How Do Essential Oils Work?
November 15, 2015

How Do Essential Oils Work?

Essential oils enter the body in three ways. They can be:

  • Applied directly to your skin
  • Inhaled as vapour
  • Ingested

Skin Application

Essential oils can generally be safely applied to your skin. For instance, black pepper oil can be applied to reduce arthritis pain and improve flexibility, whereas or applying German Chamomile can be applied to assist with controlling eczema.

This method of application works because our skin is selectively permeable  it keeps water and germs out, but  active chemicals in essential oils are absorbed –  just like the ingredients in nicotine patches.

Several factors affect the extent of absorption of essential oils through the skin. You can help things along by massaging the area before applying the oils, which will increase circulation to that area, thereby causing an increase in absorption of essential oils.

Some research has shown that  essential oils are more easily absorbed in the areas of the  genitals, head, soles, palms, and armpits –all of which have a high concentration  of sweat glands. Be careful with application to the genitals though!

Is it safe to inhale Essential Oils?

Common examples of essential oils we can inhale are include eucalyptus and peppermint essential oil to reduce fatigue or nausea. These are often inhaled from a diffuser, such as we are promoting on this site.

When we inhale droplets of these oils through our noses, the molecules interact with our smell (olfactory) mechanisms organs which communicate with the brain within a few tinty fractions of a second.

These molecules, inhaled through the nose or mouth are carried to the lungs and interact with the respiratory system. So it is obvious that inhaled essential oils have the potential to  affect our  bodies through a diversity of entry mechanisms and paths.

Oils Affecting Our Emotions

During inhalation, essential oil  molecules travel through the nose and affect the brain through a variety of receptor sites, one of which is the limbic system.

The limbic system, by interacting with the brain,  affects the way we control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone.

This is why smells often trigger emotions, memories and sometimes very strong physical responses.

Should We Swallow Essential Oils?

Another  way that essential oils enter the body is by ingestion (swallowing). This is NOT recommended without medical guidance.

There are several reasons for caution, including the following:

  • Some essential oils can be toxic to the liver or kidneys when ingested.
  • Chemical breakdown of essential oils during gastric processing can change the effects.
  • There could be potential drug interactions.


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