Essential oils are a core part of any aromatherapy treatment. The way the oils enter the body and how they effect it though can vary. Part of my role as an aromatherapist is choosing the right oils to get the right effect for my clients.
How do essential oils effect the body?
There are three ways in which essential oils effect our body: –
- Pharmacologically – the chemicals of the essential oil work with the chemicals in our blood and other bodily fluids to effect the systems of our body;
- Emotionally – by the effect they have on the brain through their interaction with the olfactory system (our sense of smell);
- Energetically – via the vibrational interactions they have on the energy flowing around the body.
How do essential oils get into our body?
There are two ways in which the essential oils can safely enter our body. Inhalation, through the mouth & nose and absorption, through the skin.
The fastest way for essential oils to penetrate the body is through inhalation
Inhalation is divided into two routes, through the lungs (respiratory pathway) and through the nose (olfactory pathway).
With the respiratory pathway, the essential oil molecules enter the body through the mouth & nose. They then travel down the larynx to the lungs, where they penetrate the lining of the lungs (mucous membranes). Once there, depending on their therapeutic actions, they affect the local tissues and enter the nearby blood and lymph capillaries. In the lungs they expedite gaseous exchange between the blood and lung cells, they then enter the arterial blood stream and passing with blood through the tissues they have therapeutic effects. They are then excreted via breath, urine and sweat.
The olfactory pathway, is more complicated and it is not fully understood by scientists how exactly it works. But a widely accepted theory is that of the ‘Lock and Key model’. Passing through the mucous membranes in the nostrils, the essential oils stimulate the cilia. Which in turn sends nerve impulses to the olfactory bulbs situated at the top of each nostril, connecting to each side of the brain. The nerve cells then send messages down the olfactory tract to various places in the brain. These are primarily the temporal lobes and amygdala in the limbic area of the brain. The temporal lobes recognise and distinguish between different aromas. It is believed that a molecule of Lavender for example, has a specific shape that will ‘fit’ onto a specific receptor on the nerve cell and it is this ‘locking’ that activates the neuron.
When the olfactory impulses stimulate the amygdala, we experience certain emotions e.g. pleasure, pain, anger, contentment, fear and sorrow etc. It also plays a part in memory, so the body responds to the emotion and memory, hence why some smells, bring you comfort and others do not. The brain will also react to the different chemicals in the essential oil and produce particular effects e.g. a sedative oil may cause the brain to send out signals to relax the body.
Oils are absorbed through the skin. It is not the impenetrable layer it was once believed to be, it is permeable to certain substances. The skin is composed of several layers, each layer made up of different cells. Within the layers are sebaceous glands, hair follicles, nerves and both blood and lymphatic capillaries. Once past the outer layer of the skin, all the cells contain lipids which the essential oil molecules are attracted to, from there they enter the lymphatic and blood circulation. Essential oil molecules are also absorbed by sebum and via hair shafts where they again go on to enter the lymphatic and circulating blood.
During a massage treatment, the warmth of the environment combined with the massage itself result in warming the client’s body and increasing the peripheral blood flow. This improves the penetration and absorption of the essential oils. Absorption rates also vary depending on the size of the essential oil molecule.
How can you use essential oils safely?
It’s important you always use essential oils from reputable suppliers and also under the guidance of a professional aromatherapist. You can find registers of qualified aromatherapist on the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA) and Federation of Holistic Therapies (FHT) websites.
As part of my aromatherapy massage treatments I take a detailed consultation. From this I can then choose the best blend of oils to provide the maximum benefit for the client whilst ensuring their safety.
I also offer a selection of aromatherapy based take home products and gifts, these include bath salts, room sprays and roller balls. I’m more than happy to work with you to make something suitable for you. If you’d like more information on these, the safe use of essential oils or anything else please get in touch.
If you’d like to book yourself in for an aromatherapy massage in Rumwell, Nr. Taunton, Somerset please click here.