Are Essential Oils Really Absorbed through the Skin?

7:55 AM Posted by jo

It is assumed  that essential oils are absorbed through the skin.  Factors such as temperature, skin hydration, the use of surfactants, the viscosity of the base oils, integrity of the stratum corneum and occlusions will all influence the absorption of the skin.

The molecules of the essential oils are very small and have a low molecular weight, which makes it easy for them to absorb into the skin. Essential oils are either absorbed through stratum corneum, the upper layer of the epidermis, or through the sweat glands or hair follicles. The essential oils are absorbed faster through the sweat glands and the hair follicles, but it is the absorption through the stratum corneum that is considered the major pathway. After being applied to the skin the molecules are filtered through the epidermal cells with the lipid medium surrounding them. When the essential oils are absorbed into the epidermis they filter into dermis where the capillaries are located, and from there the molecules will enter the blood and lymph fluids and be carried throughout the body.

Clinical studies have been conducted to prove the absorption of essential oils into the body via the skin. The essential oil of lavender was diluted in peanut oil and massaged over the stomach. After 20 minutes linalol and linalyl acetate were detected in the blood. 

We know essential oils are absorbed through the skin, and some factors may enhance the effect, such as:
  1. Warm water or an increase in room temperature will enhance the absorption of essential oils, but it will also increase the evaporation.
  2. A hot bath will hydrate the skin and also increase the blood flow, and therefore enhance the absorption.
  3. Surfactants such as soap and detergent may enhance the absorption of essential oils by increasing the permeability of the skin. They may affect the water binding capacity, membrane expansion, and protein denaturation.
  4. Essential oils are soluble in vegetable oils and less viscous oil will enhance the absorption through the skin.
  5. Skin conditions such as psoriasis will enhance the absorption.

    On the other hand, some factors may inhibit the absorption of the essential oils through the skin. Some of these factors are, but not limited to:
  1. The different properties and arrangement of the hydrophilic and hydrophobic layers of the stratum corneum may along with their thickness prevent absorption. The thickness various from different individuals.
  2. Different conditions of the skin may prevent essential oils from being absorbed, eczema increases the thickness of the skin and may therefore delay absorption.
  3. Mineral oils use important nutrients when they metabolize, and they will block absorption of essential oils by the body.

    As we seen, essential oils are absorbed through the skin, and the absorption is even more enhanced if using methods that will ensure a successful absorption. There are times when essential oils are not absorbed through the skin, but only under certain conditions and may easily be prevented in a healthy individual.

    Before you leave:

    I recommend that you always perform a skin patch test when you try a new oil.

    Check out my safety page to make sure you are aware of any contrindications before you use essential oils. Some oils are not suitable when suffering from certain conditions. AlsoRead this Before You Start Using Essential oils. Some oils should not be applied prior to sun exposure so make sure you check this list before spending time in the sun.

    Not sure how to apply the oils? Visit these pages to learn how to apply the oils:

    If you're new to essential oils you might want to check out my Getting Started Guide. 


    Johanna is an aromatherapist she is passionate about educating people about health, essential oils, real food, natural remedies, and nutrition so they make healthier choices in their lives. She also runs Naturally Sports & Wellness together with her husband.  
    Follow Johanna on twitter and facebook for more health tips and information.

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