How Essential oils enter our bodies

Essential oils follow 3 main pathways into the body the first as mentioned earlier is not within the realms of this course and that is Ingestion, although do not be mistaken only a very small amount of essential oils produced are used for aromatherapy the rest is used by the food and flavour industry and perfumery. Every time you brush your teeth you are ingesting essential oils, if you add tomato ketchup to your chips you will be ingesting small amounts of Nutmeg, if you use antacids again you will be ingesting peppermint, lozenges often contain eucalyptus the list is endless and very interesting.

The two absorption methods we will be looking at are Olfaction and absorption through the skin.

Olfaction in brief

Access via the nasal passages is by far the fastest route for essential oils to take. The nose has direct contact with the brain, which is responsible for triggering the effects of essential oils in the body regardless of which route was used to gain access. Please refer to chart. When essential oils are inhaled, the volatile molecules in the oils are carried by eddy currents to the roof of the nose, where delicate cilia protrude from the receptor cells into the nose itself. When the molecules lock onto these ‘hairs’ an electrochemical message is transmitted via the olfactory bulb and olfactory tract to the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampus). This may trigger memory and emotional responses which can, via the hypothalamus acting as a relay and regulator, cause messages to be sent to other parts of the brain and the rest of the body.   The received messages are converted into action, resulting in the release of relaxing, sedative, stimulating, euphoric neurochemicals; depending on which oils were used.

Absorption via the skin

Until the second half of the 20th century the skin was thought to be almost impermeable, there is now sufficient scientific evidence to show that gases and lipid – soluble substances pass relatively easily through the skin. Examples include nicotine skin patches, HRT patches (Hormone replacement therapy) there is now a contraceptive cream that is rubbed into the skin over the belly. Due to their small molecular structure essential oils are able to pass through the skins hair follicles. Some of the essential oils, chemical constituents do enter the dermis and maybe absorbed into the blood stream and lymph. This is a hot topic amongst the aromatherapy community at present. It is difficult to determine, if essential oils found in the bloodstream, got there via skin absorption, or via inhalation. The current understanding is that some of the chemical constituents do penetrate, while others diffuse before this can take place.