Lavender Aromatherapy…would you use it?

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October 14, 2013

By Jinwon Byun, PharmD Student Cedarville University School of Pharmacy

Aromatherapy is a self-care treatment that uses essential oils and other plant aromatic products. Aromatherapy is applied by inhalation, massage, and topical application(1). Today, people use essential oils in aromatherapy for many reasons: as an analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, sedative, antispasmodic, expectorant, and for diuretic purposes(2).

Lavender is one of the popular aromas. Many researchers have studied lavender essential oil. They have done many studies to find out the benefits of using lavender oil with and without medical conditions. Lavender aromatherapy works as analgesic, antidepressant, anti-hypertensive, anti-spasmodic, sedative, and nervine. Therefore, it is good for muscle spasms, arthritis, sprains, headaches, tension, anger, irritability, insomnia, stress, anxiety and hysteria. However, overuse of lavender oil can lead to a stimulant effect(3).

Recently, many researchers have studied the effectiveness of lavender aromatherapy to reduce pain. Analgesics can cause serious side effects, and often they interact with other medicines. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be taken with warfarin and some other anticoagulant medications because they have a high risk of bleeding. The combination may cause stomach irritation, and patients with stomach ulcer should avoid many of these analgesics. Also, children, elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding women need to be cautious about which products they choose to take to relieve pain.(4). Because lavender aromatherapy may be a safer alternative treatment, patients could reduce risks from other pain relief treatments.

Researchers in Japan studied the analgesic effects of aromatherapy using lavender odor treatment. Researchers provided mechanisms of how aromatherapy reduces pain and unpleasantness. The odor of aroma activates limbic system, which is related to the pain process to alleviate pain. Also, limbic system changes cause respiratory patterns to be slower and deeper, which in turn relieve pain or unpleasant feeling. Another factor of aromatherapy is a placebo effect, which is “the nonspecific psychological or psychophysiological therapeutic effect produced by a substance or procedure that is without any therapeutic effect for the specific condition being treated(5).”

Twenty four subjects participated in the study. They were divided into two groups. The researchers provided information about lavender odor to one group but not to the other group. Subjects received electrical stimulation that cause the pain and recorded changes of pain (100mm visual analogue scale), total respiratory time (sec), and tidal volume (mL) before and after the aromatherapy. They also recorded the pleasant score for both lavender odor and no odor treatment. According to the results, the lavender odor was more effective than no odor treatment for pain relief in both the informed and non-informed groups. But, the informed group shows more effective than the non-informed group. So, the researchers conclude that the placebo effect takes significant part of aromatherapy for analgesia(5).

However, the study carried limitations. The study was not the blind study to lavender odor and no odor treatments. Since the subjects can smell and determine the lavender odor, researchers could not examine the scientific effect of the lavender odor due to strong placebo effect alone. Researchers did not control for the placebo effect on subjects, so the study has lack of physiological evidence for aromatherapy.

CBS news argues aromatherapy is not a physiologically effective treatment for immune system, blood pressure, and wound or pain, especially with lavender oil, according to the study by Ohio State University(6). However, I believe lavender oil is good for analgesic effects because many studies have shown evidence of effective lavender aromatherapy. According to Kim et al’s study, patients who have undergone breast biopsy therapy were satisfied with controlling their pain by using lavender oil(7). Also, lavender oil reduces pain of pediatric patients with tonsillectomy. The pediatric patients used less analgesic medications with lavender oil(8). To have better results from lavender oil, patients should remember that the aromatherapy is more effective to people who believe efficacy of aromatherapy(5).

Personally aromatherapy with lavender oil has been effective at relieving stress.  As with every treatment, some populations need to be careful when using lavender aromatherapy. Patients who have a lavender allergy should not use lavender oil. Because lavender has a relaxation effect, patients who take anti-anxiety medications should ask their health-care provider before using lavender oil. Also, pregnant and breastfeeding women should ask their provider before using lavender. Applying lavender oil on the skin can cause skin irritation, so patients should avoid applying lavender oil on the open-wounds(9).

After this research, I wonder if the aroma odor is only effective, when a patient is pleasant to the odor? Does the therapy work independently with a patient’s pleasantness of the odor? If a patient does not like the odor, then is aromatherapy not effective? Or can it even make the symptoms worse?


[1] Ehrlich S. Aromatherapy. University of Maryland Medical Center. August 2011. Available


[2] Aromatherapy. The Free Dictionary. Available at http://medical-

[3] Enteen S. Aromatherapy and Massage. Massage Magazine. October 2011; 185:47.

[4] DrugInfo. Analgesic (Painkiller) Facts. January 2013. Available at

[5] Masaoka Y, Takayama M, Yajima H, Kawase A, Takakura N, Homma I. Analgesia Is

Enhanced by Providing Information regarding Good Outcomes Associated with an Odor: Placebo Effects in Aromatherapy?. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. May 2013; 2013:1-8.

[6] CBSNEWS. Aromatherapy Effectiveness Questioned. CBS. February 2009. Available at

[7] Kim JT, Wajda M, Cuff G, et al. Evaluation of Aromatherapy in Treating Postoperative

Pain: Pilot Study. Pain Practice. December 2006; 6(4):273-277.

[8] Soltani R, Bagheri M, Soheilipour S, Hajhashemi V, Asghari G. Molavi M. Evaluation of

the Effect of Aromatherapy with Lavender Essential Oil on Post-tonsillectomypain in Pediatric Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. September 2013; 77(9):1579-1581.

[9] Ehrlich S. Lavender. University of Maryland Medical Center. March 2011. Available at:


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