Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.
Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Essential Oil

What do you think about when you hear the word lavender? Maybe a soothing smell, a feeling of calmness, or a scent that reminds you of relaxation?

Lavender is an herb in the mint family, and it has tiny purple flowers. Although it can grow in a wide variety of conditions, it is thought to originate from the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. Lavender essential oil is steam distilled from the flowers. The aromatic description is powdery, floral, and light. Lavender means “to wash” in Latin and it is likely the most used essential oil globally!

Pure lavender essential oil is extracted from fresh lavender flowers.

The main active compounds in lavender are linalool and linalyl acetate. The concentrations of the other active compounds, such as b-ocimene and a-terpineol, vary depending upon where the lavender is grown.

According to WebMD, lavender is used to help relieve anxiety, stress, and insomnia. It can be used to reduce depression, dementia, pain after surgery, and several other conditions but there is “no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses”.

Lavender is actually one of the more highly researched EOs. Since the WebMD site stated that lavender is frequently contaminated with other Lavandula species, I searched for Lavandula angustifolia specifically in PubMed and filtered the search to focus on clinical studies.

Effects of Lavender on Stress and Brain Activity

Lavender EO is most well-known for relieving stress and anxiety, and promoting sleep. Here are some of the applications that have been clinically tested:

  • Anesthesia/Surgery – lavender essential oil mildly reduced distress in children prior to anesthesia, but the result was not statistically different. Lavender appeared to be more effective in adults: placebo-controlled trials found that lavender aromatherapy reduced anxiety in preoperative cataract surgery patients and breast surgery patients.

  • Anxiety and Depression – lavender essential oil had a similar effect as a prescription drug (fluoxetine) in patients with mild to moderate depression. Since there was no control group in this study, a placebo-controlled trial is needed to confirm this finding. Another study measured blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and skin temperature to compare the effects of lavender oil (vs. placebo) on physiological and mood states. Inhaling lavender essential oil had a relaxing effect, as measured by the biological readouts, on the healthy study participants. The most compelling study was the comparison of lavender vs. placebo on physiologic and cognitive functions. Lavender, but not placebo aromas, significantly benefited post-stress performance on working memory tasks. Lavender EO also showed benefits as a treatment for social stress-induced mental illnesses.

  • Dementia – Amyloid-beta neurotoxicity is thought to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Linalool, one of the main components of lavender EO, counteracted the increase of intracellular reactive oxygen species production in brain cells. Although this study was based in cell culture models, it still shows a biological mechanism of how lavender EO may help improve dementia in older people. A study in mice found that cognitive function was improved in their Alzheimer’s Disease mouse model when the mice were exposed to lavender essential oil.

  • Mild insomnia – a small trial study found that lavender oil improved sleep in people with mild insomnia, but a larger study is needed to draw better conclusions. A study in cardiac patients found that exposure to lavender essential oil during sleep improved sleep quality, even though length of time asleep was not changed. Also, lavender EO reduced daytime sleepiness in older adults in nursing homes, by improving their sleep at night.

Researchers have studied how lavender works in the body to produce the desired results. Aromatherapy (using essential oils aromatically by smelling them) can actually change our body chemistry quickly! Inhaling lavender EO for just 5 minutes decreased cortisol (a stress hormone) levels in the saliva. Similar results were observed in a study with children prior to dental procedures: smelling lavender essential oil lowed cortisol levels in the saliva. Another study required healthy people to complete math tasks for 10 min, followed by 10 min rest with exposure to normal air or lavender aromatically. Saliva was collected before and immediately after the math tasks, and after the 10 min rest period. The people that had smelled the lavender essential oil had significantly lower levels of a stress marker called chromogranin A. This study did not see a change in cortisol – but it is important to note that different sources of lavender essential oil may lead to slightly different results. All three studies did show a rapid change in stress-marker readouts after exposure to lavender essential oil.

Wound Healing and Anti-Infection Activity of Lavender

Lavender is also know for its wound-healing properties. The main active compounds in lavender, linalool and linalyl acetate, reduced psoriasis-like skin inflammation in a mouse model. The researchers showed that application of lavender oil, or the individual compounds linalool and linalyl acetate, lowered skin inflammation by reducing the chemical signals that lead to inflammation. This led to less psoriasis in the mice.

Another study found that lavender essential oil may be used for episiotomy wound care, since there was less redness when lavender EO was used in comparison to povidone-iodine. Lavender EO and povidone-iodine both controlled infection equally well. This may be because lavender has anti-inflammatory activity.

A large review was published in 2020 regarding the effects of lavender EO on wound healing. The conclusions were that there was a “faster rate of wound healing, increased expression of collagen, and enhanced activity of proteins involved in the wounds treated with lavender essential oil.” The article’s authors also noted that “standardization of the chemical composition and additional high-quality human clinical trials are needed to further evaluate the safety and efficacy of lavender essential oil in clinical practice.”

Final Thoughts

Lavender has many broad uses, and the studies listed above do indeed show that it is likely to help promote better sleep, less stress, and wound healing. The study findings do vary, but that is likely because the potency and purity of lavender essential oil is different between different studies. There is even a study that looked at qualitative and quantitative variations in anti-stress functions when lavender essential oil is sourced from different locations and different lavender species are used.

Lavender is considered safe to use, with one exception. Since lavender does interact with the central nervous system, Barbiturates (sedative medications) may interact with lavender because they can have an additive effect and cause too much sleepiness.

Check back in early February to learn about Turmeric! Sign up to receive notifications of new topics. Or if you’re on Facebook, request to join the Essentially Science group!

Disclaimer: The content of this blog, Essentially Science, is for general information only. The content of this blog post are solely my viewpoints. This blog is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem. Any questions regarding your own health and the supplements that you use should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider. Health-related information changes frequently and therefore information contained in this blog may be outdated, incomplete, or incorrect. Statements made about products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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