What’s the best way to use essential oils?

What’s the best way to use essential oils?

Buying essential oils with plans to incorporate them into your self care is almost a rite of passage into the world of natural health. A common question I get from clients who’ve done this is, “Now what?” 

A good starting point for learning about essential oils is knowing how to use them. This is a simple question with a complex, long answer. There are some basics though that can provide a good guide to using essential oils safely.

So, when do you diffuse essential oils versus apply them to the skin? The sort of simple answer: the best way to administer essential oils depends on what effect is needed.

When it’s best to inhale essential oils

Use inhalation when there is an issue with the respiratory system, or you want to enhance mood. Inhalation can be done through diffusers, steam tents, aroma lamps, personal inhalers, or smelling the oil directly from the bottle. 

When breathing in the oil, molecules enter the respiratory system and then go into the bloodstream to affect the body pharmacologically.  These molecules are far less diluted if you smell an oil in its pure form, close to the nose, so that a higher percentage of the molecules make it into the bloodstream. This is done best through personal inhalers and smelling the oils from the bottle.

When you inhale an essential oil two things happen. 

  1. The scent of the oil triggers an electrical signal to the brain via the olfactory bulb that then activates a psychological response (memories, pleasant associations, “I like this smell”)
  2. The molecules that make up the essential oil enter the respiratory system and then go into the bloodstream to affect the body pharmacologically. 

The molecules are far less diluted if you smell an oil in its pure form, close to the nose, and a higher percentage of the molecules make it into the bloodstream this way.

Diffusing essential oils creates a wonderful mood enhancer for your home and office. Because the molecules of the oils are being diffused into a lot of space you won’t experience much of the physiological benefits of the oils, but the psychological effects will still be active.

When it’s best to apply essential oils to the skin

Use essential oils topically (and with a carrier oil in most cases) when addressing surface skin issues like burns, pimples, rashes, or insect bites. Topical application also is the best method for helping alleviate pain, and for helping overworked or spasming muscles – especially when you pair it with a massage.

Be aware of possible sensitivities when using essential oils on the skin. People with fair skin or other allergies may be more prone to having an adverse skin reaction to essential oils. Test a small amount of the essential oil blend on the inside of the elbow when working with a new oil. Look for signs of irritation or allergy: hives, itching, redness, burning pain, or blisters.

When it’s best to take essential oils internally

Use essential oils internally for digestive issues, and only under the advice and care of a trained aromatherapist. Essential oils are very concentrated substances that the body will need to metabolize quickly, which can cause stress on the kidneys and liver. 

The body treats essential oils as xenobiotics, substances that are foreign and need to be removed to keep the organism safe. This process moves the essential oil molecules through the digestive and elimination systems quickly. People with compromised or weakened kidney function or liver function should be extremely cautious when considering ingesting essential oils. There is very little research in vivo showing the long term effect of ingestion of essential oil and the effects on the body. Use this method with caution.

When taking essential oils internally use a capsule and add a couple drops of a carrier oil like olive oil or almond oil to protect the mucous membranes from the essential oil.  

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