Due to the incredibly high volume of misinformation available on the internet about essential oils, it is my continuing mission to provide you with the facts, no nonsense included. Scroll down to read about what Lavender oil can actually do, and what to be cautious of when using it.
Pick up your own bottle of lavender oil from one of my two most trusted providers:
- Anxiety Relief
- Pain Relief
- Sleep Quality
- Antiseptic Properties
- Wound Healing
- Cautions and Side Effects
Components of Lavender Oil
The main constituents of lavender oil are linalool (31.85%), linalyl acetate (31.00%), β-ocimene (8.85%), and 1,8-cineole (4.4%). (1) In most of the research I’ve read, the linalool and linalyl acetate are the most active components.
In a study testing 25 different essential oils for anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects, it was found that lavender oil from Lavandula angustifolia (the one most commonly used in aromatherapy) showed the best anxiolytic effect in mice of all oils tested. (2) They tested all their oils against a negative control (no oil) and a positive control (diazepam, a current anti-anxiety pharmaceutical). Further, they tested the component of lavender oil that they believed were responsible for the effect (linalool). They found that this component had an effect similar to the positive control, leading the researchers to conclude that this component is responsible for the anti-anxiety effect of lavender oil. If you’re interested, you can read the article to learn about their theory of the mechanism of this (i.e. how it works on a molecular level to have an anti-anxiety effect). If you don’t have the patience for that, I present you with this interesting tidbit: Of all the components they tested that had anxiolytic properties, they could not find a commonality between them all, besides low molecular weight.
If mice aren’t good enough for you, there was a clinical trial done on humans in 2012 that showed lavender oil caused significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature. This indicates relaxation of the body. In addition, subjects categorized themselves as more active, fresh, and relaxed than the control group who only inhaled a base oil. (13)
In a study released just this June (2015), researchers found that aromatherapy using 2% lavender oil following surgery (coronary artery bypass grafting to be specific) lowered perception of pain in patients 30-60 minutes after administration. It is believed that the mechanism behind this is similar to a benzodiazepine (which is a class of drugs with sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant properties). Pain was measured on the visual analog scale (VAS) which is the most commonly used scale to measure pain worldwide. The lavender oil used was a pure oil diluted in olive oil to 2% and was administered via an oxygen mask for 15 minutes. (3)
However, there are conflicting studies. A very similar study from 2006 looked at pain perception after breast biopsy surgeries. Using similar methods of 2% lavender by oxygen mask, their results showed no change in perceived pain, although patients did report feeling like they were more able to control their pain. (4)
There are even studies that claim it shows a statistically significant effect in conjunction with traditional therapies. For example in a study published this month, it was shown that lavender oil may act as an adjuvant (meaning it enhances the effect of a certain therapy) in patients with renal colic. There was a significant decrease in pain 30 minutes after administration, similar to (3). (5) (Let it be noted that ‘significant’ in academic journals most always means ‘statistically significant,’ unlike how we might use the word in normal conversation to mean a large amount. For something to be statistically significant means that the change seen is more than the possible included error, i.e. there is proof that it is not just error being seen in the results)
Further, lavender oil has been shown to reduce or completely relieve migraines within 2h of inhalation in a 2012 clinical trial. 71% of the lavender group reported lowered or completely relieved pain, compare to 47% of the control group, which was given a placebo. (12)
So what should we believe? It’s hard to say. In my opinion, it can’t hurt to try it. If it works for you that’s wonderful. If not, that’s ok and it doesn’t mean the research is lying. Likely it means that there are still too many variables that are not being considered, making it hard to pin down exactly when and why lavender oil might reduce pain.
Lavender has a long history of being used to improve the quality of sleep. I’ve read that in folklore it is said that pillows were stuffed with lavender to help people sleep. It is also the first oil recommended by many blogs listing the best oils for sleep. These claims do seem to be somewhat supported by scientific research.
Published this July (2015), a study of 60 patients in the ICU showed that patients inhaling 2% lavender oil for 15 days showed a significant increase in sleep quality on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). As in the studies mentioned above, the lavender oil was administered via inhalation. (6)
However a different study on patients in the intermediate care unit showed that while patients inhaling lavender oil reported better sleep than a control group, the difference was not statistically significant. The administration of lavender varied from the above study in that a jar of 100% lavender was simply placed at the patient’s bedside rather than being administered through direct inhalation at a lower concentration. (7)
Lavender oil is often cited as having antiseptic properties, and while this is supported by research, there are several oils that are more effective. Sienkiewicz M et al found that while lavender oil did show antiseptic properties against all bacteria tested, it was the weakest of all oils tested (other oils being cinnamon and geranium), and the minimum inhibitory concentration was higher (meaning the minimum amount needed to inhibit bacteria growth). (8) In addition, Dragoljub L. Miladinović et al found that while lavender oil was effective against bacteria, Thyme oil was even better. (9)
Lavender oil may have a positive effect on the healing of wounds. Two years ago, a study found that lavender oil caused an incision wound on a rat to close faster than an untreated wound. The wound was treated with 0.5mL of oil on a sterile sponge for 5 days. The proposed mechanism for this is enhanced EGF secretion (EGF = epidermal growth factor). EGF stimulates cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation, meaning it is integral to the wound-healing process. (10)
A clinical trial on perineal incisions (I’ll let you google that, but be warned, the pictures aren’t pretty or PG) showed that lavender oil has a significant effect on pain and wound healing 10 days after incision (decreasing pain and increasing healing). In addition, inflammation in the lavender group was less than in the control group (although this claim is not well quantified). (11)
Cautions and Side Effects
- Never use undiluted oil on the skin, especially on small children. (Read about dilutions here)
- Lavender oil is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, but can have some undesirable side effects when taken by mouth. These include constipation, headache, and increased appetite. (14)
- As with most things, pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid essential oils as there is not enough information to know for sure how they will affect you and your baby.
- ALWAYS tell your healthcare provider about essential oils you use. Several of them have interactions with pharmaceutical drugs, so please be careful.
Wanna save this info for later? I’ve got a quick-reference cheat-sheet put together to help you remember what lavender oil is used for with recommendations on how to use it! Just click the image below to get it (plus you’ll get access to ALL of my cheat-sheets and guides in my free resource library!)
1. Kubo, Hiroko et al. “Unraveling the Rat Intestine, Spleen and Liver Genome-Wide Transcriptome after the Oral Administration of Lavender Oil by a Two-Color Dye-Swap DNA Microarray Approach.” Ed. Francisco J. Esteban. PLoS ONE 10.7 (2015): e0129951. PMC. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.
2. Damião Pergentino de Sousa, Palloma de Almeida Soares Hocayen, Luciana Nalone Andrade and Roberto Andreatini. “A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models.” Molecules 2015, 20(10), 18620-18660.
3. Heidari Gorji, Mohammad Ali et al. “The Effectiveness of Lavender Essence on Strernotomy Related Pain Intensity after Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting.” Advanced Biomedical Research 4 (2015): 127. PMC. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
4. Jung T. Kim MD, Michael Wajda MD, Germaine Cuff BS, David Serota MD, Michael Schlame MD, Deborah M. Axelrod MD, Amber A. Guth MD and Alex Y. Bekker MD, PhD. “Evaluation of Aromatherapy in Treating Postoperative Pain: Pilot Study.” Pain Practice 2006, 6(4), 273-277.
5. Irmak Sapmaz Hilal, Uysal Murat, Taş Ufuk, Esen Mehmet, Barut Mustafa, Somuk Battal Tahsin, Alatlı Tufan, and Ayan Safiye. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. October 2015, 21(10): 617-622.
6. Karadag, E., Samancioglu, S., Ozden, D. and Bakir, E. (2015), Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients. Nursing in Critical Care. doi: 10.1111/nicc.12198
7. Jamie Lytle, RN, BSN, Catherine Mwatha, RN, BS and Karen K. Davis, RN, PhD. “Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Vital Signs and Perceived Quality of Sleep in the Intermediate Care Unit: A Pilot Study.” Am J Crit Care. January 2014 vol. 23 no. 1 24-29
8. Monika Sienkiewicz, Anna Głowacka, Edward Kowalczyk, Anna Wiktorowska-Owczarek, Marta Jóźwiak-Bębenista and Monika Łysakowska. “The Biological Activities of Cinnamon, Geranium and Lavender Essential Oils.” Molecules.2014, 19(12), 20929-20940.
9. Dragoljub L. Miladinović, Budimir S. Ilić, Tatjana M. Mihajilov-Krstev, Nikola D. Nikolić, Ljiljana C. Miladinović, Olga G. Cvetković. “Investigation of the chemical composition–antibacterial activity relationship of essential oils by chemometric methods.” Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. May 2012 vol. 403 issue 4 pp 1007-1018.
10. Koca Kutlu, Adalet et al. “A Comparison Study of Growth Factor Expression Following Treatment with Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, Saline Solution, Povidone-Iodine, and Lavender Oil in Wounds Healing.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM 2013 (2013): 361832. PMC. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
11. Katayon Vakilian, Mahtab Atarha, Reza Bekhradi, Reza Chaman. “Healing advantages of lavender essential oil during episiotomy recovery: A clinical trial.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2011, 17(1), 50-53.
12. Sasannejad P., Saeedi M., Shoeibi A., Gorji A., Abbasi M., Foroughipour M. “Lavender Essential Oil in the Treatment of Migraine Headache: A Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” European Neurology. 2012, 67(5), 288-291.
13. Sayorwan W1, Siripornpanich V, Piriyapunyaporn T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Ruangrungsi N. “The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity.” J Med Assoc Thai. 2012 Apr;95(4):598-606.