Varicose veins are larger-than-normal veins that commonly appear in the legs. They are raised and often twisted veins that can be blue, red, or flesh-colored. Sometimes, these veins can ache, swell, or itch.
There are several studies to suggest that essential oils, such as grape vine, lavender, or yarrow, may be able to reduce or shrink the appearance of varicose or spider veins. However, more research is needed in this area.
In this article, we look at the best oils to use and the evidence behind them. We also look at the causes and prevention of varicose veins, and other methods for reducing varicose veins.
Causes of varicose veins
Varicose veins are common in the legs because veins in the legs are under the greatest pressure when returning blood to the heart.
Veins are responsible for returning blood that does not have oxygen back toward the heart. There are tiny valves periodically throughout the veins to stop the blood from flowing backward.
However, if these valves weaken or are damaged, blood can flow backward and pool. The result can be varicose veins.
Varicose veins most commonly appear in the legs because the leg veins are under the greatest pressure to return blood to the heart.
Several risk factors increase the likelihood a person will have varicose veins. These include:
- getting older, as the valves in veins start to weaken over time
- genetic history of family members with varicose veins
- pregnancy, as the growing uterus places extra pressure on a person's veins
- being overweight
- sitting down for long time periods
- sun exposure, which mainly causes varicose veins on the face
Although varicose veins are not usually a major cause for concern, they can be irritating and sometimes painful. Sometimes, a person may experience sores or skin ulcers related to poor blood flow in the legs.
Five best essential oils for varicose veins
Essential oils are derived from plants, including flowers, herbs, or trees. These oils are often used for alternative therapies. The dosages and instructions that come with them are not regulated, so a person should talk to a doctor before they use essential oils.
Some of the essential oils that have been studied in relation to varicose veins and their symptoms, such as leg swelling, include:
1. Lavender essential oil
Lavender is a popular essential oil that my help to manage the symptoms of varicose veins.
Smelling lavender has been shown to help reduce pain, according to the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Lavender is thought to affect brain chemicals, such as serotonin and GABA, which are associated with pain relief.
Applying lavender to the skin may reduce pain and the size of skin ulcers when massaged on the feet or other affected areas.
2. Horse chestnut essential oil
Horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE) can be prepared as a topical gel, oral tincture, or tablet. It may be useful in reducing swelling, pain, and itchiness.
While the method of action is not known exactly, HCSE is thought to keep the small sections of veins known as capillaries from breaking down.
3. Sea pine essential oil
Research from 2018 shows that sea pine bark essential oil, also known as maritime pine oil has anti-inflammatory action.
This study also found that sea pine bark oil was superior to horse chestnut extract for reducing edema related to chronic venous insufficiency that can cause varicose veins. However, this study only tested 40 people, so more research is needed.
4. Grape vine essential oil
Grape vine essential oil may reduce swelling in a person's legs, including swelling related to varicose veins.
According to a study published in the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, taking red grape vine extract at dosages of 360 to 720 milligrams a day helped to reduce lower leg swelling related to weak blood flow through the veins, also called venous insufficiency, which is a common cause of varicose veins.
5. Yarrow essential oil
Essential oils extracted from the yarrow plant have been used traditionally for treating varicose veins. When a person applies yarrow to the skin above varicose veins, it may help to reduce their symptoms.
There are other treatments for varicose veins besides essential oils that people may wish to try.
Other treatments for varicose veins include:
- Compression stockings. These are a common treatment for varicose veins as they improve blood circulation in the affected areas. People can buy them over the counter or online, and a doctor can prescribe stronger compression stockings when necessary.
- Sclerotherapy. This treatment involves injecting chemicals into varicose veins that cause the veins to swell and seal shut. The veins may require several treatments to make sure they go away permanently.
- Laser treatments. Laser treatments can help to treat varicose veins that are smaller than 3 millimeters in size.
- Endovenous treatments. These methods are usually performed at a doctor's office and involve inserting a small catheter into a vein and using heat to close off the affected vein. Because the varicose vein does not work well, to begin with, sealing it off does not usually cause significant side effects.
- Surgical treatments. If varicose veins are very large and bothersome, a person may require surgery. This involves removing the veins in a procedure known as ligation and stripping.
Doctors are frequently inventing new treatments to treat varicose veins. However, varicose veins are normal, and if they are not causing a person significant symptoms and have no side effects, they usually do not require medical or invasive treatment.
Preventing varicose veins
Exercising regularly and stretching the legs may help to prevent varicose veins.
Because genetics and hormones play a role in the development of varicose veins, it is not always possible to prevent them from forming. However, there are some steps a person can take to reduce their risk for varicose veins.
Possible steps for preventing varicose veins include:
- Exercising regularly to improve circulation and promote the return of blood to the heart.
- Dieting and exercising to maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoiding crossing the legs if sitting for long periods, as this can reduce blood flow to the legs.
- Taking frequent "walk breaks" to stimulate blood flow in the legs and throughout the body.
- Wearing support stockings, which provide mild pressure to compress the legs and encourage blood flow to return.
- Avoiding excessively tight clothing around the waist, groin, and upper legs, as this can restrict blood flowing back toward the heart.
- Cutting back on salt, as excessive sodium can lead to swelling.
Risks of essential oils
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate essential oils. However, these oils do fall under the "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS classification.
To be safe, essential oils must be diluted in a carrier oil before use. Put 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil in 3 tablespoons of sweet almond oil, coconut oil that has been warmed up, or olive oil and apply gently to the skin.
Essential oils do not often cause significant side effects, though they can be toxic when swallowed, leading to nausea and vomiting.
Applying essential oils to the skin may also cause allergic reactions or skin irritation in some people. A person should always do a patch test before they use the oil. This involves applying a small amount of essential oil to a small patch of skin and waiting overnight to test for swelling or allergic reactions.
Lastly, a person applying citrus oils may find that their skin becomes more sensitive to the sun.
Unless varicose veins cause medical problems for a person, they do not usually require invasive treatments.
If adding essential oils and leg massages do help a person experience reduced symptoms, then this can be of benefit.
A person should always talk to their doctor about using essential oils to treat varicose veins, and about other treatments if essential oils are not effective.