Essential Oils On Feet: Yes or No?
There are many ways to use essential oils and, like everything in life, theories will fall in and out of fashion. At the moment, it seems like we can’t move for being told to apply essential oils to the soles of our feet – no matter what the problem is!
This habit is gaining popularity at an extraordinary rate, particularly among fans of those well-known MLM brands.
I can’t help but roll my eyes at some of the wild “advice” that pops up on social media about using essential oils.
It’s not entirely new – people have been slathering the soles of their feet with Vicks VapoRub for decades, despite an official statement from the brand that this practice is “not in line with what the product is for so we would not endorse it being used in this way”.
So, what’s the obsession with using essential oils on the soles of our feet? Let’s take a look at both sides…
- Advocates of this practice claim that the pores on the soles are larger than anywhere else on the body, allowing essential oils to be absorbed more quickly. It’s often quoted that, after applying oils to the feet, they can be detected in every cell of the body within 20 minutes.
- There are no sebaceous glands on the soles of the feet, so it’s thought that essential oils can be absorbed more easily without the ‘barrier’ effect of sebum on the skin.
- It’s commonly claimed that the skin on your feet is less sensitive, reducing the chance of an adverse reaction. Some believe it is, therefore, a “safer” place to apply essential oils. In fact, it’s often stated that “hot” oils (e.g. oregano, cinnamon) can be safely used undiluted on the soles for this reason.
- Massaging essential oils into your feet can bring added reflexology benefits, boosting the overall effectiveness of the treatment.
- It’s often argued that applying essential oils to the soles of the feet allows them to “bypass the liver”. This is a somewhat spurious statement to make, often backed up by claims such as this gem: “When using the foot application, the oils will be bypassing the liver and will not accumulate there. Instead of being processed by the liver, the oils reach the lower bronchial capillaries via the circulator system and the entire organism unprocessed”.
- Applying oil to the soles can be safer for babies and children, as feet can be covered with socks and ‘sealed in’ to prevent little hands from rubbing traces of oil into eyes or mouths.
- The skin on your soles is actually the thickest on the whole body, which contradicts the theory that oils would be quickly absorbed. When asked his opinion, myth-busting aromatherapy expert Robert Tisserand confirmed that essential oils actually absorb more slowly through the soles of the feet.
- The soles are packed with sweat glands – in fact, your feet are one of the sweatiest parts of the body. As sweat is a water-based substance, we know it won’t mix well with oil. The absorption of any product applied topically to the feet will be hindered by the fact that it’s continually being sweated off. It’s unlikely that any significant percentage of essential oil can enter through sweat ducts, as they are designed for outward flow, rather than inward absorption. In fact, rates of skin absorption are actually lower on the feet than any other part of the body (Bronaugh & Maibach, 1999).
- Despite claims to the contrary, the skin on your soles is incredibly sensitive. With as many as 200,000 nerve endings per sole, it’s no wonder that they’re the most ticklish part of the body! This calls into question the idea that “hot” oils can be safely used without dilution.
- Massaging your feet is NOT the same as reflexology, as the Barefoot Dragonfly eloquently explains here. Reflexologists use a particular technique to work on reflex points, which does not involve massaging oil.
So, is there any point?
Massaging oils into your feet is undoubtedly pleasurable – particularly after a long and tiring day! You’ll also get the benefit of inhalation while applying them to your feet, which is considered to be the most effective method of aromatherapy.
A relaxing foot massage can certainly help to reduce stress and anxiety – but there’s a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that it’s a more efficient way for essential oils to absorb into the skin.
It seems that it is perhaps only worth doing to treat a foot-related problem, or when the feet are the only convenient part of the body to apply essential oils (if you’re fully clothed at work, for example).
For babies and children, it can be a safe way of applying essential oils – but I would advise extra caution, and ALWAYS dilute first. I can’t tell you the number of social media posts I’ve seen about adding drops of neat oils to the feet of babies – please don’t do this! Even if they do call themselves a “wellness advocate” or “essential oil educator”…!
What do you think?
I’d love to know your thoughts about applying essential oils to the feet – is it something you do? Let me know in the comments below!
What to read next: The Truth About Drinking Essential Oils In Water
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