How the body absorbs essential oils
There are two ways your body absorbs essential oils: through your nose and through your skin.
Understanding how this works will help you make educated choices for:
- What kind of product to make (bath salt, body oil, inhaler, etc)
- Which essential oils to include in your product
- How long your product should be used
- Safety considerations to tell your client about
Let’s jump right into exploring the two avenues of absorption your body has.
Your nose: breathing in essential oils
Every time you take a deep breath of lavender essential oil, you’ve done something a lot more complicated than “smelling something lovely.”
You’ve brought the molecules of lavender essential oil into contact with the mucous membranes in your nasal passage (the olfactory membrane) and respiratory system.
These mucous membranes contain millions of microscopic capillaries, which conduct the lavender molecules directly into your bloodstream. That’s one reason inhaling essential oils is such a fast, effective way to experience their benefits!
Another reason is that when your olfactory membrane picks up molecules, it sends that information directly to your brain—specifically, to your limbic system and cerebral cortex.
The limbic system has been called the “seat of the emotions.” Essential oil molecules can inspire emotions like relaxation, energy, memory, and instinctive or unconscious behaviors.
The cortex is where conscious thought, recognition, and intellectual processing take place—and where essential oils can support concentration, motivation, and a calm mind.
While this is a very simplified explanation, it offers a basic understanding of how essential oils affect us.
Make a blend for inhalation to:
- Get essential oil molecules quickly into the bloodstream
- Directly affect the respiratory system (such as during cold or allergy season)
- Quickly influence the nervous system (the limbic system and cerebral cortex)
Your skin: applying essential oils topically
Your skin is the largest organ on your body.
In most places, your skin has four layers (your palms and the soles of your feet have five layers). While these layers are excellent at keeping out many substances, they’re still permeable.
Think of your skin as a very thick, multi-layered membrane. The “underside” of skin is even covered in capillaries (just like a mucous membrane). The membrane of your skin allows some things to pass through (such as essential oil molecules), where the capillaries carry them into your bloodstream.
Since skin is much thicker than mucous membranes, it takes a longer time for essential oils to be absorbed in this way.
Even the most absorbent skin—such as areas with lots of hair, or very thin skin—introduces oils into the body more slowly than a mucous membrane. Since your palms and the soles of your feet are thickest, they absorb essential oils the most slowly of all.
Make a topical blend to:
- Soothe, nourish, or repair the skin itself (even if your blend is for other issues)
- Allow your blend to absorb steadily over a longer period of time (such as during a massage)
- Relieve physical discomfort in a specific area of the body
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