Do Essential Oils Get Into Your Bloodstream?
Many ask me about whether essential oils can get into your bloodstream. You may be surprised to hear that essential oils are indeed able to penetrate your bloodstream. The exact amount of essential oil that can enter the blood is still unclear, though. Several aspects permit bloodstream penetration – including chemical types, the environment you’re in, your immune system’s current state, and even your skin type. The way the oil was produced also plays a key role.
How Do Essential Oils Penetrate Your Skin’s Barrier?
Aromatherapy is practiced worldwide, yet very few people know how an essential oil actually passes through the skin’s membrane. Aromatherapists know that essential oils are capable of getting into a person’s bloodstream; however, information about how this transpires is all but nonexistent.
As we can ascertain, the skin forms a strong barrier between the outer world and ourselves. It unites the internal organs in our bodies while shielding us from all sorts of chemicals. Our skin acts as the first line of defense against the things thrown at us by the environment. Regardless, it isn’t impervious, and several chemicals can still penetrate the skin’s membranes to some degree. Carrier oils typically do not penetrate past the epidermis’ first few cellular layers, depending on the type.
One difference between essential oils and carrier oils is their reduced molecular weight, which enables some of the molecules to penetrate the skin. Any substance, in fact, with a molecular weight below 500 Dalton (which is the standard unit of atomic mass measurements), it can freely pass through the skin’s top layer (stratum corneum). All essential oils have a molecular weight under 500 Dalton, thereby allowing it to pass with ease.
The epidermis, the exterior layer of our skin, is comprised of various layers. Because these layers are partially hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (oil-loving), many ingredients have difficulty penetrating these layers. This is because they are either hydrophilic or lipophilic, rather than both. However, the constituents of essential oils have an affinity to both water and oil (predominantly oil), which makes them ideal for penetrating the skin’s outer barrier.
You Exhale Essential Oils That Are Applied to Your Skin
In 1940, a researcher named Straehli conducted several fascinating tests on essential oils. He discovered that every essential oil that was evaluated showed up on the test subjects’ breath after each oil had been absorbed into the skin (source: Tisserand and Balacs, 1995). This discovery demonstrated that essential oils can penetrate the skin, get into your bloodstream, then diffuse throughout the body before reaching various organs – such as the lungs, which is how essential oils are exhaled.
Who would’ve thought that exhaling lavender would be a side effect of applying essential oils to your skin?
- Between 20 and 40 minutes: linalool and eugenol (two chemicals that are elements of many essential oils: rose and cinnamon included).
- Between 40 and 60 minutes: bergamot, lemon, and anise.
- Between 60 and 80 minutes: pine needle, geranium, lavender, and citronella.
- Between 100 and 120 minutes: peppermint, rue, and coriander.
Studies like these have been conducted repeatedly and always reveal the same outcome: essential oils can make their way into your bloodstream and even further.
After an oil’s chemical molecule enters your body, the essential oil travels to various high blood flow areas, like the liver, kidneys, and skeletal muscle. They may also be absorbed into fat tissue. At some point, the essential oil is excreted by way of the kidneys. It is then passed through defecating, secreted right through the membrane, exhaled from our lungs, or excreted in urine (source: Clark, 2008).
We used to believe that essential oils weren’t able to circulate very long.
Everyone’s skin is different, and we all spend varying time in distinct environments. For this reason, multiple factors can affect the absorption amount. This becomes apparent when you realize that every essential oil is made up of different chemicals. Another factor is after application, an essential oil can evaporate fairly quickly when our skin is warm. There is always a little bit that disappears before it gets a chance to pass through the skin’s upper layers. Also, a warm environment enhances an essential oil penetration levels. As such, hot baths, warm hands, or heated-up massage oils can significantly increase the penetration rate. This may be attributed to the increase in blood flow stimulated by the rise in temperature.
Some Essential Oils happen to be less viscous than their counterparts. Essential oils that are extracted, solvent, or have absolutes tend to be the most vicious. The difference in viscosity will impact penetration. The penetration rate will be slower if the oil has more viscosity. Keeping the skin covered up with a non-permeable material will enhance the absorption of essential oils into our bloodstreams quite significantly.
There are now plenty of studies that have demonstrated how essential oils do make it into our bloodstreams before traveling to other systems in the body; however, not everyone agrees with these conclusions. One particular counter-theorist believes that in the essential oil absorption studies, nothing is stopping test participants from inhaling oils while assessments are being conducted. This individual believes that essential oil inhalation results in quicker bloodstream absorption. It is also his belief that a majority of essential oils aren’t able to penetrate our skin (source:aromamedical.org).
While this theory is interesting, it could be refuted easily if researchers made test participants inhale through alternative air supplies while oils are applied to the skin. What we are sure of is that oils can be inhaled due to their volatility. As such, you’ll probably be breathing it in, in addition to absorbing it into your skin. Each mechanism would lead to the presence of an essential oil in the bloodstream.
Give Me Some Skin
Several clinical studies have used healthy, fresh human skin for research purposes. For the most part, the skin is removed from an individual undergoing surgery – typically breast surgery (cosmetic) or a mastectomy. The sample removed is then maintained at a regular skin temperature inside of a unique chamber. The underside gets doused in physiological solution to replicate blood flow. This keeps the skin metabolically active.
The process above lets researchers evaluates how certain chemicals are able to penetrate human skin. A University of London researcher discovered that a skin’s most outer layer (stratum corneum) plays the role of a reservoir from time to time. When it does, certain essential oil chemicals can remain in place for hours before being dispersed into other areas of our bodies.
Do You Know What Is in the Lotion You Use?
Manufacturers of skincare products generally use an essential oil amount that ranges between 1% and 5%. In the EU, ambassadors of safety have established upper limits that vary between 1% and 2%. Similar guidelines are followed by aromatherapists, which are limited to a dissolution amount that varies between 2% and 3%. Thus, the quantity of essential oils your body absorbs is significant, small as the amount may be.
You should be well-versed about all essential oils that you use, especially when you’re creating a blend for somebody else. There are chemical compounds in essential oils that are quite potent, all of which are beneficial for various bodily and skin issues. You are encouraged to research what precautions to take based on the ingredients in oils. It falls upon you to understand how they’ll affect others.