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People usually associate lavender with two specific traits: its fragrance and its color. But you may not know that the lavender flower and the oil derived from it have long histories in herbal medicine.

The word lavender comes from the Latin root “lavare,” which literally means “to wash.” The earliest recorded use of lavender dates back to ancient Egypt. There, lavender oil played a role in the mummification process.

During later times, lavender became a bath additive in several regions, including ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome. These cultures believed that lavender helped purify the body and mind.

Read on to learn more about the potent health potential of lavender in its many forms.

Since ancient times, lavender has been used to reduce symptoms and provide support for multiple conditions. Modern science has confirmed many of its health benefits, while others are still under investigation.

Lavender may help with some of the following:

Insomnia

Once upon a time, lavender was recommended for people suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders. People stuffed their pillows with lavender flowers to help them fall asleep and get a better night’s rest.

Today, research suggests that breathing in lavender’s aroma could improve sleep quality. A systematic review of 15 studies from 2014 found that inhaling essential oils, including lavender, had positive effects in people with mild sleep disturbances.

Numerous smaller studies have found additional benefits of lavender for sleep issues.

Research from 2015 showed that people who used lavender aromatherapy felt more refreshed upon waking. Another 2010 study conducted on people with anxiety disorders revealed that orally administered lavender oil helped them sleep longer at night.

Anxiety

Lavender may also provide support for people with anxiety.

In a large meta-analysis from 2019, people with anxiety disorders who took 160-milligram lavender oil capsules experienced significant decreases in anxiety.

Other studies have found similar results.

One from 2015 involved 60 people in a coronary intensive care unit. The researchers found that those treated with lavender essential oil had lower levels of anxiety and better sleep.

Another study from 2010 compared lavender capsules to the anti-anxiety medication lorazepam, concluding that lavender’s effects were comparable to the prescription drug.

Hair loss

Topical use of lavender oil might help to treat a disease called alopecia aerata, which causes a person’s hair to fall out in patches.

According to an older 1998 study of 86 people with alopecia areata, 44 percent experienced improved hair growth after massaging an essential oil blend of thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood in a mixture of carrier oils into their scalp daily for seven months.

While this study is promising, it’s difficult to say whether the hair growth could be contributed to lavender specifically.

An animal study from 2021 also found that lavender oil successfully stimulated hair growth within a 28-day timeframe.

Headaches and migraine

The calming effects of lavender might be enough to soothe away a headache or migraine.

In one study from 2016, people with migraine who received 3 months of lavender therapy scored lower on a headache assessment scale than a control group.

In another 2012 study, 47 participants with migraine inhaled lavender essential oil for 15 minutes. They experienced reduced headache severity and frequency.

Chemotherapy side effects

According to the National Cancer Institute, aromatherapy can help people with cancer manage the side effects of their treatment. Lavender aromatherapy may help lower anxiety about cancer treatment procedures.

Depression

Lavender’s effects on depression aren’t as well documented as those on anxiety, but research is promising.

A small 2016 study on postpartum women found that lavender aromatherapy prevented stress, anxiety, and depression after childbirth.

Another small 2015 study looked at people with kidney disease. The researchers found that those who inhaled a lavender scent for 1 hour during hemodialysis had lower scores of depression and stress than those who did not.

Older adults who drank lavender tea twice a day for 2 weeks in a small 2020 study experienced lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Acne

Compared to more aggressive treatments, lavender oil could be a gentle way to treat acne due to its ability to kill bacteria.

In a 2013 study, a combination of lavender oil and aloe extract effectively inhibited the growth of one bacterial strain that causes acne.

Burns

Lavender has long been used as a traditional remedy for burns, and some older research has suggested there’s scientific data to confirm this use. According to a 2009 study, its antimicrobial activity might also help prevent infections after a burn.

Skin conditions

Lavender contains two inflammation-fighting compounds called linalool and linalyl acetate. A 2020 study suggests that these may provide relief for skin issues, such as:

Wound healing

Lavender’s soothing powers might extend to healing wounded skin.

A review of 20 studies found that lavender oil increased the rate of wound healing, promoted the growth of collagen, and boosted the tissue remodeling process of the skin.

Always do a patch test and use a carrier oil when putting lavender essential oil directly on the skin.

Lavender is a multipurpose plant. People use lavender in many ways to promote good health and well-being, including:

  • dried flowers
  • essential oil
  • topical oil
  • capsules
  • teas, tisanes, and infusions
  • creams, lotions, and salves
  • beauty products

Lavender flower

Lavender, of course, begins as a plant with bright purple flowers.

In its original form, it has a soothing fragrance. You can add the buds to foods, use them in a potpourri, or steep them in tea. You can even dry them and place small sachets in your drawers to freshen your linens.

Essential oil

Lavender is commonly used in aromatherapy. To reap the benefits of its calming smell, you can simply hold a bottle of lavender oil to your nose and inhale.

For a more sustained experience, you may prefer to place a few drops of the oil into a diffuser, which can spread its aroma throughout a room.

Do not ingest essential oils. Always dilute them in a carrier oil before applying to the skin.

Lavender spray, like a pillow spray at bedtime, is another effective means of using lavender as aromatherapy. If you have kiddos or enjoy crafts, tap into multiple senses by making a DIY lavender playdough.

Topical oil

Lavender oil is created by steeping lavender buds in a carrier oil, such as olive or coconut oil, typically for at least 1 week. In the finished product, lavender oil should account for just 0.5 percent to 2 percent of the total amount of oil, or 3 to 12 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil.

You can apply this oil topically, but it’s important to talk with your doctor before using lavender oil directly on skin. Unless directed to do so by a healthcare professional, don’t apply it on or near:

  • irritated skin
  • wounds
  • rashes
  • skin with symptoms of conditions such as psoriasis or eczema

To choose a high quality lavender oil, look for a product tightly sealed in a dark glass bottle with no additives or synthetic fragrances. And be sure to give it a sniff! A quality oil should have a strong smell.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil. Be sure to keep essential oils out of reach of children and pets, and store them away from heat and sunlight.

Capsules

While ingesting lavender oil on its own is not recommended, lavender-infused capsules are often used in the treatment of anxiety.

In small amounts such as in capsule form, lavender oil is considered safe to ingest. Because lavender capsules are herbal supplements, you can purchase them without a prescription.

Always follow the manufacturer’s directions on the bottle and be sure these capsules are made to be ingested.

Some popular brands include Nature’s Way CalmAid and Integrative Therapeutics Lavela WS 1265.

Teas, tisanes, and infusions

Lavender tea, sometimes called a tisane, is commonly sold at supermarkets.

Try Stash Organic Lavender Tulsi Herbal Tea or Full Leaf Tea Co. Organic Sleeping TranquiliTea.

You can make it yourself by brewing 1 tablespoon of dried lavender buds in 2 cups of water.

Similarly, you can infuse lavender into a liquid sweetener like honey.

While honey can be gently warmed, heating can degrade the color and flavor. It can also increase the 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content of the honey. Although more research is needed, HMF may act as a poison in some instances.

Creams, lotions, and salves

For application on wounds or extremely dry skin, try a lavender salve. A salve is typically made with thicker oils, like coconut oil, or wax, like beeswax or soy. You can purchase them or make them yourself.

Try Los Poblanos Lavender Salve.

Lavender creams and lotions may not deliver the same therapeutic benefits as more concentrated oils, salves, or capsules, but they’re a soothing way to experience lavender’s calming scent and moisturize skin.

Purchase a lavender-infused lotion or create your own by adding a few drops of lavender essential oil into an unscented base.

Try Apotheke Hinoki Lavender Lotion or Carol’s Daughter Lavender and Vanilla Body Cream.

Beauty products

With a color and scent as appealing as lavender’s, it’s not surprising that countless beauty products feature it prominently, including:

  • face masks
  • cleansers
  • body bars
  • shampoos

As with lotions and creams, these products may not impart much clinical benefit, but can be a pleasant part of a beauty regimen.

Try 100% Pure Lavender Oat Milk Soothing Cleanser or the Lavender Life Company Ultimate Lavender Gift Set.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it’s likely safe to consume lavender in the amounts typically used in foods. So go ahead and enjoy your lavender tea, muffins, or honey!

Short-term use of oral supplements like lavender capsules is also considered safe.

On the other hand, swallowing lavender essential oil is not a good idea. Essential oils can be toxic and lavender may cause intestinal cramping, nausea, or other adverse symptoms. Never consume lavender oil directly.

Safely using lavender as a topical oil will depend on your skin’s sensitivity. Some people experience an allergic reaction on the skin following the application of lavender oil. Always use a carrier oil and do a patch test before you use lavender on your skin.

More research is needed to determine the safety of lavender in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If these conditions apply to you, talk with your doctor before beginning any treatment with lavender.

Many people enjoy the pleasing, calming fragrance of lavender.

Numerous studies have shown that this purple plant isn’t just a perfume, but can be used to treat the symptoms of a variety of health conditions.

Though not every purported health benefit of lavender has evidence to back it up, it may be worth giving lavender a try as a low-risk remedy for conditions like insomnia and anxiety.