Essential Oil Absorption and Distribution After Topical Application and Inhalation

Essential oils are known for their rapid results. They quickly enter tissues and cells to support healthy cellular and organ function. But just how quickly do they enter tissues after different administration methods?

Research into the distribution of essential oils after administration (topical, oral, and inhalation) is limited, but it is generally accepted that they are distributed similarly to fat-soluble drugs. Essential oils molecules do not distribute to organs throughout the body in the same quantities and ratios.(1) Instead, essential oils molecules will tend to distribute to fatty tissues (brain, nervous, and liver tissue) and move more slowly to adipose tissue, which has a reduced blood supply.

It is interesting that essential oils first seek to distribute to cells and tissues vital to life (nervous system and liver tissue). By doing so essential oils can profoundly influence health because the nervous system is the primary controller of myriad body functions.

The following is a brief overview of how quickly essential oils enter body tissues after topical application and inhalation.


  • Essential oil compounds (lavender) are detected in the blood within 5 minutes of topical application.(2)
  • Widespread (peak blood concentration) at 19 minutes and reaching a minimum after 90 minutes.(2)
  • Minute amounts of a 5% dilution of tea tree stayed in the skin layers, but only oxygenated monoterpenes in the oil significantly absorbed, whereas hydrocarbons were only absorbed at trace levels (2.1)


  • A significant portion of essential oil compounds distribute to the pulmonary system following inhalation.(3,4)
  • Inhalation of aroma compounds leads to detection in the blood within minutes, peaking at about 20 minutes.(5)
  • Research using brain topographical maps (EEG) demonstrates that essential oil molecules modify brainwave activity. However, how quickly molecules entered brain tissue was not reported.(6)
  • Animal research suggests that inhalation of aroma compounds leads to distribution in the brain tissue.(6)

So it is clear that essential oils are rapidly absorbed or distributed to tissues that are vital for optimum health. Regular use of essential oils (what I call an aromatic lifestyle) leads to cell, tissue, and organ support. This allows the whole person to thrive.

Students of the Mastering Essential Oils Certification course also have access to videos demonstrating essential oil absorption and distribution (for oral, topical, inhalation, and vaginal/rectal administration) via the included app.


4 replies
  1. Nancy Perez
    Nancy Perez says:

    Dr. Scott Johnson, I just wanted to take the time to thank you for sharing your years of experience and research. I own several of your books and use them so frequently that they look worn. I am a wellness advocate and am on the path to helping others be empowered by sharing what I know as well as what I have learned from you. Thank you for allowing me to have access to this wealth of information that is helping me become more knowledgeable in my field.


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