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How Do Essential Oils Work

As volatile aromatic compounds move quickly through the air, you will experience the scent when the compounds interact directly with sensors in the brain. With over 3,000 types of volatile aromatic compounds discovered so far, it is important to note that these compounds greatly determine the benefit, aroma, and nature of each essential oil. Because of unique chemical makeup, each essential oil will vary from species to species, and even from plant to plant. The delicate ratio of aromatic constituents found in any given essential oil are what make it unique and give it specific benefits.

Essential oils can help alter our physical, mental and emotional well-being by triggering and strengthening our body's’ own natural processes. They are made up of tiny molecules that can deliver healing properties to the systems that control our physiological state.

The best way for the body to absorb the therapeutic components of essential oils is a combination of inhalation through the olfactory system of the nose and absorption through the surface of the skin:

1. Inhalation: 

When essential oils are inhaled through the nose, tiny nerves send an immediate signal to the brain and go straight to work on the systems that moderate our minds and bodies.

Inhalation can be the most direct delivery method of these incredibly nurturing components in essential oils, since the chemical messengers in the nasal cavity have direct access to the brain.

2. Topical Application

When essential oils are applied to the skin, their healing components are absorbed into the bloodstream by the pores and hair follicles. Once inside the bloodstream, they disperse to the specific organs and systems on which they work. Pulse points are the areas of the body where blood vessels are closest to the skin’s surface. Applying essential oils to these areas allows for quicker absorption and help them get to work faster. We suggest applying to the wrists, temples and back of the neck.

What Are Some Basic Safety Tips?

  1. Photosensitivity – No sunbathing after applying citrus essential oils. Citrus oils are sensitive to the sun since they are made from the rind of fruit. Avoid direct sunlight to the exposed area for at least 12 hours of that location may have a skin irritation or burn. Oils applied underneath clothing should be fine.

  2. Hot Oils – If it starts to burn, skip the water. Use a carrier oil or whole fat milk. Because essential oils don’t mix with water, applying water to the area can actually drive the burn in deeper.

  3. Avoid These Areas – Never put essential oils in your eyes, inside ear canal, or up nose. However, you may apply oils around the eye bone in a C shape, on ear cartilage and behind ear bone, or diffuse essential oils.

  4. Dilution – Use a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil when applying essential oils topically to avoid skin sensitization.

  5. Safe Storage – The majority of all adverse reactions to essential oils by children have been as a direct result of accidental overdose and ingestion in large amounts. Keep out of reach of children. Use child proof safety caps.

Using The Hot Oils

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “hot” oils sometimes referred to. These are the oils we label as “dilute” or sometimes as “sensitive.” But the term “hot” oil comes from the sensation they give if used topically. These so-named hot oils can give you a burning sensation when used on the skin, or a spicy burning sensation when taken internally. These oils include:

Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list of hot oils, especially if you are using other oil blends or brands. For any oils that have the potential to cause skin sensitivity, it is always wise to keep these out of reach of children, consult your physician if you are pregnant or under a doctor's care, and avoid contact with the eyes, inner ears, face, and sensitive areas.

Diluting the hot category of oils is the recommendation for all people, regardless of their individual sensitivity level. In this way such oils can safely be used and added to your essential oil repertoire.

Do and Do Not

Let us be clear: there is no need to fear using hot oils in spite of the need to dilute. You only need to use an extra dose of caution to safely and effectively use them. Here’s how:


  1. Safely apply hot oils topically by diluting them. For hot or dilute category oils, we recommend that adults dilute one drop of oil to 10 drops carrier oil. For sensitive oils, we recommend diluting one drop of oil in five drops carrier oil. For children, additional dilution is needed. (Neat category oils can be applied without dilution if you are familiar with the oil, but dilution is never a bad thing. It doesn’t hurt the efficacy of the oil and may help avoid unexpected skin irritation.)

  2. Do not add hot oils or even sensitive oils to bath water. A favorite method of topical use, the best oils to use in your bath are classified as “neat.” Always mix oils you are adding to your bath with Epsom salts or soap first to make sure the oil does not simply float on top of the water.

  3. Use veggie capsules or oils in food. When using hot oils internally, do not place them directly on the tongue or directly in the mouth and swallow. This is due to their individual chemical design and how it affects the body; these oils are merely too strong to be taken directly without altering the application method. But, these oils can be taken internally by adding one or two drops to a veggie capsule and then taking them with food, or by adding them to a recipe.

  4. Safely diffuse any hot oil. You can safely diffuse the hot oils into the air.

Figuring Out Sensitivity Level

To determine if you are sensitive to an oil or not, perform a patch test. Apply one to two drops of oil (always with five to ten drops of carrier oil for hot oils) to a patch of skin on your forearm. Observe that area of skin for one hour for any noticeable reaction, but you’re most likely to have a reaction within 10 minutes.

You will know if you are sensitive to a particular oil based on responses in the skin, digestive system, respiratory system, or other areas of the body. Some of the signs of sensitivity to an oil include pain, swelling, or tenderness in the skin, skin irritation, difficulty breathing, and upset stomach.

What to Do If You Have a Reaction

If you experience a sensitivity reaction to essential oils in the digestive system, immediately discontinue use of that oil. If a large amount of oil was consumed, contact poison control. But, if only a small amount of the oil was consumed, you can help subside the sensitivity by drinking plenty of fluids. If a skin reaction occurs, apply Fractionated Coconut Oil to the area every few minutes until the reaction is neutralized.

The Takeaway

Essential oils are potent, and some have stronger reactions than others. But, this in no way means that the hot oils should never be used. Their benefits when using internally or topically are worth the necessary precautions.

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