Gorgeous lavender revered for its gorgeous aroma, its the undisputed favourite essential oil for many,
Its stress-reducing benefits make it the perfect choice for achieving a state of relaxation.
But did you know it has a real affinity with your skin?
That’s right. You can balance oily skin and even zap your zits with it.
Its bacterial properties make it ideal for healing cuts and abrasions.
And if you accidentally burn your skin, lavender will numb the pain.
It even helps with premature ageing, preventing UV radiation and photo-ageing.
But with so many healing benefits, why is there so much controversy around using it on your skin?
To find out whether or not it should be on top of your list of sensitising ingredients list, we consulted Hope from Miracle Botanicals, who kindly agreed to give us a lavender essential oil 101.
The Big Question: Can lavender cause skin sensitivity?
In my 11 years of business running Miracle Botanicals, I have never met a single person who told me that they sensitised their skin from using lavender, that is, unless they have been misusing it,
What I mean by this is that if you are using it on your skin, you should be diluting it, and this is where I believe the confusion around lavender and skin sensitivity comes in.
It must be used at a maximum of 2%, in either oil, milk, balm or cream base and never in a water-based formula such as a gel.
Having used lavender for years, I have never had a problem when used in this concentration, and I have been using it for years for pain relief, stings, cuts, fungal infections, breakouts and general skin healing,
It is effective at treating burns.
Applying undiluted lavender essential oil 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.
Side note: I’ve found lavender essential oil to be extra effective and faster acting on burns when combined with helichrysum italicum essential oil.
Aside from using a lavender essential oil on your skin, there are some great benefits.
It’s a lovely oil when inhaled for its calming and soothing properties. Put a few drops on your tissue and strategically place that inside a pillowcase, or you can add a few drops in a sauna, a bath or even diffuse it.
Buyer Beware: Essential oils are easily adulterated.
In my experience, when you use essential oils with awareness and reverence, they are perfectly safe and effective.
But essential oils are biological communicators, not just lovely aromas, so they need to be treated with respect.
Sadly, the essential oil market has many adulterated oils, especially when it comes to lavender; they are full of toxins that can be harmful, even in small quantities or light dilution; this is another reason someone might be experiencing irritation on their skin.
At Miracle Botanicals, we prioritise purity and quality, sourcing the most refined essential oils, hydrosols, and resins worldwide! We also get them third-party tested to ensure there are no synthetic additives or pesticides.
Thus providing our customers with the highest frequency, therapeutic grade essential oils available on the market, so they know what they are using on their skin is pure and highly healing.
Why Lavender Oil Gets a Bad Rap
I always look to the science I discuss below; if you are concerned that lavender is sensitising your skin, these studies will help you make an informed choice.
There is conflicting research on lavender’s photo-sensitising properties
A study by Opdyke 1976 p45, looked at the photo-sensitising effects of lavender and found that it had no such side effects when applied to the skin, unlike some of the citrus essential oils that are 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 photosensitive your skin.
So we can conclude that there is no risk when you topically apply lavender. Infact, as we can see below, lavender is protective action against UV radiation damage.
Lavender applied to your skin easily oxides which can lead to skin irritation.
Lavender oil contains inequal parts linalool and linalyl acetate.
Oxidation is more evident in linalool than linalyl acetate, indicating evidence showing that lavender 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. Even adding as little as 0.1% of vitamin E is considered 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.
Can lavender oil cause cells to die when applied to the skin?
This theory comes from some components of lavender, like linalool which is thought to be cytotoxic, which is a misunderstanding.
The research found that at concentrations of 0.125%, Lavender essential oil is 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 that the same effect would occur on your skin. Your skin has an acid mantle and protective barrier function, which you need to consider.
However, even if you apply lavender oil to broken skin, it isn’t equivalent to a test using isolated cells because your skin’s matrix is much more complex, whilst the cytotoxicity may manifest as irritation. It may, on the other hand, never irritate. The most telling evidence is that lavender oil has been used at 4% for wound healing with no side effects.
Lavender causes skin allergies.
Lavender oil is the most widely used essential oil in aromatherapy. Considering that global production is around 200 tonnes annually, there will be the occasional reaction.
Allergy to pure unadulterated lavender oil is extremely rare; a study by Meneghini et al. 1971 tested at 1% found it produced no reactions in any of the 270 participants that suffered from eczema. A further study found that 50 subjects who used undiluted lavender over 48 hours had no adverse reactions.
So as we can see, lavender is safe to use; it is crucial here not to misrepresent the science because the benefits of using lavender on your skin far outweigh the negatives.
The research demonstrates that when you use lavender on your skin, it is in no way 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 lavender essential oils on the skin. Essential oils are very concentrated, so dont risk using them neat, ensure you correctly dilute it at 2%, and dont use a water-based gel or serum with lavender.
Essential oils are complex, and lavender oil is big business. It’s easily adulterated, so become your label detective and ensure your skincare company sources it from companies with integrity.
There is the possibility of lavender oil oxidation, which is easy to avoid 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 lavender colour and heady aroma, it holds a valuable place 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.