Inhaling essential oils – why you should, when, and how

Inhaling Essential Oils - why you should, when, and how

Inhalation is one of the three ways to use essential oils. (The other two are topical and ingesting, which will be discussed in other posts.)

If you don't have time to read this short thorough post, then you want to just know this: If it isn't a topical skin issue, inhalation is going to be the best way to use your essential oils.

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Why inhalation is effective

Inhalation, although often under-rated, is effective for a wide range of health issues including insomnia, congestion, and emotional issues.

This about sums it up:

“Inhaled substances pass down the trachea into the bronchi, and from there into finer and finer bronchioles, ending at the microscopic, sac-like alveoli of the lungs, where gaseous exchange with the blood mainly takes place.

The alveoli are extremely efficient at transporting small molecules, such as essential oil constituents, into the blood.

This efficiency increases with the rate of blood flow through the lungs, the rate and depth of breathing, and with the fat-solubility of the molecules.

Essential oil constituents absorbed via inhalation may enter the bloodstream and reach the central nervous system with relative ease.”

Robert Tisserand, Essential Oil Safety, 2e

Why inhalation is so effective

Another quote..

“Inhalation is an important route of exposure because of the role of odor in aromatherapy, but from a safety standpoint it presents a very low level of risk to most people.”

Inhalation is an important route of exposure because of the role of odor in aromatherapy, but from a safety standpoint it presents a very low level of risk to most people.

Examples of health issues that can be remedied with the inhalation of essential oils

I could list dozens of examples, but most of them could be boiled down to the following:

  • insomnia
  • respiratory congestion
  • sinus infection
  • emotional health: grief, anxiety, hyperactivity, depression

Ways to inhale essential oils

There are several methods you can use to inhale essential oils. None of these methods include diluting with a carrier – that is for topical use only. Read more about carrier oils here: Choosing Carriers for Essential Oils.

Straight from the bottle

The simplest method is inhaling straight from the bottle. Remove the cap and waft under the nose, inhaling deeply. Ensure that you don't breathe into the bottle. Moisture in a bottle of essential oils can shorten shelf life. Read more about shelf life here: Shelf Life of Essential Oils.

This is a VERY effective inhalation method.

Sniffing Rosemary Can Increase Memory By 75%

Use an aroma inhaler

Because opening and closing bottles can shorten the shelf life of your essential oil, using a personal aroma inhaler might be a good idea for essential oils you use often.

There are two types of inhalers: plastic inhalers, and aluminum inhalers (with glass inside). They both work the same: apply 10-15 drops of essential oil to the wick inside, and cap for later use. When ready to use, uncover, place close to (or just inside) the nose, and inhale deeply.

Here is an image that shows how to use the aluminum inhalers (my favorite!).

Blue inhaler

Personal aroma inhalers can last several months. They can be refreshed any time you feel they have lost their “punch.”

This is a VERY effective inhalation method.

Use a diffusing necklace

Diffusing necklaces are becoming very popular. I was first exposed to them last summer, and I wrote a review and did a giveaway for a couple of different ones. Since then, I have found a few more etsy shops that offer them, including The Oily Amulet and Essentially Elegant.

Using a diffuser necklace can replace the need to apply essential oils used as a perfume to the skin. Apply 1-2 drops of essential oil to the felt inside the pendant for a gentle aroma that can lift the mood. You will not notice the aroma all day, as the nose sort of “shuts off” the same aroma when smelled for a length of time. I do notice when I move through the day, the aroma wafts up nicely. Remember: essential oils still work, even when you can't smell them 🙂

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You can also purchase or make clay aroma pendants. These don't look as much like “jewelry” and there is a risk of the oils getting on your clothing,  but they can be fun to make.

This is not as an effective inhalation method as the previous two options, but is still effective.

Diffuse into the air with an aroma diffuser

Using an aroma diffuser is effective for getting essential oils into the air by providing ambient absorption. You can use a diffuser as a tool to cleanse the air of germs or help improve moods in a subtle way.

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Most diffusers work by adding 5-10 drops of essential oil (amount varies depending on your model) to the water you use to fill up your diffuser with (check for the “fill line” and be sure not to overfill!).

The Jasmine Aroma Diffuser is the only diffuser which we recommend. It has a great intermittent feature which runs 10 minutes on and 20 minutes off, which allows for safe diffusing for longer periods of time. It's small size and variety of colors is perfect for any space.

p.s. A nebulizing diffuser is another option, but this is a type of diffuser recommended only in certain situations, as it shoots straight essential oils in the air. 

Steam inhalation – the most intensive inhalation method

Steam inhalation provides more absorption of essential oils than the other methods described on this page. Adding 1-2 drops of essential oil, such as Eucalyptus or Tea Tree, to a steaming bowl of hot water can open up the sinuses and help relieve respiratory congestion.

A steam inhalation is very easy to do and is a great way to shorten a cold. Simply add boiled water to a bowl, place your head over the bowl, drape a towel over your head (this keeps the steam in), add 1-2 drops of essential oil, and inhale. Be sure to keep your eyes closed, as some essential oils can cause a burning sensation to the eyes.

How to do a steam inhalation

Inhaling through the nose will be most effective for sinus issues. Inhaling deeply through the mouth will be most effective for respiratory issues.

This is the most effective and intense method of inhalation. Not recommended for pregnant women or children without approval of a qualified health practitioner.

In Summary…

When to diffuse (1)

Do you have a question or comment? Leave a comment on this post, post in the FB group, or e-mail me.

Lea Harris is a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist Scholar's Program graduate from Aromahead Institute. This website, and its sister website, LearningAboutEOs, is home to educational advice and information about using essential oils safely. Lea founded and runs the Using Essential Oils Safely facebook group, with hundreds of new members joining each week. Lea is the author of The TRUTH About Essential Oil Safety, and the creator of Safe Essential Oil Labels and the UEOS App. You can find FREE classes here: Free Essential Oil Classes.

Lea received her herbalist certification through The Herbal Academy of New England. Lea is a contributing writer for Natural Herbal Living magazine, and blogs about herbs and natural living on her website, Nourishing Treasures.

Lea is Professional level member of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists.

Businesses, groups, and individuals can hire Lea to consult on safety, product formulation, and more on her website Lea Harris CCA.

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