Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways. However, two of the most popular, and recommended, ways to use essential oils is via inhalation and application to the body. Both methods have advantages for use, depending upon what you intend to use the essential oil for, and any cautions associated with a particular essential oils. Here is more information on diffusing and applying essential oils.
Inhalation: How an Aroma Enters the Body
The quickest way in which an essential oil enters the body is through inhalation via the nose. The nose is in direct contact with the brain, and consequently essential oils used in this way are beneficial for conditions such as anxiety, stress, and depression, accessing the appropriate part of the brain and processing the aroma.
The entire process of the aroma entering the nose, and being perceived by the olfactory nerve, to being processed by the brain, happens at lightening speed. The process is known as reception, transmission, and perception and it is something that you do many times a day without a second thought.
Application: How an Essential Oil is Absorbed Through the Skin
Essential oils are not usually applied directly to the skin (due to sensitivity, irritation, and toxicity reasons) but are diluted in a carrier base, such as a vegetable oil. Vegetable oils act as “carriers” for the essential oils through the skin barrier and make them “safer” to apply to the skin. Essential oils are easily absorbed through the skin as they are a lipophilic substance (Jäger et al. 1992). In addition, many vegetable oils have therapeutic benefits for the skin.
Inhalation of Essential Oils: Methods of Use
There are many ways to inhale essential oils. Some of the more popular ways for inhaling essential oils include:
- via an aromatherapy diffuser: There are many aromatherapy diffusers on today's market including electric diffusers, candle diffusers, nebulizing diffusers, terracotta diffusers, fan diffusers, and aromatherapy jewelry diffusers.
- Via an aromatherapy inhaler: Personal inhalers are popular in the United States and consist of a small diffuser stick, similar to a Vicks inhaler stick, a glass vial diffuser, a personal balm stick, or an aromatherapy roll-on blend applicator.
- Via a tissue: If you have nothing else available, simply add up to three drops of essential oil to a tissue and inhale deeply.
- Via a spray bottle: Spray bottles (of essential oils and distilled water) can be used to disinfect a room, as a personal spray, or to freshen up. Simply spray – and inhale.
- Via an aromatherapy candle: True aromatherapy candles contain beneficial essential oils; do not confuse these types of candles with store-bought fragrance oil candles which contain many toxic ingredients.
Application of Essential Oils: Methods of Use
If you applying essential oils to the skin, always dilute them in a carrier base first. The dilution rate varies, depending upon a person's specific needs and health history. Consult a certified aromatherapist for further information. Methods for applying essential oils to the skin include:
- Massage: One of the most popular ways of using essential oils with carrier oils is through massage.
- Skin care: There are many skin care products which can be used with essential oils including perfume oils, bath oils, lotions and creams, bath salts, scrubs, gels, balms, and butters.
- Roll-on blends: Roll-on blends can be used for therapeutic purposes, in addition as aesthetically pleasing perfumes. Simply apply to the wrists and temples, as you would for a perfume blend, and allow the blend to penetrate the skin while breathing in the aroma.
Cautions for Using Essential Oils via Inhalation and Application
Many essential oils carry cautions for use. Check individual essential oil profiles before using a particular essential oil. In addition, take care in pregnancy, with babies and children, with the elderly, if you are taking certain medication, or if you have a specific health condition.
Note that some essential oils are photo-toxic. If you are applying essential oils to the skin, you should not expose yourself to sunlight, or other forms of ultra-violet light, after applying such essential oils. However, if you are simply diffusing them, where they will not be in contact with your skin, photo-toxic essential oils can be used.
- Falsetto, Sharon, 2014, Authentic Aromatherapy, US: Skyhorse Publishing
- Price, Shirley, Price, Len, 2012, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, UK: Churchill Livingstone
- A decade of the international training and experience of a certified aromatherapist.