Lavender is native to the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, Russia, and Africa. It has been used cosmetically and medicinally throughout history. In modern times, lavender is cultivated around the world and the fragrant oils of its flowers are used in aromatherapy, baked goods, candles, cosmetics, detergents, jellies, massage oils, perfumes, powders, shampoo, soaps, and tea. English lavender (L. angustifolia) is the most common species of lavender used, although other species are in use, including Lavandula burnamii, L. dentate, L. dhofarensis, L. latifolia, and L. stoechas.
Many people find lavender aromatherapy to be relaxing, and it has been reported to have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. Overall, the evidence suggests a small positive effect, although additional data from well-designed studies are required before the evidence can be considered strong.
Lavender aromatherapy is also used as a hypnotic, although there is insufficient evidence in support of this use.
Small phase I human trials of the lavender constituent perillyl alcohol (POH) for cancer have suggested safety and tolerability, although efficacy has not been demonstrated.
Common lavender, English lavender, garden lavender, Lavandula burnamii, Lavandula dentate, Lavandula dhofarensis, Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula officinalis L., Lavandula stoechas, limonene, NHED (contains Allium sativum, Verbascum thapsus, Calendula flores, Hypericum perfoliatum, lavender and vitamin E in olive oil), perillyl alcohol, pink lavender, POH, true lavender, white lavender.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Anxiety (lavender aromatherapy)
Lavender aromatherapy is traditionally used for relaxation. It is reported to help relieve anxiety in several small studies, although negative results have also been reported. Better research is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Agitated behavior (lavender aromatherapy)
Small studies of patients with severe dementia in nursing homes have found that lavender aromatherapy or pinning a cloth with the oil on it to the patient may help to decrease agitated behavior. Further well-designed studies are needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Alopecia/hair loss (lavender used on the skin)
Small trials have shown that patients who massage essential oils (thyme, rosemary, lavender and cedarwood) into their scalps daily showed more improvement than the control group. More research of lavender alone is need before a recommendation can be made.
Antibacterial (lavender used on the skin)
Early laboratory studies suggest that lavender oils may have antibiotic activity.
Cancer (perillyl alcohol)
Perillyl alcohol (POH), derived from lavender, might be beneficial in the treatment of some types of cancer. This research has focused on cancers of the pancreas, breast, and intestine. Preliminary small studies in humans suggest safety and tolerability of POH, but effectiveness has not been established.
Small trials investigating the effects of lavender aromatherapy on agitation and behavior in patients with Alzheimer's dementia report conflicting results. Further well-designed studies are needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
Preliminary research suggests that lavender may be helpful as an adjunct to prescription antidepressant medications. Additional research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
A small clinical trial used a naturopathic eardrop called NHED (containing
Hypnotic/sleep aid (lavender aromatherapy)
Lavender aromatherapy is often promoted as a sleep aid. Although early evidence suggests possible benefits, more research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Improved workplace efficiency
Although lavender is a sedative-type aroma, use during recess periods in a work environment after accumulation of fatigue seemed to prevent deterioration of performance in subsequent work sessions. Further well-designed research is needed to confirm these results.
Overall wellbeing (lavender used in a bath)
Preliminary evidence has shown that lavender oil in combination with grapeseed oil used in a bath may help to improve overall wellbeing, and decrease anger and frustration. Lavender oil used as aromatherapy has also been shown to increase overall mood. Further well-designed research is needed to confirm these results.
Pain (lavender aromatherapy)
Preliminary research suggests that the impression of pain intensity and unpleasantness may be reduced after treatment with lavender therapy. Other research has shown that lavender aromatherapy may be effective when used with acupressure for short term relief of lower back pain. Further research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.
Perineal discomfort after childbirth (lavender added to bath)
Lavender has been evaluated as an additive to bathwater to relieve pain in the perineal area (between the vagina and anus) in women following birth. Preliminary poor-quality research reports no benefits. Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
In a small clinical trial essential oils were used in combination with massage to treat childhood atopic eczema. It was found that there was deterioration in the patient's eczema, which may have been due to a possible allergic contact dermatitis provoked by the essential oils themselves. More study of the effect of lavender essential oil alone is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.