Ways To Use Essential Oils and Why They Work

There are a multitude of ways you can use essential oils in your life. Oils can be used Aromatically, Topically as well as Internally. I will dive into each individually below, but please note that my personal preference is to NOT use most essential oils internally unless you are working with a Certified Aromatherapist who is also a licensed medical professional. More on that below.

Aromatic Use

Using oils aromatically is simply breathing in the oil either directly from the bottle, or through use of a diffuser or nebulizer. But how/why does it work?!

Aromatherapy is all about Olfaction. Olfaction is the scientific term for “smelling.” So how does smelling an oil give us the therapeutic benefits we keep hearing about? Like any other odor you may be familiar with, the aroma of an oil is made up of molecules invisible to the eye, but ever present to the nose! These molecules enter the olfactory membrane through inhalation. The olfactory membrane is much like sticky paper that catches these molecules and instantly sends a signal to both the Limbic and Cerebral Cortex regions of your brain. Pretty cool, right?

What is more interesting here is that these parts of the brain are directly correlated with memory, discernment, recognition, emotion, motivation, drive, feelings and more. So it is easy to see how maybe the smell of coffee could evoke a specific response from you, e.g. “I love coffee!” or “Yuk, coffee is not my thing.” Knowing this, you start to get the idea how the aroma (i.e. molecular make up) of essential oils can easily be interpreted by your brain, and in turn produce specific feelings, physical reactions and more.

My instructor at The Aromahead Institute said it beautifully: “The cortex gives us the ability to use our minds and bodies with great skill in uniquely “human” ways, while the limbic system gives us the motivation and desire to do so.” Our sense of smell greatly influences these areas of our brain, and as a result, our experiences and emotions.

Additionally it is important to note that using oils aromatically is the FASTEST way to get oils into the body. Inhaling oils sends them directly to the respiratory system, and in to the bloodstream. This is one reason certain essential oils can help treat respiratory conditions!


Benefits of Aromatic Use/Inhalation

Very quick absorption in to the blood stream.
Direct effect on infection within the respiratory system.
Direct effect on congestion within the respiratory system.
Direct effect on the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Safety Considerations

Not all oils are safe for inhalation. Some can be irritating.
Some oils can be contraindicated to those with asthma and serious allergies.
Be careful with dosage. Too much of some oils can cause headaches, dizziness and irritate the membranes of the nose and lungs.
Please note that not all oils are appropriate for all people. It is important to factor in the type and amount of oil used when dealing with children and the elderly. Typically they need less than your average adult.


Topical Use

Applying essential oils to the skin directly affects the skin and is another way of allowing the oils to enter the bloodstream. Through topical use, it does take the oils longer to enter your system because it must be readily absorbed through the layers of skin. Unlike the thin structure of your mucous membranes in your olfactory system and lungs, the skin has a thicker more protective make up and therefore a wider variety of oils can be used.

Different parts of the body offer more porous sections of skin. For example, the palms and feet both have an extra layer of skin and will absorb oils more slowly. Absorption of essential oils depends on their lipid solubility and molecular weight. But even molecularly “heavy” oils will penetrate the skin over a 24hr period. Once the oils have made it through the skin they are then dispersed throughout the body through the bloodstream.


Benefits of Topical Use

Can be healing for the skin itself, while simultaneously addressing other concerns.
Excellent for local inflammation or tissue healing from an injury.
Can have strong analgesic (pain killing) effects.
Allows for slow, continuous absorption over a period of time, especially if applied during a therapeutic massage.
Can be applied directly over the area of concern.
Easy to use on a daily basis, and easy to carry around with you.
Essential oils are easily absorbed by the skin thanks to low molecular weight and due to being lipid soluble.
Areas with thin skin, lots of hair, and mucous membranes absorb more readily. Palms and the soles of feet absorb the least amounts of oil.

Safety Considerations

When using oils topically it is important to note that babies and elderly people have a lower threshold for irritation depending on skin type and condition. I ALWAYS recommend diluting oils used on the skin.

Irritation of the Skin: This is the most common reaction, if any. Signs of irritation are localized redness, itchiness and dryness. A way to avoid this is diluting essential oils with a carrier oil such as jojoba, coconut, argan, avocado etc.

Sensitization of the Skin: Similar to irritation, however these symptoms can show up elsewhere on the body, such as a rash, bumpy skin and even a headache.

Phototoxicity:  Finally, worth noting, is some essential oils’ ability to cause phototoxicity. If one applies a potentially phototoxic oil and then goes out in to direct sunlight for an extended period of time, these oils have a molecular ability to absorb UV light, store it and allow it to burst in the skin causing a burn and/or blisters. This of course can be avoided by the appropriate dilution of the oil, the length of time the oil has been on the skin and, of course, by avoiding the sun after application.

Common (Cold Pressed) Oils that are Phototoxic
Bitter Orange

Safe use of phototoxic oils:

Bergamot: 1 drop per 1 ounce (30 ml) of carrier
Lime (cold pressed): 4 drops per 1 ounce (30 ml)
Bitter Orange (cold pressed): 8 drops per 1 ounce (30 ml)
Lemon (cold pressed): 12 drops per 1 ounce (30 ml)
Grapefruit (cold pressed): 24 drops per 1 ounce (30 ml)


Internal Use 

First let me say that there are a lot of positives to internal use of essential oils! I am simply not comfortable recommending such use because it is not within the scope of my practice. Aromatherapy is not a licensed profession and I am not otherwise a licensed medical professional. I therefore am uncomfortable recommending internal usage because it is an avenue I do not yet fully understand. While my education and certification in Aromatherapy is very in-depth, it doesn’t cover internal usage.

Essential oils can affect different people in different ways. It is important to be aware of each individual’s health, medications and overall wellness. It is easy to assume that because oils are natural, they are safe. For the most part, this is true. However, essential oils are extremely potent, and I would rather be safe than sorry. Also, there is the potential for oils to interact with different medications through oral/internal use.

I do realize that doTERRA suggests internal use of some of their oils. I am sure that their scientists and aromatherapists know what they are doing. But again, I personally choose not to recommend specific internal use of neat (undiluted) oils to my tribe. You can still reap the benefits of essential oils through the other channels listed above!

Finally, your health is truly important to me. Reach out to me if you have any questions.