Essential oils are currently having a revival in the health and wellness space. Now more accessible than ever, their popularity has increased dramatically. The touted benefits of using essential oils range from the easy to grasp, such as relaxation and stress reduction, to the amazing, such as curing cancer.
We know these oils smell amazing and make us feel good, but how exactly do they work?
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are natural oils found in plants, commonly called volatile oils or, to be more precise, volatile aromatic compounds. Volatile aromatic compounds are organic molecules that change their state quickly from a solid or liquid state to a gas at room temperature. They are termed volatile because they change state quickly.
Essential oils are extracted from the seeds, bark, stems, roots and flowers of plants through steam distillation, resin tapping or cold-pressing.
The physical and chemical properties of the volatile aromatic compounds are unique to each plant and give the oil its distinctive smell and therapeutic properties.
How Do We Absorb Essential Oils?
There are three ways we can use and absorb essential oils:
- Skin absorption
- Taken internally
When applied to the skin with a carrier oil, essential oils pass the epidermal barrier and enter the bloodstream. They can penetrate the skin easily thanks to their small molecular structure and weight.
Studies show that essential oils are found in traceable amounts in the bloodstream following topical applications. In 1940, research showed that after making it into the bloodstream, essential oils diffused around the body and it’s organs, including the lungs, and the oil compounds were then discovered in the breath. Pretty amazing!
Lavender oil for example, contains active botanical compounds —linalyl acetate, linalool (a non-toxic terpene alcohol that has natural germicidal properties), terpinen-4-ol, and camphor— which have been extensively researched for their calming and antimicrobial effects.
These active compounds enter the bloodstream and body via the skin where their therapeutic properties—antimicrobial, antibacterial or anti-inflammatory— exert a positive influence.
Have you ever opened a bottle of essential oil, inhaled the scent and had an immediate response? You may have felt calmer, more energized or in greater balance.
When the smell of an essential oil is inhaled, tiny molecules enter the nasal passages and travel to the olfactory system. These molecules travel via receptors and affect the brain through the limbic system. The limbic system is connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels and hormone balance. This system explains why smells often trigger memories and emotions.
Lets take another look at lavender oil as an example to see how essential oils can affect our health. When inhaled, the stress-reducing and calming compounds active in lavender oil travel to the limbic system (the “emotional brain”) sending messages to the brain to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes our body.
Several essential oils have powerful botanical compounds that, when taken internally, have been shown to be just as effective as conventional medicine.
When taken orally and absorbed through the digestive tract, essential oils like lavender, clove, cinnamon and lime oil have displayed antibacterial activity.
Oregano oil, often referred to as nature’s antibiotic, has been proven to be effective against several strains of bacteria and exerts potent antibacterial, antifungal activity.
However, when using essential oils internally keep in mind that many oils are unsafe to take orally and it is important to use them carefully and under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
As you can see, there is so much more to essential oils than their nice aroma. Essential oils have been used by cultures around the world for centuries for healing and spiritual enhancement and science now supports the effectiveness of essential oils in improving our health and wellbeing.
If you would like to learn more about which essential oils I use and recommend, click the image below. I would love to see you in the Mindfully Oiled Community!