Skin and Essential Oils

Skin, yup we all have it and yup we all have had problems with it at some point. Weather that be acne as a teen, cuts, bruises, bumps, scars, or any number of rashes we all have had a need to use skin care products at some point in time. With essential oils becoming more and more popular I wanted to talk this opportunity to talk to you about how all essential oils interact with the skin.

At this time there is no solid research that has been done on the true safety of ingesting essential oils. If you find it let me know. It however is well known what essential oils do when they are exposed to tissues including the skin and digestive lining. These two tissue types are very similar as they are both epithelial cells and easily influenced by the chemicals they come in contact with.

Essential oils are commonly made up of two different, but related classes of molecules: terpenes and triterpenes. These molecules are intense. Take a look at this diagram of the skin briefly to familiarize yourself with some of the terms that I am about to use. Note: these are digestive epithelial cells. The skin does not have cillia or microvilli but multiple layers of cells between the connective tissue and the outside world.


In the above image you can see that there are a number of junctions that connect the three cells to each other, tight junctions, gap junctions, desmosomes, and an adhesive belt. While these are not the only methods these cells use to communicate with each other they are easily damaged when terpene molecules become present.

Terpene and triterpene molecules actively break tight junctions apart. These compounds work hard to get into the body and they are so big they have to go between cells rather than be absorbed into the cells. Once they have broken down the connections between your cells they are able to get to the nerve endings and capillaries. At the nerves this is how they often block pain.

terpene03But they hurt your epithelial cells first. Your body does not like this and it rushes to fix the damage by sending more blood to the are and inflammatory cells in case of a pathogen they have to fight off. This inflammatory response puts more fluid under the epithelial cells and pushes them outwards, separating them even further from each other, after they have been broken apart by the terpene and triterpene molecules.

Theses larger gaps allow molecules and small cells to more easily be absorbed into the body. This is great if there are healing molecules present, such as when using a salve, but not so great if there is food or pathogens causing sickness around. The inflammatory response detects those undesired molecules and starts to attack, increasing the inflammatory response. This can cause a large cycle and is very hard to stop.

Check back next Tuesday for tips on reversing this problem formed from consistent use of EOs on the skin.

Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes in The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities or work one-on-one with Jillian with her wellness and herbal consultations.

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