How Essential Oils Work – Beginner’s Guide

How essential oils work. I have a confession to make…

I’ve been an essential oils fanatic for years, but it wasn’t until my mom came over, pointed at my diffuser and asked, “What’s that thing?” that I realized I wanted to know more about how they work.

I felt silly not being able to explain how these little bottles of aromatherapy heaven work, and the magical things they can do!

I don’t want you to have the same, “Uh, IDK,” moment that I did, so let’s talk about how essential oils work.

how essential oils work beginner's guide

How Essential Oils Work

Essential oils are called essential because they contain the essence of plants. 

(But yes, I think they are essential to have in your home, too!)

The liquid not only consists of the plant’s scent, but also its properties. They are literally the chemical compounds of the plants they represent.

They are made by crushing the plant and then distilling it so that its chemical properties can be used.

In other words, they don’t just smell good…


Essential Oils provide healing benefits to us through their essence.

The tiny molecules of the plant compound activate and support our body’s natural processes to provide physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

See? There is actually science behind how essential oils work.


what are essential oils

How Essential Oils Work with the Brain and Bloodstream

There are two ways to benefit from essential oils:

  • Inhalation (smelling them)
  • Absorption (mixing them with a carrier oil and rubbing onto your skin)

1. Inhalation Method

When you inhale an essential oil by holding the bottle to your nose or through a diffuser (get my favorite diffuser here), the plant properties reach the olfactory system at the top of your nose.

These teeny-tiny nerves in your nose have direct access to your brain.

When activated, they send a message straight to your limbic system in the brain telling it to start acting immediately.

What’s the limbic system, you ask? (What? You don’t remember from high school science class? Yeah, neither did I!)

Our limbic system is the control center for emotions, mood, mind and memory.

What the brain triggers the body to do depends on the essential oil you inhale.

For example, if you inhale lavender essential oil, your nervous system will start to relax, providing relaxation and a sense of well-being (among other things).

The oil stimulates serotonin release in the body, which reduces stress, promotes better sleep and eases headaches.

what is a diffuser

2. Absorption Method

The other way to use essential oils is to put them on the skin (always diluted in a carrier oil – we’ll talk about that in a minute). 

When we do this, the healing properties in the oils are absorbed by your pores and hair follicles, and move into the bloodstream.

Once there, they are dispersed to the organs and systems they heal and soothe.

The best places to apply essential oils are:

  • The temples
  • Back of the neck
  • Inside of wrists

These are where our “pulse points” are and they will absorb the oils more quickly (and work faster).

For example, if you have a headache, you could apply lavender oil to your temples and the back of your neck to get some quick relief, since those are two common stress areas for headaches.


It’s super important to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before applying them to your skin! Remember, these oils are concentrated; some can burn the skin or cause skin irritation.

I once used full-strength lemongrass oil on my foot, and it was red and itchy. So, make sure to use a carrier oil, okay?

Carrier Oils

There are lots of different carrier oils you can use. I typically use a recipe of 1-part essential oil to 4-parts carrier oil.

The best carrier oils are:

Carrier Oil Tips

  • It’s best to use unrefined, organic carrier oils.
  • The purer the carrier oil, the better the essential oils will work (refined, non-organic carrier oils are less pure and have chemicals that can decrease the oil’s benefits and properties).

Speaking of purity, I need to mention the importance of good-quality essential oils.

These days, you can find essential oils cheap at drug stores and big box store, but beware…

These inexpensive oils are most likely SYNTHETIC, meaning, they do not contain any of the medicinal properties found in the plant.

They may smell nice, but they won’t offer the benefits of the real thing because they are man-made.

The process of creating quality oils is time-consuming, which means you get what you pay for when it comes to essential oils.

Who Has the Best Essential Oils?

Hands down, doTerra. Because I know how essential oils work, I use these oils every day and can sniff out inferior quality oil.

And remember, EO’s have TONS of benefits. We’re talking better mood, deeper meditation, better sleep, increased intuition and much more!

They have several awesome starter/discovery kits that you can get on Amazon:

  • Every essential oil junkie must have lavender, and this is a wonderful kit to start with: Introductory Kit

Okay friends, that’s all I have for you today. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how essential oils work.

Next Read: 11 Essential Oils to Increase Intuition

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