The Skin, Emotions and Essential Oils



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The Skin, Emotions & Essential Oils

Natural Skin Care Products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products

Natural skin care products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products Natural skin care products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products


Essential Oils are used in Aromatherapy and have a wide range of effects on the mind, body and spirit. Essential oils have long been used for their therapeutic as well as cosmetic properties in both the natural health care and beauty industries.

In addition, essential oils are extensively used in the practice of Aromatherapy and have been shown to have a powerful effect on the mind and emotions. This articles investigates the interation between the skin, emotions and essential oils.

The Power of Essential Oils






Psyche, Skin and Essential Oils


Susan L. and Danny T. Siegenthaler


All the odours we consciously and unconsciously detect can have an influence on the way we think and feel. Similarly, essential oils have been shown to have pronounced effects on various areas of the brain resulting in physical, psychological and/or emotional reactions.

The sense of smell (olfactory sense) provides the means by which odoriferous molecules (molecules of substances that have an odour) reach the brain in humans and many other animals. Dogs are well known for their highly developed sense of smell, with the ability to detect millions of different odours. Humans, however, do not have the same range and depth of odour perception, able to detect only a few thousand different odours. It is thought that the sense of smell of our ancient ancestors was far superior to ours. Our forebears were able to consciously recognise one another by smell, could detect the edibility of a plant by it’s odour and could also track animals by the scent they left behind on a trail.

The sense of smell forms the greater part of our sense of taste, with only four flavours detectable through our taste buds: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. When you have a head cold or sinus infection you tend to lose your appetite. This is partly due to the effect of a cold on the olfactory organ in the back of the nose and partly due to the fact that air containing odoriferous molecules cannot pass through the blocked nose and over the olfactory bulb.

The acuity of the sense of smell is also affected by pollution, smoking and/or trauma to the nose itself.

The sense of smell helps us to distinguish between 'good' and 'bad' odours, telling us if food is fit to be eaten and if disease is present.

A couple of hundred years ago, physicians used their sense of smell as a diagnostic aid and specific body odours are still considered to indicate particular conditions. For example:

  • arthritis and rheumatism have an acid smell
  • a post-partum haemorrhage can be anticipated by the smell of blood passed during childbirth;
  • diabetes gives the breath and urine an acetone smell;
  • perspiration can give us clues as to the health of the kidneys and lymphatic system;
  • the smell of faeces can tell us the type of some diseases in the digestive tract.

Natural medicine still uses this method of diagnosis.

When we inhale air molecules that carry the ‘odorous’ molecules of an essential oil, these molecules adhere to and stimulate the Olfactory nerve endings in the back of the nose.

Sensory stimulation of the Olfactory centre in the brain is accomplished by way of nerve impulses from the sensory nerve endings in the nose to the brain. This is a very rapid and direct pathway to the part of the Brain that directs, controls, interprets and responds to sensory input. Furthermore, the messages cannot be immediately blocked by the conscious mind.

This pathway is very different to that taken by the sensory nerves in the skin which is more complex, being transmitted from a sensory nerve ending to the spinal cord, to the brain, back down the spinal cord, down a motor nerve ending and then to the appropriate organ. For example, when we touch a hot object with our index finger, the heat stimulates a temperature receptor in the skin.

This nerve relays a message along the sensory nerve fibre to its root in the spinal cord. The impulse is carried to the brain. The brain says “ouch !!! that’s hot, take the finger off now”. This message is relayed down the spinal cord to the motor nerve root, and then to the appropriate muscle(s) that, when contracted, move the finger away from the hot object. As you will know from your own experience of touching something hot, there is often a time lag between touching the object, recognition of the pain and removing the finger.

The Olfactory pathway has no relay station – the stimulus goes straight to the Limbic System, a ring of structures located deep within the brain and encircling the brain stem. The Limbic System functions in emotional aspects of behaviour related to survival and ‘emotional memory’ and is sometimes referred to as the ‘emotional brain’ because of its role in emotions such as pain, pleasure, anger, rage, fear, sorrow, sexuality, docility and affection. It is interesting to note that events that cause a strong emotional response are committed to memory much more efficiently than those that do not.

The Olfactory bulbs are part of the Limbic System and thus the memory of the many odours we experience throughout life are stored deep in our sub-conscious minds and it is not unusual for a particular odour to trigger a memory of a past experience (Tisserand, 1984).

Several other structures comprising the Limbic System are involved in the production of hormones that regulate and integrate brain activity and many body activities. Thus, it can be seen how far reaching the influence of essential oils on the body, mind and emotions can be.

It is now also known that many small odorous molecules are absorbed into the olfactory bulb and into the lymphatic system and blood stream and various points along the respiratory tract.

Research has been conducted for many decades into the effects of essential oils on brain chemistry and electrical activity (Gattfosse, 1993).

These findings have suggested many interesting and exciting uses of essential oil therapy. Some essential oils affect the higher thought processes in the cerebral cortex by altering the electrical activity in different cortical areas, whilst others affect the hormone producing cells in the Limbic System. These ‘brain hormones’ then either affect the mental and emotional responses or can be released into the blood stream from where they are carried to distant organs to produce the desired effect on body chemistry.

Essential oils can be categorised according to their effects on key centres in the brain and are briefly summarised below.

Oils that stimulate the secretion of ENKEPHALINS from the THALAMUS to produce a euphoric effect and to lift or enhance the mood.
Examples: Clary Sage, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Rose Otto.

Oils that stimulate the secretion of ENDORPHINS from the PITUITARY GLAND to produce emotional warmth, and sex hormone activity.
Examples: Clary Sage, Jasmine, Patchouli, Ylang-Ylang.

Oils that stimulate the secretion of VARIOUS HORMONAL SUBSTANCES from the HYPOTHALAMUS to regulate 'moods' and hormonal secretions.
Examples: Bergamot, Frankincense, Geranium, Rosewood.

Oils that stimulate the AMYGDALA and HIPPOCAMPUS in the brain which are associated with 'higher' brain functions of thought and memory.
Examples: Black Pepper, Lemon, Peppermint, Rosemary.

Oils that aid sleep, relax and lower hyper-function in the body by stimulating the secretion of SERATONIN from the RAPHE NUCLEUS in the brain.
Examples: Chamomile, Lavender, Marjoram, Orange Blossom.

Oils that increase energy and body functions by stimulating the secretion of NORADRENALINE from the LOCUS CERULEUS of the brain.
Examples: Cardamom, Juniper, Lemongrass, Rosemary.


Maury (1952), Gattefosse (1993), Valnet (1964), Tisserand (1984) and others have written extensively on the efficacy of essential oils in the relief of a wide range of psychological imbalances and mental health problems. These are summarised below:

Benzoin, Chamomile, Cypress, Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Marjoram, Melissa, Neroli, Rose, Sandalwood, Ylang-Ylang.

Basil, Bergamot, Chamomile, Frankincense, Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Neroli, Patchouli, Peppermint, Rose, Sandalwood, Ylang-Ylang.

Chamomile, Melissa, Rose, Ylang-Ylang.

Jasmine, Juniper, Patchouli, Rosemary.

Basil, Cypress, Frankincense, Peppermint, Patchouli.

Benzoin, Frankincense.

Basil, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Juniper.

Hyssop, Marjoram, Rose.

Chamomile, Jasmine, Melissa,

Chamomile, Camphor, Marjoram, Frankincense.

Rose, Ylang Ylang, Lavender.

Chamomile, Clary, Jasmine, Lavender, Marjoram, Melissa, Neroli, Ylang-Ylang.

Camphor, Melissa, Neroli


Whilst the existence of psychosomatic illness is most often acknowledged today, very little detailed knowledge and understanding of the mind-body relationship is available.

Most people accept that feelings of tension, anxiety and anger can give rise to high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, tight and painful muscles, headaches and digestive problems; however, some difficulty may arise when trying to visualise the connections between state of mind and its manifestation in the physical body. It is possibly even more difficult to imagine the connection between a state of mind and a nervous skin rash or an outbreak of pimples before an important dinner date!

However, as we have seen, the brain plays an important role in the production of a range of hormones that are not only mood altering but also have direct effects on body chemistry and physiological reactions at a cellular level (Tortora and Grabowski, 1993). Taking these facts into consideration, it does not require a leap of faith to realise that our state of mind, emotional well-being and the level of stress under which we operate on a daily basis can have a dramatic influence on skin health and function. Whilst too lengthy to include in this article, the skin undergoes considerable physiological changes at a cellular level in reaction to even ‘minor’ stressors.

In addition, there is a developmental connection between the skin and the nervous system in that both arise from the same type of stem cells during embryological development. This embryological connection is often referred to as the reason for the occurrence of similar types of tumours in both the skin and the nervous system.

Finally, we know that events and stresses produce psychological/emotional responses that are themselves related to changes in brain chemistry and electrical activity. The release of hormones into the blood stream that accompany these changes have a number of influences throughout the body and the hormones themselves (or their by-products) are often excreted through the skin.

The general approach taken in complementary therapies to the treatment of skin problems is to take note, not only of the physical symptoms but also the accompanying thoughts and feelings experienced by the patient. Therefore, the patient who experiences anger and frustration on a regular basis and also has a tendency to hot, dry skin rashes such as eczema, may benefit from cool chamomile compresses and steam inhalations Frankincense and Rose oils.


Related Articles

Aromatherapy and Essential oils - Part I
Part I of this series of Articles looks primarily at where essential oils actually come from.

Aromatherapy and Essential oils - Part II
Part II of this series of Articles investigates the way essential oils effect the mind and emotions.

Aromatherapy and Essential oils - Part III
Part III is the final part of this series of Articles and discusses the way essential oils effect the 'etheric body' or Psycho-spiritual level of our bodies.

Introduction to Essential Oils
Natural Skin Care Products - Introduction to Essential oils and their use in Natural Skin Care.


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