.

Other uses not proven with research have included agitation, eczema, colic in infants, constipation, depression, menstrual pain, high blood pressure, lice, migraines, ear infections, acne, nausea and vomiting, as well as other conditions.

It is not certain whether lavender is effective in treating any medical condition. Medicinal use of this product has not been approved by the FDA. Lavender should not be used in place of medication prescribed for you by your doctor.

Lavender is often sold as an herbal supplement. There are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for many herbal compounds and some marketed supplements have been found to be contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.

Lavender may also be used for purposes not listed in this product guide.

Important Information

Follow all directions on the product label and package. Tell each of your healthcare providers about all your medical conditions, allergies, and all medicines you use.

Before taking this medicine

Before using lavender, talk to your healthcare provider. You may not be able to use lavender if you have certain medical conditions.

Ask a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider if it is safe for you to use this product if you have:

  • high or low blood pressure.

It is not known whether lavender will harm an unborn baby. Do not use this product without medical advice if you are pregnant.

It is not known whether lavender passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. Do not use this product without medical advice if you are breast-feeding a baby.

Do not give any herbal/health supplement to a child without medical advice. Lavender products for the skin might be possibly unsafe for children, especially young boys.

How should I take lavender?

When considering the use of herbal supplements, seek the advice of your doctor. You may also consider consulting a practitioner who is trained in the use of herbal/health supplements.

If you choose to use lavender, use it as directed on the package or as directed by your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. Do not use more of this product than is recommended on the label.

Do not use different formulations of lavender (such as tablets, liquids, and others) at the same time, unless specifically directed to do so by a health care professional. Using different formulations together increases the risk of an overdose.

Call your doctor if the condition you are treating with lavender does not improve, or if it gets worse while using this product.

Lavender can affect blood pressure and your central nervous system. If you need surgery or dental work, stop taking lavender at least 2 weeks ahead of time.

Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next scheduled dose. Do not use extra lavender to make up the missed dose.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

What should I avoid while taking lavender?

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about any restrictions on food, beverages, or activity.

Lavender might cause sleepiness. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert.

Avoid using lavender together with other herbal/health supplements that can also cause sleepiness. This includes calamus, California poppy, catnip, hops, Jamaican dogwood, kava, St. John’s wort, skullcap, valerian, yerba mansa, and others.

Avoid using lavender together with other herbal/health supplements that can lower blood pressure, such as andrographis, casein peptides, cat’s claw, coenzyme Q-10, fish oil, L-arginine, lycium, stinging nettle, theanine, and others.

Lavender side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Although not all side effects are known, lavender is thought to be likely safe for most people.

Stop using lavender and call your healthcare provider at once if you have:

  • severe drowsiness.

Common side effects may include:

  • constipation;

  • headache:

  • increased appetite; or

  • skin irritation when used topically.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

What other drugs will affect lavender?

Other drugs may interact with lavender, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Tell each of your health care providers about all medicines you use now and any medicine you start or stop using.

Do not take lavender without medical advice if you are using any of the following medications:

This list is not complete. Other drugs may interact with lavender, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible interactions are listed in this product guide.

Further information

  • Consult with a licensed healthcare professional before using any herbal/health supplement. Whether you are treated by a medical doctor or a practitioner trained in the use of natural medicines/supplements, make sure all your healthcare providers know about all of your medical conditions and treatments.

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Copyright 1996-2018 Cerner Multum, Inc. Version: 5.01.

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More about lavender

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5 Reasons to Use Lavender Oil for Your Hair

There are many ways to use and apply lavender oil to one’s hair. Depending on the benefits you want to experience, certain applications are better than others.

1. Massage the oil into your scalp

Want to get the very best of lavender oil’s hair growth and scalp benefits? Massage diluted lavender oil onto your scalp.

You can dilute lavender essential oil with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil. You should mix the essential oil and carrier oil in equal parts.

This is best to do following a bath or shower. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes and then rinse out afterward (if desired). You can leave it in overnight with your hair wrapped in a towel if you want maximum benefits. You’ll also experience lavender’s calming and lovely scent as well as some scalp-healing effects.

Oil massaging anywhere from once per week to once per day works well. We recommend lavender oils from doTERRA or Mountain Rose Herbs. Both are reputable companies with great reviews on their products.

2. Add the oil to your hair products

For some scalp benefit, hair growth, fragrance, and calming effects, add oil to hair products. For example, you can add a little lavender oil to shampoo, conditioner, or another product.

Be sparing. Only add about five drops per ounce of product to be safe. Next, use hair product as directed. Another option: Add two to three drops directly to a dollop of hair product in your palm before applying.

Use it as often as you would use your hair products regularly.

You can also add oil to your very own homemade shampoo. Try this recipe from Wellness Mama as well as many others online.

3. Purchase products with lavender essential oil already added

Products with lavender oil already in them can be calming, fragrant, and good for your scalp. They may not necessarily promote hair growth—the lavender oil is very likely to be diluted, with the amount varying from product to product.

Next time you’re purchasing hair care products, look at the ingredients. If the ingredients lists contain “lavender essential oil” or “lavender hydrolate,” these are good candidates. The more natural ingredients and carrier oils, the better.

Simply use products as often as is needed or as directed, daily or weekly.

We recommend Avalon Organics Nourishing Lavender shampoo or The Honest Company’s Lavender conditioner.

4. Use lavender essential oil hair serum

Hair serums are products designed for specific hair care benefits. This includes frizzy hair, oily hair, split ends, and more.

Some hair serums are designed to include lavender essential oil for its effects. They may have some scalp benefits but fewer hair-growth benefits, though they may also prevent hair from breaking.

Just like with purchasing any product, look at the ingredient list on the label. Products that list lavender essential oil content and natural ingredients are your best bet. Follow directions on hair serum product for how often you should use it, daily or weekly.

Or save money by making your own lavender oil hair serum such as this one from Beauty Munsta.

5. Try a lavender hair mask once per week

Try a weekly lavender hair mask. This gives you all the best benefits of lavender oil for hair care. Like a hair serum, it could also give benefits such as preventing breakage or moisturizing.

Some commercial hair masks contain lavender essential oils—check their ingredient lists. We recommend Momma B’s Naturals Hair Mask, which contains lavender essential oil.

Or save money and try this hair mask recipe from Making Lemonade for preventing hair breakage instead.

Lavender is commonly used in cosmetic products such as soap and shampoo for its fragrance, but it also has many health benefits that are not as widely known. Lavender can be used to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and manage pain. Keep reading to learn more about its beneficial effects.

What is Lavender?

Lavender (Lavandula) is a group of plants native to southern Europe, northern and eastern Africa, southwest Asia, and southeast India.

Historically, lavender has been used for medical purposes. In the medieval era, physicians used lavender to treat epilepsy and migraine attacks .

Lavender essential oil can be taken orally, inhaled as a mist, or applied topically as an oil or lotion.


The genotype, environment, and processing of lavender essential oils affect their chemical composition. Different species of lavender also contain different constituents .

Lavender’s main constituents are :

  • Linalool
  • Linalyl Acetate
  • Cineole
  • Terpinen
  • Camphor

Linalool creates anti-conflict effects while both linalool and linalyl acetate cause sedative effects .


Linalool and linalyl acetate, some of the lavender’s main constituents, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties .

In cells, lavender essential oil increases HSP70 activity, which stops LPS-induced inflammatory reactions .

Its active components also have an affinity for GABA receptors. Lavender essential oil can inhibit GABA receptor binding, which induces calming effects and reduces anxiety .

Health Benefits of Lavender

Lavender has not been approved by the FDA for medical use; extracts and oils generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Possibly Effective For

1) Stress & Anxiety

Lavender oil decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, indicating a decrease in the fight-or-flight response. It also reduces anxiety, emotional distress, and pain perception .

Lavender increased heart rate variability, which signals a higher stress tolerance, in 67 middle-aged women. However, this effect only lasted a short time .

Lavender increased relaxing brain waves (alpha and theta) in 20 volunteers .

In mice, taking lavender oil orally alleviated their anxiety via N-type and P/Q-type voltage-dependent calcium channels. They inhibited the hippocampus, a region of the brain important for anxiety disorders .

In a study of 140 women who recently gave birth, their anxiety, stress, and postpartum depression levels were significantly lower when they inhaled lavender daily .

Similarly, lavender oil inhalation reduced anxiety and depression in rats .

For low-anxiety situations, lavender helps lower heart rate, increases the variation between heartbeats, and decreases sweat secretion, indicating a decrease in anxiety levels. An increase in variation between heartbeats indicates a higher tolerance to stress .

In high-anxiety situations, lavender causes an increase in variation between heartbeats in women and an increase in sweat secretion in men. However, while the increase in variation between heartbeats indicates a mild decrease in anxiety for women, the increase in sweat secretion proves the opposite effect for men .

Insufficient Evidence For

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of lavender for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before taking lavender or using lavender oil, and never use it in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.

2) Sleep Quality

Lavender inhalation can help with insomnia and improve sleep quality by reducing the stress responses, lowering resting heart rate and increasing the variability between heartbeats in the short-term.

Lavender oil increases sleep efficiency by allowing longer and deeper sleep. It decreases the amount of time spent awake during the night as well as morning tiredness. Also, lavender decreases restlessness .

Lavender increased the percentage of time spent in deep, restorative slow-wave sleep in a study of 31 healthy participants. In women, lavender increased light stage 2 sleep and decreased rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. In men, lavender has the opposite effect on these two stages .

Scientists examined the brain activity of 10 healthy women who were exposed to lavender odor. A brain imaging study showed that lavender increases both brain arousal and feelings of relaxation .

3) Cognitive Function

Aromatherapy with lavender, rosemary, lemon, and orange essential oils increased cognitive function in a study of 17 elderly patients with Alzheimer’s .

Lavender extract effectively improved the spatial performance of rats with Alzheimer’s Disease .

Rats that were injected with lavender oil demonstrated neuroprotective activity against strokes caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain and alleviated neurological symptoms .

Lavender oil improved the motor coordination and motor function in rats through the enhancement of dopamine receptors. Dopamine is responsible for movement and emotions .

4) Wound Healing

Lavender oil applied to canker sores reduced inflammation, pain, ulcer size, and healing time .

Lavender treats wounds, burns, ulcers, and other skin disorders .

In rats, treatment with lavender ointment on excision wounds resulted in the wounds healing faster. Lavender ointment also enhanced protein synthesis for tissue restoration .

5) Pain and Itch

Lavender essential oil relieved muscle pain and itchiness from insect bites .

Aromatherapy using lavender also alleviated joint pain .

Lavender essential oil applied topically to the insertion area of a needle reduced the intensity of the pain caused by needle insertion in 30 healthy volunteers and 34 dialysis patients .

Menstrual Cramps

In two studies, lavender used in an aromatherapy massage to the stomach region significantly reduced the severity of menstrual cramps .

However, the relative effect of the lavender oil and the massage is unknown.


In a controlled trial of 47 patients, the inhalation of lavender oil significantly reduced headache severity compared to placebo .

6) Hair Growth

In a study of 86 balding patients, the group that massaged a mixture of essential oils (lavender, thyme, rosemary, and cedarwood) onto their scalp experienced an improvement in hair loss symptoms .

Lavender oil also promoted hair growth in mice .

Animal Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of lavender for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

7) Inflammation

Lavender essential oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects .

In rats, lavender oil prevented inflammation and allergic reactions when applied either topically or through injections .

Lavender also suppressed inflammation in the lungs and prevented bronchial asthma in mice .

Side Effects & Precautions

Lavender is available as a dried whole or powdered herb, extract, or essential oil. Whole lavender is considered safe to consume as food, but not all preparations of lavender oil are appropriate for consumption by mouth; read any instructions carefully before administering lavender.

Three prepubescent boys who topically applied products containing lavender and tea tree oils on a regular basis developed gynecomastia, the enlargement of male breast tissue. According to the authors, gynecomastia in the three boys was likely due to estrogenic and testosterone-blocking properties in the lavender and tea tree oils .

High concentrations of lavender oil can be toxic to human skin cells .

If left exposed to air, lavender oil oxidizes to form chemicals that are irritating to the skin. It can cause skin rashes .

Common side effects include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion

To avoid adverse effects or unexpected interactions, talk to your doctor before using lavender extracts or oils.


Although short-term therapy with lavender is considered safe, relatively little is known about its long-term effects on humans. More long-term studies and clinical trials are needed before lavender’s efficiency can be determined.

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Itai T, Amayasu H, Kuribayashi M, and et al. Psychological effects of aromatherapy on chronic hemodialysis patients. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2000;54(4):393-397. View abstract.

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Ripple GH, Gould MN, Stewart JA, and et al. Phase I clinical trial of perillyl alcohol administered daily. Clin Cancer Res 1998;4(5):1159-1164. View abstract.

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Woelk, H. and Schlafke, S. A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(2):94-99. View abstract.

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Yip, Y. B. and Tse, S. H. An experimental study on the effectiveness of acupressure with aromatic lavender essential oil for sub-acute, non-specific neck pain in Hong Kong. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2006;12(1):18-26. View abstract.

Yip, Y. B. and Tse, S. H. The effectiveness of relaxation acupoint stimulation and acupressure with aromatic lavender essential oil for non-specific low back pain in Hong Kong: a randomised controlled trial. Complement Ther.Med. 2004;12(1):28-37. View abstract.

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Barker SC and Altman PM. A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children–melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a “suffocation” product. BMC Dermatol 2010;10:6. View abstract.

Barker SC and Altman PM. An ex vivo, assessor blind, randomised, parallel group, comparative efficacy trial of the ovicidal activity of three pediculicides after a single application–melaleuca oil and lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and lemon tea tree oil, and a “suffocation” pediculicide. BMC Dermatol 2011;11:14. View abstract.

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Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA. Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. N Eng J Med 2007;356:479-85. View abstract.

Hirokawa K, Nishimoto T, Taniguchi T. Effects of lavender aroma on sleep quality in healthy Japanese students. Perceptual and Motor Skills 2012;114(1):111-22. View abstract.

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Sasannejad P, Saeedi M, Shoeibi A, et al. Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur Neurol 2012;67(5):288-91. View abstract.

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Varma S, Blackford S, Statham BN, Blackwell A. Combined contact allergy to tea tree oil and lavender oil complicating chronic vulvovaginitis. Contact Dermatitis 2000;42:309-10. View abstract.

Nature’s Way: Calmaid

What is CalmAid?

CalmAid is a dietary supplement that contains a lavender extract known as Silexan. Silexan is the first clinically proven lavender oil product for internal use. Designed to be taken during the day, CalmAid reduces tension and restlessness, symptoms associated with occasional anxiety. Clinical studies show a secondary effect: It helps improve sleep quality. People are able to get to sleep more efficiently and get a better night’s sleep after taking it.

How does Silexan do that?

Preliminary research suggests that certain active constituents in lavender oil may weakly affect certain receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain. Test-tube studies suggest it may affect binding of glutamate, one of the excitatory neurotransmitters, and weakly act on GABA receptors. The long and short of it is, we’re not totally clear on the mechanism of action, but research continues to identify how lavender oils, and specifically Silexan, work to reduce feelings of tension and restlessness.

How soon might someone expect to feel a difference?

People should give it one to two weeks.

Are there any side effects?

A low percentage of people will sometimes have a little bit of burping with a lavender taste.

Have clinical studies been done on the product?

There was a 10-week, placebo-controlled trial in Europe of over 200 people with symptoms of subsyndromal anxiety (a very mild form of anxiety). They received either a placebo or a once daily 80-mg dose of Silexan. A greater percentage of those in the Silexan group than in the placebo group experienced a significant reduction in symptoms such as stress and restlessness as measured on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale. The Silexan group also had a significantly greater percentage of people who went into remission; their symptoms were completely gone at the end of 10 weeks. …

IT goes beyond stress, leaving sufferers feeling life is worse than it really is.

For some the cause of their anxiety disorder is obvious – a trauma or life-changing event. While, for others there is no specific trigger.

4 More than one in 10 people in the UK will suffer a “disabling anxiety disorder” at some point in their lives, experts estimateCredit: Getty Images 4 A new study has shown that special lavender oil capsules can reduce both physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety within two weeksCredit: Getty Images

One way of thinking about anxiety is to imagine your stress levels as a bucket of water.

The more stress you add into your life, the more water you are adding into your bucket.

Overtime the bucket fills and fills until one defining moment when it overflows.

The analogy helps to show how even a seemingly small thing in life can trigger anxiety, of various degrees of seriousness – allowing our bucket to overflow.

What would be better, would be to have a leaky bucket full of holes.

That way each of these holes could be something positive, be it exercise, reading, listening to music, spending time with family and friends – releasing the pressure.

This is a very exciting development for anxiety as the research demonstrates the lavender oil capsules not only reduce both physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety but also have a beneficial effect on health-related quality of life

Professor of psychiatry, Dr Siegfried Kasper, Medical University of Vienna

But, when in the grips of an anxiety disorder, it is natural to look for help, treatment, something to ease your symptoms.

And, now there is a new option available, over-the-counter.

Taking a lavender capsule every day can relieve the symptoms of anxiety – and the benefits are clear in just two weeks, experts said.

More than 15 clinical trials have shown the uniquely prepared, pharmaceutical quality lavender oil can relieve the symptoms for those suffering a mild disorder.

Scientists found the capsules were ‘as effective’ as commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications.


Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health problems in the UK.
More than one in 10 people are likely to have a “disabling anxiety disorder” at some stage of their life.
Almost one in five people feel anxious a lot or all of the time.
Women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.
The British economy has lost an average of £2.4 billion a year due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety over the last three years.
More than 45 million working days have been lost due to these conditions – including a 25 per cent increase in the last year alone.
Source: Anxiety UK

The once-a-day remedy “significantly reduces both physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety”, researchers said.

Professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of Vienna, Dr Siegfried Kasper, who was involved in a number of the clinical trials comments;

‘’This is a very exciting development for anxiety as the research demonstrates the lavender oil capsules not only reduce both physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety but also have a beneficial effect on health-related quality of life, without problems such as sedation, addiction or interaction with other medications.

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“Benefits are also evident after just two weeks.”

One study found 70 per cent of those people taking the specially-prepared lavender oil were rated as “much” or “very much” improved, when they were reassessed at the end of treatment.

“Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions in the UK,” chief executive of charity Anxiety UK, Nicky Lidbetter told The Sun Online.

“One in five people report feeling anxious a lot or all of the time.

4 One way of imagining anxiety is as a bucket of water. The more stress you add into your life, the more water you are adding into your bucket. What would be better, would be to have a leaky bucket full of holes – positive things like exercise to relieve pressureCredit: Getty Images

“And, more than 45 million working days have been lost due to anxiety – combined with depression and stress – in the past three years.

“Psychological symptoms of anxiety include worry, spinning thoughts and insomnia due to a racing mind.

“Anxiety can also affect the body – causing issues such as a racing heartbeat, nausea, headaches and muscle tension.

“These symptoms can feel very distressing.”

These feelings occur due to an “imbalance” in the way the body processes environmental and sensory stimuli.

A disproportionate “excitatory” response, and excessive release of neurotransmitters (chemicals that act as messengers between nerve cells, allowing the brain to communicate with other parts of the body) between nerve cells in the brain.

This leads to the overstimulation of the nervous system and feelings of anxiety.

But, now for the first time in the UK, those suffering mild anxiety can ease their symptoms with Kalms Lavender One-A-Day capsules.


People often experience a range of symptoms – physical, psychological and behavioural – when they feel anxious or stressed.

Some of the most common PHYSICAL symptoms of anxiety are:
– increased heart rate
– increased muscle tension
– tingling in the hands and feet
– hyperventilation
– dizziness
– difficulty breathing
– wanting to use the toilet more than often
– feeling sick
– tight band across the chest area
– tension headaches
– hot flushes
– dry mouth
– shaking
– palpitations

And among the most common PSYCHOLOGICAL symptoms are:
– thinking you may lose control or “go mad”
– thinking you might die
– thinking you might have a heart attack, be sick, faint or have a brain tumour
– feeling people are looking at you, noticing your anxiety
– feeling as though life is speeding up or slowing down
– feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
– feelings of wanting to run or escape
– feeling on edge and alert to everything around you

Studies have shown the special lavender oil used in the capsules can reduce excessive neurotransmitter activity.

And, as a result reduces overstimulation and hyperactivity of the nervous response.

Therefore, researchers say, the capsules are able to improve and reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

Scientists found the results using lavender oil comparable with the effects seen from commonly used anti-anxiety drugs, including the benzodiazepine lorazepam and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), paroxetine, which is often prescribed in patients with generalised anxiety disorder.

Brain scans of those taking part in clinical trials also suggest that compared to placebo the unique lavender oil significantly reduces the binding potential of the neurotransmitter Serotonin 1A in the regions of the brain that are involved in the regulation of anxiety.

4 For the first time in the UK the pharmaceutical quality lavender oil is available, in Kalms Lavender One-A-Day capsules, available at Boots, Asda and online

The Relaxing, Sleep-Promoting, Health-Boosting Powers Of Lavender

You know the scent when it hits you—the rich, mellow, floral scent of lavender. In Southern California where I live, it grows both wild and cultivated in gardens (including my own). I’m always struck by how instantly calming that familiar lavender smell is. It’s no accident that lavender pops up all the time in soaps, shampoos, lotions and other body and self-care products. It’s wildly popular.

Not long ago, I talked about the most effective essential oils for sleep. Lavender is on that list. It’s one of the well-known, and well-studied, essential oils. Lavender’s potential benefits as a medicinal herb go beyond what many people know. There’s a lot to learn about lavender and how this flowering plant may benefit sleep and health.

What is Lavender?

Lavender is a perennial and evergreen plant. There are more than 40 types of lavender. One that is common and used for medicinal purposes is Lavendula angustifolia. Native to North Africa and the Mediterranean region, lavender now also grows throughout the United Kingdom and in parts of the United States, as well as other parts of the world.

Almost wherever lavender grows, it grows abundantly. It’s a plant that’s known to spread quickly, leading some people to think of it as a weed! The plant’s flowers, leaves and essential oil are all used as natural medicines. Lavender is taken orally as a supplement, often to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, as well as physical pain, including headache and toothache. Lavender is used topically in lotions and creams for skin and hair treatments, as well as to treat wounds and pain. It’s often used as an aromatherapy tool for sleep problems, to improve mood and relieve stress. Lavender is brewed into teas and infusions, and used as an ingredient in recipes.

How does Lavender work?

This gently scented flowering herb has been shown to have a pretty broad range of effects in the body, as an essential oil, an oral supplement, and a topical cream or salve:

  • Lavender works as an anxiolytic (an anxiety reliever) and as a sedative, to increase relaxation and calm, and help bring about sleep
  • Lavender interacts with the neurotransmitter GABA to help quiet the brain and nervous system activity, reducing agitation, anger, aggression, and restlessness
  • Lavender functions as a pain reliever, or analgesic
  • Lavender has anti-bacterial capabilities
  • Lavender can reduce inflammation

CAUTION: Lavender oil has been shown to be what’s known as an endocrine disruptor. That means it affects how hormones work in the body. Studies have found lavender oil may have weak, or mild, effects on both estrogen and testosterone.

Scientific evidence indicates that natural chemicals found in lavender oil and tea tree oil cause breast development in boys, when used topically. According to research, these chemicals interfere with the hormones estrogen and testosterone, which influence development of male and female characteristics. As well as being used on their own, these oils are also found in products such as soaps, shampoos, and lotions. While the research doesn’t indicate that the aroma of oils has a connection to boys’ breast development, parents should use appropriate caution and avoid boys’ exposure to lavender oil.

Benefits of lavender

For sleep. Lavender oil is a popular aromatherapy choice for sleep and relaxation. Several studies show using lavender oil for aromatherapy can improve sleep quality, including in people with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Aromatherapy using lavender oil may also increase time spent in deep, slow-wave sleep.

A study of an oral lavender medication showed it improved sleep quality and lowered anxiety about as effectively as a low dose of the sedative lorazepam (the drug Ativan).

For anxiety, stress, and depression. Lavender has been well studied for its anxiolytic, or anxiety relieving, effects. Studies show both oral lavender and inhaled lavender may reduce anxiety. Some studies suggest oral lavender may work as effectively as anti-anxiety medications to improve anxiety. Scientists have found similar types of results for lavender’s effectiveness in treating depression. Both lavender taken orally and lavender used in aromatherapy may improve mild-to-moderate depression.

Lavender oil aromatherapy has been shown to reduce the physical and emotional signs of stress, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and increasing feelings of relaxation and calm.

For menstrual symptoms. Two recent studies indicate that lavender aromatherapy can help reduce pain and other symptoms associated with menstruation.

For menopause symptoms. Women in menopause may find lavender helpful in addressing sleep difficulties and also anxiety and restlessness. Some research also indicates lavender aromatherapy may also improve hot flashes.

For blood pressure. Lavender’s quieting effects on the nervous system appear to be responsible for its ability to lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate. Research shows that aromatherapy with lavender—both on its own and blended with lemon and ylang ylang oils—may reduce blood pressure and heart rate, including in middle-aged women with insomnia.

For pain. Lavender is a natural pain reliever (analgesic) and also a natural antibiotic. Studies show using lavender aromatherapy, in massage, and topically can be effective in improving several different forms of pain, including:

  • Headache and migraine
  • Toothache
  • Pain during labor
  • Osteoarthritis pain
  • Ear pain associated with ear infection
  • Post-surgical pain

Lavender oil is also used to treat pain and swelling of canker sores.

Talk with your doctor about the right way to use lavender to treat a particular pain issue.

For cognitive health. There’s scientific evidence from studies in animals that indicates both lavender aromatherapy and oral lavender may offer protection to cognitive health and function, including memory. Scientists are studying the potential benefits of lavender aromatherapy to improve symptoms Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Among essential oils, lavender is relatively well studied as a therapy for sleep, anxiety, and other potential therapeutic uses. Still, we need to see more research into lavender’s effects and possible benefits in order to better understand how well lavender may work to improve sleep and mood, as well as its other benefits to health and treatment of illness and disease.

Lavender: what to know

Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.

Lavender dosing

As an oral supplement: 80-160 mg

As aromatherapy: Uses and delivery vary, but many studies have used lavender aromatherapy for 30 minutes or more in a well-ventilated room.

Essential oils in undiluted form are highly concentrated and intense, and can irritate your skin. DO NOT APPLY undiluted essential oil to your skin. If you’re planning to use essential oils topically on your body, be sure you’re buying an already diluted oil—a mixture of the fragrant essential oil of your choice and a carrier oil (often a vegetable oil).

Possible side effects of Lavender

Lavender is generally safe for healthy adults when added to food, and when taken as an oral supplement, applied to the skin, or used in aromatherapy.

Side effects of oral lavender include:

  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Increased appetite

Side effects of topical lavender include:

  • Skin irritation

The following people should take special precaution when considering using lavender:

Parents are advised not to use lavender oil with young children, particularly young boys (see CAUTION statement above.)

Women who are pregnant and breast feeding. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding are advised not to use lavender, because there isn’t sufficient information establishing the safety of lavender for these women.

People having surgery. Lavender has a slowing effect on the central nervous system. If lavender is used along with anesthetic or other surgery-related medications, the combination may cause the nervous system to slow down too much. It’s recommended not to use lavender for two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

People with hormone-sensitive cancers. Lavender has been shown to affect the body’s hormones, specifically estrogen and testosterone. It’s not clear what affects lavender might have in people with hormone-sensitive cancers, and they are advised not to use lavender orally or topically.

Lavender interactions

These are commonly used medications and supplements that have scientifically-identified interactions with glycine. People who take these or any other medications and supplements should consult with a physician before beginning to use glycine as a supplement.

Interactions with medications

Anti-hypertensive drugs. Lavender may lower blood pressure. Using lavender in combination with drugs that treat high blood pressure may lower blood pressure too much.

Chloral hydrate. This medication causes sleepiness. Lavender may increase the effects of chloral hydrate, and result in excessive sleepiness.

Pentobarbital. This medication causes sleepiness. Lavender may increase the effects of pentobarbital and result in excessive sleepiness.

Sedative medications. Because lavender may cause sleepiness, excessive sleepiness may result when lavender is used with sedative medications including barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and central nervous system depressants such as zolpidem, lorazepam, phenobarbital, and clonazepam.

Interactions with other supplements

Herbs and supplements that promote sleepiness and drowsiness. Because of lavender’s sedative effects, using it in combination with other herbs or supplements that promote sleep may lead to excessive sleepiness. Some of these herbs and supplements include:



California poppy



Jamaican dogwood


St. John’s wort



Yerba mansa

Herbs and supplements that work to lower blood pressure. Lavender may lower blood pressure. Using it in combination with other herbs and supplements that treat high blood pressure may lead to an excessive drop in blood pressure. Some of these herbs and supplements include:

  • Andrographis
  • Casein peptides
  • Cat’s claw
  • Coenzyme Q-10
  • Fish oil
  • L-arginine
  • Lycium
  • Stinging nettle
  • Theanine

It’s no coincidence we find the scent and essence of lavender in such a wide range of products. It’s a powerfully relaxing smell. As you can see, it’s potential therapeutic powers go well beyond relaxation, to helping ease pain, lift mood, and boost sleep. After all this lavender talk, I’m off to pick some from the garden!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™


Smoking Lavender – PURPLE BLEND

Lavender is known throughout the world for its incredible aroma and therapeutic benefits. You’ll be hard-pressed to not find lavender in many beauty products and relaxing tea blend. However, due to its calming effects, it’s also smoked before bed to fall asleep quickly.

Lavender is a small bush that contains vibrant purple flowers. These flowers contain terpene ,linalool, an organic compound that’s responsible for the incredible aroma. The leaves are not nearly as aromatic as the flowers, and due to this, the flowers are harvested primarily. Lavender grows naturally in the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and Russia.


Uses of Lavender

Lavender has bee used for a wide variety of purposes for centuries. Let’s take a look at each.

Lavender Tea

Lavender tea is an incredibly popular tea due to it’s relaxing properties. The linalool in lavender is known to reduce stress, elevate your mood, and decrease depression. Tea brands throughout the world use lavender as a primary ingredient and these teas are optimal for inducing a night of restful sleep.

Dried Lavender

Dried lavender can be used in many ways. One is by stuffing dried lavender flowers in your pillowcase to help you fall asleep. Another is to tie a bundle of dried lavender to create a potent incense, which reduces stress and anxiety.

Lavender Oil

Lavender oil is known to be incredibly beneficial for your skin. Due to lavender’s antioxidant properties, your skin will look younger and refreshed. Additionally, lavender oil can be ingested to promote healthy digestion.

Lavender’s Health Benefits

Lavender is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to health benefits. Its use as therapeutic medicine has been described over the centuries, with many describing it’s benefits to the digestive tract, headaches, nausea, sore throats, and as an antiseptic.

Lavender for Anxiety and Stress

The primary effect that lavender is known for is it’s incredible ability to reduce anxiety and stress. This is accomplished by boiling water and placing dried or fresh lavender flowers into the water. By making a tea, the relaxing properties of lavender become drinkable.

Lavender for Hair Care

Everyone wants radiant and healthy-looking hair. By applying lavender oil to your daily routine, your hair will benefit from the antioxidant qualities. Lavender has been studied to drastically reduce dandruff, hair loss, and alopecia.

Other Benefits of Lavender

Lavender has been studied to have the potential of relieving asthma. Considering lavender reduces anxiety and stress, it makes sense that it’s also known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

Ritual and Spiritual Uses of Lavender

Lavender is also used in ritual or spiritual uses throughout the world. Due to its curative and relaxing properties, many tribes throughout the world use lavender leaves as part of their herbal blends.

Smoking Lavender with Cannabis

Now, many people would like to smoke lavender but have yet to find an herbal blend that contains it. Lavender imparts an incredible flavor while allowing users to feel its therapeutic qualities. This is why lavender is a perfect match when it comes to herbal smoking blends.

Turns out that Lavender and Marijuana share a vital terpene, Linalool. Both lavender and marijuana have linalool in abundance! Terpenes give substances their pungent aroma, but Linalool is special when combined with THC and CBD.

More recently, terpenes gained attention from the emergence of the ““entourage effect”” which proposes that cannabis’ therapeutic benefits are improved by the addition of multiple cannabinoids and terpenes compared to single cannabinoids on their own.


Smoking lavender is known to reduce insomnia by helping you drift into a peaceful sleep. It’s also been studied to reduce agitation, as well as dementia. By smoking lavender, you can enjoy the countless benefits that lavender has to offer.

How Worried You Should Be About Smoking Herbal Cigarettes

“I was out at a club and everybody went outside for a smoke break. I brought out an and immediately everyone could smell it. It was like incense. Everyone formed a circle and wanted to try it,” Siena Perez del Campo told me. Del Campo is the woman behind Holy Smokes, a line of herbal cigarettes that promise to not only replace your bad smoking habit but turn it into something that nourishes you instead.

“Before I did that, everyone was smoking their own cigarette and looking at their phones, consuming their tobacco, consuming Instagram,” she continued. “They were alone, but they wanted connection from Facebook. They wanted to ‘like’ things. But suddenly we were all connected and having a conversation about plants. We were able to access this subconscious current that we are all riding.”

Read more: The Pros and Cons of Having an Herbal Abortion

Gurus claim they can heal all that ails you, if you just follow their prescriptive path. As the taxes on cigarettes have made them a completely unjustifiable expense, and the idea of wellness takes hold of the American psyche, tobacco use has increasingly become a habit that even most hardcore smokers recognize it’s time to break. Luckily, there are many curative cults to join.

While the that of e-cigarettes is the most fashionable now—because it allows you to give up smoking without actually giving up smoking—an alternative to that alternative is popping up among those inclined to substitute traditional offerings. Finally, a smoking swap that for those more inclined towards green juice than bro-ing down: No longer just a dull aide to help the normally nicotine-addicted quit tobacco, herbal cigarettes are enjoying a second life in the hands of mystics and witches who want to quit tobacco, and help others do the same. Alternative smokes have gone New Age.

While Tumblr posts with titles like “The Good Witch Guide to Smoking Herbs” will tell you how to make your own blends out of mugwort and lavender, the craft of rolled plant matter is already a profitable business. Holy Smokes is one of several brands that mainly sell online, through boutique sites where one could find wild-crafted tinctures and protective sage sprays. Their cigarettes come in a few different blends, each made from herbs that del Campo harvests with her partner in Santa Barbara, where they currently live, and Argentina, where they are both from: Inka Pinka, which is said to uplift your spirit; Focus Pocus, for, well, focus; and Dream Time, for a relaxing sleep. The blends are further distinguished based on the timing of the harvest—either on the full moon or the new moon.

Ultimately, each blend is crafted toward relaxation, del Campo says. “When you go to take a smoke break, you don’t want more stress. You don’t want to feel riled up. You want to feel clear and calm,” she explained.

Admittedly, I would be one of the first people to say, without a doubt, that a crystal has shifted my energy. Or that the moon, for whatever reason, is really impacting me right now. Though I’ve tried smoking mugwort—not from Holy Smokes, but out of a bag of the stuff that I ordered on Amazon in a stoned haze—and I can’t really tell what it does. It may have made my dreams “more intense,” but it also burned my throat. It was a very different feeling from cannabis or even tobacco; I sort of felt like I was smoking singed paper, leading me to believe that maybe this is something I just shouldn’t be inhaling. With all the company’s rhetoric about healing (the parent company for Holy Smokes is called “Moon Minded Medicine”), it’s not hard to imagine that herbal cigarettes are actually unhealthy.

“I think it is reasonable to expect that smoke from any burned dried plant material will impair vascular function, regardless of what other physiological effects might result from the specific plant,” Matt Springer, a researcher who frequently experiments with smoke at the University of California San Francisco, chided. While he’s done research on the effects of cannabis and tobacco smoke, he hasn’t specifically looked into herbal cigarettes. “I can’t say for sure, but I would be surprised if they didn’t share the effects of tobacco and marijuana smoke.”

To be fair, though, Springer is very anti-smoke—he even thinks bonfires are bad for your health. But most mainstream health authorities feel the same: A recent study found that herbal cigarettes have a lot of the same toxic compounds as tobacco cigarettes—simply because they release smoke—minus nicotine and the harmful, tobacco-specific carcinogen nitrosamine. Even del Campo is careful to emphasize that these cigarettes aren’t medicine, despite their marketing, which states literally the opposite.

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“In terms of medicinal qualities, it’s still smoking,” she said. “We tell people to err on the side of caution when they first try it. Just because they’re herbs doesn’t mean they don’t affect you.”

Rather, she sees her company as promoting an attitude. “I see Holy Smokes as something that’s inciting connections,” she said. “People can slow down and take a look at what they’re consuming. It doesn’t have any nicotine or anything that’s addicting in it, so it doesn’t control you in that way. It brings you closer to these sacred elements: fire and air.”

In other words, it seems safe to say it’s better to get your fire-and-air fix from linden flower than tobacco, but there’s very little research on what smoking herbal cigarettes does in the long-term. Just use a vaporizer!

Is This Bad For Me? is a new column that encourages you to be worried about everything.

Meanwhile, some essential oils, like eucalyptus, contain compounds called phenol that can irritate the respiratory tract if inhaled, particularly for babies. And some have hormone-like properties that studies suggest could harm children and pregnant women.

“I would certainly advise teens and children not to use essential oils,” says Jessica Krant, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York.

For pregnant women, even oils used on your skin can cross the placental barrier and impact an unborn baby. And swallowing some rare oils, including pennyroyal, can lead to miscarriage. The safest bet during pregnancy: Work with a professional who knows how to use them or skip them altogether, Power says.

Many citrus oils contain furocoumarins, which can cause chemical burns when exposed to the sun’s UV rays. In March, Elise Nguyen of Wisconsin shared a Facebook post showing the third-degree burns she got after applying doTERRA citrus essential oils and then going to a hot yoga session and a tanning bed. In a statement, doTERRA said it was saddened by the woman’s ordeal, that safety is a top priority for the company, and that its rate of bad reactions is “almost negligible,” with .0072 percent of users reporting bad reactions.

The company added: “doTERRA labels its products to help customers avoid any potential issues, no matter how rare, and provides a great deal of education on our website.”

Dermatologists say they frequently see patients who have contact reactions, including large blisters, after putting 100% essential oils directly onto their skin.

Allergic reactions are also common. Bailey has seen rashes on eyelids from essential oil droplets emitted by diffusers and around mouths from peppermint oil-infused mouthwash or lip balm.

Overuse can also lead to an allergy over time, Bailey says. (That’s likely what happened to Armstrong, who still can’t go anywhere near lemon without breaking out in hives.)

“Once you become sensitized, you will forever be allergic to it,” Bailey says.

Because the FDA does not test oils for how well they work and safety before they’re sold, it’s critical for consumers to go with a trusted brand. Consumers can report bad reactions to the agency.

Linalyl acetate, a fragrance chemical that is one of the main constituents of the essential oil of lavender, is not on the list of allergenic compounds pursuant to the EU Cosmetics Directive. Thus, it does not need to be declared on cosmetic products sold within the EU. Recent studies at the University of Gothenburg have shown that linalyl acetate can cause allergic eczema.

In accordance with the EU Cosmetics Directive, makeup, ointments, shampoo, deodorants, toothpaste and other products must contain a declaration of ingredients in order for consumers to avoid the substances to which they are allergic.

Lavender cause of contact allergy

Linalyl acetate, a fragrance chemical, is an exception—it is not listed in the Directive and does not have to appear in declarations of ingredients. The substance is mildly allergenic. New studies at Sahlgrenska Academy have found that it can react with oxygen in the air to form strongly allergenic hydroperoxides. Thus, linalyl acetate may be a common cause of contact allergy.

Allergic reactions

The study included 1,717 subjects who were being assessed for eczema related to contact allergy. Approximately 2% of them had allergic reactions to oxidized linalyl acetate.

“That may seem like a small percentage,” says Lina Hagvall, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg. “But it is approximately the same result as for the fragrance compounds listed in the Cosmetics Directive.”

Broad range of tests

The subjects who reacted to oxidized linalyl acetate were also exposed to other fragrance compounds that are part of routine testing these days. A total of 57% of them had no allergic reaction.

“The trials suggest that a broad range of tests is required to detect contact allergies to fragrance compounds,” Dr. Hagvall says. “Current tests do not identify the majority of people who have contact allergy to oxidized linalyl acetate.”

Hard to avoid

Because the substance is not declared on cosmetic products, consumers have trouble avoiding it, which can turn allergic eczema into a more severe, long-term condition.

According to the researchers, the study findings should lead to inclusion of oxidized linalyl acetate among the fragrance compounds used for diagnosis of contact allergy. The substance should also appear in the declaration of ingredients for cosmetic products.


Lavender oil – skin savior or skin irritant?

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A question came up recently on TheBeautyBrains forum: Lavender oil in cosmetics – does it cause skin cell death, and is that a problem? This was in response to the description of “lavender extract and oil” on Paula Begoun’s Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary. Paula is known for her belief that fragrances, natural or synthetic, have no place in cosmetic products. Here are some random examples from her website: “Cedarwood oil: there is evidence that cedarwood oil is allergenic and can cause skin irritation. Rose oil: Fragrant, volatile oil that can be a skin irritant and sensitizer. Tangerine oil: Fragrant, volatile citrus oil that can be a skin irritant.” And so on. In her profile of lavender oil, she goes out of her way to find negative information, but is hard pressed to find anything positive to say:

Lavender: widely-used plant that’s a member of the mint family. It is primarily a fragrance ingredient, although it may have antibacterial properties. There is no research showing it has any benefit for skin (Sources: Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 301–308). In fact, it can be a skin irritant but there is a conflicting research on just how much of a photosensitizer lavender can be. It appears lavender oil all by itself isn’t a photosensitizer, but when exposed to oxygen (as it would be when applied to your skin), one of it’s fragrant components, linalyl acetate forms substances that lead to allergic contact dermatitis in and out of sunlight (Sources: The New Ideal in Skin Health: Separating Fact from Fiction, Thornfeldt, Carl M.D., Allured Books, 2010, pages 286–287; Contact Dermatitis, January 2008, pages 9–14; Hautarzt, February 2002, pages 93–97; and Contact Dermatitis, August 1999, page 111).

Research also indicates that other components of lavender, specifically linalool, can be cytotoxic, meaning that topical application causes skin-cell death (Source: Cell Proliferation, June 2004, pages 221–229). Lavender leaves contain camphor, which is known as a skin irritant. Because the fragrance constituents in lavender oil oxidize when exposed to air, lavender oil is pro-oxidant. This enhanced oxidation also increases its irritancy on skin (Source: Contact Dermatitis, September 2008, pages 143–150). Lavender oil is the most potent form, and even small amounts of it (0.25% or less) can be problematic. It is a must to avoid in skin-care products, but is fine used as an aromatherapy agent for inhalation or relaxation (Source: Psychiatry Research, February 2007, pages 89–96; and www.naturaldatabase.com).

Let’s take a look at these points one at a time.

“There is no research showing it has any benefit for skin”
Well, this was almost true in 2002, but not quite. Of the articles I’m about to cite, all except three were published either in 2002, or later. But today, this statement makes no sense. One of the early papers was on wound healing (Guba 1998/1999). A mixture of oils including 4% lavender oil was used on 18 patients with skin ulcers or wounds. In most cases the formulation was applied daily, and healing took from 5 days to 12 weeks. There were no adverse reactions. In an anti-allergic study, lavender oil, applied to the skin of rats or mice at 0.1%, 1.0%, 10% or 100%, inhibited immediate-type allergic reactions. It also inhibited the release of the inflammatory mediators, TNF and histamine (Kim & Cho 1999). In a clinical trial of 120 women post-childbirth, lavender oil sitz baths (a few drops in water) significantly reduced redness during healing after episiotomy (Vakilian et al 2011). Two other studies have reported positive effects for lavender oil in wound healing (Hartman & Coetzee 2002, Kerr 2002). No adverse reactions were reported in any of the above studies. Hartman & Coetzee also used lavender oil at 4%, and blue chamomile oil at 2%.

From Hartman & Coetzee (2002)

Lavender is one of the most active essential oils against MRSA (Edwards-Jones et al 2004), and the benefits of preventing MRSA establishing itself on your skin should not be underestimated. Lavender oil is moderately active against Propionibacterium acnes (Zu et al 2010), one the the principal bacteria involved in acne. It is moderately active against two of the principal fungi that can cause skin problems such as athlete’s foot and ringworm (Trycophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes) (Cassella et al 2002), and highly active against a third, Candida albicans (D’Auria et al 2005). The use of up to 0.5% of lavender oil in aqueous body milks allowed the regular synthetic preservative to be cut back by up to 8.5 times without any reduction in efficacy (Kunicka-Styczynska et al 2009). Lavender oil is very effective against some problematic bacteria and fungi found on the skin, but not all (Kunicka-Styczynska et al 2011, Sokovic et al 2010) so it would not be appropriate to use as a stand-alone preservative.

There is anecdotal evidence that lavender oil is a useful remedy for burns (Gattefossé 1993, p87). This is supported by the antimicrobial data above (i.e. preventing infection), and by the fact that lavender oil has a proven analgesic action (Ghelardini et al 1999, Sakurada et al 2009). This action is mostly due to linalool, and may also explain why lavender oil reputedly soothes bee stings, something I can personally attest to. Burns too.

Ultra-violet (UV) radiation can damage the skin because it leads to the generation of free radicals. The body has a limited amount of protective antioxidant enzymes, and these enzymes tend to decrease with age, making the skin more vulnerable to oxidative stress. A Japanese study reported that lavender oil inhibited the generation of singlet oxygen, which causes the most damage in response to UVA/UVB radiation (Sakurai et al 2005). This suggests that the regular use of lavender oil in skin preparations could suppress the aging effects of sunlight on the skin. Lavender oil has shown excellent antioxidant activity in several assays (Yang et al 2010), suggesting that it could inhibit degenerative change such as skin cancer, sun damage and the effects of ageing. Linalool, one of the major constituents of lavender oil, has shown very good in vitro activity against human basal cell carcinoma (Cherng et al 2007) and a topically applied 10% dilution of linalool reduced skin tumor incidence in mice by 33% (Gould et al 1987).

So today we can say that the principal known benefits of using lavender oil on the skin are that of numbing pain and healing wounds (cuts, sores, abrasions, ulcers), and other probable benefits include preventing bacterial colonization, treating fungal infections, combating blemishes, preventing skin cancer, and countering the damaging effects of UV radiation (photo-ageing).

“There is a conflicting research on just how much of a photosensitizer lavender can be.”
There is no conflict. Perhaps Paula Begoun does not know the difference between phototoxicity and photoallergy. She also seems to have confused allergic reaction with phototoxicity. I know, dermatology jargon can be very confusing! Lavender oil is not photosensitizing on the skin (Opdyke 1976 p451), and linalyl acetate is neither a photoirritant nor a photoallergen (Bickers et al 2003). This means that there is no risk of an adverse reaction in strong sunlight, as there is with bergamot and some other citrus oils.

There is one report of photoallergy to lavender oil (Goiriz et al 2007). This is the only case of photoallergy to lavender oil ever reported, and photoallergy from essential oils is so rare that it can be discounted as a risk. This is not only a non-issue, it’s also ironic, considering lavender’s protective action in relation to UV radiation damage.


“When exposed to oxygen (as it would be when applied to your skin), one of it’s fragrant components, linalyl acetate forms substances that lead to allergic contact dermatitis in and out of sunlight.”
Lavender oil contains two major constituents in approximately equal amounts – linalool and linalyl acetate. Oxidation is actually more of a problem with linalool than with linalyl acetate, and it’s true that, over a period of months or years, lavender oil constituents can oxidize to hydroperoxides. These “oxidation products” are often slightly more skin-allergenic than the original compounds (which are virtually non-allergenic). However, oxidation is a very slow process – it does not happen in a few minutes while a product is sitting on your skin! To avoid the possibility of oxidation, I recommend that products containing lavender oil also include an added antioxidant. This is in line with the International Fragrance Association recommendation that essential oils high in linalool should include an antioxidant, such as the addition of 0.1% alpha-tocopherol (IFRA 2009). Even without an antioxidant, the shelf life of a lavender-containing product should be good for at least 12 months, so long as the essential oils were reasonably fresh when first used.

“Because the fragrance constituents in lavender oil oxidize when exposed to air, lavender oil is pro-oxidant. This enhanced oxidation also increases its irritancy on skin.”
This is partly true. It’s important to realize that in these tests, the essential oil is typically exposed to the air every day for a period of weeks or months. This scenario does not reflect real-world use of lavender oil, though it does show that oxidation will happen eventually. But Paula Begoun is wrong to label lavender oil as a pro-oxidant – it is not, it is an antioxidant that can itself eventually oxidize. That does not make it a pro-oxidant! Pro-oxidants cause oxidation. And, she uses “irritation” here when she means “allergenicity.” They are not the same thing, and the hydroperoxides that can form in lavender oil are potentially allergenic, not irritant.

“Lavender leaves contain camphor, which is known as a skin irritant.”
This assertion smacks of desperation! Lavender oil contains less than 1% of camphor which, anyway, is only a mild irritant. If you have a product containing 1% lavender oil, then you will end up with less than 0.01% of camphor. Even if camphor was a powerful irritant, this would hardly be an issue.

“Research also indicates that other components of lavender, specifically linalool, can be cytotoxic, meaning that topical application causes skin-cell death.”
Here lies the fundamental claim of risk, which however is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Lavender oil was cytotoxic to human dermal fibroblasts and endothelial cells (skin cells) in vitro at concentrations greater than 0.125%. Linalool (35% of the oil sample) had similar toxicity to the essential oil, while linalyl acetate (51% of the oil sample) was more toxic. Membrane damage was thought to be the mechanism of toxicity (Prashar et al 2004). In this type of assay, the test substance is in direct contact with isolated cells in a petri dish. Without that direct contact, cell membrane damage will not take place at those low dilutions. It’s an in vitro test, and you can’t assume that the same effect will happen when you apply lavender oil to the skin, because the skin has a protective barrier: the stratum corneum. However, even if you applied lavender oil to broken skin, it would still not be equivalent to the test using isolated cells, because the dermis is a complex matrix of tissue that contains those cells.

Any type of in vitro test is only suggestive of a possible effect. You can never assume that the same effect will take place in the living body. It might, it might not. Either the cytotoxicity described above will manifest as irritation, or it will be so negligible as to have no importance. The most telling evidence is the fact that lavender oil has been successfully used in wound healing at 4%, with no adverse effects. Dermatological testing also reveals a lack of irritation. In a 48 hour occlusive patch test on 50 Italian volunteers, undiluted lavender oil produced no adverse reactions. Similarly tested at 1%, it produced no reactions in 273 eczema patients (Meneghini et al 1971). Undiluted lavender oil was slightly irritating to rabbit skin, but was not irritating to mouse or pig skin; tested at 10% on 25 healthy volunteers it was neither irritating nor sensitizing (Opdyke 1976 p451). So if there is any cytotoxicity, it’s not significant.

“It is a must to avoid in skin-care products.”
Skin allergies to lavender oil do happen occasionally, and I know of five cases (not cited here) in the dermatology literature, reported between 1986 and 2000. Considering that it is the most widely used essential oil in aromatherapy (global annual production about 200 tonnes), lavender oil allergy is extremely rare. And, although it is a very low-risk skin allergen (possibly only when oxidized), it is not an irritant. Nor are rose, cedarwood and tangerine. Undiluted lavender oil can work wonders on stings and blemishes, but it should not be applied to large areas of skin simply because it has a drying effect, due to rapid evaporation – the same reason that alcohol is drying.

If you don’t want to use lavender oil – or essential oils in general – that’s fine. But please, don’t mis-represent the science just so you can justify your world-view! Paula is right to draw attention to the possibility of lavender oil oxidation, but this is not a major problem, and is easy to avoid. To be super-safe, use undiluted lavender oil within 12 months of purchase, keep it cool and away from strong sunlight, and add an antioxidant to any product containing it (not needed in soaps).

If you search for negative effects you will surely find them, and it’s easy to become enmeshed in that negativity. I submit that the dermal benefits of lavender oil outweigh the risks to a considerable degree.

Bickers D, Calow P, Greim H et al 2003b A toxicologic and dermatologic assessment of linalool and related esters when used as fragrance ingredients. Food & Chemical Toxicology 41:919-942

Cassella S, Cassella JP, Smith I 2002 Synergistic antifungal activity of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oils against dermatophyte infection. The International Journal of Aromatherapy 12(1):2-15

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D’Auria FD, Tecca M, Strippoli V et al 2005 Antifungal activity of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil against Candida albicans yeast and mycelial form. Medical Mycology 43:391-396

Edwards-Jones V, Buck R, Shawcross SG et al 2004 The effect of essential oils on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus using a dressing model. Burns 30:772-777

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Goiriz R, Delgado-Jimenez Y, Sanchez-Perez J et al 2007 Photoallergic contact dermatitis from lavender oil in topical ketoprofen. Contact Dermatitis 57:381-382

Gould MN, Malzman TH, Tanner MA et al 1987 Anticarcinogenic effects of terpenoids in orange peel oil. Proceedings of the 78th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research 28:153

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Hartman D, Coetzee JC 2002 Two US practitioners’ experience of using essential oils for wound care. Journal of Wound Care 11(8):317-320

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Kim HM, Cho SH 1999 Lavender oil inhibits immediate-type allergic reaction in mice and rats. Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmacology 51:221-226

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Prashar A, Locke IC, Evans CS 2004 Cytotoxicity of lavender oil and its major components to human skin cells. Cell Proliferation 37:221-229

Sakurada T, Kuwahata H, Katsuyama S et al 2009 Intraplantar injection of bergamot essential oil into the mouse hindpaw: effects on capsaicin-induced nociceptive behaviors. International Review of Neirobiology 85:237-248

Sakurai H, Yasui H, Yamada Y et al 2005 Detection of reactive oxygen species in the skin of live mice and rats exposed to UVA light: a research review on chemiluminescence and trials for UVA protection. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences 4:715-720

Soković M, Glamočlija J, Marin PD et al 2010 Antibacterial effects of the essential oils of commonly consumed medicinal herbs using an in vitro model. Molecules 15:7532-7546

Vakilian K, Atarha M, Bekhradi R et al 2011 Healing advantages of lavender essential oil during episiotomy recovery: a clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 17:50-53

Yang SA, Jeon SK, Lee EJ et al 2010 Comparative study of the chemical composition and antioxidant activity of six essential oils and their components. Natural Product research 24:140-151

Zu Y, Yu H, Liang L et al 2010 Activities of ten essential oils towards Propionibacterium acnes and PC-3, A-549 and MCF-7 cancer cells. Molecules 15:3200-3210

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