So, part of Aromatherapy Certification is that you have to take a crash course in Anatomy and Physiology. This was the part I expected to be a breeze because I am a science nerd and have been studying the human body since I could read. And, for the most part, it hasn’t been too difficult. It’s very light and really only focused on the parts of Anatomy and Physiology that pertain to the use of essential oils.
What I found really interesting is the way our body handles external input and how that relates to essential oil application. I’ll do my best to make it applicable for you, but you have been warned if my science nerd starts showing…
Since I started really learning about essential oils, I keep seeing one thing about safety blasted over and over. Do not ingest unless under the care of an Aromatic Medicine Professional. Why? Well, I knew it had to do with the fact that an undiluted oil was hitting sensitive mucus membranes, but more than that I couldn’t tell you. Until now!
It all has to do with how our body filters external substances!
Let’s think about our skin. It is designed to protect us from the world around us, but it is still permeable. Essential oils are made of chemical compounds and those start permeating the skin layers, and depending on the size of the molecules, it can take 20-90 minutes for those oil compounds to reach the blood stream. They are then running through the body until they reach a filtering organ, such as the kidney or liver, where they are stored until needed or excreted if not needed. Because they are filtering through many layers of skin, this is a slow process, helping your filtering organs not be overwhelmed and allowing it to gradually seep into your blood stream. Time-release, if you will. We dilute the oils for topical use because the lipid (fat)-loving nature of essential oils can damage the cell walls and their delicate balance. (Cell walls are two layers, mirror image, with a water loving head on the outside and a lipid loving tail inside. Add a lipid-loving highly concentrated oil and it can do damage). When something does damage, the body can think it is dangerous, leading to an immune response, aka allergy. Got it? Good. Let’s move on to inhalation!
Inhalation is super powerful! The respiratory system is one gigantic system of mucus membranes. Your alveoli alone (tiny air sacs in the lungs) have something like 800 square feet of surface area. Mucus membranes are very thin and allow much more rapid access to the blood stream. Especially if you do something like a steam that drives the essential oil deep into the lungs where gas exchange (oxygen for carbon dioxide) happens! This blood is freshly oxygenated, and goes directly to work in the body, carrying oxygen and now a few beneficial chemical compounds for system support as well. Inhalation is also directly tied to the brain, which is why aromatherapy is so great for emotional concerns. (This is why smells can carry such strong memories too!)
Now, why is ingestion not so great? Well, like I said above, undiluted oils are hitting very delicate mucus membranes in the digestive system. It is just too strong for such a delicate tissue. The second, and equally as important reason is that all those undiluted compounds are immediately taken to the liver to be filtered. They do not get to ride around in the blood stream first and do any good because the liver gets first dibs on everything being absorbed from the small intestine! Now, the liver may send those compounds out, which is why pharmaceuticals work when we take them orally. But, most of what is left after being soaked in acid is going to be seen as ‘too much’ by the liver and will be excreted instead of used! And chemical compounds + acid is really what organic chemistry is based on, so it’s not a great idea. Lots of chemical changes and not giving you the therapeutic benefits you were hoping for. The liver also alters the chemical components to be water-soluble so it can be excreted, which is further changing this oil, thus getting less and less therapeutic. And this is a huge load on your liver and kidneys. If you are wanting to naturally support your body functions, this is working against your goal because a functioning liver is key to detoxing
So, take it from your favorite almost-aromatherapist – dilute or inhale. It’s actually the best way to use your essential oils, according to actual science!
This is why I study folks! I science so you don’t have to!