Does it work?

Varicose veins are enlarged, bulging veins. They may be genetic or caused by weak veins, blood pooling, and poor circulation. Aching, burning, swelling, and itching may occur. Some essential oils may be used as a holistic remedy for varicose veins.

As is the case with many alternative remedies, there’s no published scientific research on the effectiveness of essential oils for varicose veins. In theory, essential oils that are used to increase circulation, reduce swelling, and ease pain may help.

Lavender essential oil is used in aromatherapy to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. A 2012 study showed lavender oil helped reduce ulcer duration and size. Skin ulcers are a common complication of varicose veins. Research also showed lavender oil has analgesic and sedative abilities that may help you cope with varicose vein pain.

Rosemary essential oil is thought to improve blood circulation. Results of a 2009 in vitro study suggest that rosemary oil improves local blood circulation and relieves pain.

According to the Ann Arbor Institute of Massage Therapy, other essential oils used to increase circulation are:

  • clary sage
  • cypress
  • grapefruit
  • helichrysum
  • lemon
  • lemongrass
  • orange
  • rose
  • sage
  • tangerine

Some essential oils with anesthetic or anti-inflammatory abilities are:

  • chamomile
  • frankincense
  • ginger
  • myrrh
  • peppermint
  • spearmint
  • vetiver

The West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy recommends several ways to use essential oils topically for varicose veins:

  • Create a warm or cool compress by soaking a cloth in a blend of five drops of essential oils and 1 liter of water. Apply the compress to the affected area for 15 minutes. Keep your legs elevated during application.
  • Combine up to 30 drops of essential oil with approximately 3 tablespoons of carrier oil. Popular carrier oils include sweet almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil. You may also add the oils to shea butter or cocoa butter. Use the mixture to massage the affected area in the direction of your heart.
  • Dilute up to eight drops of essential oil in a small amount of carrier oil. Add the mixture to warm bathwater.
  • To relieve hemorrhoids (varicose veins of the anus), add up to eight drops of diluted essential oils to a sitz bath.

To use essential oils to induce calm and relieve pain:

  • Inhale directly from the bottle or from an inhaler tube.
  • Apply to a handkerchief or cotton pad, and inhale.
  • Diffuse using a room diffuser.

Diluted essential oils are generally considered safe to use externally. If you apply undiluted essential oil to the skin, you may experience irritation or inflammation.

All essential oils have the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Allergic reaction symptoms may include:

  • rash
  • hives
  • skin burning
  • skin irritation
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid heart rate

Always test the diluted mixture on a small patch of skin to determine whether you will have a reaction. If your skin doesn’t react poorly, it should be safe to apply the mixture to a larger area. If you experience allergic reaction symptoms after using essential oils, discontinue use and contact your doctor.

If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, you shouldn’t use these oils without the supervision of your doctor or a trained aromatherapist.

For children and infants, essential oils should be used under supervision of a health care professional. Some essential oils have significant side effects in children.

Don’t assume that all pain and swelling in your legs is caused by varicose veins. Other serious, even life-threatening, conditions such as blood clots may cause the same symptoms and should be ruled out.

You may get relief from varicose veins by making certain lifestyle changes. This includes:

  • avoiding prolonged sitting or standing
  • losing weight if you’re obese
  • avoiding clothes that are tight around your waist and legs
  • elevating your legs higher than your head whenever possible
  • exercising regularly
  • wearing compression stockings

When self-care isn’t enough, your doctor may recommend a more invasive treatment. Your options include:

  • Sclerotherapy: A solution is injected into the varicose veins. This seals the veins and helps them fade.
  • Laser surgery: Powerful bursts of lights are transmitted into the veins. This causes the vein to fade and eventually go away.
  • Catheter-assisted surgery: The tip of a catheter is heated using radiofrequency or laser energy and inserted into a large vein. As the catheter is removed, it collapses the vein.
  • Vein stripping: Large veins are tied off and removed through small incisions.
  • Phlebectomy: Small veins are removed through tiny skin punctures.
  • Endoscopic surgery: Under the guidance of a video camera, large, ulcerated veins are removed through small incisions.

A few herbal remedies may also improve varicose veins:

  • Horse chestnut: A 2006 study showed that horse chestnut is effective in treating symptoms of poor circulation in the legs such as heaviness, pain, and itchiness.
  • Butcher’s broom: Research indicates that butcher’s broom helps reduce leg swelling caused by poor circulation.
  • Grape seed extract: This extract is said to contain compounds that increase elasticity in blood vessels. This may also help prevent leakage that leads to leg swelling.

Herbal remedies may cause side effects and interact with medications. Check with your doctor before using.

If you’re new to essential oils, learn all you can about how to use them before adding them to your varicose vein treatment arsenal. A trained aromatherapist can help you figure out which oils may help your situation.

In the meantime, there are small things that you can do at home and at work to reduce pressure on your veins and improve blood flow:

  • Add more fiber to your diet to prevent constipation.
  • Walk as much as you can to boost circulation in your legs.
  • Set a timer to go off every hour to remind you to get up and move. Walk, do jumping jacks, or jog in place for at least five minutes.
  • If your job requires you to sit or stand in one place for a long time, change positions frequently. Do calf stretches while sitting and walk in place while standing.
  • Don’t sit with your legs crossed.
  • Wear low heels to help tone your calf muscles and help prevent blood pooling.
  • Eat a low-salt diet to prevent water retention that may cause swelling.

Keep reading: Noninvasive treatment for varicose veins »