Rose and Pain Reduction
Posted on March 19, 2019 0
Rose and Pain Reduction
By Kathy Sadoswki
MS in Aromatherapy, RA, LMT
Are you surprised that the aroma of rose has been found, in multiple human studies, to show some relief from pain? As a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), my initial thought in choosing essential oils or herbs to reduce physical discomfort is to focus on those oils or herbs which have demonstrated an analgesic effect on local pain nerve nociceptors topically, such as with peppermint (Mentha x piperita),1 eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.),2 comfrey (Symphytum officinale),3 or arnica (Arnica montana).4
However, I was surprised to find several human studies demonstrating that Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) essential oil, rose water, and rose extracts have effectively reduced pain through non-invasive aromatherapy treatments for fragile populations such as the elderly, pregnant women, children, and people who had been severely burned. Furthermore, the route of delivery in these studies was not topical, but via inhalation. How is this physiologically possible?
How Inhalation Works
Ah, the science of smell! Here is how sniffing the scent of rose may have helped to reduce pain for the patients in the studies listed below. When patients inhaled the rose aroma, it delivered the scent to the olfactory receptors in their nose. Nerves then transmitted a message to their brain’s limbic system, triggering the secretion of certain neurotransmitters like endorphins and encephalin, which then aided in reducing the perception of pain.5 This is because these types of neurotransmitters bind to the body’s opioid receptors to inhibit the communication delivery of the pain signals being sent.
Pain Reduction via the Aroma of Rose
The human body’s ability to reduce the pain perception via the aroma of Damask rose has been demonstrated in the following scientific studies:
In a randomized clinical trial of fifty patients with severe burns, the diffusion of Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) essential oil significantly reduced pain intensity during and after wound dressing changes.6
In a double-blind study with sixty-four children aged three to six years old, inhalation of Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) essential oil reduced post-surgery pain. Analysis was taken three, six, nine and twelve hours after surgery.7
Inhalation of Damask rose (Rosa x damscena) essential oil significantly reduced pain in a study with eighty elderly patients who had undergone knee arthroplasty surgery. Dilution rate of the inhalation was 3-4 drops in 5 mL of saline (about 4% dilution) placed in a plastic zip lock bag and inhaled for one to two minutes.8.
In a study of 111 women giving birth, rose water was poured over the hands of women in labor. The women were asked to sniff the scent of the rose water, and it was shown to significantly reduce pain compared to the placebo of distilled water used.9
Pain Reduction via Rose’s Ability to Relax the Central Nervous System
When dealing with those in pain, it is also important to consider the cognitive factors that contribute to the perception of pain, such as anxiety, stress, and depression. Rose aroma has shown in human studies to reduce anxiety, and depression.10 Multiple animal studies have further demonstrated a central nervous system (CNS) depressing effect with the internal administration of rose extracts, increasing sleep time and reducing pain.11.
While typical hospital protocols for reducing these cognitive components involve writing an oral prescription for sedative or opiate drugs to calm the mind, these medications can come with harsh side effects. For fragile populations, aromatherapy via inhalation can be a less invasive complimentary or alternative option to reduce the amounts of pharmacological drugs needed to calm the mind and reduce pain.
Pain Reduction Using Rose as a Topical Anti-inflammatory
Furthermore, Damask rose (Rosa x damscena) may have a topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect. Multiple human studies have shown topical use resulting in pain reductions. In a study of 120 pregnant women with lower back pain, rose essential oil combined with sweet almond (Prunus dulcis) carrier oil and applied topically over four weeks significantly reduced pain without side effects.12 In a double-blind placebo-controlled study of forty patients with migraine headaches, a topical formulation containing Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) essential oil reduced pain, especially in those with “hot” type headaches.13
Rose for the Reduction of Menstrual Pain
Rose has been used for centuries as a folk remedy to reduce pain related to the menstrual cycle. In two human studies, an abdominal massage with essential oil blends that included rose demonstrated reduced dysmenorrhea. In a 2006 study including sixty-seven female college students, an abdominal massage using lavender (Lavandula officinalis) essential oil, clary sage (Salvia sclarea) essential oil, and cabbage rose (Rosa centifolia) essential oil in a blend with sweet almond (Prunus dulcis) oil reduced the severity of menstrual cramps.14 In another study of forty-eight women, an aromatherapy abdominal massage with rose (Rosa spp.) essential oil, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil, clove (Eugenia caryophyllata) essential oil, and cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) essential oil in a blend with sweet almond (Prunus dulcis) oil was effective in alleviating menstrual pain and bleeding heaviness.15 Circling back to the power of rose’s aroma, in a 2016 study of 100 women with dysmenorrhea who inhaled rose scent experienced reduced menstrual pain.16
Ingestion of the Rose Herb to Reduce Pain
Internal use of herbal extracts of rose have also showed pain reduction. In a study of ninety-two women who had just had a C-section, the ingestion of a rosehip extracts reduced pain without side effects compared to the placebo.17 In a double-blind study of ninety-two young women, pain associated with menstruation was significantly reduced with the intake of Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) extract.18 For the safe internal use of rose at home, try the rose hip tea blend listed in the recipe section of this article.
In summary, Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) is an age-old herb used by our ancestors to reduce pain, and multiple modern human studies have demonstrated it to be an effective analgesic via inhalation, topical application, and internal routes. Inhalation has proven effective, possibly related to the release of pain reducing neurotransmitters. Furthermore, rose has shown the ability to calm the mind, relax the central nervous system (CNS), and lessen the body’s perception of pain. Topical use has shown an analgesic effect as demonstrated in a few studies of women with dysmenorrhea, and internal use of the herb has also provided pain reduction in a few human studies.
There are multiple ways we can enjoy rose by using blends to make at home. For aromatherapy, rose hydrosols and infusions can be used as an alternative to the extremely expensive rose essential oil. Furthermore, rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil and palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii) essential oil offer a similar aroma profile to rose at a cheaper price.
Rose Water Face Spray
Combine the calming aroma of rose and geranium with witch hazel to create a face toner that can help tighten, tone, and improve skin texture. You will need one four-ounce spray bottle to make this blend.
2 oz. rose (Rosa x damascena)
2 oz. witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
6 drops of rose geranium
Directions for Making and Use: Combine all of the ingredients together in a 4-ounce spray bottle. Cap and shake well. Spray one or two pumps on the face for use as a toner. For adult use only.
Cautions for Use: Avoid use during the first trimester of pregnancy. If you have sensitive skin, patch test on the wrist or arm before spraying on the face. Rose may interact with certain medications such as diabetic drugs; consult a medical practitioner for further advice before using.
Rose Hip Tea
Try this calming rose tea that tastes delicate, smooth, mildly sweet, and fruity.
2 Tbsp. fresh, organically-grown rose hips
(Rosa spp.) gently rinsed
OR 1 Tbsp. dried rose hips gently crushed
16 oz. hot (not boiling) water.
Directions for Use: Pour the hot water over rose hips. Steep for about three minutes. Strain and then drink.
Cautions for Use: Rose may interact with certain medications such as diabetic drugs. Consult a medical practitioner for further advice before using.
Infused Rose Petal Oil
Enjoy the aroma of roses infused into a carrier oil! This blend is great to massage on the skin or pour directly into the bath! You will need one 18-ounce or larger mason jar with lid to make this blend.
8 oz. fresh, organically-grown rose petals
(preferably Rosa x damascena)
8 oz. light carrier oil such as grapeseed
(Vitis vinifera), sweet almond (Prunus dulcis),
or jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis)
Optional: 20 drops of rose geranium
(Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil
Directions for Making: Make sure your roses have been organically grown and not exposed to chemicals or pollutants. Pick enough rose blossoms to get one cup of rose petals. Remove the petals from the roses, gently rinse in a colander, and shake off as much water as possible. Place on paper towels to dry, for about two hours. Once dried, put the rose petals in a jar, and pour the light carrier oil over the top of them.
Seal the jar, shake, and place near a sunny window sill for about two weeks. Shake the jar about once a day. Thoroughly remove petals after two weeks, using a cheese cloth or coffee filter to strain out all the plant parts from the oil. The remaining oil is a rose-infused oil.
Optional: Add about twenty drops of rose geranium essential oil to the completed infusion to enhance the soft and sweet rose aroma. Shake well.
Directions for Use: For adult use only. Apply about a tablespoon of the blend to the skin or pour directly into warm bath water.
Cautions for Use: Avoid use during first trimester of pregnancy. If you have sensitive skin, patch test on the wrist or arm before using all over the body. Rose may interact with certain medications such as diabetic drugs; consult a medical practitioner for further advice before using.
1. Wasner, G., Schattschneider, J., Binder, A., & Baron, R. (2004). Topical menthol—a human model for cold pain by activation and sensitization of C nociceptors. Brain, 127(5), 1159-1171.
2. Santos, F. A., & Rao, V. S. N. (2000). Anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive effects of 1, 8-cineole a terpenoid oxide present in many plant essential oils. Phytotherapy research, 14(4), 240-244.
3. Grube, B., Grünwald, J., Krug, L., & Staiger, C. (2007). Efficacy of a comfrey root (Symphyti offic. radix) extract ointment in the treatment of patients with painful osteoarthritis of the knee: results of a double-blind, randomised, bicenter, placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine, 14(1), 2-10.
4. Iannitti, T., Morales-Medina, J. C., Bellavite, P., Rottigni, V., & Palmieri, B. (2016). Effectiveness and safety of Arnica montana in post-surgical setting, pain and inflammation. American journal of therapeutics, 23(1), e184-e197.
5. Lis-Balchin, M. (2006). Aromatherapy science: a guide for healthcare professionals. Pharmaceutical press.
6. Bikmoradi, A., Harorani, M., Roshanaei, G., Moradkhani, S., & Falahinia, G. H. (2016). The effect of inhalation aromatherapy with damask rose (Rosa damascena) essence on the pain intensity after dressing in patients with burns: A clinical randomized trial. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 21(3), 247.
7. Marofi, M., Sirousfard, M., Moeini, M., & Ghanadi, A. (2015). Evaluation of the effect of aromatherapy with Rosa damascena Mill. on postoperative pain intensity in hospitalized children in selected hospitals affiliated to Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in 2013: A randomized clinical trial. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 20(2), 247.
8. Bastani, F., Samady Kia, P., & Haghani, H. (2017). The Effect of Inhalation Aromatherapy with Damask Rose (Rosa damascena) on the Pain of Elderly After Knee Arthroplasty. Journal of Client-Centered Nursing Care, 3(2), 153-160.
9. Roozbahani, N., Attarha, M., AkbariTorkestani, N., AmiriFarahani, L., & Heidari, T. (2015). The effect of rose water aromatherapy on reducing labor pain in primiparous women. Complementary Medicine Journal of faculty of Nursing & Midwifery, 5(1), 1042-1053.
10. Hongratanaworakit, T. (2009). Relaxing effect of rose oil on humans. Nat Prod Commun, 4(2), 291-6.
11. Boskabady, M. H., Shafei, M. N., Saberi, Z., & Amini, S. (2011). Pharmacological effects of Rosa damascena. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, 14(4), 295.
12. Shirazi, M., Mohebitabar, S., Bioos, S., Yekaninejad, M. S., Rahimi, R., Shahpiri, Z., ... & Nejatbakhsh, F. (2017). The effect of topical Rosa damascena (rose) oil on pregnancy-related low back pain: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(1), 120-126.
13. Niazi, M., Hashempur, M. H., Taghizadeh, M., Heydari, M., & Shariat, A. (2017). Efficacy of topical Rose (Rosa damascena Mill.) oil for migraine headache: A randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled cross-over trial. Complementary therapies in medicine, 34, 35-41.
14. Han, S. H., Hur, M. H., Buckle, J., Choi, J., & Lee, M. S. (2006). Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 12(6), 535-541.
15. Marzouk, T. M., El-Nemer, A. M., & Baraka, H. N. (2013). The effect of aromatherapy abdominal massage on alleviating menstrual pain in nursing students: a prospective randomized cross-over study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013.
16. Uysal, M., Doğru, H. Y., Sapmaz, E., Tas, U., Çakmak, B., Ozsoy, A. Z., ... & Esen, M. (2016). Investigating the effect of rose essential oil in patients with primary dysmenorrhea. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 24, 45-49.
17. Gharabaghi, P. M., Tabatabei, F., Fard, S. A., Sayyah-Melli, M., Del Azar, E. O. A., Khoei, S. A., ... & Mashrabi, O. (2011). Evaluation of the effect of preemptive administration of Rosa damascena extract on post-operative pain in elective cesarean sections. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 5(16), 1950-1955.
18. From: Bani, S., Hasanpour, S., Mousavi, Z., Garehbaghi, P. M., & Gojazadeh, M. (2014). The effect of Rosa damascena extract on primary dysmenorrhea: a double-blind cross-over clinical trial. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 16(1).
About Kathy Sadowski:
Kathy Sadowski has a Master of Science degree in Aromatherapy from the American College of Healthcare Sciences in Portland, Oregon. With a passion for reading scientific studies on herbs and essential oils, she has developed the website EarthtoKathy.com, which categorizes 4,000 plus scientific research documents on plants by species, therapeutic action, and constituent; demonstrating that there is a growing amount of evidence for the potential healthful uses of herbs and essential oils. Kathy is a Registered Aromatherapist, professional member of NAHA and AIA, a licensed massage therapist, registered yoga teacher, and enthusiast for environmental protection and a natural lifestyle. To learn more about Kathy, visit her website at:
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