When we talk about lavender oil, what we're actually talking about is an essential oil, which is different than a "carrier oil" like coconut oil, olive oil, or argan oil. “Essential oils are aromatic liquid substances that are extracted from different kinds of plant materials using the process of steam distillation,” Amy Galper, aromatherapist and founder of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy previously told Well+Good. “What that means is that it takes a lot of plant material to yield a tiny amount of essential oils, so essential oils are highly concentrated and potent. They are made up of hundreds of different aromatic molecules, and when we inhale and smell them, they can have a profound affect on our emotions, psychology, and physical well being.”
Lavender essential oil, in particular, is known to be soothing and calming. For example, one study found the aromatherapy properties of lavender helped with anxiety disorders. When it comes to the skin, “lavender is best known as an anti-inflammatory, and for wound healing,” Galper told us. And Panton uses it ahead of bed. "It's great for when you're getting ready to go to sleep," says Panton. But before you try dabbing it on, here are a few more things to note.
How to use lavender oil on hair and skin
1. Treat a pimple
Studies show that lavender's an all-natural antibacterial agent. That means: It's great for your skin when it's breaking out. "Lavender's antibacterial properties make it an excellent and gentle spot treatment," says Panton. "Just add a few drops to some coconut oil and then use a Q-tip to dab the problem area." She explains that it works similarly to tea tree oil in skin care, but it's a more gentle alternative.
2. Do a face steam
Facials are nice, sure—but you can bring that luxe feeling home via a face steam. "A daily face steam can be an incredibly relaxing part of your beauty routine," says Panton. "Combine lavender with sweet orange, geranium, and tea tree to create a natural glow. Just add a few drops to a warm, damp face cloth and feel fresher instantly." Yes, please.
3. Use a cold compress
The purple plant can work wonders when you're sick, too. "When you're feeling under the weather, add a few drops of lavender to a wet face cloth," says Panton. "Place it in a sealed plastic baggie and chill it for an hour or so in the fridge. Then lie down and place the sweet-smelling, cool cloth on your forehead or on the back of your neck." Let sweet relief ensue.
4. Make a body lotion
You don't have to turn to beauty shelves to get a body cream—plenty of pantry staples (along with lavender, of course) can provide you with the essentials to nourish your skin. "Simply combine a cup of unscented shea butter, a fourth of a cup of coconut oil, a half teaspoon of organic honey, and 20 drops of lavender essential oil into a bowl and mix with a spoon," says Panton.
5. Freshen up your laundry
Laundry detergent can be full of not-so-good-for-you chemicals, which is why essential oils are great as a booster for your dirty clothes. "I love adding essential oils to my washing machine for a fresh scent," says Panton. "Use 10-20 drops—lavender and frankincense are a great pair." While this is great for t-shirts and everyday clothing, don't add EOs to the wash when you're cleaning your intimates.
6. Use your diffuser
Of course, using the relaxing scent of lavender aromatherapy is great at nighttime. "Lavender's incredibly soothing," says Panton. "As part of your bedtime ritual, add 10 drops of the essential oil to a diffuser on your nightstand and shut the door." She advises to do this about an hour before you go to bed, so by the time you fall asleep your room's its own little oasis.
7. Take a bath
It comes as no surprise that lavender goes hand in hand with a relaxing self-care bath. "Add 10 drops of lavender and one cup of epsom salts to a warm bath," recommends Panton. "Soak, relax, and feel oh-so-good." Sounds divine.
How to apply lavender oil
One important thing to note is that you should never (may we repeat: never!) apply essential oils directly to skin. The oils contain tons of potent molecules that are too sensitizing for the skin to come into direct contact with. Instead, you need to dilute essential oils, like lavender oil, into a carrier oil.
“Carrier oils are basically vegetable oils cold-pressed or expeller-pressed from nuts and seeds or, in some cases—like olive oil and sea buckthorn—they’re pressed from the whole fruit,” Galper previously told us. “The extracts contain the fatty, or oil, components from the plant material, and they’re rich in essential fatty acids, trace vitamins, and other skin-healing components.”
When combined with essential oils, carrier oils are able to essentially buffer the potency of lavender so that the skin can reap its benefits without experiencing any irritation from the active; however, take note: Botanicals are some of the most common irritants to skin. Do a patch test and if you notice that that spot is getting itchy or red, then discontinue use. Otherwise, mix a drop or two of lavender oil into a carrier oil, and apply it to skin or hair.
Frequently asked questions about lavender oil
Where do I get it?
You can buy it from most essential oil retailers, and it's commonly found on its own as a one-note essential oil or as a blend. We really like these options:
I find essential oils don't work for my skin, but I like the smell. What should I do?
Well, good Q. If you find that essential oils don't work for your skin, but you still want them in your life, you can consider diffusing them in an electronic diffuser. Chilling out, with a scent like lavender, can help to lower cortisol levels, which in turn is good for skin, anyhow. So you can still get secondhand benefits.
Lavender isn't my thing. Any other stress-reducing essential oils?
Yep. Look for something like rosemary, which is also helpful in dropping cortisol or a scent like lemon, which is uplifting and can kind of act like a CTRL+ALT+Delete for a bad day.
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