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Posted in Essential Oil Basics by Rocky Mountain Oils

How Essential Oils Work In The Body

Have you ever heard someone swear by essential oils, stating that oils have changed their life? Maybe it was you sharing your own testimonial with your friends! If so, we're right there with you — essential oils have proven to offer some pretty incredible benefits! But essential oils aren't some type of magical potion that can change your physical or mental state. Rather, they are compounds extracted from plants that work with our bodies when inhaled or applied to the skin. It's not magic; it's science! 

Whether you're new to essential oils, skeptical of what people say they can do, or have experienced the many benefits that essential oils have to offer, learning just how these oils work with your body is pretty fascinating. 

So, pull out your lab coats and beakers, and let's jump into the science of how essential oils work in the body! 

How Do Oils Work Via Skin Absorption? 

Your skin is incredible! It is your body's largest organ, and not only does it account for 15% off your body weight, but when spread out, it spans an average of 21 square feet and contains more than 11 miles of blood vessels! 

Your skin is full of tiny pores, glands, and hair follicles, making it fairly permeable all around. As a result, your skin absorbs practically everything that you put on it, including essential oils. Essential oils are made up of plant chemical compounds that, when applied topically, are absorbed through the outer layer of the skin, then the dermis, and into the capillaries and bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the essential oil molecules can travel to areas of the body where they are needed and provide the benefits you experience. 

Want to increase the absorption rate of the oils you apply to your skin? Follow these tips: 

  • Not all of the oil you apply will make it through the various layers of skin and into the bloodstream. To increase the amount of oil absorbed, try applying your oil in areas where the skin has greater concentrations of sweat glands or hair follicles, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the scalp, and the armpits. 
  • To help increase your absorption rate, you can also apply essential oils to thinner skin, which is more permeable. Such areas include behind the ears and inside the wrist. 
  • Increase your absorption rate by increasing circulation to the application area. Do this by massaging or warming the area before applying the oil. 
  • Use carrier oils that have a lower viscosity to penetrate the skin easier. Less viscous carrier oils include Almond Oil, Fractionated Coconut Oil, and Grapeseed Oil. Thicker oils, such as Avocado Oil and Olive Oil, will be more difficult to penetrate through the skin. 

How Do Oils Work Via Inhalation? 

Another popular way to use essential oils is through inhalation. This is a favorite method not only because you get to experience every oil's yummy aroma, but you can also experience a variety of mental and emotional benefits as a result. Here's how it works: 

  1. When you smell something, the odor molecules rise to the top of the nasal passage, where they meet the olfactory mucus membrane. This membrane is lined with 100 million olfactory receptors! 
  2. The receptors identify the smell and convert it into a sensory message that travels up to the olfactory bulb. 
  3. The olfactory bulb amplifies the stimulation then passes it along to the limbic system in the brain for further processing. 
  4. The limbic system receives the sensory message and triggers a response, usually related to emotions and memory. 

Okay, so we know the process of how essential oil aroma molecules travel through the body, but what exactly do they do to help you experience the oil's benefits? First, let's dive a little deeper into what the limbic system is. 

The limbic system is a network of connected structures in a section of the brain that work together to affect a variety of responses and behaviors. It triggers and affects emotions, memories, instinctual responses, motivation, and more. The limbic system is triggered by nerve impulses, such as those you receive from the olfactory bulb when you smell something, and it responds by triggering the release of a certain hormone, the recollection of a memory, and instinctual behavior, and more. 

We know — that's a lot of technical talk. Simply put, your olfactory and limbic systems work together to identify smells and trigger responses based on the smell. Some essential oil aromas can trigger good memories and feelings, resulting in your body releasing more feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, oxytocin, or serotonin. Other oil aromas can trigger a response that releases energy-boosting hormones. 

The limbic system is also responsible for influencing some physiological functions, such as your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. As a result, an aroma-triggered response in the limbic system could potentially also have a physical effect on the body in one of those areas. For example, a calming response to an aroma could trigger a slower heart rate and lower blood pressure. 

In addition to triggering an emotional or physiological response through the limbic system, aromatic inhalation also results in some scent molecules traveling to the lungs. Not all of these molecules will reach the alveoli in the lungs, but the ones that do are then transferred into the bloodstream, where they can provide their benefits like with skin absorption. 

Because the whole smelling process happens in a matter of seconds, aromatherapy (inhalation) is an extremely fast and effective way to experience the benefits of essential oils. 

A Note About Ingestion 

Many people consider ingestion to be a third way that you can experience the benefits of essential oils. However, ingestion is less effective than skin absorption or inhalation. This is because the oil has to go through the digestive tract before it reaches the bloodstream. Not only is this process longer, but the compounds and molecules from the oil may be altered by the materials they come in contact with while in the stomach and intestines. 

Not only is ingestion ineffective, but it can be harmful to your body. Essential oils are extremely concentrated, and ingesting them could damage your esophagus, mouth, digestive tract, gut lining, and more. Ingesting essential oils can also lead to negative side effects, such as nausea, stomach pain, and numbness. For your safety, we recommend that you do not ingest essential oils, especially since other methods of use are both safer and more effective. 

Finding Natural Relief Through Essential Oils 

Using essential oils is a great way to experience natural relief for a variety of conditions. From daily aches and pains to experiencing frequent bouts of stress or anxiety, essential oils can work with your body to help you find relief in conjunction with other remedies. And now that you know the science behind how essential oils work, you can use them knowing exactly what is happening inside your body!