Last Updated on August 14th, 2019
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about using lavender oil for acne because we still don’t totally understand how lavender oil affects the body. However, even without knowing its exact mechanism of action, we are still able to determine its effectiveness in treating acne. Overall, lavender can help reduce acne in several ways, though it is not ideal for everyone. In a very small percentage of people, it can cause something called allergic contact dermatitis, and if you have a condition somewhat similar to acne, called rosacea, it can make the condition worse. Still, for many people, lavender oil has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties that can all help reduce their acne.
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Lavender aromatherapy is typically used for relief from stress and anxiety rather than acne treatment, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help your skin as well. Research shows that lavender really can reduce stress and anxiety because it directly affects the autonomic nervous system1, which is in charge of all of our automatic functions like heart rate and breathing. Lavender oil slows down these processes, lulling our body into a sense of calm.
How can this help acne? Well, research shows that stress and acne are related, and in times of increased stress, acne severity also tends to increase2. This may be because of the increased inflammation that typically comes with increased anxiety, but dermatologists still can’t say for sure. By using lavender oil aromatherapy, you can reduce your stress and in turn reduce any potential stress-related breakouts.
If aromatherapy isn’t your thing, or if your acne isn’t stress-related, you can still use lavender oil for acne by applying it topically, that is, directly to your skin. There are two major ways topical lavender oil can help reduce acne: inflammation reduction and quicker wound healing.
Reducing inflammation is one of the best ways to get clear skin because it prevents acne from forming in the first place. Although acne-causing bacteria and excess oil production can both contribute to acne, acne is primarily an inflammatory skin condition. Whenever the skin becomes inflamed, often through minor illness or irritation, the pores constrict, trapping oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria inside, where they form acne. This is why we recommend gentle products for even the most stubborn of acne, because if you use harsh products that irritate your skin, you could cause inflammation which will only continue the cycle of acne. Lavender oil, when used correctly, is a gentle option that helps break this cycle by reducing inflammation. Dermatologists aren’t yet sure how exactly lavender oil reduces inflammation, but according to one study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, lavender essential oil successfully inhibited the acute inflammatory response3, likely due to the way it influences nitrogen oxide, cytokines, and histamine.
Topical lavender oil can also impact acne in one other key way: by speeding up the wound healing process. It might sound a bit extreme to call a pimple a wound, but technically all acne lesions are types of minor wounds, and require healing. Studies in rats have shown lavender oil to be effective in speeding up the wound healing process4, which is good for acne for two reasons. First, the quicker acne lesions are healed, the quicker you will have clear skin, and second, speedy wound healing helps prevent the formation of acne scars.
When looking for the best acne treatment, many people look for ingredients with antibacterial properties, because pimples and cysts are caused in part by bacteria, specifically, p. acnes bacteria. P. acnes aren’t inherently bad; in fact, they always live on the surface of our skin as a natural part of our bacterial biome. However, if a minor infection is triggered, acne is often the result. Because p. acnes feed on the oil our skin produces, excess oil production can lead to a spike in their numbers, which then leads to an infection and increased pimples or cysts, and if p. acnes get trapped in a pore due to inflammation, an infection can start there and cause pimples and/or cysts as well. Sometimes the best way to deal with these problems is through reducing inflammation or oil production, but other times, it’s necessary to kill some p. acnes to get the problem under control.
If you’re looking for natural acne solutions, you’re in luck because many essential oils have antibacterial properties, including lavender oil. According to one study in the scientific journal, Molecules, lavender oil at a .25% concentration can kill p. acnes in a matter of minutes5. Because of this, topical application of lavender oil could significantly reduce the number of p. acnes present on the skin, thus reducing the number of pimples and cysts present as well.
It might sound like lavender oil is the answer to all of your skin care problems, but before you go out and buy all the lavender oil you can get your hands on, remember that there’s no such thing as a miracle cure, and every treatment comes with a drawback or two. For lavender oil, the biggest problem is its ability to cause something called allergic contact dermatitis.
Remember before, when we said one way lavender oil might reduce inflammation is through affecting the body’s histamines? Well, for some people, this can cause a problem called allergic contact dermatitis. This is a skin condition where contact with a specific substance causes an allergic reaction that results in a rash called dermatitis. It’s typically cured by simply discontinuing use of the substance that causes the reaction, but the longer it takes to find out what’s causing the reaction, the longer the dermatitis can last. It was once believed that lavender oil seriously harmed skin cells, and caused allergic contact dermatitis in a large number of people who used it, but more recent research has found that only 2% of people who use lavender oil experience allergic contact dermatitis6. That is still higher than some other acne treatment options, but it is not nearly as big a problem as many used to believe.
Additionally, if you have rosacea, a condition that sometimes appears similar to acne, but actually requires very different treatments, lavender oil can make the condition much worse. Essential oils in general are usually a bad idea for treating rosacea and should be avoided.
One of the best parts of natural acne remedies is that you can mix and match them to suit your skin’s needs, and lavender oil is no exception. If you decide you want to give topical lavender oil for acne a try, we recommend starting with this basic DIY face mask, and adding ingredients based on your skin type, as recommended below.
Combine one tablespoon of raw honey (you can tell it’s raw by checking the ingredient label; the only thing that should be listed is “honey”) with two drops of lavender oil. It’s important to limit yourself to only one or two drops, because in high concentrations, lavender oil is much more likely to irritate or even burn the skin, which is definitely not good for acne. For relatively normal skin, these are the only two ingredients you need, but if you have particularly oily, sensitive, or dry skin, you can add one of our optional ingredients as well. Oily skin may want to add one teaspoon of yogurt, because the lactic acid it contains can help get rid of excess oil. Those with sensitive skin should add one teaspoon of freshly made green tea to help soothe the skin and prevent any potential irritation. Finally, dry skin should mix in one teaspoon of jojoba oil, to provide extra moisture and protection. Apply the mixture evenly to the skin and allow it to set for half an hour. Once time is up, gently wash the mask away using warm water.
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