One of my favorite places on earth is the Ali’i Kula Lavender farm on Maui. I went there on a lark, not even expecting to enjoy it. My wife dragged me there on a trip years ago—she’s a huge essential oils fan and particularly lavender oil fan—and I fell in love. It’s acre upon acre of rolling hills covered in lavender fields, Buddhist shrines, meandering trails, and great views of the ocean. And always, in the background and foreground, is the fragrant scent of lavender. Any stress melts away (not that the stress is much an issue in Hawaii) and you’re perfectly content just wandering calmly through the fields. Every time you brush against a plant the scent intensifies and follows you for a bit.
The stress-melting effects couldn’t have just been from the lavender—the walking, the fresh air, the fact that I was on vacation in Hawaii all played a large role—but the lavender was also a factor.
But how? Are there ways to get those same benefits without visiting a lavender farm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
Yes. Lavender oil, or lavender essential oil, contains the essence of the lavender plant—all the aromatic constituents that provide the pharmacological effects we see from the whole plant.
The Benefits of Lavender Oil
Lavender Oil Reduces Anxiety
Lavender oil aromatherapy is one of the most common treatments for surgery or medical treatment-related anxiety.
In dental patients nervous about treatment, lavender oil aromatherapy reduces anxiety.1 This is also effective in children with anxiety undergoing dental treatment.2 Other studies confirm this effect.3
Not all studies are positive. The pre-surgery lavender oil inhalation for general anxiety sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, but the balance of evidence shows that it probably helps.45 One interesting study found that lavender oil aromatherapy before a medical procedure reduced anxiety, stress, and pain levels while improving oxygen saturation.6
Oral lavender oil can also work. Oral lavender oil seems just as effective (without the side effects, like drowsiness and extreme addiction) as Xanax at reducing general anxiety.7 In Germany, oral lavender oil is considered to be a legitimate treatment for anxiety disorders.8a
It’s mixed, then, but I think the evidence is fairly strong that lavender oil can reduce anxiety in people.
Lavender Oil Lowers Stress
It seems that reduction in stress I felt wasn’t just placebo or a result of me being on vacation in Hawaii. The bulk of published research finds that lavender has real effects on biomarkers and subjective sensations of stress.
In one study, smelling either lavender or rosemary essential oils for 5 minutes lowered cortisol levels in human subjects. Lavender was far more potent than rosemary, with a 1000x dilution of lavender being just as effective as a 10x dilution of rosemary.9
In another study, lavender essential oil inhalation was also effective at reducing math test-induced rises in a biological stress marker.10
In subjects undergoing needle insertion, those who wore an oxygen mask with lavender oil aroma pumped through it experienced less subjective stress. Furthermore, the pain of getting injected was reduced.11
Subjects in another study watched a stressful video. Half of them underwent lavender oil aromatherapy during the video while half did not. Those who got the lavender oil had reduced stress markers compared to those who didn’t get the lavender oil.12
After heart surgery, however, lavender oil aromatherapy has little to no effect on most markers of stress, other than a mild reduction in blood pressure.13
Lavender Oil Increases Wound Healing
Lavender oil actually increases expression of an essential wound healing factor known as transforming growth factor beta. After wounding rats (I know, it sounds bad), researchers applied lavender oil to the wound. By day four, collagen deposition had increased along with the presence of fibroblasts (which help lay down collagen).14
Overall, the bulk of research finds that lavender oil can speed up wound healing, increase growth factors at the wound site, and improve collagen synthesis.15 Even when it doesn’t speed up healing any better than control, it does appear better at reducing pain and improving comfort during the healing process.16 Slow wave sleep is very important for learning, memory consolidation, and muscle recovery.
Other studies have found that lavender oil inhalation can improve sleep quality, counter insomnia, and even increase melatonin levels.17 Wearing a lavender oil aromatherapy patch at night improves wakefulness in the morning.18
If you’re interested in using aromatherapy for sleep, my wife loves the Vagus Nerve Pillow Mist. I can never bring myself to buy it for myself, but I’ll certainly borrow hers for a spray or two. Spray this stuff on your pillow before bed and you’ll get a great night’s sleep. This isn’t just lavender oil, but the lavender oil is quite prominent and responsible for many of the effects.
How to Use Lavender Oil
There are a few different ways to use lavender oil.
The simplest way to do “aromatherapy” is to open the bottle of lavender oil and smell it. Quite literally just hold it up to your nose and sniff whenever you get a hankering. However, most studies have subjects smell the lavender for 5-10 minutes for the strongest effects. You can also use a diffuser or wear an aromatherapy patch.
Most lavender oils aren’t meant to be consumed orally. I’m not saying they’ll hurt you, but that’s not their intended use so I can’t suggest that you try it. You can take a dedicated oral lavender oil supplement.
Simply add a few drops of lavender oil to your massage oil of choice—about 2 drops for every tablespoon of carrier oil. Olive oil, jojoba, MCT, avocado, or coconut all make great massage oils.
If you’re trying to heal a wound, directly apply a drop or two of lavender oil mixed in a tablespoon of carrier oil (just like the massage oil) and apply that to the wound.
Who Shouldn’t Use Lavender Oil?
For most people, lavender oil is a risk-free essential oil that may help with wound healing, anxiety, stress, and sleep.
I would caution against using lavender oil products on children, as lavender oil may have estrogenic effects if used to excess. A number of studies have even found links between lavender oil exposure and early breast growth—in both girls and boys. To be fair, the children in these studies were exposed to high levels of lavender fragrance on a daily basis for years on end.19
I would also recommend against using lavender oil on a daily basis, particularly for men. Use as needed, not chronically. You don’t want chronic estrogen increases.
That’s about it, folks. I hope you have good success if you give lavender oil a try.
In a recent study, researchers tracked the brain waves of sleeping adults before and after the administration of lavender oil aroma. Once lavender oil was pumped into the room, the brain waves in the sleep adults changed to reflect more of a slow wave sleep/deep sleep pattern—and a higher sleep quality score.[ref]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30660371/
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.