Mindfulness & Anxiety

The Benefits of the Most Popular Essential Oil: Lavender

By Justin Fowler-Lindner

Are you ready to explore the sweet-smelling world of lavender oil?

Not only is it one of the most aromatic of essential oils, but it’s also brimming with health benefits.

Several animal and human studies indicate that lavender essential oil may:

  • Reduce stress
  • Treat anxiety
  • Fight depression
  • Relieve pain
  • Improve sleep

To top it all off, lavender may even fight hair loss.

Out of the mountains of studies out there, research is strongest regarding lavender’s neuroprotective effects.

In this article, we’ll explore lavender’s rich history, including how it’s used today.

All it takes is a drop to experience its calming effects.

Here’s what the science has to say about lavender oil and your health:

What Is Lavender Essential Oil?

Lavender essential oil comes from the flowers of Lavandula: a genus that includes 47 different species of lavender plants.

The most common sources of lavender oil are lavandula angustifolia (sometimes called true lavender or English lavender) and lavandula x intermedia (also known as Lavandin).

Like all essential oils, lavender contains a collection of compounds called phytochemicals. Linalool and linalyl acetate are most responsible for lavender’s therapeutic effects.

History of Lavender Oil

Today, Bulgaria is the biggest producer of lavender worldwide.

However, lavender has been used for at least the last 2500 years by the Egyptians and Romans. There is considerable anecdotal evidence to suggest that these civilizations used lavender as an:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Smooth muscle relaxant
  • Antidepressive
  • Sedative

When archaeologists opened King Tut’s tomb in 1923, a faint scent of lavender filled the room.

In the stories of the Bible, lavender was used for anointing and healing, and the Romans used lavender for cosmetics, cooking, and purifying the air.

How Lavender Essential Oil Is Made

Pure lavender oil is steam distilled: a process where the flowers are compacted into a still and a boiler is used to steam them at very low pressure.

Next, cold water is run through the center of the still, causing the hot oil to condense before being collected.

How to Use Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.

Like all essential oils, the phytochemicals responsible for its healing properties are small enough to pass directly through the cell membrane, making them highly bioavailable. 

Orally

When ingested, lavender oil may help soothe the stomach and reduce nausea.

It can also make a flavorful addition to baked goods, chocolate, and raw honey.

Make sure that your lavender oil is food-grade before eating it, and if you plan to take it supplementally, always dilute it in water to avoid stomach irritation.

Topically

Lavender oil is known to reduce skin inflammation, speed wound healing, and treat musculoskeletal pain when applied topically.

Take a drop or two of pure lavender oil and rub it into the affected area.

You can also try mixing it with carrier oils like almond oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, or coconut oil. The fats in these oils soften the skin and extend lavender’s effects.

You may also want to try soaking your feet. A 2015 study found that a lavender cream foot bath can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in postpartum women.

Aromatically

Most lavender studies are about aromatherapy.

Add two drops of lavender oil to half a cup of water, load it into a spray bottle, shake it up, and spray it around the room. It makes for a great non-toxic, antibacterial air freshener.

Lavender Has Potent Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antibacterial, and Antimicrobial Properties

The phytochemicals in lavender possess several wellness advantages.

Here’s what the research has to say:

  • A 2017 study found that linalyl acetate and linalool can inhibit inflammatory agents that cause asthma. 
  • In a 2018 animal study, lavender oil effectively reduced carrageenan-induced swelling in the paws of rodents. 
  • Pet turtles are known to harbor bacteria that can be harmful to humans. Luckily, a 2017 study found that, “[Lavender oil] has a potential to be used as an antibacterial agent against pathogenic bacteria isolated from pet turtles.”
  • In a 2018 study, researchers added lavender oil to the drinking water of broiler chickens. It displayed antimicrobial activities and helped the chickens grow faster.
  • A 2015 animal study found that lavender oil can reduce ear swelling, pain, and inflammation in carrageenan-induced pleurisy and ear edema.

Together, these diverse pharmacological properties can translate into some exceptional health benefits.

5 Health Benefits of Lavender Essential Oil

Home owners love lavender because of its floral aroma, but researchers love it for its neurological effects.

On top of that, the studies keep piling up, and lavender’s health benefits go well beyond the nervous system.

Research suggests that lavender oil has beneficial impacts on mental health, pain management, digestion, skin, and hair.

1. Reduce Stress

Acute stress is the body’s natural response to short-term threats, but chronic stress can cause serious health problems.

That’s because chronic stress can boost cortisol, elevate heart rate, and damage the gut lining. But lavender, as it turns out, can decrease cortisol and normalize bodily functions.

A 2012 human study found that, “Lavender oil caused significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, which indicated a decrease of autonomic arousal.

Similarly, a 2007 study found that inhaling lavender essential oil can decrease salivary cortisol.

But what happens under truly stressful conditions? Can lavender still keep you calm when the stakes are high?

The research says, yes.

A 2012 study found that lavender oil aromatherapy can change anxiety-related behavior in stress-loaded rodents.

And it works on humans too…

When 30 healthy volunteers were treated with either lavender oil aromatherapy or a placebo, the lavender group reported lower stress and less pain during needle insertion.

2. Treat Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions worldwide. 

Unfortunately, current first-line treatments have lots of downsides, like delayed therapeutic effects, dependence, withdrawal, and abuse potential.

Thankfully, several clinical studies indicate that lavender oil may be an effective treatment for anxiety.

In fact, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has already approved lavender as an herbal medicine to relieve stress and anxiety.

Here’s what the research has to say about lavender and anxiety:

  • A 2018 rodent study published in the journal Molecules found that intravenous lavender oil can counteract social aversion. 
  • A 2019 human study found that inhaling lavender oil before breast surgery can  decrease anxiety in patients. 
  • A 2014 human study in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that oral lavender oil can be more effective than the prescription medication paroxetine at treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

What makes it so effective?

Two of lavender’s primary terpenoids, linalyl acetate and linalool, may reduce anxiety by affecting the production of serotonin and glutamate.

3. Fight Depression

Lavender may also be an effective treatment for some forms of depression.

In a 2012 study, 28 high-risk postpartum women were treated with either a placebo or lavender and rose oil aromatherapy twice a week for four consecutive weeks. By the end of the study, the essential oil group reported a significantly greater improvement in depression symptoms.

A 2016 study arrived at a similar conclusion: 140 postpartum women were divided into a lavender group and a control group. The lavender group was asked to inhale lavender every eight hours for four weeks. By the end of the experiment, depression scores were significantly lower in the lavender group.

Researchers concluded that, “Inhaling the scent of lavender for 4 weeks can prevent stress, anxiety, and depression after childbirth.”

Animal studies have arrived at similar results: in a 2019 Chinese study, researchers induced depression in rats by injecting them with corticosterone. The rats were then treated with oral lavender.

According to researchers, “Results showed that treatment with LEO (lavender essential oil) ameliorated the depression-like behavior induced by the chronic administration of corticosterone.”

4. Relieve Pain

Yes, lavender oil seems to be an effective natural painkiller too.

When rubbed into the skin, studies show that it can reduce neuropathic pain, osteoarthritic pain, and menstrual pain.

Additionally, lavender oil aromatherapy can reduce the pain of needle insertions. For example, a 2019 human study found that, “A low concentration of  lavender oil inhalation can reduce the pain and improve soothing in the infants with the pentavalent vaccine injection.”

On a similar note, a 2015 study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that topical lavender oil can reduce the pain of dialysis needles.

Plus, several other studies show that lavender may relieve headaches.

In a 2012 study published in the journal European Neurology, lavender oil effectively reduced or eliminated headache symptoms in 92 out of 129 headaches treated.

5. Improve Sleep

Sleep is essential to overall health. It’s when the body repairs damaged cells and the brain removes waste products.

Thankfully, the calming properties of lavender may also promote better sleep.

For example, a 2015 study found that lavender oil can improve the sleep quality of postpartum mothers. Half of the 158 patients were treated with lavender aromatherapy before bed four times a week for two months. Ultimately, the lavender group showed greater improvements in sleep quality compared to the control group.

Plus, lavender oil may help babies sleep better too…

A study published in the journal Early Human Development found that lavender oil baths can promote sleep in very young infants.

At the same time, a single-blind, randomized Japanese study found that nighttime exposure to lavender aroma can reduce morning grogginess.

The real bonus, however, is that unlike some natural sleep aids like melatonin, lavender displayed zero unwanted side effects.

Other Health Benefits of Lavender Essential Oil

But lavender oil’s health benefits don’t stop there. It may also support:

Brain health: evidence indicates that lavender essential oil may improve the behavior of dementia patients. 

Hair growth: studies suggest that lavender may promote hair growth, treat alopecia, and reduce dandruff when massaged into the scalp. PRO TIP: combine lavender oil with tea tree oil for the ultimate dandruff remedy

Skin healing: for centuries, lavender oil has been celebrated for its remarkable wound healing abilities and may also treat atopic dermatitis.

With that said, a 2019 report found that lavender can trigger skin irritation in some individuals.

If you have a history of skin sensitivities, it’s best to ask for medical advice before beginning lavender oil treatment.

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