Natural Skincare Wonder #5: Lavender Essential Oil

Of all essential oils, lavender has to be the singular most popular one, both for its glorious aroma and for its versatility of usefulness.  In all the years I’ve been a soap maker, I’ve only had one person tell me that they didn’t like the scent of lavender; usually, it’s the top requested scent.

The name lavender is thought to be a version of the Old French word, lavandre, which was derived from the Latin “lavare” – the meaning of that word is “to wash.”  A fitting name for this fresh, clean, and herbaceous plant that has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties as well.  Although there are several varieties of lavender, the most common one is English lavender, lavendula angustiflolia.  Curiously, it’s not native to England, but is native to Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, and Spain.

Lavender is one of only two essential oils that are reputed to be safe to use without dilution (also called “neat”) on the skin.  However, I have always exercised caution in this practice, for two reasons: first, all essential oils are extremely concentrated, and to get the full benefits from lavender oil it can be diluted in a carrier oil at 3 - 5%.  (That’s 97% carrier oil + 3% lavender oil, or 95% carrier oil + 5% lavender oil.)  Secondly, any substance that is highly concentrated, as essential oils are, can result in dermal sensitization.  This is a type of allergic reaction which causes the skin to respond to a particular substance, in this case, an essential oil, with an inflammatory reaction.  Typically, dermal sensitization occurs at the first exposure but little to no reaction is noticed.  After the initial exposure, a severe inflammatory reaction may result – and the affected person will likely be sensitized to this particular essential oil for many years, possibly the rest of his or her life.  The best way to avoid dermal sensitization is to avoid putting the same essential oils on the skin on a daily basis, over a long period of time.

Finally, caution is also needed in using any essential oils (even lavender) on infants and small children.  Always dilute with a carrier oil for topical use on children; lavender essential oil should not be used on infants under three months old.  Ingesting essential oils is never recommended – in European countries, a medical doctor is the only professional allowed to prescribe essential oils for ingestion.  Considering that at least 50% of all prescription medications are plant based, wouldn’t it make sense that highly concentrated botanical oils should only be consumed when advised by a medical professional – not your friend or next door neighbor?

Here are just a few of the many uses for lavender essential oil:

  • Calming and mood balancing aromatherapy – rub a few drops of diluted lavender oils between your hands, then cup your hands over your nose and breathe deeply;

  • Insect bites – use a drop or two to relieve pain and itching;

  • Dry, itchy skin – soothes and softens skin;

  • Minor burns, including sunburns – relieves pain and itchiness, promotes healing;

  • Acne – best diluted with a carrier such as fractionated coconut oil or jojoba oil, it inhibits bacterial growth and helps prevent scarring;

  • Pain relief – gentle massage, combined with diluted lavender oil, helps to relieve muscle pain, sprains, and joint pain.

Lavender essential oil has so many uses – you can carry a small bottle in your purse or travel bag for an instant first aid kit.  Tomorrow’s blog post will be about castor oil (and no, I won’t tell you to take a big spoonful of it for a spring tonic.)

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