See Modern Essentials: How Essential Oils Interact with the Body

Have you ever wondered how essential oils interact with your body? The recent edition of the Modern Essentials book includes a section explaining how essential oils produce their therapeutic effects. The most recent research on essential oils is included in this section to help you understand how to better use essential oils based on their interactions with your proteins, organs, and body systems. Understanding how an essential oil interacts with the body is crucial for interpreting its therapeutic effects and developing a personal holistic health regime.

Systemic and Localized Effects

Essential oils are able to affect the body in two main ways, depending on the chemical constituents composing the essential oil. For example, the figure below shows the possible effects of applying an essential oil topically. Depending on the chemical constituents of the oil, topical application may result in localized effects or systemic effects.

Localized effects will only produce therapeutic properties to the specific area where the essential oil was applied. On the other hand, systemic effects occur when the essential oil constituents cross the epidermal layer of the skin, are absorbed into the capillaries of the tissues below, and are circulated throughout the body. Researchers have found that some essential oil constituents always produce systemic effects because the chemical constituents are molecularly small and have the ability to permeate cell membranes (Kohlert et al., 2000).

Both effects are useful. For example, a localized effect is desirable when using an essential oil to treat a rash or acne. Furthermore, systemic effects are desirable when treating a body wide health issue, such as a bacterial infection or cardiovascular problem.

Blood-Brain Barrier

Systemic effects occur once a chemical enters the circulatory system. However, entering the circulatory system does not guarantee that a chemical will diffuse into every organ or tissue in the body. The brain operates through chemical reactions; therefore, the body carefully controls the chemicals allowed to have contact with brain tissue. The blood-brain barrier is a barrier of tightly placed cells lining the brain’s blood vessels. This barrier guards the brain from foreign substances but allows nutrients to pass.  The blood-brain barrier is necessary for protecting the brain but diminishes the therapeutic effect of many drugs.

Amazingly, chemical constituents known as sesquiterpenes—commonly found in essential oils such as frankincense and sandalwood—have demonstrated an ability to go beyond the blood-brain barrier (L. Wang et al., 2012; Zhang et al., 2009). In fact, sesquiterpenes are known to interact with neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. These properties are very intriguing to researchers, as it means these constituents may have the potential to help with the treatment of neurological disorders.


The tradition of combining essential oils is increasingly being supported by modern research. Essential oils have displayed interesting synergistic effects both between different oils and within the chemical constituents of a single oil. Synergy within a single oil occurs when one chemical constituent enhances the properties of other components. Furthermore, synergy between oils has led to the development of oil blends and layering techniques with increased therapeutic action.

Since many interactions are possible when blending essential oils, training and experimentation are needed to achieve a synergistic blend. For example, the graph above shows how synergy, additive, non-interactive, and antagonistic interactions are possible when blending essential oils (Gibriel et al., 2013; de Rapper et al., 2013).

The “How Essential Oils Interact with the Body” section in the most recent edition of Modern Essentials gives greater detail on the vast interactions essential oil constituents may have with the body. Understanding essential oil interactions with the body can help you interpret your own therapeutic responses to essential oils. Click here to purchase a Modern Essentials book today!


Modern Essentials, 8th Edition, pp. 400–408

Gibriel, A., Al‐Sayed, H., Rady, A., & Abdelaleem, M. (2013 Jun). Synergistic antibacterial activity of irradiated and nonirradiated cumin, thyme and rosemary essential oils. Journal of Food Safety, 33(2), 222-228.

Kohlert, C., van Rensen, I., Marz, R., Schindler, G., Graefe, E. U., & Veit, M. (2000 Aug). Bioavailability and pharmacokinetics of natural volatile terpenes in animals and humans. Planta Med, 66(6), 495-505.

de Rapper, S., Kamatou, G., Viljoen, A., & van Vuuren, S. (2013 Jun). The in vitro antimicrobial activity of lavandula angustifolia essential oil in combination with other aroma-therapeutic oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2013, 1-10.

Wang, L., Li, W. G., Huang, C., Zhu, M. X., Xu, T. L., Wu, D. Z., & Li, Y. (2012 Nov). Subunit-specific inhibition of glycine receptors by curcumol. J Pharmacol Exp Ther, 343(2), 371-379.

Zhang, R., Wang, B., Zhao, H., Wei, C., Yuan, G., & Guo, R. (2009). Tissue distribution of curcumol in rats after intravenous injection of zedoary turmeric oil fat emulsion. Asian Journal of Pharmacodynamics and Pharmacokinetics, 1608, 51-57.

The information above is an abridgment from the Modern Essentials “How Essential Oils Interact with the Body” section by AromaTools®. This information has been designed to help educate the reader in regard to the subject matter covered. This information is provided with the understanding that the publisher, the authors, and AromaTools® are not liable for the misconception or misuse of the information provided. It is not provided in order to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, illness, or injured condition of the body. The authors, publisher, and AromaTools® shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss, damage, or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by this information. The information presented is in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling. Anyone suffering from any disease, illness, or injury should consult a qualified health care professional.

Updated on 6/19/2017.

3 thoughts on “See Modern Essentials: How Essential Oils Interact with the Body

  1. Thank you for all the great info!  I do have some questions about the changes in this edition, tho….I had numerous complaints, esp. from new doTERRA users that find it very user unfriendly due to the omitting of all doTERRA product names & new products.  Was this your decision or does doTERRA want to distance themselves from this publication?  I will have a harder time recommending this resource in the future…very disappointing!Sincerely,Karen Bixby 

    • Karen, thank you for your feedback. We understand that the changes we made to the latest version of the Modern Essentials book have been confusing to many of our customers. However, let me assure you that at AromaTools™, our focus and loyalty have not changed. We are still 100% dedicated to helping Wellness Advocates to be successful in using, sharing, and learning about essential oils. The Modern Essentials book was made generic to comply with FDA regulations and at the specific request of doTERRA®. Making these changes allows us to continue providing our customers with the tools they need to learn, use, share, and succeed with essential oils. If you have any further concerns, we are always happy to address them. We hope that we can continue to have a solid relationship with both you and your team and be a support to all of you in successfully using and sharing essential oils.

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