The Health Benefits of Rose Oil

This aromatherapy oil may reduce stress and promote libido

Rose oil is a popular essential oil extracted from the petals of certain roses. In aromatherapy, breathing in the scent of rose oil has long been held to have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and aphrodisiac benefits. When applied to the skin, rose oil may help relieve pain and inflammation while improving overall skin health.

Rosa damascena (damask rose), Rosa centifolia (cabbage rose), and Rosa alba (the white rose of York) are the species most commonly used to source rose oil, as these have the strongest aroma and highest oil content. Aside from using rose oil for health purposes, it is also one of the most widely used essential oils in the manufacturing of perfumes and fragranced products.

Aromatherapy rose massage oil
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Health Benefits

Aromatherapy, also known as essential oil therapy, is a holistic practice that uses plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Practitioners believe that inhaling essential oil or absorbing it through the skin transmits signals to the limbic system, a region of the brain responsible for emotions and memories. Studies have suggested that this can induce physiological effects, including a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, as well as an increase in "feel-good" hormones like serotonin and dopamine.

Others believe that it can act a natural antidepressant, relieve symptoms of arthritis and gout, or treat spasmodic disorders like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Most of these claims, however, are poorly supported by research.

As popular as aromatherapy is, there are few quality studies investigating the benefits of rose oil in preventing or treating any health condition.

Here is some of what the current research says.

Stress

According to a 2011 study in Chemical Senses, rose oil is able to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. Doing so not only alleviates the physiological symptoms of stress (including rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and sweating), but stimulates the so-called mesolimbic reward pathway in the brain.

This effect was seen in both human volunteers and lab mice exposed to the scent of Rosa alba essential oil.

A more subjective study conducted in 2009 reported that the topical application of rose oil delivered more intense feelings of relaxation than the application of a placebo oil. This translated to a reduction in respiration rate, blood oxygen saturation, and systolic blood pressure during stressful situations.

Menopausal Symptoms

Aromatherapy practitioners have long asserted that rose oil can alleviate symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, anxiety, night sweats, and low libido. Despite some positive findings, few studies to date have been able to establish a clear causal mechanism of action that explains how these symptoms are relieved.

Because study designs are inconsistent and varied, it's hard to tell if the effect is due to the relaxing effect of the rose oil scent, if there chemicals passed through the skin during topical use, or if (in the case of rose oil massage) it's the hands-on therapy alone that renders benefits.

A 2018 review of three high-quality studies concluded that rose oil was able to significantly improve sexual function in menopausal women, but did nothing to alter estrogen levels associated with other menopause symptoms. Lavender, fennel, and geranium oil had the same effects.

Alzheimer's Disease

As far-fetched as the concept may seem, there are scientists who are investigating if rose oil may have the ability to delay symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by loss of memory and cognitive function.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry reported that paralyzed roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) experienced restored physical function after being exposed to diluted rose essential oil. By contrast, the worms exposed to components of rose oil (such as beta-citronellol and geraniol) remained paralyzed.

While these findings may seem incidental, rose oil appeared to activate the glutathione S-transferase 4 (GST-4) gene in the worms, reversing a type of nerve injury similarly seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer's.

Among its many functions, the GST-4 gene tempers oxidative stress placed on brain cells. Any dysfunction of this gene increases the risk of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Further research is needed to identify which substance in rose oil triggered this effect. If such a substance can be isolated, it may open the door to the development of drugs able to slow or prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Possible Side Effects

Rose essential oil is extremely potent and should not be applied directly to the skin. Doing so may cause burning, stinging, redness, irritation, and increased sun sensitivity. Rose oil should always be highly diluted with a neutral carrier oil (such as avocado oil or argan oil) before applying it to the skin.

Allergy to rose oil is less common than to other types of essential oil (such as lavender oil), but may occur. People allergic to roses are clearly at greatest risk.

To avoid skin injury, always test diluted rose oil on a small patch of skin and wait 24 hours to see if rash or any other signs of irritation develop before using the oil. While decreasing the proportion of rose oil may mitigate the reaction, never rechallenge yourself with rose oil if you've had a serious reaction in the past (such as whole-body itching, hives, or wheezing).

Similarly, never inhale rose oil directly from the bottle or use it in a poorly ventilated room. The oil contains compounds known as phenols that can irritate the respiratory tract, causing nasal or throat inflammation and coughing. Prolonged inhalation, particularly in young children, may cause pneumonitis (lung inflammation) or lipoid pneumonia.

Rose oil should never be taken internally. Doing so can cause nausea, confusion, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and even coma.

Call 911 or Poison Control at (800) 222-1222 if you or someone you know has accidentally ingested rose essential oil. Do not induce vomiting unless medical personnel tells you to.

Dosage and Preparation

Rose essential oil is typically sold in a dark amber or cobalt blue bottle with a dropper cap. The colored glass reduces damage caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

When mixing rose oil for topical application, choose a cold-pressed carrier oil as your base, as it is less acidic than a heat-extracted oil. The proportion of rose oil to carrier oil can vary based on how sensitive your skin is and whether you've used rose oil before. As a general rule, always start with a lower concentration.

Aromatherapists generally recommend a concentration of 1% to no more than 5% essential oil for skin application. However, most adults will find a 2% rose oil solution tolerable and efficacious. (Remember that, with essential oils, more is not better.)

  • For a 1% dilution, simply mix 12 drops of rose essential oil to one fluid ounce (30 milliliters) of a cold-pressed carrier oil, lotion, or vegetable butter.
  • For a 2% concentration, add 24 drops of essential oil to one ounce of your base.

Rose oil also can be inhaled by sprinkling a few drops onto a cloth or tissue or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer. While you should never use a rose oil/carrier oil mix in one of these devices, you can do so when adding oil to bathwater.

Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight and in their original, light-resistant bottles. You can also keep them stored in the refrigerator, though pure essential oils will generally have a very long shelf life even without doing so.

While some people will tell you that essential oils last forever, you should discard any oil that has become cloudy, thickened in consistency, smells funny, or has lost its scent. Always keep the lid screwed on tightly to prevent oxidation and evaporation.

What to Look For

Not all essential oils are created equal, and products sold and marketed as essential oils can vary widely in quality and composition. Because these products are not strictly regulated, it is important to consider the quality of the oil.

Some products marketed as oils may not actually contain much—or any—of the essential oil listed on their label. Instead, they may contain synthetic fragrances, preservatives, and vegetable oils that can cause allergy or skin irritation.

Here are some tips that can help you choose the highest-quality rose oil:

  • Check the provenance. Reputable producers will share not only the Latin name of the rose species (such as Rosa damascena), but the essential oil's country of origin as well.
  • Check the credentials. Some producers are members of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Because they are bound by ethical and quality standards, their products are likely to be trustworthy. With that said, you can be a high-quality producer and not be a NAHA member. Seeing the NAHA seal on an oil bottle is only one of several purchasing criteria to consider.
  • Look for suppliers able to share chemical constituency reports. The most reputable suppliers will provide a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) report with all sales. This details the exact chemical constituency of each bottle of oil. With other suppliers, you may need to specifically request the report, which they should readily provide. It's worth doing so to be sure you're getting what's labeled on the bottle.
  • Read the label carefully. Many companies will state on the label that a product is a combination of essential oils and another carrier oil, such as jojoba. Be sure you are getting what you are shopping for.
  • Test the oil. You can tell that an oil has been diluted by placing a single drop on a piece of paper towel. If a large oil circle develops around the central drop, you have most likely purchased a cheap, vegetable-oil based product.
  • Don't be misled by terminology. Many producers will use terms like "clinical grade" or "therapeutic grade," but no such universal grading system exists. These suppliers are not necessarily being misleading, but terms like these are arbitrary and should not direct your buying decision.
  • Don't look for bargains. Make no mistake: Essential oils can be extremely costly ounce per ounce. If you find a usually expensive essential oil, such as rose oil, at a very low price, you are more than likely being sold a diluted or otherwise low-quality product.
  • Avoid plastic bottles. Undiluted ("neat") essential oils do not come in plastic. They must be packaged in amber glass, blue glass, or metal containers to be preserved. Diluted essential-oil products, such as room sprays or bug sprays, may occasionally be sold by reputable manufacturers in bottles made of PET plastic (the only type of plastic that will not degrade over time when exposed to essential oils).
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  1. Khadivzadeh T, Najafi MN, Ghazanfarpour M, Irani M, Dizavandi FR, Shariati K. Aromatherapy for Sexual Problems in Menopausal Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Menopausal Med. 2018;24(1):56-61. doi:10.6118/jmm.2018.24.1.56

  2. Zhu S, Li H, Dong J, et al. Rose Essential Oil Delayed Alzheimer's Disease-Like Symptoms by SKN-1 Pathway in C. elegans. J Agric Food Chem. 2017;65(40):8855-8865. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.7b03224

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