How Essential Oils Work
Our skin is the largest organ of the integumentary system. It’s our first line of defense from our environment and holds all of our internal organs together. We have three layers which are part oil-loving and part water-loving which is why so many individual ingredients have difficulty getting through since they are usually one or the other. It’s believed that when a molecular weight of an ingredient is under 500 Dalton then it can freely pass through the top layer of skin. All essential oils have molecular weights of less than 500 Dalton and are able to enter quite easily. Since the components of essential oils are inclined toward oil and water, especially oil, they are easier to pass through the outer layer of skin. Then they go through the dermis and into the capillaries and into the bloodstream. Essential oils also enter through hair follicles, sweat ducts, pores and cuts, and abrasions. The thinner skin such as behind the ear or the inside of the wrist is absorbed even quicker. As the essential oils circulate, they eventually excrete through the kidneys in the urine, exhaled by the lungs, secreted through the skin or passed through your bowels.
Never use essential oils topically without blending it in a carrier oil first since many oils will cause irritation and can cause more serious consequences. There are many carrier oils to choose from such as almond, jojoba, coconut, grapeseed, etc.
Essential oils also enter our system through our olfactory system and into our limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is triggered by nerve impulses which leads to other areas of the brain that are responsible for secreting the hormones and regulating body functions. This entire process from the beginning of inhaling the oil to the gland secretion happens in a matter of seconds. That’s why a simple inhalation can cause changes in the body from stimulating the immune system to initiating the digestive system and so forth.
The most efficient way to use essential oils is through diffusion. A diffuser is different from a vaporizer or humidifier because it actually breaks down the essential oil into micro molecules and projecting them into the air. This allows the vapor to be suspended in the air for a longer period of time and because heat isn’t involved it keeps the integrity of the essential oils.
Whether you absorb the essential oils through the skin or into your lungs it will make it into your bloodstream, through your organs and exhaled. It is believed that different chemicals are exhaled at different time intervals. Here is an approximate list of the time particular ingredients take to be exhaled from the body:
20-40 minutes-eugenol and linalool.
40-60 minutes-anise, bergamot, and lemon.
60-80 minutes- citronella, lavender, geranium and pine needle.
100-120 minutes-coriander, peppermint, and rue.
Of course, everyone’s skin differs, so this is just an approximate idea. The warmer the skin the faster the absorption which is why massaging into the skin is so effective.
Research has indicated that the least effective way to absorb the therapeutic properties of essential oils is by taking orally. It winds up in the digestive tract and must pass through the stomach and small intestine before reaching the bloodstream. By then, the oil molecules have been chemically altered and will reach the liver, pancreas, reproductive organs and excreted through the kidneys, bladder, and large intestine. I would never advise taking essential oils internally unless by the advice of a medical doctor who specializes in aromatherapy such as a Clinical Aromatherapist.
Always do your research and seek professional guidance when using essential oils especially if you are pregnant, taking medication or have other ailments and for use with babies and young children. Essential oils can be very beneficial but also just as toxic as any medication when used improperly.
As for me, I prefer essential oils over medication if I have the choice because they tend to have very little to no side effects at all on my system.