First Things First…
How Do Essential Oils Work?
You want them to work. They smell so good and the concept is so simple, calming your frazzled nerves with just a whiff and soothing your achy bones as you soak in a hot tub of their goodness. Some lay claims that they even treat cancer and other diseases. But…exactly how do essential oils work? And, even more so…do they really work at all?
Until you know the science behind it all, using essential oils can seem a little too good to be true and a bit too easy as well. But once you get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, it all begins to fall into place. The healing powers our ancestors embraced centuries ago still work for us today and there are factual reasons to prove why they do what they do.
It all starts out when an essential oil is introduced into the body. One main way in which this is done is through aromatherapy or, inhaling it. The other mode is topical application which can include direct application, soaking your body or feet in it or various other means that allow the oil to penetrate into your system via your skin.
Essential oils are made of many very tiny particles called molecules. When they are breathed in, they travel through olfactory nerves inside your nose. They then make their way to the limbic system of the brain which, among other things, controls two very important functions, your autonomic nervous system and your endocrine system. The limbic system is also responsible for teleporting you back to being a child when you smell a certain flower or remembering a special moment as a kid at the movies when you get a whiff of buttery popcorn. This part of the brain attempts to balance old brain and new brain functions and keep them in balance.
The autonomic nervous system controls things that we don’t even have to think about doing, they just happen through this magnificent part of the brain. It is the connection from the brain to the spinal cord and then on to your organs and limbs where such things take place as your heart rate, respiration, perspiration, sex drive and digestion. The endocrine system is in charge of regulating your mood, metabolism, development and growth. It is made up of glands that send hormones out into the bloodstream.
So how do the infiltration of a scent into your brain? As you might imagine, the process can be very detailed and complicated but as with most things, there’s a simple version as well.
First off, when you breathe in a certain aroma, odorant molecules fill your nasal passage and go through the olfactory epithelium when they meet up with odorant receptors which are actually protein. There are a myriad of those receptors but as humans, we are reserved to using about 300 of them. From there, the receptors change the proteins into electrical impulses that are then distributed to the limbic system such as the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
The absolutely amazing thing about essential oils is that they each have certain properties or powers. Some sedate, others stimulate and still others balance. So say you are inhaling lavender essential oil that is calming. The receptor neuron that takes it to the limbic section of the brain (mainly the hypothalamus) sends the message for the body to calm down and relax. In the same manner, other benefits of the oil are put into play like lavender also has anti-oxidative qualities which are released as well as a “bonus”.
When an essential oil is applied topically through direct contact or soaking in a bath of it or even ingested, the process is a little different. If you think that it is not able to affect you by sinking into your skin, think again. Doctors prescribe nicotine patches and pain patches because the ingredients do indeed soak into your skin and get right into your system just as toxins and chemicals do.
This is where a carrier oil comes in. Most all essential oils are best applied after being mixed with a substance, like olive oil or coconut oil, which is able to penetrate into the skin better than straight essential oil which often absorbs first or has a problem getting through. The place on your body that you put the application is also important as certain areas like the wrist or soles of your feet are especially receptive to bring in the oil. Massage works even better with friction that heats the skin thus making it easier to penetrate and increases circulation so the blood readily carries the oil to various parts of the body.
The oil begins its job on the skin. Many oils have properties that act to clear up acne, calm skin irritations or even make signs of aging diminish. Then, once inside, the oil gets into your blood stream to do the rest of its job. Some strengthen immunities. Some increase circulation. Others aid digestion.
When you use essential oils by inhaling them and directly applying them, the results are magnified. Peppermint is unclogging your nose while telling your brain to stimulate your body. It is also cleansing your skin, strengthening your immune system and helping your upset stomach. If you apply sandalwood to your skin, it first acts as an astringent and disinfectant. Then, it travels into the bloodstream where it acts as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic and many other things as well. When you inhale the woodsy scent, it acts as an expectorant while boosting your memory and possibly jogging your thoughts back to a campout you experienced as a young child.
How do essential oils work? They work through the brain, on the skin, in your bloodstream, in your organs and affect your muscles as well. So the facts are in and even the short and simplified version proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that essential oils are powerful and effective and the way in which they work is amazing but the most amazing thing is that they do work and there is science behind it to prove it all.