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Life is stressful. There, we said it. And, yes, there are always the tried-and-true methods for reducing it—exercise, sleep, mindfulness, time with friends and family, therapy. But sometimes it’s nice to add something different into the mix.
Like, say, stress relief lotion. These emollients promise to help conjure a calming feeling every time you apply them through a process called aromatherapy. But does it work?
To find out, our team put a bunch to the test. We tried four different brands and ranked them on how they smelled, the quality of their ingredients, how they felt on the skin, and how well they reduced stress levels. (You know, anecdotally). And, of course, we spent some time digging into the research behind aromatherapy and whether or not it actually does anything.
Here’s the TL;DR on how the best stress relief lotions stack up:
Does Stress Relief Lotion Work?
Anything that claims to relieve stress through scent is an aromatherapy product—so this is really a question of whether or not aromatherapy works. Aromatherapy is a holistic healing method that uses essential oils from flowers, herbs, and trees and involves inhaling or applying diluted oils to the skin. It’s been used for everything from insomnia to pain, anxiety, and stress icon-trusted-source NCCIH “Aromatherapy” View Source . But whether it’s actually helpful for those conditions hasn’t been established yet, because there aren’t enough quality studies on the topic. (Also, some people ingest essential oils. It’s not a good idea. icon-trusted-source Poison Control Center “Essential Oils: Poisonous when Misused” View Source )
It gets more complicated: Though all stress relief lotions are almost certainly inspired by aromatherapy, not all of them contain essential oil. “Fragrance” can come from any combination of natural and synthetic sources icon-trusted-source FDA “Fragrances in Cosmetics” View Source , according to the FDA. So if a company says it sells lavender lotion, but lavender isn’t in the ingredients, it’s possible that the “fragrance” isn’t from a lavender plant but rather a lavender-scented synthetic compound.
Most of the studies conducted on the benefits of aromatherapy use essential oils or other extracts from plants—so it’s even further debatable whether something that smells like lavender but contains no actual lavender extracts will be useful. That said: If something smells nice to you, will it make your stress worse? Probably not. But to have the best chance of reduced stress, go for the real stuff.
Anecdotally, none of the lotions in this test seemed to reduce feelings of stress in any real way. But there was something nice about the ritual of taking a break to apply nice-smelling lotion. In fact, just the act of performing a ritual could be beneficial on its own. Doing so before a stressful task may help reduce anxiety icon-trusted-source Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes “Don’t stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety” View Source . So if the scent itself doesn’t have a calming effect, putting it on just might.
What Kind of Stress Relief Lotion Should I Buy?
In theory, stress relief lotions use aromatherapy to help reduce stress levels—and there is some research on the ingredients they use. A few of the scents in the lotions we tested include:
- Lavender, including lavandin oil (oil from a hybrid lavender plant) and linalool (alcohol component of lavender)
- Clary sage
- Geranium flower
- Bergamot fruit
- Mandarin orange peel
Based on available research, the oils that seem most likely to reduce stress are lavender, eucalyptus oil, and chamomile.
Of all the ingredients in these lotions, lavender has the highest potential promise. Sniffing linalool, a component of lavender, had a calming effect on mouse subjects icon-trusted-source Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience “Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice” View Source . And in a large meta analysis, scientists concluded that ingesting lavender essential oil could be a reasonable treatment for anxiety icon-trusted-source Phytomedicine “Effects of lavender on anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis” View Source , but that inhaling lavender scent only had “an indication of an effect of reasonable size”—that is, there might be something there, but it’s not clear yet because the studies they examined weren’t especially well designed. But researchers also note that inhaling lavender scent is generally considered safe, so it’s worth a shot.
Another essential oil with some potential is eucalyptus oil. One randomized control study found that patients experienced less pain and lower blood pressure icon-trusted-source Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine “Effect of eucalyptus oil inhalation on pain and inflammatory responses after total knee replacement: a randomized clinical trial” View Source after inhaling eucalyptus oil for 30 minutes. Another found that 1,8-cineole, a component of eucalyptus, may help combat anxiety icon-trusted-source Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine “The effect of 1,8-cineole inhalation on preoperative anxiety: a randomized clinical trial” View Source before surgery.
Chamomile has minimal supporting evidence for stress relief icon-trusted-source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Complementary & Integrative Health Approaches” View Source , and can cause allergic reactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One meta analysis found evidence that it may be useful for short-term insomnia icon-trusted-source Phytotherapy Research “Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized trials and quasi‐randomized trials” View Source and anxiety relief, but the studies they reviewed had several different methods of using chamomile, including inhalation and massage. So whether it has benefit in a lotion is uncertain.
Is Aromatherapy in Stress Relief Lotion Safe?
Topical aromatherapy is generally considered safe for most people, as long as the essential oil is diluted. (This is the case in all lotions that contain essential oils.) However, you should use caution if you have super sensitive skin—try applying a small patch before slathering it all over your body. Talk to a doctor or dermatologist before using a scented lotion if you aren’t sure about it.
Also: This will likely be on the label, but don’t eat stress relief lotion. Non-medicated lotion is “minimally toxic icon-trusted-source Illinois Poison Center “Lotion” View Source ” according to the Illinois Poison Center, but may cause a laxative-like effect (read: loose stools) and an upset stomach.
Stress Relief Lotion We Like
Best Long-Lasting Scent
Bath and Body Works Aromatherapy Stress Relief Lotion
- Smells like eucalyptus, spearmint, clary oil, and cinnamal (a cinnamon derivative)
- Contains real essential oil
Shop Now at Bath and Body Works | $6.50 Shop Now at Amazon | $12.99 Pros
Essential oils listed in the ingredients
Scent lingered excessively
Of all the scents we tested, this Bath and Body Works option is the strongest one. It’s not overpowering in the can’t-breathe-Axe-body-spray kind of way, but it is strong and persistent. It has a kind of soap-y or men’s deodorant smell, like Irish Spring bar soap. I’d also call this the ideal level of hydration for a body lotion. It sank into my skin really quickly without leaving a greasy residue or feeling overly dry. My feet were soft and smelled like they were fresh out of the shower.
Like other lotions on this list, it includes generic “fragrance.” But it also lists eucalyptus globulus leaf oil, spearmint leaf oil (which hasn’t been researched much regarding stress, though it has some other potential properties for relieving nausea in cancer patients icon-trusted-source Ecancer Medical Science “Antiemetic activity of volatile oil from Mentha spicata and Mentha × piperita in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting” View Source undergoing chemotherapy), and clary oil (which was linked to reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol icon-trusted-source Phytotherapy Research “Changes in 5-hydroxytryptamine and cortisol plasma levels in menopausal women after inhalation of clary sage oil” View Source in a small study) in its ingredients, along with other scents like cinnamal (a constituent of cinnamon).
The scent was just… so persistent. I put it on my feet at night, and I could still smell it the next morning. The scent was so overwhelming on my hands during my stress break tests that I ended up washing it off. (This can also help to minimize the chances of an allergic reaction from a product with a strong scent.) But if you really love a bold scent—and want real essential oils—this will be a good option for you.
Best All-Over Body Lotion
Aveda Stress Fix Body Lotion
- Smells like lavender, shea butter, and clary sage
- Contains real essential oil
Shop Now at Aveda | $33 Shop Now at Amazon | $34.60 Pros
Mild and pleasant smell
“Fragrance” ingredients are described
Not as moisturizng as other options
Aveda Stress Fix Lotion has a mild scent. Users who prefer natural ingredients will appreciate the relatively readable ingredient list that includes sunflower seed oil, shea butter, glycerin, and aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder. As far as scents go, the ingredients list “fragrance,” but Aveda clarifies that its fragrance is a mix of organic lavender, clary sage, and other pure flower and plant essences.
The smell reminded me of, like, hugging a hippie aunt more than huffing a vial of essential oils. And the lotion itself provided the least moisture out of everything on this list—I liked it a lot for my hands, but it left me wanting more for my feet and legs. It was so light, I was tempted to put it on my face. Ultimately, that limited amount of moisture is what knocked it from our top pick. But if you prefer just a kiss of hydration from your lotions, this is a good option.
Best Hand Lotion
Pipette Relaxing Body Lotion
- Smells like bergamot, mandarin orange, and geranium flower
- Contains real essential oil
Shop Now at Amazon | $10.80 Shop Now at Pipette | $8.40 Pros
Vegan and cruelty-free
Difficult to get the lotion out of the bottle
I liked Pipette’s nice, simple packaging, the mild scent that reminded me of faded potpourri, and how it felt on my hands. But the bottle the lotion comes in has a particularly small opening for relatively thick lotion. This made it difficult to squeeze out an adequate amount—especially while trying to squeeze it one-handed for hand lotion.
Pipette boasts that its notes of bergamot, mandarin orange, and geranium flower produce a “Zen-inducing blend that supports relaxation.” I thought it was a pretty mild scent—maybe a two or three out of 10. It also fades quickly, although I could still catch mild whiffs of it by holding my hand to my face. The overall effect was very light floral, almost like old potpourri or perfume at the end of the day. The brand lists graveolens flower oil (which was found to reduce anxiety among people in labor icon-trusted-source Journal of Caring Sciences “Effect of Inhalation of Aroma of Geranium Essence on Anxiety and Physiological Parameters during First Stage of Labor in Nulliparous Women: a Randomized Clinical Trial” View Source in a small study), mandarin oil, geraniol, linalool, and bergamot.
A small study icon-trusted-source Phytotherapy Research “Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) Essential Oil Inhalation Improves Positive Feelings in the Waiting Room of a Mental Health Treatment Center: A Pilot Study” View Source conducted in a mental health center waiting room found that smelling bergamot oil improved “positive feelings” among participants. (Huge caveat: Oils used in the study were provided by essential oil conglomerate-slash-multilevel marketing business dōTERRA, and three of the study’s four authors are listed as dōTERRA employees. So, uh, count that as a conflict of interest.) Bergamot oil (a type of citrus oil) had anti-anxiety properties in rats icon-trusted-source Molecules “A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models” View Source and reduced anxiety in people awaiting surgery icon-trusted-source Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine “The Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients Awaiting Ambulatory Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial” View Source .
The brand is EWG (Environmental Working Group)-certified to be free of chemicals like parabens, and it advertises itself as especially good for pregnant people. But ultimately the difficulty of the packaging and the so-so lotion knocked it from the top spot.
How We Got Here
Meet Your Guinea Pig
My name is Colleen Stinchcombe, I’m a health writer and editor. My work is in outlets like SELF, Health.com, and Everyday Health, and I like my wellness evidence-based and no BS. I’ve written previous reviews for this site, putting booty bands, running apps, and CBD gummies to the test.
Our Testing Process
I searched the internet for some of the top-reviewed stress relief lotions and decided on the four contenders featured in this article. Then I dug into the science behind aromatherapy, both on a general scale and by each specific ingredient.
Then, I made myself the guinea pig. For each lotion, we tested it across three days—once during a moment of stress, and again at night before bed. If you’re counting, that’s twelve days of sniffing and slathering. We ranked our stress levels on a scale of one to 10 before applying the lotion and afterward, and also ranked the lotions on a scale of one to 10 for the pungency of their aromas, how long they lingered, and how moisturizing they felt (one for dry, 10 for greasy). From there, we compiled all these rankings to make our recommendation.
The Stress Relief Lotion Buying Guide
Who should buy stress relief lotion? If you’re looking for a new lotion and trying to find scents that maaaaybe have the potential to combat your ever-rising stress levels, these are a solid place to start. But our research suggests these are probably going to be more soothing to your skin than your stress.
Which features matter most when buying stress relief lotion? It’s not clear that essential oils have the power to reduce stress levels from sniffing them alone. Because of this, your main concerns should be whether you like the scent of the lotion and whether it’ll offer the level of moisture you’re seeking. Also, some of these lotions offered a milder smell than others—consider whether you’re looking for a secret boost of scent or whether you’re OK with wafting when you walk past other people.
A Stress Relief Lotion We Don’t Recommend
Aveeno Stress Relief Moisturizing Body Lotion
- Smells like lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang
- Does not contain real essential oils
Shop Now at Amazon | $9.75 Pros
Pleasant but not overwhelming smell
Moisturizing without being overly greasy
Not clear where the stress relieving ingredients come from
The main aromatherapy scents Aveeno advertises for this lotion are lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang. But these seem to be encapsulated by the word “fragrance” on the actual ingredient list, rather than actual essential oils. This was one of my favorite products in terms of a lotion—it was hydrating but not overly greasy, easy to apply thanks to its pump, and smelled nice. But most of the evidence for aromatherapy are based on essential oils or other real plant extracts, and we can’t verify that any are present here.
Also worth mentioning: if you’re a lavender fan, even scent-wise this may not be what you’re looking for. While I’m no odor connoisseur, the scent didn’t strike me as particularly lavender-heavy and had a more generic, light scent. Last, the lotion was a little greasier than I personally like—I was hesitant to touch my face or my keyboard as it sunk in. But it was perfect for my legs and feet when I put it on in the evening. I’d definitely turn to this for post-shower moisturizing.
- Aromatherapy. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
- Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice. 2018. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
- Effect of eucalyptus oil inhalation on pain and inflammatory responses after total knee replacement: a randomized clinical trial. 2013. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.
- The effect of 1,8-cineole inhalation on preoperative anxiety: a randomized clinical trial. 2014. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.
- Effect of Inhalation of Aroma of Geranium Essence on Anxiety and Physiological Parameters during First Stage of Labor in Nulliparous Women: a Randomized Clinical Trial. 2015. Journal of Caring Sciences.
- The Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients Awaiting Ambulatory Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial. 2013. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.
- The effect of aromatherapy by essential oil of orange on anxiety during labor: A randomized clinical trial. 2015. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research.
Our research and review process is intended for informational purposes only—never as a substitute for medical treatment, diagnosis, or advice. Recommendations or information found on this site do not infer a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have questions about how a product, service, or intervention may impact your individual physical or mental health. Our evaluations of products, services, and interventions have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Information and research about health changes frequently. Therefore, some details or advice on this site may not be up-to-date with current recommendations. The Nessie is an independent publication and is not in any way affiliated with the production or creation of products, providers, services, or interventions featured in reviews or articles on the site.
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