One of my favorite places on earth is Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm in Maui. I went there on a lark, not even expecting to enjoy it. My wife took me there on a trip years ago – she is a big fan of essential oils and especially lavender oil – and I fell in love with it. It’s acre upon acre of rolling hills covered in lavender fields, Buddhist shrines, winding paths, and stunning ocean views. And always, in the background and in the foreground, the fragrant scent of lavender. Any stress bottom (not that stress is really a problem in Hawaii) and you’re perfectly content to calmly stroll through the fields. Each time you rub against a plant, the smell intensifies and follows you around a bit.
The anti-stress effects couldn’t have come from lavender alone – walking, fresh air, the fact that I was on vacation in Hawaii all played a big role – but lavender was also a factor.
But how? Are there ways to get these same benefits without visiting a lavender farm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
Yes. Lavender oil, or lavender essential oil, contains the essence from the lavender plant – all of the aromatic constituents that provide the pharmacological effects that we see from the whole plant.
The benefits of lavender oil
Lavender oil reduces anxiety
Lavender oil aromatherapy is one of the most common treatments for anxiety related to surgery or medical treatment.
In dental patients nervous about treatment, lavender oil aromatherapy reduces anxiety. This is also effective in anxious children undergoing dental treatment. Other studies confirm this effect.
Not all studies are positive. Inhaling lavender oil preoperatively for general anxiety sometimes works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the balance of evidence shows it probably helps. An interesting study found that aromatherapy with lavender oil before a medical procedure reduced anxiety, stress, and pain levels while improving oxygen saturation.
Oral lavender oil may also work. Oral lavender oil appears to be just as effective (minus the side effects, like drowsiness and extreme addiction) as Xanax in reducing general anxiety. In Germany, taking lavender essential oil by mouth is considered a legitimate treatment for anxiety disorders.a
So it’s mixed, but I think the evidence is pretty strong that lavender oil can reduce anxiety in people.
Lavender oil reduces stress
It seems that the stress reduction I was experiencing was not just a placebo or the result of my vacation in Hawaii. Most of the published research finds that lavender has real effects on biomarkers and subjective feelings of stress.
In one study, smelling lavender or rosemary essential oils for 5 minutes lowered cortisol levels in human subjects. Lavender was much more potent than rosemary, with a 1000x dilution of lavender being just as effective as a 10x dilution of rosemary.
In another study, inhalation of lavender essential oil was also effective in reducing math test-induced increases in a marker of biological stress.
In subjects undergoing needle insertion, those who wore an oxygen mask with lavender oil aroma pumped through it experienced less subjective stress. In addition, the pain associated with the injection was reduced.
Subjects in another study watched a stressful video. Half of them underwent lavender oil aromatherapy during the video, while half did not. Those who received the lavender oil had reduced stress markers compared to those who did not receive the lavender oil.
After heart surgery, however, aromatherapy with lavender oil has little or no effect on most markers of stress, except for a slight reduction in blood pressure.
Lavender oil increases wound healing
Lavender oil actually increases the expression of an essential wound healing factor known as transforming growth factor beta. After injuring rats (I know, that sounds bad), the researchers applied lavender oil to the wound. By the fourth day, collagen deposition had increased with the presence of fibroblasts (which help bind collagen).
Overall, the bulk of research finds that lavender oil can accelerate wound healing, increase growth factors at the wound site, and improve collagen synthesis. Even when it doesn’t speed healing better than control, it seems to be better at reducing pain and improving comfort during the healing process. Slow wave sleep is very important for learning, memory consolidation and muscle recovery.
Other studies have shown that inhaling lavender oil can improve sleep quality, fight insomnia, and even increase melatonin levels. Wearing a lavender oil aromatherapy patch at night improves wakefulness in the morning.
If you want to use aromatherapy for sleep, my wife loves it Vagus Nerve Pillow Mist. I can never bring myself to buy it for myself, but I will definitely borrow hers for a spray or two. Spray this product on your pillow before bed and you will have a good night’s sleep. It’s not just lavender oil, but lavender oil is quite important and responsible for many effects.
How to use lavender oil
There are several ways to use lavender essential oil.
The easiest way to do “aromatherapyis to open the bottle of lavender oil and smell it. Literally hold it to your nose and sniff every time you get a craving. However, most studies ask subjects to smell lavender for 5-10 minutes for the strongest effects. You can also use a Streamer or wear a aromatherapy patch.
Most lavender oils are not intended for oral consumption. I’m not saying they’ll hurt you, but that’s not their intended use, so I can’t suggest you try it. You can take a oral supplement of lavender oil.
Simply add a few drops of lavender oil to your massage oil of choice, about 2 drops for every tablespoon of carrier oil. Olive oiljojoba, MCTs, LawyerWhere coconut all make great massage oils.
If you are trying to treat a wound, directly apply a drop or two of lavender oil mixed with a tablespoon of carrier oil (just like massage oil) and apply this at the wound.
Who should not use lavender oil?
For most people, lavender oil is a safe essential oil that can help with wound healing, anxiety, stress, and sleep.
I would caution against using lavender oil products on children, as lavender oil can have estrogenic effects if used in excess. A number of studies have even found links between exposure to lavender oil and early breast growth in both girls and boys. To be fair, the children in these studies were exposed to high levels of lavender scent daily for years.
I would also advise against daily use of lavender oil, especially for men. Use as needed, not chronically. You don’t want chronic increases in estrogen.
That’s about it, folks. Hope you do well if you try lavender oil.
Take care of yourself.
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