There are many plants in the lavender family, but the type most commonly used medicinally is English lavender.
of lavender was applied externally to treat joint pain, muscle aches, and a variety of skin conditions, including insect stings, acne, eczema, and burns. Lavender essential oil was also inhaled to relieve headaches, anxiety, and stress. Tincture of lavender was taken by mouth for joint pain, depression, migraines, indigestion, and anxiety.
Lavender was additionally used as a hair rinse and as a fragrance in “dream pillows” and potpourris.
What Is Lavender Oil Used for Today?
Lavender continues to be recommended for all its traditional uses. Only a few of these uses, however, have any supporting scientific evidence whatsoever, and for none of these is the evidence strong.
A few studies suggest that lavender oil, when taken by inhalation (
) might reduce agitation in people with severe
. For example, in one very well-designed but very small study, a hospital ward was suffused with either lavender oil or water for two hours.
An investigator who was unaware of the study’s design and who wore a device to block inhalation of odors entered the ward and evaluated the behavior of the 15 residents, all of whom had dementia. The results indicated that use of lavender oil aromatherapy modestly decreased agitated behavior. A somewhat less rigorous study reported similar benefits.
Rigor is essential in such studies, as it has been shown that merely creating expectations about the effects of aromas may be sufficient to cause them to occur.
A preliminary controlled trial found some evidence that lavender, administered through the oxygen face mask, reduced need for pain medications following gastric banding surgery.
A small study performed in Iran reported that oral use of lavender tincture augmented the effectiveness of a pharmaceutical treatment for
However, this study suffered from numerous problems, both in design and reporting, as well as in the scientific reputation of the investigators involved.
In a controlled trial with more than 600 participants, lavender oil in bath water failed to improve perineal pain after
Lavender oil was effective with reducing episiotomy pain. In two randomized trials involving 120 women with normal spontaneous vaginal birth, lavender essential oil applied via sitz bath twice daily for 10 post-partum days reduced episiotomy pain. Pain was absent in 42% of women compared to 28% of women having usual care. Similarly,
another randomized trial with 60 women showed improvement in episiotomy pain with the use of lavender essential oil compared to usual care at 4 hours and 5 days post-partum.12-13
One poorly designed study found weak hints that lavender might be useful for
One animal study failed to find that lavender oil enhances
Head lice is a common condition in children. It is often treated with insecticides, like pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, that are applied to the scalp. Lavender oil has been studied as a possible alternative.
In one trial, 123 children (aged 4-12 years) were randomized to one of three groups:
tea tree oil
plus lavender oil, a head lice product that works by suffocating the lice, or insecticides (pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide).
The day after being treated, almost all of the children in the tea tree plus lavender oil group, as well as the suffocation product group, were lice-free, compared to only 25% of those in the insecticides group (a significant difference).
Lavender is also used in combination with other essential oils. For information on these uses, see the
No form of lavender has undergone comprehensive safety testing.
Internal use of lavender essential oil is unsafe and should be avoided. Topical use is considered much safer. Allergic reactions are relatively common, as with all essential oils. In addition, one case report suggests that a combination of lavender oil and
tea tree oil
applied topically caused gynecomastia (breast enlargement) in 3 young boys.
A controlled study found that inhalation of lavender essential oil might impair some aspects of mental function.
(Presumably, this was due to the intended sedative effects of the treatment.)
Oral use of tincture of lavender has not been associated with any severe adverse effects, but comprehensive safety testing has not been performed.
The maximum safe doses of any form of lavender remains unknown for pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with severe liver or kidney.