Lavender has been known to cause reactions in some people, including:
- irritant dermatitis (nonallergy irritation)
- photodermatitis upon exposure to sunlight (may or may not be related to an allergy)
- contact urticaria (immediate allergy)
- allergic contact dermatitis (delayed allergy)
However, allergic reactions to lavender are uncommon, and don’t usually occur during your first exposure.
Any allergic reaction to lavender is usually a delayed-type hypersensitivity. This means the reaction is not immediate and can take up to a couple days to appear. It’s more likely to happen after increased use and exposure to the chemical elements of lavender.
According to research at the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska Academy, allergic reactions to lavender primarily happen due to the presence of linalyl acetate, a fragrance chemical found in lavender.
Other studies have shown that these chemicals don’t provide any protection against autoxidation. This means they have a tendency to react with oxygen and trigger a reaction, particularly linalyl acetate, after increased exposure.
Because lavender oil is commonly used for massages and aromatherapy, of allergic reactions to lavender happen because of occupational exposure. Other risk factors include:
- Dilution. The more concentrated the oil is, the higher the risk.
- Frequency and duration. Allergy risk increases based on how often the oil is applied and how long the treatment lasts.
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis). You’re more at risk of experiencing a reaction to lavender if you’ve been previously diagnosed with eczema.
The most common type of reaction to lavender is a skin reaction, which may happen within 5 to 10 minutes of coming into contact with it. Symptoms might include:
- burning sensation
- small blisters or hives
You may also experience the following symptoms, especially if the chemicals are airborne:
Allergy vs. irritant
It’s important to know the difference between an irritant reaction and an allergic reaction.
Although the symptoms are the same, irritations tend to last for a few hours, while allergic reactions can last for days or weeks. Allergic reactions can also spread to areas of the body that lavender didn’t come into contact with.
If you have an irritation, you can usually use the same oil again with a greater dilution and not have any reaction. This is not the case for an allergic reaction.
For example, irritant dermatitis is an irritation that may happen if the lavender oil isn’t diluted enough.
On the other hand, a contact allergy (contact urticaria) happens when your body remembers harmful chemicals and reacts to it from that point forward, usually in the form of delayed-type hypersensitivity (allergic contact dermatitis).
Contact urticaria is similar to allergic contact dermatitis, as they are both allergic reactions, but contact urticaria involves an immediate reaction with hives instead of a reaction over time.
Talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing any type of skin reaction. They can prescribe various creams and medications to help relieve itching and heal your skin. For at-home remedies, you can try using oats or oatmeal in various forms.
Colloidal oatmeal is a type of oatmeal that’s ground up and able to absorb water. You can also use regular oatmeal from a grocery store. Create a fine powder by crushing the oats into a blender, coffee grinder, or food processor.
Two common oatmeal treatments include baths and compresses.
For oatmeal baths:
- For standard-sized tubs, empty one cup of colloidal oatmeal in a tub of lukewarm bath water. The amount of oats should vary based on the size of the bath.
- Soak for no longer than 15 minutes, as long periods of time in the water can dry out skin and make symptoms worse.
- Gently pat your skin dry and cover the affected area with a fragrance-free moisturizer.
For oatmeal compresses:
- Place one-third to one cup of ground oats in a thin fabric, such as pantyhose.
- Soak the oat-filled fabric in warm water, then squeeze it to distribute the water throughout.
- Gently apply the compress to the affected area, and let the solution sit on your skin for around 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat as needed.
If the reaction is caused by lavender chemicals in the air, change your location or get fresh air.
The easiest way to prevent a future reaction is to not use undiluted lavender oil on your skin. Avoid using the same oil or blend for a few weeks, and make sure to read all labels and instructions before use.
Keep a list of anything that may have led to a reaction, such as specific products or locations, so you know what to avoid in the future.
Linalyl acetate is a very common chemical used to provide fragrance in scented products. However, it’s not often listed on products sold in the European Union because the EU doesn’t consider it an allergenic compound.
This poses an issue for those with lavender allergies, as it’s the chemical that often leads to allergic reactions.
Be sure to read ingredient labels before use. This can help to prevent long-term allergic eczema, which can be severe. Consider using unscented products.
Although you may not have experienced a reaction to lavender at first, re-applying the same oil or blend or visiting an area with lavender plants or flowers can lead to another allergic episode.
Once your immune system perceives the chemical elements of lavender as harmful, it’s likely a reaction will happen again.
If you think you may have developed an allergy to lavender, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider or dermatologist. They can provide more specific treatment options for your situation.