Lavender essential oil is reminiscent of lush flower fields in the South of France. A precious oil used for many centuries: what are the benefits of lavender essential oil?November 17, 2022 5:22 pm June 20, 2022 6:33 pm
A brief history of lavender
Lavender (Lavandula) plants are primarily cultivated for their essential oils which people use across multiple areas from perfumery to cosmetics, food industry and aromatherapy. Traditionally, people have used dried lavender flowers in sachets to promote feelings of relaxation and calmness and to facilitate sleep. Lavender plants are also wonderful decorations in gardens!
In Victorian times, people used lavender oil, distilled from L. angustifolia, as a perfume and in cosmetics. However, nowadays people mainly use lavender essential oil either alone or in combination with other essential oils in aromatherapy.
Multiple hybrids of L. angustifolia originally grew in the South of France, specifically in Provence, but today they grow all around the world. Authentic lavender essential oil has a unique composition which is influenced by a variety of factors.
In fact, variations due to temperature, altitude, fertilisers and rainfall can all impact the chemical composition of authentic lavender essential oil.
In addition, manufacturers often combine lavender essential oils with other oils or synthetic components or fragrances. According to aromatherapists, lavender oil from the L. angustifolia plant is the most beneficial, although the science still needs to back this claim.(1)
From the Middle Ages to modern times
Many civilisations have used lavender for centuries. In the Middle Ages, people began to use it as a remedy against bacteria and for its supposedly calming effect.
Some people like to use dried lavender as a way to make their laundry smell fresh and floral. In fact, older generations who didn’t have air fresheners or deodorants would place small sachets of dried lavender leaves in cupboards as a fragrant addition.
Many believe that lavender helps with insomnia and anxiety and that it has an overall soothing and calming effect. But what does science have to say about the benefits of lavender essential oil?
Perhaps the most commonly stated benefit of lavender reported in anecdotal evidence is its effect on mood. In fact, many swear by lavender to soothe their worries and ease feelings of anxiety.
Anxiety, along with depression, has become one of modern society’s most insidious ailments, and it doesn’t discriminate between its victims. Indeed, whether you are older or younger, male or female, healthy or ill, anxiety can affect anyone at any time.
Western medicine proposes a myriad of drugs and pharmaceutical therapies for anxiety. There are many holistic or drug-free ways to approach this psychiatric condition, from mediation, to exercise, to cognitive behavioural therapy. However, what is the evidence for the role that lavender plays in this area?
A systematic review and meta-analysis sought out to assess the efficacy of lavender on anxiety and its related conditions.(2)
A solution for anxiety?
The researchers analysed studies in which patients consumed lavender in any form and through any way of administration. These patients either had anxiety, were involved in anxiety-inducing situations or were involved in anxiety-inducing activities. They were compared to groups of controls to measure the effect of lavender.(2)
The study results found that lavender inhalation can significantly reduce anxiety levels. However, lavender inhalation did not significantly reduce blood pressure as a physiological measure of anxiety.
Interestingly, lavender essential oil capsules and massages with lavender oil also led to a significant decrease in anxiety levels.
It must be noted that there are limitations to the findings of this review. In fact, the available studies reviewed are of low average quality with high risk of bias. Furthermore, methodological designs across studies are quite heterogeneous amongst each other.
It appears that oral administration of lavender essential oil in these studies showed effectiveness in treating anxiety. However the size of the effect of lavender inhalation is smaller given the diversity of the studies.
In addition, massages with lavender essential oil seemed to have a beneficial effect on anxiety. However, it is unclear whether this effect is due to the massage itself, the lavender oil or a combination of the two.
Therefore, we should interpret these findings with caution. They require confirmation by high quality research with homogeneous study designs.
Lavender oil and migraines
If you suffer from migraines or know someone who does, you’ll know that it is an excruciatingly painful experience. In fact, migraines can be truly debilitating and significantly impact your quality of life. Whilst some people choose to take medication to alleviate their symptoms, others may be in search of holistic or alternative remedies against their pain.
Lavender essential oil has many uses in complementary and alternative medicine. From its use as an alleged mood stabiliser to its antimicrobial and analgesic effects, there are a myriad of ways to use it. A placebo-controlled clinical trial studied the effects of lavender oil inhalation on individuals with migraines.(3) A total of 47 subjects diagnosed with migraines were divided into a test group and a control group respectively. The test group inhaled lavender essential oil for a period of 15 minutes. The control group had liquid paraffin instead of lavender during the same time period.
The study participants recorded their symptoms including headache severity in 30 minute intervals across 2 hours.
Results showed that there was a statistically significant difference between the test and control group outcomes. In fact, a significantly higher number of participants reported reduced headache severity in the lavender group compared to the placebo.
Overall, these findings suggest that inhaling lavender essential oil may potentially alleviate migraine associated symptoms in some people. However, there need to be further high quality randomised controlled trials conducted before we can confidently make claims around lavender’s effect on migraines.
“Lavender essential oil capsules and massages with lavender oil also led to a significant decrease in anxiety levels amongst participants.”
Lavender and wound healing
Essential oils have surged in popularity in recent years, and emerging literature suggests that they may have a role to play in Western medicine. Some studies have shown that lavender essential oil in particular may have beneficial effects in wound healing.
A review published in the journal of alternative and complementary medicine looked at the current literature on lavender oil to understand its wound healing properties. In fact, the researchers aimed to expand the current range of cost-efficient wound healing solutions for both doctors and their patients.(4)
The review analysed human clinical trials, animal studies, in vitro studies as well as previous reviews. In summary, the body of evidence showed that lavender essential oil healed wounds at a faster rate, increased collagen production and enhanced the activity of proteins involved in tissue regeneration.
Thus, it appears that the current evidence suggests that lavender essential oil may play a therapeutic role in wound healing. Nonetheless, further high quality human studies are required in order to confirm the safety and efficacy of lavender essential oil in standard clinical practice.
Pain and osteoarthritis: what role does lavender play?
Osteoarthritis in the knees is one of the most prevalent chronic causes of joint pain amongst the middle aged and elderly populations. A randomised controlled clinical trial investigated the effect of lavender essential oil used in an aromatherapy massage in patients with knee osteoarthritis.(5)
A total of 90 patients participated in the study and researchers recruited them from outpatient rheumatology clinics. The researchers randomly allocated each patient to one of three groups: intervention (aromatherapy massage using lavender essential oil), placebo (massage with almond oil), and control (no massage). The researchers evaluated the patients’ pain at baseline, immediately following the intervention and 1 and 4 weeks after the intervention.
The study found that patients in the intervention group had a significant decrease in pain immediately and 1 week following the intervention. This was also significantly different to the control group patients. However, at 4 weeks post-intervention, there was no significant difference in pain reporting between study groups.
Overall, the results suggest that lavender essential oil in aromatherapy massage may relieve pain in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. However, further larger scale high-quality studies are required to confirm these findings and the safety and efficacy of lavender essential oil for this medical condition.
Sleep quality, depression and lavender oil
Depression plagues modern society and amongst the many risk factors for developing this disorder, poor sleep quality is one of them.
A study from the journal of nursing and midwifery sciences investigated the effect of aromatherapy with lavender essential oil on sleep quality in patients with major depression.(6)
The researchers recruited a total of eighty major depressive patients diagnosed with sleep disorders from a Psychiatric clinic in Iran. The intervention group inhaled lavender essential oil whilst the control group inhaled almond oil as a placebo. The researchers measured participants’ sleep quality before and after the intervention.
Prior to the intervention, the intervention and control groups had no significant differences in average sleep quality. However, post-intervention, the patients in the intervention group had a significantly improved quality of sleep compared to patients in the control group.