How To Use Lavender Oil For Anxiety

In recent years, numerous studies have demonstrated the role of natural therapies in enhancing health and assisting in the treatment of physical and mental conditions. 

People with anxiety disorders are often prescribed one of several conventional medications. Although high-quality evidence has shown these to be effective, they still have their limitations and are often combined with other forms of treatment.  

Additionally, it is important to have alternatives to anxiety medications for people without anxiety disorders but who still want to reduce their anxiety and stress levels. These include natural therapies, such as lavender oil, which are suitable and safe for most people. 

When choosing a natural therapy for anxiety, you must look for evidence-based information, which lavender oil has. 

If you struggle with anxious thoughts from time to time or have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, take a look at how lavender oil can help. 

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What is lavender oil and why does it help with anxiety?

Before using lavender oil, it’s important to know the difference between the types of oils that are available. Not all oils have the same effectiveness in reducing anxiety. 

Fragrance oils

Lavender fragrance oils are either made from chemicals or a mixture of essential oils and chemicals. They aren’t as effective as essential oils, and they’re not suitable for aromatherapy. 

Fragrance oils are not of significant use in reducing anxiety. 

Essential oils

Lavender essential oils have been distilled from lavender flowers. They’re concentrated plant extracts and retain their natural smells and flavors. 

Lavender oil has a high concentration of naturally occurring aromatic chemicals, the most significant being two types of terpenoids called linalool and linalyl acetate. These effectively reduce anxiety at tiny concentrations, making them drug-like and increasing their suitability as an alternative form of anxiety relief.¹

Evidence suggests that lavender oil has an anxiolytic effect;¹ it has similar properties to some anxiety medications.² It can reduce the fight-or-flight stress response triggered by anxiety because the active ingredients in the oils, such as linalyl acetate, affect neurotransmitters in the brain to induce a calming effect.³ 

Lavender oil has been approved in Germany⁴ for treating restlessness related to anxiety.

How to use lavender oil for anxiety

There are two ways to use lavender oil for treating anxiety:

  • Oral capsules that contain lavender essential oil

  • Aromatherapy (the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefit) via inhalation or massage 

Using lavender oil via oral capsules

Taking lavender oil orally, in the form of a capsule, is an effective way to use it for anxiety. Several brands of lavender capsules are currently available on the market, such as Silexan. 

How do you use it and what should you expect? 

Lavender oil capsules have a good safety and tolerability profile. 

Based on results from human studies, lavender oil capsules are most effective at a dose of somewhere between 80 to 160 mg per day.¹ 

The beneficial effects of taking lavender oil capsules are usually experienced within two weeks. This means that although you can’t expect it to be an immediate fix, you might notice a significant calming effect within a reasonable time. 

You should continue taking lavender oil capsules for at least six weeks⁵ for the best effects. Studies have shown that continuing for two months provides the most significant reduction in anxiety levels. 

Some studies suggest that lavender oil capsules can be used as an integrative therapy alongside conventional anti-anxiety drugs. However, other reports also indicate that lavender oil can interact with some medications, so always speak with your doctor for advice before doing so. 

Only ingest lavender oil in capsules. It’s not safe to consume pure essential oils. 

What does the evidence show?

Lavender oil capsules are effective in the short term to help relieve anxiety symptoms,¹ including the following: 

In five clinical trials¹ consisting of patients with moderate to severe anxiety, the oral use of lavender oil capsules and ongoing psychiatric intervention (i.e., medications) improved their scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAMA).

In another study, oral use of lavender oil also improved the duration and quality of sleep¹ in people with subsyndromal anxiety who suffered from sleep problems due to their anxiety. 

Another study⁶ had participants watch an anxiety-provoking movie. They were given capsules that contained between 100 to 200 µL of lavender oil. The results showed that these capsules had anxiolytic effects during times of low anxiety. 

Using lavender oil in aromatherapy via inhalation

Evidence has shown that inhaling lavender essential oils can reduce:

  • State anxiety (triggered in response to a stressful situation) 

  • Trait anxiety (triggered due to your predisposition to respond to something in an anxious way)

One area in the brain (the olfactory bulb) receives information about smells detected by the nose. It then sends signals to other areas of the brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) associated with emotion and memory. 

So, the benefits of lavender oil inhalation relate to how it can exert psychological effects¹ because certain smells are associated with positive emotions and mood. 

How do you use it and what should you expect? 

Most studies suggest that inhaling lavender essential oil for a minimum of three minutes, but preferably 10 to 30 minutes at a time, is effective. The positive effects can be experienced soon after inhalation as it is absorbed quickly. 

Essential oils are strong and highly concentrated, and two to five drops are all you need for a positive effect. You can inhale lavender oil by placing the drops onto a cotton bud, drawing it close to your nose, and gently breathing in.

Alternatively, you can put drops in an oil diffuser. This disperses the oil particles in the room, allowing you to inhale them when you breathe in. 

What does the evidence show?

A study in people visiting the dentist found smell-triggered emotional memory¹ and anxiety associated with the smell of the dentist’s office. After inhalation of lavender essential oil, their anxiety diminished. 

Students living in residence halls⁷ who inhaled a lavender oil/rose combination had a significant decrease in their anxiety levels. 

It is also believed that inhalation of lavender can decrease cortisol release, increase serotonin secretion from the digestive system, and reduce anxiety during childbirth.⁷ 

These studies show the effectiveness of lavender oil in different stages of life. 

Using lavender oil in aromatherapy via massage

Some studies⁸ suggest that applying lavender oil onto the body effectively reduces anxiety; however, it’s unknown whether this effect is purely due to lavender as massage has a relaxing effect. 

Although you can apply undiluted lavender oil directly onto the skin, which you can’t do with other essential oils, it can cause skin irritation. 

It’s safest to dilute one to two drops of lavender essential oil with a tablespoon of carrier oil (such as coconut). 

The massage technique that is recommended for aromatherapy is called effleurage. This is thought to provide greater absorption through the skin. It involves applying continuous, light, multi-directed, and superficial movements using the palm of the hand. 

Which method is best?

Studies suggest that lavender aromatherapy, including both massage and inhalation, is the most effective way of using lavender oil⁸ in the short term, particularly in the first week. 

However, in the long term, the effectiveness of oral lavender oil increases and becomes the most effective method.

Precautions in using lavender oil

Even though lavender oil is natural, you need to be aware of some safety concerns. The most basic one is that essential oils are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, lavender is on the “generally recognized as safe” for consumption⁹ list. 

You should always check the ingredients on the label. Make sure that it contains real lavender essential oil without artificial fragrances. 

Lavender oil may interact with other anxiety medications, such as SSRIs, benzodiazepines, and St. John’s Wort. It enhances their effects due to the calming qualities of lavender oil. However, evidence is lacking in this area.  

Mild side effects can be experienced when lavender oil is taken orally. These may include: 

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Allergic skin reactions 

  • Nausea and drowsiness after excessive intake (always follow the recommended dosage) 

  • Gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in young boys) after applying lavender oil to the skin 

Overall, more evidence is needed on the long-term efficacy of lavender oil.

As with any treatment, it’s recommended that you speak with your doctor and let them know that you’re planning to start using lavender oil. This is especially important if you have an anxiety disorder and already take medications

The lowdown

With anxiety disorders on the rise, finding successful and effective remedies is paramount. 

Lavender oil is a simple, inexpensive, and generally safe product that can reduce anxiety and induce calmness. You can use it on its own or in combination with other types of therapies to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Have you considered clinical trials for Anxiety?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Anxiety, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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