Essential oils enter our bodies either through absorption through the skin, or inhalation via the nose. They are able to affect the body through several systems and pathways and create an effect much more quickly than taking a pill, which must travel to the stomach and begin to be digested before any effect can be seen.
The skin is the body’s largest organ and anything we apply to our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream. When essential oils are applied to the skin they are absorbed and travel around the body via the bloodstream. In this way they are able to deliver a range of benefits to the body’s systems and organs. Absorption is increased by massage, as this increases the circulation in that area of the body. Heat can have a similar effect, allowing better absorption of the molecules in the oil.
When we inhale essential oils through the nose, the airborne molecules of the oil interact with the olfactory organs and can interact with the brain almost immediately. Molecules inhaled through the nose or mouth can also interact with the respiratory system via the lungs.
One way essential oils can be very effective is through interaction with the emotional brain or limbic system. The limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, memory, breathing, hormone balance and stress levels - which is why a smell can trigger such a powerful emotional response in us. It’s also why inhaling certain essential oils can make us feel calmer or more alert almost instantly - and why we often associate certain smells with particular memories in a way that doesn’t occur with our other senses.
In many cases essential oils will enter the body both via absorption through the skin and via inhalation; this can have a compounded positive effect.