Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender Essential Oil

English Lavender is a Major Source of Lavender Essential Oil

Most lavender essential oil is extracted from the flower spikes of English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). There are an additional 38 species of lavender, some if which are also used to produce essential oil. Most lavenders are perennial plants that prefer sandy, well-drained soil and lots of sun. Lavenders are members of the Mint family (Lamiaceae). Lavender has been used for medicinal and cermeonial purposes since the beginning of recorded human history. In the bible, lavender is referred to as “nard”, after the city that farmed much of the lavender in the region. Burning lavender was used to cleanse and bless temples, and was used in aromatherapy in the famous Roman baths. During World War I, lavender oil was used as a disinfectant agent to sterilize hospital rooms. Lavender is a popular additive in soaps, shampoos, perfumes and many other household items.

The Composition of Lavender Oil

Like all essential oils, lavender oil is a blend of many different types of compounds.  The two primary compounds in lavender oil are linalool and linalyl acetate.  Linalool is a terpene alcohol that is abundant in lavender, and many other types of flowers and spices.  Linalool has a pleasant floral scent, and imparts much of the distinctive lavender aroma.  Linalool is also a precursor molecule for the synthesis of Vitamin E.  Linalyl acetate is closely related to linalool, and has many similar properties.  Linalyl acetate has a light fruity aroma, and is also used widely as a scenting agent.  Both linalool and linalyl acetate are biologically active and have are used in several applications, such as insect repellants.  Lavender essential oil also contains modest amounts of Terpinen-4-ol, the primary compound in Tea Tree Essential Oil.

Medicinal Uses of Lavender Oil

Lavender Essential Oil is Distilled from the Flower Spikes of the Plant

Lavender extracts and essential oils have been used in medical applications for thousands of years.  The pleasant aroma of lavender has lead to extensive use in aromatherapy.  There is some evidence that suggests that exposure to lavender oil through inhalation or topical treatments can decrease anxiety and the biological symptoms of stress.  Lavender essential oil is also toxic to many strains of bacteria and fungi, and was once widely used as an antiseptic agent.  Lavender oil (and pure linalool) is a potent insecticide for many types of parasites.  There is some research that shows that lavender and tea tree oil preparations are very effective at treating head lice.  Lavender oil may also be effective against several common plant parasites, including Spider Mites (Tetranychidae). However, high concentrations of lavender oil are also toxic to human cells.  Lavender oil can induce allergic reactions in some individuals.  The frequency of allergic reactions is higher when the lavender oil being used has been exposed to air for extensive periods of time.  Over time, certain components of lavender oil become oxidized when left in contact with air.  Because of this, people who use lavender oil for medicinal applications are encouraged to buy lavender essential oil in small quantities and use the freshest essential oil possible.

Lavender Oil in Acne Treatment

Lavender Oil is Moderately Toxic to Propionibacterium acnes Bacteria (Luangnarumitchai)

There is minimal research into the effectiveness of lavender oil in the treatment of acne symptoms (both aromatherapy and topical treatments).  However, there is some research that indicates that lavender oil is moderately toxic to Propionibacterium acnesbacteria, but less so than some other common essential oils like thyme and clove oil.  While many people believe that lavender oil has potent anti-inflammatory effects, the research does not agree.  Bottom line, lavender essential oil may be helpful in reducing stress through aromatherapy, but there is weak evidence that lavender oil is an effective acne treatment.

Related Pages @ The Science of Acne

Overview: Essential Oils and Plant Extracts in Acne Treatment
Overview: Naturopathic Medicine in Acne Treatment
In Depth: What is Acne?
In Depth: What Causes Acne?

Additional Online Resources

Lavender Essential Oil @ Wikipedia
Lavender @ Plant Profiler

References and Sources

Antimicrobial Activity of Essential Oils Against Five Strains of Propionibacterium acnes.
Luangnarumitchai, et al. 2007. For article abstract, click here.
Activities of Ten Essential Oils towards Propionibacterium acnes and PC-3, A-549 and MCF-7 Cancer Cells.
Zu, et al. 2010. For article abstract, click here.
A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children – melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a “suffocation” product.
Barker, et al. 2010. For article abstract, click here.
Effects of Inhaling the Vapor of Lavandula burnatii super-Derived Essential Oil and Linalool on Plasma Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH), Catecholamine and Gonadotropin Levels in Experimental Menopausal Female Rats.
Yamada, et al. 2004. For article abstract, click here.
Lavender oil as a treatment for agitated behaviour in severe dementia: a placebo controlled study.
Holmes, et al. 2002. For article abstract, click here.
Transdermal Absorption of (-)-Linalool Induces Autonomic Deactivation but has No Impact on Ratings of Well-Being in Humans.
Heuberger, et al. 2004. For article abstract, click here.
The study protocol of a blinded randomised controlled cross-over trial of lavender oil as a treatment of behavioural symptoms in dementia.
van der Ploeg, et al. 2010. For article abstract, click here.
Suppression of tumor necrosis factor-alpha-induced neutrophil adherence responses by essential oils.
Abe, et al. 2003. For article abstract, click here.