You can love essential oils and still wonder how and if they are absorbed through the skin.
The answer is yes, at least in terms of lavender, and much faster than you would think. Within fifteen minutes of starting a massage the lavender is in the bloodstream. And it’s gone much faster than you would think as well, with a half-life (time it takes to halve the amount in the body) of less than a half hour. (http://ndnr.com/mindbody/dermal-absorption-of-essential-oils/)
Now, apply the same logic to something like a fragrance, a soap, an underarm deodorant, a toothpaste, a mouthwash, a gasoline spill on your hand, Uncle Joe’s cigar smoke, and every scent you experience throughout the day.
What is the blood effect of that odd-smelling fragrance you get in alcohol antibacterials that you rub on your hand and go about your day? Chances are they don’t have to test for it and no systemic studies have been done because since it is applied topically they don’t need to worry if it is absorbed. But if the highly volatile essential oil scents pass through the skin, it is likely that other fat-soluble fragrances do as well.
Most recently, I found myself surrounded by the odor of acetone, a “harmless solvent” used to carry such things as fingernail polish. In organic chemistry, our instructor talked about another “harmless solvent” benzene, which they used to dunk their hands in while washing away the crud from their flasks. Later on, they found out it was carcinogenic, so they switched to acetone. But chances are we’ll find that acetone is also volatile in the body.
Several of my patients have experienced chronic exposure to toluene, a “harmless solvent” that makes that nice smell from your ink toner cartridges. Unfortunately decades of exposure in a closed room to an industrial copier slowed the speech and thought processes of one patient enough to qualify her for disability.
So the next time you enjoy your essential oils, breathe deep. They beat the heck out of a lot of the other things you could be breathing and putting on your skin.