Spotlight on... Lavender

Welcome to our monthly series of ingredients! We will be exploring different ingredients in aromatherapy and skincare, and where better to start than Lavender! One of the most popular plants not only in aromatherapy but in other scented products, such as candles, incense, perfumes and even laundry detergents, as well as every kind of skincare product there is! In this monthly series we will be looking at where these ingredients and plants come from, what their benefits are and how to use them for different purposes and in various products.

Important! Please note that whilst aromatherapy is widely used to treat or ease symptoms of many ailments, illnesses and health conditions, we are not claiming any proven functions as an alternative to medicine or professional treatment. If you are looking for a medicine for a specific illness or health condition, please speak to your doctor or pharmacist in the first instance. These posts are intended for informational use only and do not intend to provide pharmaceutical advice. We are in no way associated with any medical services.

History & origin

Although often called English Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia is not native to England, but to the Mediterranean countries including Spain, Croatia, Italy, France etc. There are over 40 different types of lavender, however the English Lavender is one that produces the best oils.

Lavender has been used for centuries as a herbal medicine for its many health benefits. Its earliest recorded use dates back to ancient Egypt, where lavender oil was used in the mummification process. Since then, lavender has been used in Rome, ancient Greece, Persia and many other territories, as it was believed to have purifying effects on the body and mind.

Since the medieval period, lavender has been a source of drugs as well as perfumes, soaps, flavours, crafts and more. It has a long history of medicinal use due to its antidepressant, sedative and calming properties. Lavender was also prescribed by some medieval physicians for treatment of epilepsy and migraine attacks, and was considered beneficial in treatment of pain and tremors.

Distilled from the plant Lavandula angustifolia, the oil has been used to treat many different ailments, such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, headaches, acne, toothaches, skin irritations and even cancer. It is claimed to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antidepressant, antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, as well as antispasmodic, analgesic, detoxifying, hypotensive, and sedative effects.

Applications in Aromatherapy

Most commonly, lavender is recommended for oral consumption, however, it is also widely used in aromatherapy, massage and bathing. Lavender essential oil is one of the most popular and versatile essential oils used in aromatherapy.

Lavender is widely used as an aromatherapy agent and supplement to help with anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Inhaling lavender oil has been shown to promote calmness and well-being, reduce anxiety, stress, nausea and mild pain. Aromatherapists use lavender to treat headaches, nervousness and restlessness. Studies suggest that compounds in lavender may stimulate activity in certain areas of the brain and influence the transmission of impulses between brain cells, therefore boosting mood and producing a calming effect. Several studies have tested lavender's anxiety-reducing effects in specific situations, such as when waiting for dental treatment. In addition, a study from 2012 indicates that lavender essential oil in aromatherapy may help lower anxiety levels and alleviate depression in high-risk postpartum women.

Several studies have shown lavender essential oil may help promote sleep and fight insomnia. Studies have shown that inhaling lavender at bedtime improved daytime energy and vibrancy. Lavender aromatherapy has also been found to improve sleep onset, quality, and duration in an elderly population.

There are some claims that aromatherapy can help patients manage the side effects of cancer treatment, such as improve mood, and may also help adults who suffer from dementia. It is important to bear in mind that many of the tests conducted around lavender's effects on such health conditions have had conflicting results and scientific studies are limited. As such, this information should not be taken as medical advice.

Many essential oil proponents recommend using a combination of lavender, lemon, and peppermint oil to relieve allergy symptoms, and claim that lavender is a natural antihistamine.

Topical applications

There are several popular and useful applications for topical consumption of lavender oil, that is, directly to the skin. Unlike many other essential oils, it can be applied to the skin undiluted. Studies show the benefits of using lavender oil topically or as part of a balm or cream range from helping to calm down and get a good night’s sleep to managing sleeplessness, anxiety and menstrual cramps.

Massage therapists apply lavender oil to the skin both as a calming agent and a sleep aid. Due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, lavender oil is often used in topical applications to help fight acne, improve inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema, heal wounds or abrasions, improve nappy rash and even help calm sunburns. These results suggest that certain forms of lavender may promote skin healing and collagen formation.

Both lavender oil and dried petals are popularly used in artisan soaps. In addition to the benefits of topical application of the oil, the dried petals work well as an exfoliator.

Lavender essential oil may cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction in some individuals. If you experience nausea, vomiting, or a headache after using lavender, discontinue use immediately.

Food supplements & oral consumption

While both the scent of lavender extract and oral lavender oil preparations have been shown to improve mood, calm the mind and promote better sleep, it’s unclear if lavender tea can offer similar benefits. However, in Germany, lavender tea has been approved as a supplement to treat sleep disruptions, restlessness, and stomach irritation. Studies into whether or not it may also help with menstrual cramps are limited and inconclusive.

There's also some evidence that ingesting lavender oil may help relieve anxiety and therefore dietary supplements containing lavender oil may have some therapeutic effects on patients struggling with anxiety and stress. Five studies between 2010 and 2016 showed benefits in participants with moderate to severe anxiety.

In all cases of oral consumption, you should seek professional medical advice prior to consumption. Because consuming lavender essential oil can have toxic effects, this remedy should not be ingested unless under the supervision of a medical professional.

How to use lavender essential oil

According to the principles of aromatherapy, breathing in the scent of lavender essential oil or applying lavender essential oil to the skin transmits messages to the brain region influencing the nervous system and regulating emotion.

One of the most popular approaches is adding lavender oil to a carrier oil (such as jojoba or sweet almond oil), which can be massaged into your skin or added to your bath. You can also sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil onto a cloth or tissue and inhale its aroma, or add the oil to an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporiser.

How to choose and store essential oils

When purchasing essential oils, look for a supplier who either distils their own oils or deals directly with reputable distillers. Aromatherapy Trade Council has a list of responsible manufacturers and suppliers of essential oils in the UK.

When buying pure lavender essential oil, check the label for its Latin name, Lavandula angustifolia. No other oils or ingredients should be listed. If you see another oil listed, the lavender is diluted and should not be used in a diffuser. 

Essential oils should be packaged in a dark bottle and stored in a cool dark place, away from direct sunlight. Always follow the warning and use instructions on the label of essential oil bottles.

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