Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) oil, chiefly composed of linalyl acetate (51%) and linalool (35%), is considered to be one of the mildest of known plant essential oils and has a history in wound healing. Concerns are building about the potential for irritant or allergenic skin reactions with the use of lavender oil. This study has demonstrated that lavender oil is cytotoxic to human skin cells in vitro (endothelial cells and fibroblasts) at a concentration of 0.25% (v/v) in all cell types tested (HMEC-1, HNDF and 153BR). The major components of the oil, linalyl acetate and linalool, were also assayed under similar conditions for their cytotoxicity. The activity of linalool reflected that of the whole oil, indicating that linalool may be the active component of lavender oil. Linalyl acetate cytotoxicity was higher than that of the oil itself, suggesting suppression of its activity by an unknown factor in the oil. Membrane damage is proposed as the possible mechanism of action.