Essential oils

Is Lavender in Your Skincare Healing or Hurting You

Gorgeous lavender is the undisputed favourite essential oil for many,

Its stress-reducing benefits are undeniable, and it has a natural affinity with your skin.

You can balance oily skin and even zap your zits with it.

Its bacterial properties make it ideal for healing cuts and abrasions.

If you accidentally burn your skin, lavender will numb the pain.

It can even help with premature ageing, for crying out loud.

But with so many healing benefits, why is there so much controversy around using it?

We sat down with our founder, Samantha, a qualified aromatherapist.

To get the low down on just how skin-friendly lavender essential oil really is.

Can lavender cause skin sensitivity?

In my 30 years of working directly with the skin, I have never come across a single client whose skin became sensitised from using a “true” lavender essential oil unless they have been misusing it,

The reason lavender becomes sensitising is twofold:

  1. If you are using an adulterated version 
  2. Or if you are not diluting it and using it on your skin

This is where I believe the confusion around using lavender and skin sensitivity comes in. It can be used at a maximum of 2% on facial skin, provided it is diluted in either a 98% oil, gel or cream base; I have never had a problem with this concentration.

I have also used it at higher concentration on the body for pain relief, stings, cuts, fungal infections, breakouts and general skin healing,

It is effective at treating burns

Applying lavender essential oil neat on your skin is best reserved if you have a burn; I’ve drenched my skin repeatedly with lavender to treat burns. I reapply it often, every 15 minutes, until the pain subsides.

And I have found it even faster, acting on burns when combined with helichrysum essential oil.

Aside from using this essential oil on your skin, there are some other great benefits.

It’s a lovely oil because of its calming and soothing properties when inhaled. Put a few drops on your tissue and strategically place that inside a pillowcase, or add a few drops to a sauna, a bath, or even diffuse it.

Just be careful not to add too many drops, as this can have an adverse effect and make one hyperactive.

Essential oils are easily adulterated.

In my experience, when you use essential oils with awareness and reverence, they are safe and effective.

Still, they are biological communicators, not just lovely aromas, so they should always be treated respectfully.

Sadly, the essential oil market has many adulterated oils, especially lavender. These can be extremely harmful, even in small quantities or light dilution, which is another reason someone might be experiencing irritation on their skin.

We prioritise purity and quality at the Naked Chemist, sourcing the best growers worldwide. We also ensure they have been third-party tested to ensure they contain no synthetic additives or pesticides have been added.

Thus, we provide our customers with the highest-frequency, therapeutic-grade essential oils available on the market so they know what they use on their skin is pure and healing.

Why lavender oil gets a bad rap

My approach to the ingredients we use here at the Naked Chemist always comes from a science perspective.

A study by Opdyke 1976, looked at the photo-sensitising effects of this essential oil and found that it had no such side effects when applied to the skin, unlike some of the citrus essential oils photo-sensitising.

Taking this one step further, Bickers et al. 2003 looked at the chemistry of Lavender essential oil, namely linalyl acetate, which often gets a bad rap for its potential photo-sensitising properties.

The study found that linalyl acetate won’t irritate or make your skin photosensitive.

So, we can conclude there is no risk when you topically apply lavender. In fact, as we can see below, lavender is also a potent protecting ingredient against UV radiation.

Oxidation

A school of thought suggests that when lavender is applied to your skin, it oxides, which can cause skin irritation.

Lavender oil contains inequal parts of linalool and linalyl acetate.

Linalool shows more oxidation than linalyl acetate, indicating that its oil constituents may oxidise over time.

It is important to note that oxidation doesn’t just occur overnight or while you have that skincare product sitting on your skin; it takes time.

To avoid oxidation, well-formulated products with lavender should contain antioxidants, such as ferulic acid, grapeseed or white tea extract. Adding as little as 0.1% of vitamin E is sufficient to prevent oxidation.

This recommendation comes from the International Fragrance Association (IFA), which suggests that any essential oil rich in linalool should include an antioxidant.

Is lavender cytotoxic?

Can lavender oil cause cells to die when applied to the skin?

This theory is based on the misunderstanding that some components, like linalool, are cytotoxic. The research found that at concentrations of 0.125%, it can be cytotoxic to skin cells and dermal fibroblasts.

The study used live cells isolated in a petri dish, but cell membrane damage won’t occur at low dilutions such as this without direct contact with the skin.

Findings are based on in vitro tests; don’t assume the same effect would occur on your skin. Your skin has an acid mantle and protective barrier function, which you must consider.

However, even if you apply the essential oil to broken skin, it isn’t equivalent to a test using isolated cells because your skin’s matrix is much more complex. Cytotoxicity may manifest as irritation, while it may, on the other hand, never irritate.

The most telling evidence is that this oil has been used at 4% for wound healing with no side effects.

Can lavender cause skin allergies?

It is the most widely used essential oil in aromatherapy. Global production is around 200 tonnes annually, so occasional reactions will occur.

Allergy to pure, unadulterated lavender oil is scarce; a study by Meneghini et al. 1971 tested at 1% found it produced no reactions in any of the 270 participants who suffered from eczema.

A further study found that 50 subjects who used it undiluted over 48 hours had no adverse reactions.

To conclude. The naked truth

So, as we can see, it is safe to use on your skin, provided you are using a “true” lavender essential oil. The benefits of using it on your skin far outweigh the negatives.

The research demonstrates that using it on your skin is not irritating or photosensitising and is considered a low-risk skin allergen.

We can see that scientists will also use dilutions to assess the action of the essential oils on the skin.

They are very concentrated, so don’t risk using them neatly. Ensure you correctly dilute them at 2% and don’t use a water-based gel or serum with lavender.

Essential oils are complex, and lavender oil is a big business. It is easily adulterated, so I recommend you become your label detective when purchasing lavender oil and ensure your skincare company sources it from companies with integrity.

Oil oxidation is possible, which can be avoided by adding vitamin E or another antioxidant to your blend. I recommend using undiluted lavender oil within 18 months of purchase and keeping it away from direct sunlight.

This research shows that apart from the gorgeous colour and heady aroma, it is valuable in the skincare world for treating sensitivity and inflammation, breakouts, and healing cuts, wounds, and burns.

And in my opinion, this is one healing essential oil that should be in your skincare kit.

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