When you think of lavender oil, your mind probably goes straight to the distinct sweet, floral smell (you either love it or you hate it). But lavender is so much more than just a fragrance. If you've been sleeping on lavender oil and are new to essential oils and natural ingredients, you might not know all that this all-purpose oil can do to benefit the skin. To find out the facts about the ingredient, we consulted board-certified dermatologists Anna Guanche, MD, of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, and Nava Greenfield, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn. Together they explain what makes this essential oil different than the rest and why you might want to consider adding lavender oil to your skincare lineup.
Type of ingredient: Essential oil
Main benefits: Soothes skin, improves acne, protects against free radicals, and combats bacterial and fungal disorders.
Who should use it: In general, anyone with acne-prone skin who does not have a contact allergy to lavender or fragrance and does not have sensitive skin.
How often can you use it: Provided you do not have an allergy to the ingredient, lavender oil is safe to use in your daily routine, and how often it is used depends on the type of product.
Works well with: Lavender oil can be diluted in a carrier solution, such as a fatty oil. "When lavender is mixed with coconut, jojoba or grapeseed oil, it has wonderful benefits on the skin," Guanche says.
Don't use with: Inform your doctor of any medications you’re taking or products you’re using before trying lavender oil.
What Is Lavender Oil?
First, a word about essential oils: These are concentrated liquids derived from the aromatic parts of plants, such as the flowers, roots, and leaves using a process called steam distillation, according to Guanche. Lavender oil (aka lavandula angustifolia) is a type of essential oil that comes from the flowers of the lavender plant, which grows in various regions such as France and Bulgaria. Greenfield says its main components are linalool, linalyl acetate, lavandulol, geraniol, and eucalyptol, which have antibacterial as well as anti-fungal properties. However, she points out that, "studies have also demonstrated that there are many different types of lavender oil, and because of their different composition, they have different chemical properties."
Lavender oil is available in a concentrated form on its own (which should be stored in a cool, dark place) but is also used in creams, moisturizers, oils, and mists. The route of entry into your body (through topical application, inhalation, or ingestion) will determine the effect that the lavender oil has. According to Greenfield, applying lavender oil topically will have the most benefit to the skin, inhalation can trigger sensory neurons in the olfactory system and can have neuro effects, and ingestion can have systemic effects if it's absorbed in your gut and enters the bloodstream.
Benefits of Lavender Oil for Skin
"Science has only recently started to evaluate the health benefits that lavender oil contains," Guanche says. "However, there’s already an abundance of evidence to illustrate its capabilities, and it's one of the most popular essential oils in the world." Below are the main potential benefits of lavender oil for skin.
- Protects against free radicals: As an antioxidant, lavender oil may help protect the skin against environmental stressors. "The most common and dangerous risk factor for disease often comes from free radicals, toxins, and pollutants," Guanche explains. "Free radicals can shut down your immune system and damage your body. Lavender oil is a natural antioxidant that may work to prevent and reverse disease."
- Soothes skin: Since bacteria and fungus on the skin often result in inflammation, Greenfield says the anti-fungal properties of lavender oil can have anti-itch and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Improves acne: Thanks to its antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory effects, Guanche says lavender oil could contribute to the improvement of acne.
- Promotes wound healing: Guanche points to research that shows lavender oil may speed the healing of burns, cuts, scrapes, and wounds, and may also help with scarring.
- Prevents infections: Lavender oil has been used to prevent infections and combat bacterial and fungal disorders, according to Guanche, and this study showed it to have a fungicidal effect.
Side Effects of Lavender Oil
Essential oils are highly potent, so contact allergies to lavender oil are a definite possibility. "Even if you are not allergic to lavender, the immune system in the skin can develop allergies and result in dermatitis," Greenfield says. "If you generally have sensitive skin, it is a good idea to avoid products with fragrances." With that said, she adds that it's generally well-tolerated when used topically. Before spreading it all over, Guanche recommends applying the oil on a small patch of skin on an area other than the face first to test for a reaction. Because eyelid skin tends to be very sensitive to allergens, Greenfield also recommends avoiding the eye area.
"There is not enough information to know if lavender is safe to use when pregnant or breastfeeding, so I suggest to stay away from using it at this time," Guanche says. It's also important to check with your physician before ingesting lavender oil, as it is generally not recommended.
How to Use It
According to Guanche, it's safe to apply lavender oil directly to the skin (although that's not the case for most essential oils), and you can also dilute it in a carrier substance for added benefits, absorption, and safety. The dilution rate depends on the usage or method of application (i.e. steaming, toning, moisturizing, etc.) and your specific skin needs. As for a carrier substance, Guanche suggests mixing it with a fatty oil, such as coconut, jojoba, or grapeseed. Greenfield says it can be added to almost any product, but she favors it in gentle, non-foaming, sulfate-free soaps and moisturizers, like a ceramide or hyaluronic acid emollient. "It can be applied to any part of your body as long as the product is otherwise formulated for that body part," Greenfield says. In other words, don't apply heavy body creams on the face, and use separate face and body cleansers.
The Best Products With Lavender Oil
Greenfield loves this gentle body wash for its subtle scent and calming ingredients, including lavender oil and chamomile and green tea extracts.
This 100% pure essential oil is made from certified organic flowers, which means it only contains the good stuff and none of the bad or questionable, like synthetic ingredients and parabens. We've even named it one of the best essential oils on the market.
If you're prone to breakouts, you'll want to keep one of these rollerball spot treatments within arm's reach at all times. The blend of essential oils (like evening primrose, rosemary, lemon, and lavender, of course) targets your pimples without totally drying them out, which is why it won a Byrdie Eco Beauty Award.
Another Eco Beauty Award winner, this oil balm is the bomb. Come for the cool consistency and blue color, stay for the calm complexion you get from the lavender, blue tansy, and geranium oils.
A Byrdie-approved essential oil, this 100% certified organic lavender oil was steam-distilled in France, so you know it's good. Try mixing it with a carrier substance for topical application.
This formula is packed with plant oils—lavender, jojoba, sandalwood, frankincense rosehip seed oil, to name a few—but still feels light on the skin and perfect for oily acne-prone complexions.
Byrdie editors love this soothing blend of lavender, vitamin E, and rosehip seed oil for calming stressed skin.
Koulivand PH, Khaleghi Ghadiri M, Gorji A. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:681304.