We have to start by writing how fascinated we are by the amazing lavender fields of Provance and we do love pretty much everything about lavender: its look, its color, its scent.... but, when it comes to skincare, lavender is a questionable ingredient that you probably do not want in your skincare products.
First, let us start with the pros: it has a lovely scent, so no wonder that it is popular as a fragrance ingredient in natural products wanting to be free from synthetic fragrances but still wanting to smell nice. The scent of lavender is famous for having calming and relaxing properties and some smallish scientific studies do support that. Inhaled volatile compounds seem to have a soothing effect on the central nervous system and studies have shown that lavender aromatherapy can improve patient's anxiety and experience in hospitals.
Another pro is that lavender oil has some nice antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It also has some local pain relieving and muscle relaxing magical powers. Lavender oil is also often claimed to have anti-inflammatory properties. We have found a study confirming this but it was the essential oil of the leaves and not the much more commonly used flowers and the two differ in their main chemical compounds very much. (The main components of the flower essential oil are linalyl acetate and linalool [around 80% the two together] while it is 1,8-Cineole [around 65%] in the essential oil of the leaves.)
Now, let us look at the cons: similar to a bunch of other essential oils, the main components of lavender oil are potentially irritating fragrant components. The two main components are linalyl acetate (about 50%) and linalool (about 35%) and both autoxidise on exposure to the air forming strong contact allergens. To make things even worse, lavender oil seems to be cytotoxic from concentrations as low as 0.25% (concentration up to 0.125% were ok).
There is also an often cited Japanese study that made patch tests with lavender oil for 9 years and found a huge increase in lavender oil sensitivity in 1997 (from 1.1% in 1990 to 8.7% in 1997 and 13.9% in 1998). This was the year when using dried lavender flowers in pillows, wardrobes, and elsewhere became fashionable in Japan, so it seems that increased exposure to lavender results in increased risk of sensitivity.
Overall, it makes us sad to write bad things about such a lovely plant, but when it comes to skincare, you will be better off without lavender.
Show me some proof
- Cavanagh, H. M. A., and J. M. Wilkinson. "Biological activities of lavender essential oil." Phytotherapy Research 16.4 (2002): 301-308.
- Hajhashemi, Valiollah, Alireza Ghannadi, and Badie Sharif. "Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of the leaf extracts and essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia Mill." Journal of ethnopharmacology 89.1 (2003): 67-71.
- Sugiura, Mariko, et al. "Results of patch testing with lavender oil in Japan." Contact Dermatitis 43.3 (2000): 157-160.
- Hagvall, Lina, et al. "Lavender oil lacks natural protection against autoxidation, forming strong contact allergens on air exposure." Contact Dermatitis 59.3 (2008): 143-150.
- Prashar, Anjali, Ian C. Locke, and Christine S. Evans. "Cytotoxicity of lavender oil and its major components to human skin cells." Cell Proliferation 37.3 (2004): 221-229.