By Dr. Mercola
A whiff of lavender oil can trigger various sensations, and its sweet fragrance brings to mind rows and rows of beautiful blue-violet flowers under the summer sky. But if you look beyond lavender oil's aroma, you'll find that there's more to it than meets the eye – or your sense of smell.
What Is Lavender?
Lavender oil comes from lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), an easy-to-grow, evergreen shrub that produces clumps of beautiful, scented flowers above green or silvery-gray foliage.1 The plant is native to northern Africa and the mountainous Mediterranean regions, and thrives best in sunny, stony habitats. Today, it grows throughout southern Europe, the United States, and Australia.2
Lavender has been used for over 2,500 years. Ancient Persians, Greeks, and Romans added the flowers to their bathwater to help wash and purify their skin.3 In fact, the word "lavender" comes from the Latin word "lavare," which means "to wash."4
Phoenicians, Arabians, and Egyptians used lavender as a perfume, as well as for mummification – mummies were wrapped in lavender-dipped garments. In Greece and Rome, it was used as an all-around cure,5 while in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, it was scattered all over stone castle floors as a natural disinfectant and deodorant. Lavender was even used during the Great Plague of London in the 17th century. People fastened lavender flowers around their waists, believing it will protect them from the Black Death.6
High-quality lavender oil has a sweet, floral, herbaceous, and slightly woody scent. Its color can range from pale yellow to yellow-green, but it can also be colorless.7
Uses of Lavender Oil
Both lavender and lavender oil are valued for their fragrance and versatility. The flowers are used in potpourris, crafting, and home décor, while the essential oil is added to bath and body care products, such as soaps, perfumes, household cleaners, and laundry detergent.
Lavender oil is known for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antidepressant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. It also has antispasmodic, analgesic, detoxifying, hypotensive, and sedative effects.8 Lavender oil is one of the most well-known essential oils in aromatherapy, and can be:9
- Added to your bath or shower to relieve aching muscles and stress.
- Massaged on your skin as a relief for muscle or joint pain, as well as for skin conditions like burns, acne, and wounds. Make sure to dilute it with a carrier oil.
- Inhaled or vaporized. You can use an oil burner or add a few drops to a bowl of hot water, and then breathe in the steam.
- Added to your hand or foot soak. Add a drop to a bowl of warm water before soaking your hands or feet.
- Used as a compress by soaking a towel in a bowl of water infused with a few drops of lavender oil. Apply this to sprains or muscle injuries.
I also recommend adding lavender oil to your list of natural cleaning products. You can mix it with baking soda to make an all-natural antibacterial scrub for your bathroom and kitchen.
Composition of Lavender Oil
Lavender oil has a chemically complex structure with over 150 active constituents.10 This oil is rich in esters, which are aromatic molecules with antispasmodic (suppressing spasms and pain), calming, and stimulating properties.
The chief botanical constituents of lavender oil are linalyl acetate, linalool (a non-toxic terpene alcohol that has natural germicidal properties), terpinen-4-ol, and camphor.11 Other constituents in lavender oil that are responsible for its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory properties include cis-ocimene, lavandulyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, limonene, and geraniol.12
Benefits of Lavender Oil
Lavender oil is known for its calming and relaxing properties, and has been used for alleviating insomnia, anxiety, depression, restlessness, dental anxiety,13 and stress.14 It has also been proven effective for nearly all kinds of ailments, from pain to infections.15
I am particularly fascinated by lavender oil's potential in fighting antifungal-resistant skin and nail infections. Scientists from the University of Coimbra found that lavender oil is lethal to skin-pathogenic strains known as dermatophytes, as well as various Candida species.16 The study, published in Journal of Medical Microbiology,found that lavender oil kills fungi by damaging their cell walls (a mechanism that I believe could apply to bacteria and viruses as well). The best part is that this oil does not cause resistance, unlike antibiotics.
For more about this topic, read my article "Lavender Oil Has Potent Antifungal Effect."
Lavender oil can also be used to:
- Relieve pain. It can ease sore or tense muscles, joint pain and rheumatism, sprains, backache, and lumbago. Simply massage lavender oil onto the affected area. Lavender oil may also help lessen pain following needle insertion.
- Treat various skin disorders like acne, psoriasis, eczema, and wrinkles. It also helps form scar tissues, which may be essential in healing wounds,19 cuts, and burns. Lavender can also help soothe insect bites and itchy skin.20 According to Texas-based dermatologist Dr. Naila Malik, it's a natural anti-inflammatory, so it helps reduce itching, swelling, and redness.
- Keep your hair healthy. It helps kill lice, lice eggs, and nits. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCB) says that lavender is possibly effective for treating alopecia areata (hair loss), boosting hair growth by up to 44 percent after just seven months of treatment.21
- Improve your digestion. This oil helps stimulate the mobility of your intestine and stimulates the production of bile and gastric juices, which may help treat stomach pain, indigestion, flatulence, colic, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Relieve respiratory disorders. Lavender oil can help alleviate respiratory problems like colds and flu, throat infections, cough, asthma, whooping cough, sinus congestion, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. It can be applied on your neck, chest, or back, or inhaled via steam inhalation or through a vaporizer.
- Stimulates urine production, which helps restore hormonal balance, prevent cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder), and relieve cramps and other urinary disorders.
- Improve your blood circulation. It helps lower elevated blood pressure levels, and can be used for hypertension.
Lavender oil can help ward off mosquitoes and moths. It is actually used as an ingredient in some mosquito repellents.
How to Make Lavender Oil
Lavender oil is produced via steam distillation. The flowers are picked when they are in full bloom, where they contain the maximum amount of esters. It takes 150 pounds of lavender to produce just one pound of pure lavender essential oil.
You can also make a cold infusion by soaking lavender flowers in another oil. Try this recipe from BlackThumbGardener.com:22
Ingredients and Materials:
- Dried lavender flowers
- Mineral oil or olive oil
- Cheesecloth or muslin
- Sterilized bottle
- Clean and dry your jar completely, and then place the dried lavender flowers in it. You should have enough flowers to fill your jar.
- Pour the oil all over the flowers until they're completely covered.
- Put the jar in a place where it can get a good amount of sun, and let it sit for three to six weeks. The sunlight will help extract the oil from the flowers and infuse it with the base oil.
- After three or six weeks, pour the oil through your cheesecloth and into a sterilized bottle.
How Does Lavender Oil Work?
Lavender oil's effectiveness is said to be brought on by the psychological effects of its soothing and relaxing fragrance, combined with the physiological effects of its volatile oils on your limbic system.23
Lavender oil can be applied topically or inhaled as steam vapor. Although dried lavender flowers are can be made into lavender tea, I advise against ingesting the oil, as it may lead to side effects, such as difficult breathing, burning eyes and blurred vision, vomiting, and diarrhea.24
Is Lavender Oil Safe?
I believe that using natural oils like lavender oil is one of the best holistic tactics that you can incorporate in your life. However, there are a few important guidelines to remember when using lavender oil.
Using diluted lavender oil topically or in aromatherapy is generally considered safe for most adults, but may not be recommended for children.25 Applying pure lavender oil to your skin (especially open wounds) may also cause irritation, so I recommend infusing it with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Dissolving it in water also works.
Be careful not to rub lavender oil in your eyes and mucous membranes. If this happens, wash it out immediately. Lavender oil may also cause allergic reactions in people with unusually sensitive skin, so do a spot test before using it. Simply apply a drop of lavender oil to your arm and see if any reaction occurs.
Side Effects of Lavender Oil
Some people may develop an allergic reaction to lavender oil. There are also instances when people experience side effects such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, and chills after inhaling or applying the oil topically.26
I advise pregnant women and nursing moms to avoid using this oil, as the safety of lavender oil for these conditions hasn't been identified. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) also warns against using lavender oil when taking medications like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and chloral hydrate, as it may increase their sedative effects and cause extreme drowsiness and sleepiness.27