Rose oil is a highly fragrant oil derived from the plants of the Rosa family; it is a popular fragrance used in aromatherapy and is known for its relaxation properties.
Rose oil’s fragrance is attributed to the presence of rose oxide and Citronellol molecules, and early evidence suggests its aroma provides sedative, stress relieving and anti-depressive effects.
Larger trials are needed to validate its aromatherapeutic potential as a monotherapy for the treatment of stress and depression (1).
Currently, it appears to be most effective when used as an adjuvant therapy to conventional treatment.
In Ayurvedic medicine, rose is used medicinally as a mild laxative and antibacterial agent and in the treatment of sore throat, enlarged tonsils, cardiac problems, eye disease and gall stones.
Rose oil helps relieve stress and anxiety. It is believed that inhaling essential oil molecules, or absorbing essential oils through the skin, transmit messages to the limbic system — a part of the brain involved in behavioral and emotional responses (2). These messages are thought to help improve stress levels and depression.
To investigate rose oil’s ability to relieve anxiety in a clinical setting, researchers studied the effects of prolonged rose odor inhalation in an animal model. Gerbils were exposed to rose oil fragrance for 24 hours (acute), two weeks (chronic) or no odor. Results were compared with Diazepam (a drug prescribed for the treatment of anxiety).
An elevated maze plus test as well as a black-white box test were used. At the end of the study, researchers noted that the anxiety reducing effects were preserved with chronic (two week) inhalation rather than acute (24 hours). In addition, rose oil was found to be similar in potency to Diazepam (3).
There appears to be some stress reducing properties associated with rose oil aroma in humans. In one study, fourteen healthy female college volunteers from the Tottori University Faculty of Medicine in Japan were recruited. They were instructed to wear a name tag scented with rose oil daily (except when bathing and sleeping). They wore the patches throughout the duration of taking exams (used as a model of chronic stress).
Researchers noted that the group using rose oil had significantly less salivary cortisol — salivary cortisol is frequently used as a biomarker of psychological stress; it is believed that prolonged psychological stress is associated with persistently elevated levels of cortisol.
Subjects were later given either rose oil or placebo (jasmine) smelling samples and were stress induced via a Stroop color-word test; the overall cortisol response induced by acute mental stress was significantly reduced by inhalation of rose essential oil, whereas the jasmine oil did not have a significant effect (4).
Rose oil has a relaxing effect. Researchers investigating the relaxing effects of topical application of rose oil were met with promising results. Forty healthy volunteers participated in the experiment and wore breathing masks to prevent inhaling the fragrance.
Blood pressure, breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate were recorded. Emotional responses were assessed by means of rating scales.
Compared to placebo, rose oil caused significant decreases of breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation and systolic blood pressure. At the emotional level, subjects in the rose oil group rated themselves as calmer and as more relaxed than subjects in the control group (5).
Rose oil may help treat depression. In a recent study, 32 male rats were randomly divided into four groups: the first group was used as control, while depression was induced in the second group using chronic mild stress. Oral and vapor rose oil were given for 28 days to the depression-induced rats, making up the third and fourth groups, respectively.
Researchers concluded that the vapor but not oral intake was able to exert anti-depressive effects as assessed by a sucrose preference test (6).
Rose oil may help treat pain. Renal colic is a painful condition caused when urinary stones block part of the urinary tract. Due to rose oil’s soothing and muscle relaxing effect, researchers set out to evaluate the usefulness of rose essential oil as an adjunctive therapy for the relief of renal colic.
Eighty patients who were diagnosed with renal colic in the emergency room were included in the study. Half received conventional pain therapy (Diclofenac sodium) plus placebo to relieve symptoms and half received aromatherapy (rose essential oil) in addition to conventional therapy.
The addition of rose essential oil aroma to Diclofenac appears to provide a greater reduction in pain, with the pain reduction being significant in as little as 10 minutes (7).
A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2016, indicates that rose oil may help relieve menstrual cramps when used as an adjuvant therapy. One hundred volunteers were randomly divided into two groups: group one received the pain medication Diclofenac sodium, and group two received Diclofenac and aromatherapy (2 percent rose essential oil).
There was a significant decrease in pain in both groups after 10 minutes and 30 minutes compared to baseline values (8).
When applied topically, there is the risk of contact dermatitis — skin that becomes red and itchy. It is recommended to perform a skin patch test before use.
There is a lack of information regarding the recommended dosing of rose oil. Future research will shed light on the safest and most efficacious dose.
In general, topical use should be diluted (up to 1 percent) in a cream or lotion prior to applying to the skin.
For a relaxing effect, rose essential oil can be inhaled after sprinkling a drop or two of the oil onto a cloth or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer. It can also be added to baths in very small amounts.
Rose oil is fragrant oil derived from the plants of the Rosa family. It has long been used in aromatherapy for its lovely sweet scent and is known for its relaxation properties. Preliminary evidence suggests its aroma provides sedative, stress relieving and anti-depressive effects. It appears to work best as an adjuvant therapy to conventional treatment. Studies are needed to determine if it is efficacious on its own.
Studies also show its potential to treat pain due to such conditions as renal colic and menstrual pain.