How Essential Oils Work – Inhalation, Absorption, Ingestion

How essential oils work

How essential oils work is a simple question with a complicated answer! These natural oils work on both mind and body by mechanisms that are still not fully understood.  let’s begin by looking at how their essence enters our bodies:Essential oils enter the body in three ways. They can be:

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

How essential oils work: 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 German Chamomile can be applied to assist with controlling eczema. Once the oils have entered the skin, they can begin to do their work from the inside.

This method of application (topical 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!

How essential oils work: inhalation – is it safe?

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

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 tiny 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. This is a key mechanism in how essential oils work

How essential oils work – 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. This is another key mechanism in how essential oils work.

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.

We are not aware of any benefits arising from the ingestion of essential oils.

This is a very brief introduction to how essential oils enter the body and work their magic! There are more detailed  articles below.

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