As a popular fragrance with long roots in traditional medicine, lavender is renowned for its calming and soothing properties. In fact, you might have read that it’s a balm for itchy skin and that it may have special hair health properties.
For those of us dealing with dandruff (flaking of the scalp), that may sound too good to be true. But is it really a good idea to include lavender in your hair care routine? The truth is, lavender can be an effective tool in helping to manage an itchy, inflamed scalp…but only if you know how to use it properly.
In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that. But first, let’s break down some basics about this healing plant, and a bit more about the science behind dandruff.
What is lavender?
We imagine most people are familiar with the scent of lavender. Even if you can’t identify the plant, you’re likely to recognize its distinctive fragrance around late spring or early summer during its blooming season.
The plant genus Lavandula
Stay with us, here. We’re about to get a little nerdy. Promise it’ll pay off.
What most people casually call lavender can be any of several dozen plants from the genus Lavandula. These flowering plants are used in cooking and gardening as well as for their lovely scent and healing properties. And of course, lavender blooms inspired the name for the popular pale purple color.
Lavandula angustifolia, usually called “English lavender” or “true lavender,” and Lavandula intermedia, sometimes called Lavandin, are the most frequently cultivated species of lavender.
The Lavandula genus is part of the mint family. That’s unsurprising when you think about it - the plant’s unmistakable aroma combines the bracing herbal character of mint with a mellower, subtle floral component. It’s a perfect balance most people find mildly refreshing and remarkably relaxing.
For most people, lavender’s scent is utterly recognizable because it’s used in so many common household and personal care products and aromatherapy experiences. From scented candles to hand lotion, laundry detergent to deodorant, lavender has become synonymous with products that aim to soothe, as they settle and subdue both body and mind.
Lavender essential oil
Lavender appears in most home and body care products as an essential oil. Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts created through a distillation process or through mechanical pressing.
Lavender essential oil, also simply called lavender oil, is generally made through steam distillation. Fun fact: it takes more than 200 pounds of lavender flowers to create a single pound of lavender essential oil!
Lavender’s modern uses
In some cleaning products, like dish detergents, lavender essential oil provides a pleasant smell that’s less harsh than many other cleaning products. The presence of this plant known for its soothing properties often helps to signify a gentler, more natural product formulation, while also creating a more relaxing home environment through its aromatherapeutic power.
Products like candles and perfumes made with dried lavender share the scent for its own sake. Dried buds are also used in lavender tea, and the plant is used generally as a culinary herb as well, most often in baking.
In other products, like body lotions, soaps, and shampoos, lavender soothes through more than scent. The plant contains compounds known to help calm the skin. (More on that shortly.)
All of these modern applications are a continuation of lavender’s centuries-long role in herbal remedies and cosmetics. And it turns out, there’s some good science to back up this tradition.
Let’s dive into some scalp health basics.
Scalp health 101
Dandruff, the flaking that happens when your scalp becomes irritated, is incredibly common. But what causes it?
There are a variety of possible factors, ranging from genetics to climate to allergies to diet. Dry skin, psoriasis, eczema, and other common skin conditions can be culprits of flaking as well. Even stress can trigger dandruff.
And while there’s no one definitive cause, many scientists suspect the fungus Malassezia plays a large role in dandruff. Malassezia is a yeast that’s part of your skin’s natural microbiome. But some people seem to become highly sensitive to this fungus, which can contribute to skin irritation, itchiness, and flaking.
Dandruff can’t be cured, but it can be treated so effectively you never think of it again. It’s just a matter of having the lifestyle factors and the right treatment regimen in place.
Linalool is just one of several compounds found in lavender essential oil with anti-microbial properties that may help address viral, bacterial, and fungal overgrowth on the skin ...
Lavender benefits for hair & scalp
Most people find lavender’s fragrance relaxing, but there are other ways this plant can nourish your mind and body. Lavender essential oil contains a variety of natural compounds that researchers are increasingly investigating. These compounds have a number of healing properties that may aid in dandruff management, among other personal care applications.
Specifically, a 2014 study of ingredients in a variety of essential oil samples made from Lavendula angustifolia plants identified the most commonly occurring compounds as linalool, lavandulol, linalyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate and ß-caryophyllene. These compounds and others found in lower concentrations in lavender essential oil likely play a role in lavender’s healing properties. Here are some of those benefits:
Soothing itching and irritation
Lavender oil has long been believed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that can calm irritated skin, and studies are increasingly supporting this. Both linalool and linalyl acetate have been shown in clinical studies to soothe inflammation and ease pain.
Cleaning and preventing infection
Linalool, one of the compounds found in lavender essential oil, is an effective antiseptic used in many cosmetic products. It is also a known insecticide and is widely used in pest control products. Studies suggest it may also help prevent and treat lice infestations. Linalool is just one of several compounds found in lavender essential oil with anti-microbial properties that may help address viral, bacterial, and fungal overgrowth on the skin - a property which may help limit Malassezia overgrowth (an underlying cause of dandruff).
Stimulating hair growth
Lavender oil is believed to encourage hair growth. A 2016 Korean study supported the use of lavender oil for hair growth stimulation and also hair thickening, noting the “marked hair growth-promoting effects” of lavender oil.
Lavender essential oil can also help condition the hair, boosting shine and controlling frizz, especially in combination with other high-quality shampoo ingredients.
Relaxing mind & body
It’s increasingly recognized that reducing stress can be a way to improve general health - and this includes calming dandruff symptoms. The World Health Organization, among other medical groups, recognizes the effectiveness of the lavender oil compounds linalool and linalyl acetate for relieving stress and anxiety and reducing agitation or restlessness.
More research is needed on the exact mechanisms involved, but some studies do suggest that these compounds and perhaps others in lavender essential oil can help reduce anxiety and depression through their interaction with the central nervous system.
Replaces the “medicated” smell of most dandruff shampoos
Lavender’s lovely fragrance contributes to its use in dandruff treatments in another way: it’s a great replacement for the unpleasant “medicated” smells of most dandruff shampoos. If you’re affected by chronic dandruff symptoms, the products you use to manage it become a part of your daily routine.
When lavender essential oil is part of a professionally formulated, dandruff-fighting shampoo, it offers a subtle, fresh, natural scent that’s sought after in perfumes and cosmetic products around the world.
Should you try DIY?
While lavender is a remarkable plant with many useful properties, you shouldn’t just dump lavender oil onto your scalp or into your current shampoo. We know it’s tempting to become your own hair chemist - but doing so can actually make your scalp issues worse. It’s crucial to seek out trusted, professional products with well-balanced formulas designed for your scalp and hair care needs.
There are two big reasons to stick with pro formulations. First, all essential oils, including lavender, vary in terms of quality, concentration, and their precise chemical compositions. Getting the right kind of lavender on your scalp in the right amount requires serious science. And even though it’s a gentle, natural product, misusing lavender oil can further irritate your skin.
Second, while lavender can be part of an effective dandruff strategy, it’s not enough on its own. You need a scientifically-proven product that balances lavender with a range of other functional ingredients - especially the crucial compound Zinc Pyrithione, known as a powerful dandruff-fighting ingredient.
Get the best scalp care
Consistency is essential when it comes to treating dandruff. That means your hair care regimen shouldn’t just be effective - it should be enjoyable. Lavender is just one example of a beautiful ingredient that can help make your scalp care experience both spa-like and effective.