How Essential Oils Work


I’ve been using essential oils for a really long time, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I started to truly learn how essential oils work. Mostly, this newfound education was about how oils impact our overall wellness. Since then, I’ve found myself eager to learn all I can about these oils with a goal to help others learn as well.


If you know me at all, you know I basically can’t shut up about essential oils. I’m continually amazed at the benefits we have experienced by using essential oils and because of that I have come to believe that everyone deserves to know about them. Through it all, my approach towards wellness has shifted and I truly love helping people feel empowered to take control of their own wellness.


just a little CYA (aka disclaimer)

To be clear – I am not a doctor, scientist, or certified aromatherapist. I will never diagnose and I will not advertise that essential oils cure or treat anything. Essential oils can be part of a wellness routine to support our bodies and minds. While I may be tarred and feathered for this comment – I believe that essential oils can be a primary tool in our wellness arsenal, but they can also be used beautifully alongside western medicine when necessary. My approach towards wellness is to do my personal best to support my body so that I don’t need additional intervention, and my hope is to spread awareness on how easy it is incorporate wellness into your daily life.


what are essential oils?

Since I started blabbing about essential oils, so many people have asked me straight up, “what are essential oils?”. To put it simply – essential oils are the lifeblood of a plant. Just like our blood keeps us healthy by regulating, oxygenating, and healing our bodies – essential oils do the same for a plant. They are crucial to the health of a plant and despite their botanical origins, they contain compounds that are compatible with our bodies.


Technically speaking, essential oils are the volatile compound found within the plant. Volatility is the ability of a substance to vaporize. Volatility is why you can open a bottle of essential oil and smell it from across the room. While some essential oils have a higher volatility, they all have the ability to release into the air and impact our bodies.


how essential oils work

After learning the “what” – people typically are left wondering how essential oils work. The most important thing to understand about essential oils (besides safe usage) is to understand their composition. It’s not made up, it’s not sorcery, it’s not voodoo – it is chemistry.


Each oil has a unique and complex chemical composition that is comprised of different constituents. These constituents are what allow them to work and impact the body in incredible ways. Different constituents provide different benefits and in general can be divided into two  groups; hydrocarbons which include terpenes and oxygenated compounds which includes esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, and oxides.


The constituents are the answer to the “how essential oils work” question – and the details on these constituents are a topic for another post.  However, each oil contains varying amounts of these constituents and they are what create each oil’s particular aroma as well as impact different body systems and in turn – allow the oils to actually provide you with a benefit.



how do you use essential oils?

There are 3 key ways to can use essential oils.

  1. Aromatically – by diffusing or inhaling directly
  2. Topically – by applying to the skin (always dilute with a carrier!)
  3. Internally – by adding to a veggie capsule, beverage, or food


how-essential-oils-work-aromaticallyhow essential oils work aromatically

Aromatic use of essential oils is powerful because your sense of smell is strongly tied to your memory and emotions. Ever have a moment when you smell a recipe that your grandma used to make and for a second you’re reminded of another time? That is because your sense of smell is activating your limbic system, the area of our brain that is responsible for our emotions and memories. Using essential oils aromatically can support our mind and emotional health in a variety of ways by activating this part of the brain.


Curious to learn more about emotions and essential oils? Check out this book!


how essential oils work topically

Topically, essential oils have the ability to absorb through our skin due to their low molecular weight. The molecules of essential oils are extremely small, less than 300-500 daltons, which means they can penetrate the skin to support whatever body system you are targeting. When you apply essential oils to the skin, those powerful chemical constituents absorb and get to work quickly.


An analogy that I like to use is this – you eat kale because of its nutritional value. When you chew kale, the saliva in your mouth starts to break down the food for absorption. It is further broken down as it comes into your stomach and moves through your digestive system, taking nutrients along the way. Your body is using those vitamins and minerals by putting them to work to support systems. For example, it uses vitamin c for immune function and iron for healthy red blood cells. These vitamins support our bodies to keep us healthy. The constituents in essential oils have the ability to support our bodies in a similar way.

how essential oils work internally

You can also use certain essential oils internally by either adding to a beverage, food, or in a veggie capsule. It is important to use a line that specifically mentions that the oil can be used as a supplement as not all are created to be, as some oils are not considered GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA for consumption. However, essential oils have been used as flavoring agents in foods for years. So while it might seem unfamiliar, it’s a great way to enjoy the flavor and health benefits of your oils.


quality mattershow-essential-oils-work-quality

Unfortunately, the terms “essential oil” and “pure” are not regulated by the FDA. That means that many products are sold as pure essential oils but are synthetic, poorly extracted, or chemically altered. When this happens, you lose the chemical constituents and therefore – you lose the benefits. Additionally, even a product that is a 100% natural oil can lose therapeutic value if the harvest and distillation were done poorly. None of this is regulated, so it is really hard to know.


Simply said, not all oils are created equal.


To produce essential oils that offer health benefits, it is important for the oil to retain as much of the original plant essence as possible. This requires careful harvesting, extraction, testing and handling methods to ensure the oil is exactly as it should be. This process is time consuming and expensive – but results in a quality product. Young Living is the only essential oil supplier to own their own farms, open them open to the public, and control their entire process through their Seed to Seal® program. Their transparency made me feel most confident about their products for my family, and I advocate for everyone to do their own research.


why use essential oils

My “why” behind using essential oils is enough to warrant it’s own post, and someday will. But in general, my opinion is this – no one can create a life of wellness for you. Wellness is not just about using essential oils – but essential oils can be a big part of it.


Our bodies are powerful and when we care for them, they can do amazing things. The goal is to stay healthy, prevent illness, and keep our bodies above the wellness line. It is a lifestyle choice that requires daily habits instead of reacting only when our bodies start to break down.


Taking control has provided my family with endless benefits. We feel better, we sleep well, and we use vacation days for vacations. Most importantly, we feel confident and empowered in how to handle our health.


The way I see it is that you can either invest for wellness now, or pay for illness later. And if you think wellness is expensive, you should try disease. That is not to say that living a life of wellness means you will never face illness or disease. But we greatly reduce our risk when we take care of our bodies. Making that decision for my family is a choice I will never regret.


Want to learn more? Send me a message! We can chat, answer questions, and I can plug you into my discussion groups for further learning!

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  • Reply
    A. Sheffey
    January 29, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Awesome blog! I have recently gotten into essential oils and learning about them! I love the detailed information you provide in this one.

    • Reply
      January 29, 2018 at 1:28 pm

      Thank you for the comment – it means a lot. I’m always trying to provide GOOD education that is detailed enough without being overwhelming. Glad you enjoyed!

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