The world of beauty and wellness has long been acquainted with terpenes, the aromatic compounds that make the base of botanically derived perfumes and essences (and increasingly, synthetic ones as well). Adjusting formulas to have varying ratios of cannabinoids to terpenes can yield highly specialized, targeted products that serve the senses of smell, touch, and taste, and this pursuit informs an entire area in the active, ongoing study of terpenes. Because the cannabis plant has an abundance of compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes (which your body’s endocannabinoid system treats as essentially the same thing), the study of the plant is closely linked to the study of its component parts.
The terpene linalool has a few variations and is found in over 200 plants, including cannabis, mint, lavender, and cinnamon. It’s estimated the fragrant compound is found in 60-80% of perfumed products on the market, from those for cleaning to those for beauty and home. It is commonly associated with calming inflammation, pain, and anxiety — often via aromatherapy treatments. But just because it’s natural and widely found however, doesn’t mean it’s entirely harmless: due to its association with spice plants it is known to cause skin irritation, and when the fragrance is exposed to oxygen, it can become an allergen to some people. A 2009 study in Sweden found that as much as 2% of the population was allergic to the oxidized form of the ubiquitous terpene, and placed it in among the top five contact allergens affecting 1 in 5 people. Because the skin has a high number of ECS receptors, terpenes can cause significant reactions.
Possible allergens aside, studies indicate topical linalool as an active ingredient can protect human skin cells against the sun’s harmful UVB rays. And when it comes to the terpene’s role in medicine, there is also promise: in mice, linalool is shown to reverse hallmarks of Alzheimers and repair cognition, and has antibacterial, antioxidant properties. Also in rodents, it’s demonstrated to be a powerful calming agent, even when the subject is already highly stressed due to external factors. On a more human note, a double-blind study of sufferers with carpal tunnel syndrome (which can be caused by oxidative stress) found that the antioxidant properties of linalool provided patients relief when used as aromatherapy.
Linalool’s therapeutic effects are evidenced throughout the natural kingdom, with scientific analysis being further developed in some areas than others, building a picture of a natural compound that has an untold number of uses, including down to the level of our pollinators. It’s documented that the pheromones of certain female moths blend with naturally occurring linalool to attract sexual mates. In that instance, the compound’s active role in its ecosystem is more clearly on display, although there remains much to understand. With modern technology allowing for more precision adjustments and extractions of individual plant components, research opportunities, as well as a larger interest on the subject, are on the upswing.
When it comes to its use in wellness and self-care, linalool is among the many terpenes attracting interest for its calming, anti-anxiety effects. As an aromatherapy, linalool can improve sleep, reduce decongestion, and lower stress levels. Though it can be a skin irritant at certain levels, in carefully balanced topical solutions (usually in a concentration less than .001%) , it can be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and serve as an insect repellant.
Bråred Christensson J, Forsström P, Wennberg A-M, Karlberg A-T, Matura M. Air oxidation increases skin irritation from fragrance terpenes. Contact Dermatitis: 2009: 60: 32-40.
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Gunaseelan, Srithar et al. “Linalool prevents oxidative stress activated protein kinases in single UVB-exposed human skin cells.” PloS one vol. 12,5 e0176699. 3 May. 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0176699
Sabogal-Guáqueta, Angélica Maria et al. “Linalool reverses neuropathological and behavioral impairments in old triple transgenic Alzheimer's mice.” Neuropharmacology vol. 102 (2016): 111-20. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2015.11.002
Seol, Geun-Hye et al. “Antioxidant activity of linalool in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome.” BMC neurology vol. 16 17. 2 Feb. 2016, doi:10.1186/s12883-016-0541-3