Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants. The oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor also called its “essence.” Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence. Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.
Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use. The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy. They are either inhaled or diluted then rubbed on the skin. Essential oils are not meant to be swallowed. The chemicals in essential oils can interact with your body in a number of ways. When applied to your skin, some plant chemicals are absorbed.
It’s thought that certain methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, research in this area is lacking. Inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is a part of your brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell and long-term memory. Interestingly, the limbic system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions.
The limbic system also plays a role in controlling some unconscious physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Some people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect on your body in this way.
However, this has yet to be confirmed in studies.