How Do Essential Oils Work?

How Do Essential Oils Work?

We all love essential oils, but have you ever wondered how all those listed benefits actually happen? Let’s talk about how essential oils even work on (or in) the body anyway.

There are two main methods of absorption:

  1. Inhalation
  2. Topical application

Some people also choose to ingest essential oils so even though we do not recommend doing so, we will touch briefly on that as well.


The simplest way to inhale essential oils is, of course, to just smell them straight from the bottle, but you may choose to use an atmospheric diffusion. This can be achieved by making a room spray or using a nebulizer or diffuser to have the essential oils diffused throughout the space.

Our last method of absorbing essential oils via inhalation is steam. Steaming with essential oils primarily affects the upper respiratory system and the skin of the face. To steam, put no more than three to six drops of your preferred oil(s) in three cups of just boiled water. Cover your head with a towel over your steamy bowl (don’t forget to close your eyes!), and just breathe it all in. This experience is quite soothing and works really well.

But how does the inhalation process actually even work? Well, we have our essential oil which is then vaporized into the air where we are now able to inhale it. Once we’ve breathed it in, the vaporized oil is absorbed by our olfactory nerves and transported to different sectors of the body and the mind.

Inhalation can affect your memory, learning, intellectual and sexual responses. Depending on the oil, it can be either sedating, relaxing, stimulating or euphoric.

Topical Application

Or literally, putting essential oils on your skin. The main methods for topical application are:

  • In the bath: this full body application is really beneficial when massage should not or cannot be applied.
  • After a shower: obtain the benefits of essential oils in a lotion or carrier, at a time when you would normally be moisturizing anyway.
  • Massage: diluted properly in a carrier oil. Massage is an effective way to deliver the therapeutic benefits of essential oils to the exact area they’re needed.
  • Compresses: oils are suspended in water and then a cloth is laid on the surface, wrung out and applied to the affected area (usually for muscular issues).
  • Local application: essential oils in a carrier oil applied directly to affected area (sometimes in a roll on) are most beneficial for targeted pains like muscle pain, chronic pain and chest rubs.

Once our essential oils are diluted safely into a carrier oil (or distributed in bath salts), they are absorbed through the skin and hair follicles and are then taken up by the bloodstream and transported all throughout the body to our cells and organs.

Topical application targets a much more physical response than inhalation.


Aside from the fact that we know this method is recommended by some essential oil retailers, I also feel that it’s important to touch on since we as a culture are so used to ingesting our medicines. But when it comes to essential oils, they are far more effective when applied topically or inhaled.

While it is common practice in certain parts of the world to use essential oils internally, it’s definitely not legal to promote this practice in Canada. We here at The Apothecary in Inglewood do not recommend it, as the benefits don’t always outweigh the risks.

Good luck and have fun testing out different oils and methods of delivery!

Posted by Katie on 8/1/2018 to Ask Your Aromatherapist

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