Lavender oil – skin savior or skin irritant?

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A question came up recently on TheBeautyBrains forum: Lavender oil in cosmetics – does it cause skin cell death, and is that a problem? This was in response to the description of “lavender extract and oil” on Paula Begoun’s Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary. Paula is known for her belief that fragrances, natural or synthetic, have no place in cosmetic products. Here are some random examples from her website: “Cedarwood oil: there is evidence that cedarwood oil is allergenic and can cause skin irritation. Rose oil: Fragrant, volatile oil that can be a skin irritant and sensitizer. Tangerine oil: Fragrant, volatile citrus oil that can be a skin irritant.” And so on. In her profile of lavender oil, she goes out of her way to find negative information, but is hard pressed to find anything positive to say:

Lavender: widely-used plant that’s a member of the mint family. It is primarily a fragrance ingredient, although it may have antibacterial properties. There is no research showing it has any benefit for skin (Sources: Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 301–308). In fact, it can be a skin irritant but there is a conflicting research on just how much of a photosensitizer lavender can be. It appears lavender oil all by itself isn’t a photosensitizer, but when exposed to oxygen (as it would be when applied to your skin), one of it’s fragrant components, linalyl acetate forms substances that lead to allergic contact dermatitis in and out of sunlight (Sources: The New Ideal in Skin Health: Separating Fact from Fiction, Thornfeldt, Carl M.D., Allured Books, 2010, pages 286–287; Contact Dermatitis, January 2008, pages 9–14; Hautarzt, February 2002, pages 93–97; and Contact Dermatitis, August 1999, page 111).

Research also indicates that other components of lavender, specifically linalool, can be cytotoxic, meaning that topical application causes skin-cell death (Source: Cell Proliferation, June 2004, pages 221–229). Lavender leaves contain camphor, which is known as a skin irritant. Because the fragrance constituents in lavender oil oxidize when exposed to air, lavender oil is pro-oxidant. This enhanced oxidation also increases its irritancy on skin (Source: Contact Dermatitis, September 2008, pages 143–150). Lavender oil is the most potent form, and even small amounts of it (0.25% or less) can be problematic. It is a must to avoid in skin-care products, but is fine used as an aromatherapy agent for inhalation or relaxation (Source: Psychiatry Research, February 2007, pages 89–96; and

Let’s take a look at these points one at a time.

“There is no research showing it has any benefit for skin”
Well, this was almost true in 2002, but not quite. Of the articles I’m about to cite, all except three were published either in 2002, or later. But today, this statement makes no sense. One of the early papers was on wound healing (Guba 1998/1999). A mixture of oils including 4% lavender oil was used on 18 patients with skin ulcers or wounds. In most cases the formulation was applied daily, and healing took from 5 days to 12 weeks. There were no adverse reactions. In an anti-allergic study, lavender oil, applied to the skin of rats or mice at 0.1%, 1.0%, 10% or 100%, inhibited immediate-type allergic reactions. It also inhibited the release of the inflammatory mediators, TNF and histamine (Kim & Cho 1999). In a clinical trial of 120 women post-childbirth, lavender oil sitz baths (a few drops in water) significantly reduced redness during healing after episiotomy (Vakilian et al 2011). Two other studies have reported positive effects for lavender oil in wound healing (Hartman & Coetzee 2002, Kerr 2002). No adverse reactions were reported in any of the above studies. Hartman & Coetzee also used lavender oil at 4%, and blue chamomile oil at 2%.

From Hartman & Coetzee (2002)

Lavender is one of the most active essential oils against MRSA (Edwards-Jones et al 2004), and the benefits of preventing MRSA establishing itself on your skin should not be underestimated. Lavender oil is moderately active against Propionibacterium acnes (Zu et al 2010), one the the principal bacteria involved in acne. It is moderately active against two of the principal fungi that can cause skin problems such as athlete’s foot and ringworm (Trycophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes) (Cassella et al 2002), and highly active against a third, Candida albicans (D’Auria et al 2005). The use of up to 0.5% of lavender oil in aqueous body milks allowed the regular synthetic preservative to be cut back by up to 8.5 times without any reduction in efficacy (Kunicka-Styczynska et al 2009). Lavender oil is very effective against some problematic bacteria and fungi found on the skin, but not all (Kunicka-Styczynska et al 2011, Sokovic et al 2010) so it would not be appropriate to use as a stand-alone preservative.

There is anecdotal evidence that lavender oil is a useful remedy for burns (Gattefossé 1993, p87). This is supported by the antimicrobial data above (i.e. preventing infection), and by the fact that lavender oil has a proven analgesic action (Ghelardini  et al 1999, Sakurada et al 2009). This action is mostly due to linalool, and may also explain why lavender oil reputedly soothes bee stings, something I can personally attest to. Burns too.

Ultra-violet (UV) radiation can damage the skin because it leads to the generation of free radicals. The body has a limited amount of protective antioxidant enzymes, and these enzymes tend to decrease with age, making the skin more vulnerable to oxidative stress. A Japanese study reported that lavender oil inhibited the generation of singlet oxygen, which causes the most damage in response to UVA/UVB radiation (Sakurai et al 2005). This suggests that the regular use of lavender oil in skin preparations could suppress the aging effects of sunlight on the skin. Lavender oil has shown excellent antioxidant activity in several assays (Yang et al 2010), suggesting that it could inhibit degenerative change such as skin cancer, sun damage and the effects of ageing. Linalool, one of the major constituents of lavender oil, has shown very good in vitro activity against human basal cell carcinoma (Cherng et al 2007) and a topically applied 10% dilution of linalool reduced skin tumor incidence in mice by 33% (Gould et al 1987).

So today we can say that the principal known benefits of using lavender oil on the skin are that of numbing pain and healing wounds (cuts, sores, abrasions, ulcers), and other probable benefits include preventing bacterial colonization, treating fungal infections, combating blemishes, preventing skin cancer, and countering the damaging effects of UV radiation (photo-ageing).

“There is a conflicting research on just how much of a photosensitizer lavender can be.”
There is no conflict. Perhaps Paula Begoun does not know the difference between phototoxicity and photoallergy. She also seems to have confused allergic reaction with phototoxicity. I know, dermatology jargon can be very confusing! Lavender oil is not photosensitizing on the skin (Opdyke 1976 p451), and linalyl acetate is neither a photoirritant nor a photoallergen (Bickers et al 2003). This means that there is no risk of an adverse reaction in strong sunlight, as there is with bergamot and some other citrus oils.

There is one report of photoallergy to lavender oil (Goiriz et al 2007). This is the only case of photoallergy to lavender oil ever reported, and photoallergy from essential oils is so rare that it can be discounted as a risk. This is not only a non-issue, it’s also ironic, considering lavender’s protective action in relation to UV radiation damage.


“When exposed to oxygen (as it would be when applied to your skin), one of it’s fragrant components, linalyl acetate forms substances that lead to allergic contact dermatitis in and out of sunlight.”
Lavender oil contains two major constituents in approximately equal amounts – linalool and linalyl acetate. Oxidation is actually more of a problem with linalool than with linalyl acetate, and it’s true that, over a period of months or years, lavender oil constituents can oxidize to hydroperoxides. These “oxidation products” are often slightly more skin-allergenic than the original compounds (which are virtually non-allergenic). However, oxidation is a very slow process – it does not happen in a few minutes while a product is sitting on your skin! To avoid the possibility of oxidation, I recommend that products containing lavender oil also include an added antioxidant. This is in line with the International Fragrance Association recommendation that essential oils high in linalool should include an antioxidant, such as the addition of 0.1% alpha-tocopherol (IFRA 2009). Even without an antioxidant, the shelf life of a lavender-containing product should be good for at least 12 months, so long as the essential oils were reasonably fresh when first used.

“Because the fragrance constituents in lavender oil oxidize when exposed to air, lavender oil is pro-oxidant. This enhanced oxidation also increases its irritancy on skin.”
This is partly true. It’s important to realize that in these tests, the essential oil is typically exposed to the air every day for a period of weeks or months. This scenario does not reflect real-world use of lavender oil, though it does show that oxidation will happen eventually. But Paula Begoun is wrong to label lavender oil as a pro-oxidant – it is not, it is an antioxidant that can itself eventually oxidize. That does not make it a pro-oxidant! Pro-oxidants cause oxidation. And, she uses “irritation” here when she means “allergenicity.” They are not the same thing, and the hydroperoxides that can form in lavender oil are potentially allergenic, not irritant.

Lavender leaves contain camphor, which is known as a skin irritant.”
This assertion smacks of desperation! Lavender oil contains less than 1% of camphor which, anyway, is only a mild irritant. If you have a product containing 1% lavender oil, then you will end up with less than 0.01% of camphor. Even if camphor was a powerful irritant, this would hardly be an issue.

“Research also indicates that other components of lavender, specifically linalool, can be cytotoxic, meaning that topical application causes skin-cell death.”
Here lies the fundamental claim of risk, which however is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Lavender oil was cytotoxic to human dermal fibroblasts and endothelial cells (skin cells) in vitro at concentrations greater than 0.125%. Linalool (35% of the oil sample) had similar toxicity to the essential oil, while linalyl acetate (51% of the oil sample) was more toxic. Membrane damage was thought to be the mechanism of toxicity (Prashar et al 2004). In this type of assay, the test substance is in direct contact with isolated cells in a petri dish. Without that direct contact, cell membrane damage will not take place at those low dilutions. It’s an in vitro test, and you can’t assume that the same effect will happen when you apply lavender oil to the skin, because the skin has a protective barrier: the stratum corneum. However, even if you applied lavender oil to broken skin, it would still not be equivalent to the test using isolated cells, because the dermis is a complex matrix of tissue that contains those cells.

Any type of in vitro test is only suggestive of a possible effect. You can never assume that the same effect will take place in the living body. It might, it might not. Either the cytotoxicity described above will manifest as irritation, or it will be so negligible as to have no importance. The most telling evidence is the fact that lavender oil has been successfully used in wound healing at 4%, with no adverse effects. Dermatological testing also reveals a lack of irritation. In a 48 hour occlusive patch test on 50 Italian volunteers, undiluted lavender oil produced no adverse reactions. Similarly tested at 1%, it produced no reactions in 273 eczema patients (Meneghini et al 1971). Undiluted lavender oil was slightly irritating to rabbit skin, but was not irritating to mouse or pig skin; tested at 10% on 25 healthy volunteers it was neither irritating nor sensitizing (Opdyke 1976 p451). So if there is any cytotoxicity, it’s not significant.

It is a must to avoid in skin-care products.
Skin allergies to lavender oil do happen occasionally, and I know of five cases (not cited here) in the dermatology literature, reported between 1986 and 2000. Considering that it is the most widely used essential oil in aromatherapy (global annual production about 200 tonnes), lavender oil allergy is extremely rare. And, although it is a very low-risk skin allergen (possibly only when oxidized), it is not an irritant. Nor are rose, cedarwood and tangerine. Undiluted lavender oil can work wonders on stings and blemishes, but it should not be applied to large areas of skin simply because it has a drying effect, due to rapid evaporation – the same reason that alcohol is drying.

If you don’t want to use lavender oil – or essential oils in general – that’s fine. But please, don’t mis-represent the science just so you can justify your world-view! Paula is right to draw attention to the possibility of lavender oil oxidation, but this is not a major problem, and is easy to avoid. To be super-safe, use undiluted lavender oil within 12 months of purchase, keep it cool and away from strong sunlight, and add an antioxidant to any product containing it (not needed in soaps).

If you search for negative effects you will surely find them, and it’s easy to become enmeshed in that negativity. I submit that the dermal benefits of lavender oil outweigh the risks to a considerable degree.

Bickers D, Calow P, Greim H et al 2003b A toxicologic and dermatologic assessment of linalool and related esters when used as fragrance ingredients. Food & Chemical Toxicology 41:919-942

Cassella S, Cassella JP, Smith I 2002 Synergistic antifungal activity of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oils against dermatophyte infection. The International Journal of Aromatherapy 12(1):2-15

Cherng J-M, Shieh D-E, Chiang W 2007 Chemopreventive effects of minor dietary constituents in common foods on human cancer cells. Bioscience, Biotechnology & Biochemistry 71:1500-1504

D’Auria FD, Tecca M, Strippoli V et al 2005 Antifungal activity of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil against Candida albicans yeast and mycelial form. Medical Mycology 43:391-396

Edwards-Jones V, Buck R, Shawcross SG et al 2004  The effect of essential oils on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus using a dressing model. Burns 30:772-777

Gattefossé RM 1993 Gattefossé’s aromatherapy.  CW Daniel, Saffron Walden

Ghelardini C, Galeotti N, Salvatore G et al 1999 Local anaesthetic activity of the essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia. Planta Medica 65:700-703

Goiriz R, Delgado-Jimenez Y, Sanchez-Perez J et al 2007 Photoallergic contact dermatitis from lavender oil in topical ketoprofen. Contact Dermatitis 57:381-382

Gould MN, Malzman TH, Tanner MA et al 1987 Anticarcinogenic effects of terpenoids in orange peel oil. Proceedings of the 78th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research 28:153

Guba R 1998/1999 Wound healing: a pilot study using an essential oil-based cream to heal dermal wounds and ulcers. The International Journal of Aromatherapy 9(2):67-74

Hartman D, Coetzee JC 2002 Two US practitioners’ experience of using essential oils for wound care. Journal of Wound Care 11(8):317-320

IFRA 2009 Standards, including amendments as of October 14th 2009. International Fragrance Association, Brussels.

Kerr J 2002 The use of essential oils in wound healing. The International Journal of Aromatherapy 12(4):202-206

Kim HM, Cho SH 1999 Lavender oil inhibits immediate-type allergic reaction in mice and rats. Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmacology 51:221-226

Kunicka-Styczyńska A, Sikora M, Kalemba D 2009 Antimicrobial activity of lavender, tea tree and lemon oils in cosmetic preservative systems. Journal of Applied Microbiology 107:1903-1911

Kunicka-Styczyńska A, Sikora M, Kalemba D 2011 Lavender, tea tree and lemon oils as antimicrobials in washing liquids and soft body balms. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 33:53-61

Meneghini CL, Rantuccio F, Lomuto M 1971 Additives, vehicles and active drugs of topical medicaments as causes of delayed-type allergic dermatitis. Dermatologica 143:137-147

Opdyke DL J 1976 Monographs on fragrance raw materials. Food & Cosmetics Toxicology 14 supplement

Prashar A, Locke IC, Evans CS 2004 Cytotoxicity of lavender oil and its major components to human skin cells. Cell Proliferation 37:221-229

Sakurada T, Kuwahata H, Katsuyama S et al 2009 Intraplantar injection of bergamot essential oil into the mouse hindpaw: effects on capsaicin-induced nociceptive behaviors. International Review of Neirobiology 85:237-248

Sakurai H, Yasui H, Yamada Y et al 2005 Detection of reactive oxygen species in the skin of live mice and rats exposed to UVA light: a research review on chemiluminescence and trials for UVA protection. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences 4:715-720

Soković M, Glamočlija J, Marin PD et al 2010 Antibacterial effects of the essential oils of commonly consumed medicinal herbs using an in vitro model. Molecules 15:7532-7546

Vakilian K, Atarha M, Bekhradi R et al 2011 Healing advantages of lavender essential oil during episiotomy recovery: a clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 17:50-53

Yang SA, Jeon SK, Lee EJ et al 2010 Comparative study of the chemical composition and antioxidant activity of six essential oils and their components. Natural Product research 24:140-151

Zu Y, Yu H, Liang L et al 2010 Activities of ten essential oils towards Propionibacterium acnes and PC-3, A-549 and MCF-7 cancer cells. Molecules 15:3200-3210

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By |2018-04-24T20:26:06+00:00August 25th, 2011|Aromatherapy / Research, Myth-busting, Rants, Safety|56 Comments

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  1. Katharine Koeppen August 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    This post was of particular interest to me because for the past year or so, I’ve seen and been puzzled by multiple references to lavender as a phototoxic essential oil. I’ve wondered where on earth that misinformation originated.

    To add to your comments about EO allergies, in 15 years of clinical practice, I’ve met only one person who was truly allergic to lavender EO. He also had dermal and respiratory allergic reactions to lavender plants.

  2. Marge Clark August 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I know of three people, myself being one of them, sensitized to Lavender. In my case it was from unwise neat usage on broken skin almost 20 years ago..when ‘everyone said’ you could use lavender oil neat, and it would heal wounds. Another case is, again, someone in the industry, exposed to it constantly. (Work at home soap and toiletries makers can run into far more problems than the ‘normal public”.) HOWEVER I totally agree with the comments above. Saying that lavender (and all the other lovely and HELPFUL) oils should be banned from toiletries and cosmetics is insane. Of course, since we legally can not point out the skincare benefits of the oils as “active ingredients” (lest we be accused of selling drugs) the field is open to the naysayers like Ms. Begoun.

  3. Robert Tisserand August 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for your comment Katharine. I think it has to originate from that one report of photoallergy (an allergic reaction to the oil triggered by sunlight). But it’s crazy how information can get distorted.

  4. Robert Tisserand August 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I appreciate your feedback Marge. I’m allergic to cinnamon bark & cassia, but don’t seem to react from oral ingestion.

  5. Marge Clark August 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    And cinnamon bark and cassia are known sensitizers, so allergies to them are to be expected. thank goodness it doesn’t interfere with your ability to eat cinnamon rolls!!! (’cause it could…that’s one of the risks of sensitization.) I’m hoping Ms. Lynda, one of the others sensitized to lavender will chime in here.

  6. Robert Tisserand August 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Well, not so much cinnamon rolls, as occasional self-treatment for respiratory/viral infection!

  7. Terese Miller August 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks Robert for publishing this very enlightening piece. I so appreciate your taking this particular nay-sayer on in your always thorough scientific manner. As a Certified Aromatherapist I am frequently asked about statements my clients ( or potential clients) come across by the self appointed “Quack Watch” types. Without rebuttal from an impeachable source such as yourself it is very difficult to adequately erase the fears that are so powerfully placed in the minds of the consumer.

  8. Joanne Lang August 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have never understood why this woman has such an issue with essential oils in skin care products, I thought the original concept for her books to be good but would never buy or recommend her books after reading her opinion on e.o.s It is a shame that so many people will believe her and never get to see what you have written here. Keep up the good work.

  9. Lucy August 27, 2011 at 5:54 am

    Well written Robert! You do great work meticulously reading research, interpreting data and clearing up confusion that is backed by poor science (if any science). I applaud you for taking the time to clear things up and mostly for saying something. See you again in Miami.

  10. Julie Nelson August 27, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Thanks Robert, I love your blogs and will share this on My FB page. To date I have not had any complaints from any of my clients in regards to lavender and use it frequently neat on myself, family and animals with excellent results.

  11. Ann Wooledge August 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Thanks Robert once again for this. I swear I have a BIG note on my to do list to specifically take all of Paula Begoun’s negative comments about essential oils and address each one. Not only have you done that with lavender, you’ve done it with your usual thoroughness and credibility. Plus your blog will get read by a lot more people than mine!! Your two conferences coming up sound amazing and it just makes me excited to see someone (you) addressing these issues and showing how powerfully effective essential oils are. Thanks again for all you do.

  12. Tanya LaMothe August 28, 2011 at 1:14 am

    Robert thank you for this information. These claims are such a “stretch”, we are so fortunate to have you sharing and sorting through the true essential oil research. I enjoy reading all of the information you have been publishing as too many of these articles are misleading the public on the safety of “true aromatherapy”. There are so many large cosmetic companies and uneducated distributors out there who do not have our best interest at heart, so challenging this science is understandable. I teach the people in my community about the beauty, on all levels, of essential oil therapy, and it is great to have more info at hand to share.

  13. Boris - MuLondon August 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Dear Robert,

    Thanks for another fantastic article. I love your common sense approach. I have used Lavender oil for years, and can vouch for its efficacy and safety for everything from burns, sunburns and cuts to headache and bruises. It’s my number one essential oil, and I never travel anywhere without it.

  14. Theresa Le August 28, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I really enjoyed this article and I appreciate your research, thoughtful analysis, and breaking it all down for us. Lavender is my favorite, and I use this essential oil in so many ways, not only in my beauty product formulations but also in my house for its soothing therapeutic benefits. A true gift from nature.

  15. Lila Avery-Fuson September 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Bravo Robert! Your work and scientific stamina are an amazing gift to all of us. Thank you for taking such an inspiring position within this article. It is just a shame to have data and science interpreted incorrectly in the EO world. As a lavender farmer and distiller of lavender essential oils I applaud your brilliance! We do and will continue to formulate our therapeutic essentials with the use of lavender essential oil just as it has been done for centuries with great success. Blessings Robert, Lila

  16. Ela September 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Dear Robert,

    Aromatherapy is interested me for some time and I took some courses, including courses for making soaps.
    My question is:
    what do you advice when EO (for example:lavender, lemon, sweet orange, geranium..)is used in making handmade soaps? Is it also safe for kids and pregnant women?
    Also, what is Your opinion – can man educate him self based on books, like Yours and for example Baudoux?
    Best regards from Croatia, Europe

  17. Robert Tisserand September 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Hi Ela, the only significant potential risk with using essential oils in soap is adverse skin reactions, and this applies to everyone. Though statistically, women are more likely to have an adverse reaction than men. If you avoid cassia, cinnamon bark, clove and lemongrass you can’t go far wrong. All the oils you mention are fine to use, though citrus oils don’t have much fragrance impact in soap.

  18. Mia September 30, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Oh, finally someone that highlights the many mistakes of this woman! I always knew she was incredibly wrong, reading her “cosmetic ingredients dictionary” makes me feel sick. Totally lacks of information, sometimes, she just makes assumptions, like in rose oil, for example, there is no evident research, not even a link to prove that she found this information on somewhere, she just based what she puts on it on what she believes. I’m glad you’re here to clear up everything. Certainly, you’re the expert.


  19. Rachel Christy January 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    You mention that linalool is more prone to oxidation than linalyl acetate. Is this because linalool is an alcohol? If so, should an antioxidant be added to any blend that contains an EO from the alcohol family?

  20. Robert Tisserand January 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Rachel -no, alcohols are not prone to oxidation in general, the main problematic group is monoterpenes.

  21. D. KNIGHTON January 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you. I had been avoiding products with lavender, linalool, limonene etc., ever since I caught an episode of Dr. Oz warning of the dangers of fragraces in cosmetics some time ago. I’ve come to realize the Oz show goes for sensationalism and stopped watching it some time ago – seems to breed paranoia.
    Today I finally got around to doing my own research and came across your page amongst others and have decided to reclaim my favorite products with the “offending oils”. Again thank you.

  22. Bernadette March 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    i have just used lavender oil on my legs and my hands feel as if someone has injected me with a numbness cream i can hardly use myhands for the last two hours..i only massaged it on my legs after the gym?

  23. Robert Tisserand March 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Bernadette – did you use undiluted lavender oil?

  24. Valéria March 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Once I burned my finger while making lunch. Placed immediately in the lavender oil, and after a few minutes I felt great relief in pain. That has been my experience with the Spike Lavender

  25. Heather August 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    I love lavender essence and can usually use it in body care products, but whenever I have applied a skincare product that contains lavender on my face, I get red itchy skin and develop cystic acne. It’s not limited to one brand either. All brands with real lavender essence give me this reaction. I cut all lavender out of my face care products years ago and have been pretty much fine ever since, until a couple months ago when I bought a sachet of goat milk and oat powder scented with lavender and geranium essential oil. I made the mistake of dunking part of my head in the bath water… sure enough, horrible cyst like pimples. Anyhow, sorry for the long story- I believe that Paula is over the top, but what would you call my reaction? Irritation? Allergy? There are other ingredients that do this to me as well. I can’t even use a cleanser that lathers, even if it’s promoted as being ultra gentle- like Purpose. It’a really annoying. I’ve asked a dermatologist, but they just say things like, “good thing you figured out what works” and offer no explanation.

  26. robert August 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Hi Heather, I’m sorry to hear this. It does sound as if you are allergic to lavender oil. Did you use the powdered sachet in a bath? If so, was it only the skin of your face that was affected? Do you get hives – lots of tiny, clear, blister-like pimples? If so, this sounds like immediate contact urticaria, which is a type of allergic reaction, but not the one usually seen with essential oils, which is delayed contact hypersensitivity. Foaming agents tend to be irritants more than allergens. It would be unfortunate – for you – but would make sense if you had irritant reactions to some/most foaming agents. Confusingly, irritants can precipitate allergic reactions too.

    Do you think your skin might react to other essential oils, or just lavender?

    In your situation, the usual advice is to avoid using all skin-contact products for a couple of weeks, and then re-introduce them one by one, in order to identify what causes adverse reactions. But it sound like to know what to avoid.

  27. Conrad Zimmerman August 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    O.K. The fragrant components of Lavender Oil have no place in skin care products, period. Why use Lavender oil when there are so much more beneficial ingredients that help and heal skin/wounds etc that have a plethora of research behind them. It’s akin to eating white bread, why do it?

    Paula Begoun has been a serious researcher for over thirty years in the way skin care/cosmetic products are formulated. There are so many products on the market, organic, natural, approved by some bio dynamic leading company etc all claiming to turn back the aging game or at least address concerns of the skin, tell me Robert, which one works?

  28. robert August 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Hi Conrad. Why do you say that the fragrant components of lavender oil have no place in skin are products? You say this with zeal, but present neither rationale nor evidence. I think it’s fair to say that I have already presented a very good case for the defense. Did you understand anything I said in my post?

    You seem to be asking me which of the hundreds of “natural” skin care products sold either counteracts the effects of aging, or addresses some other skin care problem. That’s a big question, and I can’t give you a comprehensive answer (nor am I sure what this has to do with lavender oil) but I have a suspicion that whatever I say you won’t believe me!

  29. Conrad Zimmerman August 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Lavender Oil is in many natural/organic skin creams etc, that the companies themselves do not tell us what the benefits of lavender oil will do topically for my skin. They don’t give us answers, who are we to believe?

    I am a big believer in aromatherapy actually and find it extremely relaxing and recommended it strongly to a close friend who died of cancer. When it comes to skin care my point is that there are many ingredients that ‘out do’ the supposed benefits of lavender oil. Variety’s sake is what I place Lavender Oil under. Aromatherapy I love for my nose, not my skin! Looking at all the ‘green power’ people at the farmers markets just tells you straight away what proper care they are taking care of their skin.

  30. Jamie White February 2, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Robert, thank you so much for this article. Conrad, let’s not forget that Paula Begoun is pushing her own products while simultaneously bashing most others. The exception being those that are produced by the big boys, like P&G. Coincidence? I think not. If you want to know the truth about skincare, head to the chemistry library at any university. Make decisions based on how your skin reacts to products. Paula Begoun is a smart business woman, not God.

  31. Frannie March 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this very interesting and scientifically substantiated article. I agree with many of the others posts here that Ms. Begoun is not an unbiased expert in skincare, as she claims to be. Does she in fact have ANY formal education relating to her field? I have read all of her books and used almost all of her products and find that she is indeed more of a clever business woman than an expert at anything. Having a background in medicine myself, I have on countless occasions read the actual scientific research articles cited by Ms. Begoun to justify her product reviews and have found that in almost every instance Ms. Begoun is just plain misinterpreting the research to make it appear that her opinions are correct. It it quite obvious to me that she has a very poor understanding at best of the many research articles she cites, and her reviews are thus very misleading and unnecessarily negative in many instances. Over the last decade it has become clear to me that her main objective is to sell her own brand of products, which I have stopped using because most of her products have had price hikes of up to 250-300% while the amount of product has been decreased by 50% or more, and the formulations have hardly changed from what she offered a decade ago. The only change has been to the packaging. How is that business strategy better for my skin? It’s not, which is why I no longer use her products or give credit to her reviews, although I commend her cleverness at carving out her niche in the marketplace so cleverly.

  32. rose April 7, 2013 at 3:22 am

    I have just started using lavender massage oil to do sinus face massages. I followed a tutorial online and just used my standard back massage oil from Weleda as I didn’t want to be too rough on my under eye skin area. Adult acne on my jaw line, which I have been suffering from since…forever, has cleared up! I got some spots a week later, I put on some lavender massage oil and they have healed in the space of a day. I’m quite in awe that nobody ever suggested I try this before! My family suffers from eczema and skin allergies and I haven’t had any horrible allergic type reactions I get with using prescription topical solutions and washes etc, no weird eye swelling or peeling, it’s actually incredible! Thank you lavender!

  33. Terrie Conrad July 27, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for the scientific information. Paula also strongly states that peppermint oil in lipgloss is damaging to the skin. Do you have any information on that?

  34. robert July 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Terrie, I don’t know exactly what Paula has said about peppermint oil, but I suspect I’m not going to agree. The dermatological science on peppermint oil points to a very low risk of adverse skin reactions, and the very wide use of peppermint in candy and gum is not matched by a significant number of adverse reaction reports either. I have only seen three such reports in the literature. If you flag a substance as an allergen every time there are one or two reports, then you might as well just assume that everything is an allergen.

  35. Terrie Conrad July 28, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Robert, thank you for the reply. I do agree with you.

  36. Abbadabba February 20, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Thank you for this! I have gone back and forth between Paula’s website and Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics website, trying to figure out which cosmetics are the best for my skin. Paula says lavender is bad, but many of the products EWG lists as “low risk” contain lavender. Very frustrating!

  37. Conrad Zimmerman February 23, 2014 at 7:22 am

    If she is so damned wrong about Lavender Oil, why not write to the lady and further the discussion? I’m sure she would be more than happy to rebut. Paula Begoun may not be a cosmetic chemist, she may not have an intense medical background yet the very core message of her brand is to use ingredients that science has proven is effective in maintaining, treating and protecting a healthy skin barrier.

    I ask all of you where is the harm in that approach? She only critiques other brands simply due to the fact that they have no consistency and do not bother to educate the consumer on what it is they are putting on their skin. What is the point of using a product that contains ingredients that are known irritants, are bland and not elegantly formulated or simply have no benefit for skin regardless if you experience irritation from it or not?
    That lazy, inattentive mindset is akin to someone smoking for half of their life, not getting lung cancer and continuing to do so because hey they’re feeling fine.

    Frannie it is sad you have left using Paula Begoun’s products because it is one of the few simple, comprehensive skin care brands out there that make it their business to educate, inform and gather a wide number of people who are sick of the claims coming from overpaid dermatologists(this surprised me), homemade all natural certified organic products as well as the holistic, transcendental, holy miracles that hundreds upon hundreds of Spa therapy and New Age guru health practitioners love to preach about.

    I have yet to see other brands like Paulas Choice that continue to intensely critique the very core of the beauty industry. To question it’s roots, it’s lies and false promises. If this is a crime then I have no hope for the people on this page who refuse to see otherwise.

  38. robert February 23, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Conrad, I don’t think I have anywhere criticized Paula’s products, but perhaps you were not referring to me. All I’m saying is that Paula’s belief that essential oils in general should never be used in cosmetic products on the basis that they are irritants, is not supported by clinical evidence. In the case of lavender oil she cites one in vitro study and the point of my blog post was to explain why this is, to say the least, a narrow-minded view.

  39. Bailey March 3, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Your article was very interesting, but I will tell you that I am in fact one of the very few cases of someone with a lavender allergy. I had been having allergic reactions over the past 10 years or so where I would break out in hives in random places (seemingly) on my body that would take several days to weeks to disappear. The reactions would only happen occasionally though so I wasn’t too concerned. After several reactions happened in a row, I did some research on skin care products I had been using during the occurrences and realized that lavender oil was a common factor. I looked back at some skin care products (lotion, face wash, moisturizer etc etc) that I had used in the past and sure enough they too contained lavender oil. After cutting lavender oil out of my life for about the past 3 years (I read a lot of labels now), I have been allergic reaction free! That is until about a week ago when my face broke out and I came to find that a new makeup product I had purchased had lavender oil in it! I’m not saying lavender oil should be banned from skin care products but I will say that I am alarmed at how many products that contain lavender oil are marked as “gentle, calming, soothing, hypoallergenic etc”….my skin begs to differ! As long as I can read the ingredient list though and avoid it I am fine with it…in fact I do miss using lavender scented products as I always liked the scent.

  40. robert March 10, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Thank you Bailey, I’m pleased to hear you figured out what was causing your skin problems and thank you for telling your story. Skin allergy is one of the risks with essential oils. At least it’s not fatal (as peanut allergy can be) and how we deal with it in terms of labeling and warning is an ongoing issue. Lavender oil contains two major constituents – linalool and linalyl acetate. If you are allergic to one of these, then you might also react to some other essential oils, such as clary sage, petitgrain or coriander.

  41. Conrad Zimmerman March 22, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you for clarifying Robert I understand this point of view there are so many types of Lavender I believe so it does not seem a scientifically sound claim for her to make. What future do you see for essential oils in skin care?

  42. robert March 24, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Hi Conrad, I think the future for essential oils in skin care partly depends on where you live. In Europe, legislation is increasingly restrictive, and in 5-10 years we may see very few essential oils being used in any personal care products, including fragrances. If other countries follow Europe’s lead, the future does not look great. Which is a shame, because essential oils have a great deal to offer in terms of skin health and hygiene.

  43. Maya April 6, 2014 at 4:24 am

    What a great article, thank you for clearing this issue up. As a long-time follower of Paula’s “research based” advice on essential oils, I’m relieved to know that I no longer need to take her word as gospel, which opens up a whole new world of options. Just curious, do you feel that there are any essential oils commonly found in skin care products that should be best avoided due to a high risk of skin irritation? Thank you!

  44. robert April 8, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Maya, the oils most likely to irritate the skin are thyme and oregano, but they are still non-irritant if used at less than 1% concentration in a product.

  45. Vivien April 13, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Robert:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been reading and also confused by Paula’s reviews of tons of products out there. I use some of her own products, but I can testify that not all her “irritants-free” products are safe for the skin; so can lots of reviews by customers of her own products on her website. Especially her AHA and BHA products – they definitely ravaged my skin. I also find that her reviews are extremely polemical and condescending. And yes–too desperate to prove her preferences and views are correct. Your post if very educating for me, as I have been terrified to some extent by Paula’s reviews and have tried to avoid using essential oil containing cosmetic products.

  46. Tim Byrne April 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    If someone goes out in the sun too soon after putting on some photosensitive essential citrus oils, what is recommended to get rid of the burn and rash. Is aloe good for this? Please help. (bergamot was the oil)

  47. robert April 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    First, do not allow the skin to be exposed to sunlight for about 2 weeks. Second, do not apply any essential oils at all. Third, apply fresh aloe vera if available.

  48. Sue May 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    There are many reasons to be aware of the affects of volatile, fragrant essential oils . . . Paula Begoun does her research and I have followed up on quite a bit of it to my satisfaction.


    Have any side effects or risks been reported from aromatherapy?
    Safety testing on essential oils shows very few bad side effects or risks when they are used as directed. Some essential oils have been approved as ingredients in food and are classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, within specific limits. Swallowing large amounts of essential oils is not recommended.
    Allergic reactions and skin irritation may occur in aromatherapists or in patients, especially when essential oils are in contact with the skin for long periods of time. Sun sensitivity may develop when citrus or other oils are applied to the skin before sun exposure.
    Lavender and tea tree oils have been found to have some hormone -like effects. They have effects similar to estrogen (female sex hormone) and also block or decrease the effect of androgens (male sex hormones). Applying lavender and tea tree oils to the skin over a long period of time has been linked in one study to breast enlargement in boys who have not yet reached puberty. It is recommended that patients with tumors that need estrogen to grow avoid using lavender and tea tree oils.

  49. robert May 9, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Sue, thank you for drawing my attention to the National Cancer Institute website. I would agree with the first two paragraphs, but their opinion on lavender, tea tree and hormone effects is erroneous, as this has now been thoroughly debunked. See and

  50. Julie May 11, 2014 at 5:09 am

    Hi Robert
    I recently attended a meeting of promoters of Young Living Essential Oils
    They recommend ingesting and applying undiluted to skin oils like clove cinnamon myrrh etc I found them irritating to the mucous membranes of mouth and little blisters formed on skin. They claim that the oils unblock receptors on cell walls and clear and dissolve xeno-oestrogens in the body. They claim ledum celery and helichrysum detox mercury from the body etc etc
    Can you please comment on these claims?

  51. robert May 17, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Hi Julie, well certainly undiluted clove and cinnamon oils will cause irritation or sensitization in some people, whether on skin or mucous membrane.

    Unblocking receptors on cell walls sounds to me like a quaint and very strange idea. I was not aware that receptor sites could become “blocked” in the first place. Certainly there’s no evidence that any essential oils have such effects.

    As for “dissolving” xeno-estrogens or clearing mercury from the body – these are baseless ideas. There is no evidence to support such effects for essential oils.

  52. Teri June 1, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Thank you so much for a well-written and researched article. I was just reading a review at Paula’s website for a skin serum I had purchased, when I had a cause to pause and check out her claim that lavender oil was skin damaging (contrary to what I had heard). Here’s what I read: “the main reason this didn’t earn a better rating is because it contains skin-damaging lavender oil. See More Info to find out why lavender oil is an ingredient to avoid. What a shame, as this has so much going for it.” Anyway, it was good to find out the why’s of this mis-information. I’ll be using that skin serum after all. : )

  53. August June 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Lavender works really well on me. It super speeds healing better than anything else I’ve found. I have experimented enough to rule out coincidence. If I get really bad sunburn and put lavender on it then it is gone by the next day. I don’t particularly like the smell of it but it works so well. I was stung several times tonight and put lavender on less than an hour ago. The swelling is going down and the redness is gone.

  54. FoxCuteness March 8, 2016 at 3:11 am

    It almost sounds like Conrad Zimmerman is a sales associate for Paula’s choice.

    I’ve had really bad acne along my chin before and using lavender oil for a little while relieved ALOT of it and made my skin so much clearer. Right now I’m treating my facial eczema with it and it’s already prevented me from scratching because I no longer itch from it. It is VERY drying I’ll admit, but I would not recommend listening to Paula unless you’re allergic to lavender or any kind of extracted plant oil.

  55. diana April 4, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for explaining this thoroughly. I came across your post after reading Paula’s review on a product with lavender oil. We all have different skin reactions and I’m glad my skin likes lavender. It works and I love it as aromatherapy too. 🙂

  56. Dana September 5, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    Thank you. I love essential oils and will taking courses to come a certified aromatherapist. I, like others, have Paula’s book “Don’t go to the cosmetic counter without me.” It is my go to before buying guide. The cosmetic companies are out to make money and have been getting away with outlandish claims for decades. To have such a person as Paula, and her team, review products, list all the ingredients save the consumer time an money. To which we are grateful. I found your site today because as I am studying up on ingredients currently in my products I turned to Paula’s book and found the page you are referrring. I was taken back and perplexed so I googled Lavendar Oil Effects and started clicking on links. I found yours to be open minded and not bashing Paula’s claim but you take a more scientific approach. So thank you for your enligtenment and I will be reading more of posts.

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