aromatherapy and your skin
 the science behind essential oils....

Understanding the Absorption of Essential Oils

Knowing the absorption of essential oils through the skin is helps to better understand the topical application of aromatherapy.

Skin is the largest organ of the body.  The skin of an average person weighs about 9 lbs. Our skin is a living, dying and rejuvenating organ, which is continuously on the move.  With good skin care the skin renews itself every 28 days.  Old skin cells are sloughed off and new ones take their place.  Mistreatment of the skin can take up to three to four months to have an effect and visa versa. The health of your skin is a great indicator of the health of your overall body. 

Skin is the packaging that keeps us warm, literally holds us together and keeps the rain out. It acts as our first defensive warning system and alerts our brain of the conditions of environment it comes in contact with.  Our skin is mostly water proof, but is permeable to water, lipids, water soluble solutions, and substances with small molecular structures and low molecular weight.  Substances with a molecular weight over 500 most likely will not penetrate the skin. Essential oils have a molecular weight of 225 or less.  (Price)

In aromatherapy, molecules of essential oils applied to the skin pass through the skin's epidermis and are carried away by the capillary blood circulating in the dermis.  The molecules of essential oil are then taken into the lymphatic and extracellular fluids.  From there the therapeutic components of the essential oils are broken down and used by various regions of the body. Because of the lipid solubility of essential oil components of essential oils that are applied to the skin are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and come in contact with the fluids surrounding the brain.  Other great examples of therapies applied and absorbed through the skin are; the nicotine patch, birth control patch and motion sickness patches.  If the skin was as impermeable as was once thought aromatherapy and these therapies would not work. 

There are several factors the effect the rate of absorption of essential oils.  The area of skin which is used to apply the essential oil does effect how much of the oil is absorbed into the body.  Even if it is a set amount of essential oil that is applied to the skin in a carrier oil there is less that is absorbed if it is only applied to small patch of skin.  The beauty of skin is that we have a lot of it, which allows for application over a generous portion of the body. 

Different areas of the skin are more permeable than others.  The palms of the hand, soles of the feet, forehead, scalp, behind the ears, inside the wrists and armpits are more permeable than the legs, buttocks, trunk and abdomen for the water soluble components of the essential oil (Balacs 1993).  Subcutaneous fat has a poor blood supply which means that essential oils applied to these areas may take longer to be absorbed.  Also, mature or dehydrated skin slows the absorption of essential oils. 

Essential oils applied to the skin can stimulate circulation to the surface skin cells, encourage cell regeneration and the formation of new skin cells. Some essential oils calm inflamed or irritated skin, relieve muscle spasms and tension. Many scientist believe that essential oils stimulate the body's own natural defense systems. The positive effect of essential oils on blood circulation is well documented. Studies have found that basil, tea tree and thyme essential oils can encourage the production of white blood cells, boosting the immune system of the body.

A simple self test can check the reality of the claim by aromatherapist that essential oils are absorbed by the body or not.  Lavender essential oil applied to the cheek can be tasted.  Garlic essential oil can be smeared onto your ankle and will quickly be tasted.  At Essential Wholesale we have tested the theory to see if inhalation would cause the same effect with garlic essential oil.  We found that even a very short exposure to an open container of garlic essential oil results in a bad case of garlic breathe. Blood samples taken after an essential oil is applied to the skin have proven that components of essential oils can be found in the blood stream shorty after application. 

Skin is our largest elimination organ. Most essential oils that are absorbed into the skin can be detected in exhaled air within 20-60 minutes (Katz 1947).  Essential Oils are eliminated from our bodies within 20 minutes to 26 hours through our saliva, urine, feces or sweat in a healthy adult. Essential Oils work as rubbish collectors, attaching themselves to toxins, free-radicals, cell debris, heavy metals, renegade cells, fungi, bacteria, viruses or other debris and taking them to the body’s exits for disposal. Because of this, in an unhealthy adult, it can take up to 14 hours for the essential oils to pass through the body.

The human body takes the most vital properties of essential oils and uses them to bring itself into balance and is left in a healthier state without side effects.  After the essential oils perform healing their functions they are metabolized and eliminated with the bodies other waste.


Source: Kayla Fioravanti

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