Lavender oil is an essential oil obtained by distillation from the flower spikes of certain species of lavender. Two forms are distinguished, lavender flower oil, a colorless oil, insoluble in water, having a density of 0.885 g/mL; and lavender spike oil, a distillate from the herb Lavandula latifolia, having density 0.905 g/mL. Lavender flower oil is a designation of the National Formulary and the British Pharmacopoeia.
The Lavenders Lavandula are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, native to the Mediterranean region south to tropical Africa and to the southeast regions of India. The genus includes annuals, herbaceous plants, subshrubs, and small shrubs. The native range extends across the Canary Islands, North and East Africa, south Europe and the Mediterranean, Arabia, and India.
Because the cultivated forms are planted in gardens world-wide, they are occasionally found growing wild, as garden escapees, well beyond their natural range. Because Lavender cross-pollinates easily, however, there are countless variations within the species. The color of Lavender flowers has come to be called lavender.
Lavender has been used extensively in herbalism.
English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, yields an essential oil with sweet overtones, and can be used in balms, salves, perfumes, cosmetics, and topical applications. Lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia (also known as French lavender), yields a similar essential oil, but with higher levels of terpenes including camphor, which add a sharper overtone to the fragrance. Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoechas is not used medicinally, but mainly for landscaping.
Essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It was used in hospitals during WWI to disinfect floors and walls. These extracts are also popularly used as fragrances for bath products.
An infusion of lavender is claimed to soothe and heal insect bites. Bunches of lavender are also said to repel insects. If applied to the temples, lavender oil is said to soothe headaches.
Lavender is frequently used as an aid to sleep and relaxation: Seeds and flowers of the plant are added to pillows, and an infusion of three flowerheads added to a cup of boiling water are recommended as a soothing and relaxing bedtime drink.
Lavender oil (or extract of Lavender) is claimed to heal acne when used diluted 1:10 with water, rosewater, or witch hazel; it is also used in the treatment of skin burns and inflammatory conditions (it is a traditional treatment for these in Iran and nearby regions).
There is scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of some of these remedies, especially the anti-inflammatory effects, but they should be used with caution since lavender oil can also be a powerful allergen. Ingesting lavender should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Topically, lavender oil is cytotoxic. It increases photosensitivity as well. A study demonstrated that lavender oil is cytotoxic to human skin cells in vitro (endothelial cells and fibroblasts) at a concentration of 0.25%.
Linalool, a component of lavender oil, reflected the activity of the whole oil, indicating that linalool may be the active component of lavender oil. Another study showed that aqueous extracts reduced mitotic index, but induced chromosome aberrations and mitotic aberrations in comparison with control, significantly. Aqueous extracts induced breaks, stickiness, pole deviations and micronuclei. Furthermore, these effects were related to extract concentrations.
Two essential oils, lavender and tea tree oil, have been implicated in causing gynaecomastia, an abnormal breast tissue growth in prepubescent boys. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed that the use of shampoo and similar products, containing lavender and tea tree oils, in three boys resulted in this condition. Professor Leuan Hughes, a child hormone specialist at the University of Cambridge has claimed "... these oils can mimic estrogens" and "people should be a little bit careful about using these products".
According to advocates of alternative medicine, lavender oil can be used as first aid and to treat a variety of common ailments.
The diluted or undiluted oil may be used as an antiseptic and pain reliever to be applied to minor burns and insect bites and stings. Use only small quantities when applying directly to the skin. It is best applied neat (undiluted) by drops from bottle or on a wet cotton wool pad to the infected area.
For the treatment of sunburn and sunstroke, 10 drops of oil can be diluted in 25 mL of carrier oil. (Note: This is not an effective sunblock.) When added to chamomile, lavender oil may be effective on eczema.
To create a massage oil which may be effective in the relief of joint and muscle pain, 1 mL of oil can be added to 1 oz. of carrier oil and rubbed liberally on the affected area. To create a chest rub for relief of asthmatic and bronchitic spasm, 1 mL of lavender oil and 5 drops of chamomile oil can be added to 10 mL of carrier oil.
As a treatment for head lice, 5-10 drops of oil can be diluted in water to produce a hair rinse, while a few drops of undiluted oil can be added to a fine comb to eliminate nits.
As far as serious ailments, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that lavender oil may have played a role in the reduction of advanced mammary tumors in lab rats. Research is on-going for potential breast, ovarian, pancreatic, liver, and prostate cancer treatments.