Updated: 25th Sept 2023
Essential oils have become such a staple in our lives. We don’t even think twice about where they’ve come from, how they need to be used or whether or not their properties overlap with other oils.
These oils have a rich history that spans continents and cultures. Their ritualistic use by our communities predates recorded history, reflecting our innate connection to the natural world.
While the use of essential oils may be in the spotlight at the moment, it is certainly not a new concept. Essential oils have been in use since as far back as 3500 BC, when the Egyptians made the connection to religion, cosmetics and medicinal purposes.
An essential oil is liquid distilled by steam or water from the leaves, stems, flowers, barks or roots of a plant. The oil generally carries the characteristic odour of the plant, giving wonderful scent to many things, including massage oils, cosmetic butters, emulsifiers and waxes, specialty soaps, gels and bath salts.
How Are Essential Oils Made?
Essential oils are the very essence of a plant that captures its aromatic and practical properties in a concentrated form. Typically extracted through distillation, these little concentrated liquids can go a long way!
The process begins by placing the plant material in a distillation apparatus. As steam or water heats up, it passes through the plant material, causing the delicate cells containing the aromatic compounds to open and release their precious contents. This aromatic vapour then travels through a coil, where it is condensed back into liquid form. As the mixture cools, oil and water naturally separate, given their distinct densities. The oil, being lighter, floats atop the water, allowing for easy collection.
These extracted oils carry with them the characteristic scent of the plant. As a result, they're highly sought after in a range of self-care and fragrance industries. From perfumery to hospitality, essential oils add value and a lovely subtle scent.
In cosmetics, they can add to skin and hair care routines. Therapists use them in massage oils for their aromatic benefits. DIY-ers incorporate them into specialty soaps, gels, and bath salts - so it's safe to say the uses are endless!
Beyond steam or water distillation, there are other methods of extraction as well, such as cold pressing—often used for citrus oils—and solvent extraction, reserved for particularly delicate plant materials. Each method ensures the potency of the oil, making essential oils a cherished commodity.
While many of us use essential oils in our daily life, you may be surprised to learn some of the facts surrounding them. Let’s dive into the answers of some common essential oil questions you may not know:
Are Essential Oils Really Oils?
The term "essential oil" might be somewhat misleading for those unfamiliar with the nature and composition of these aromatic compounds. Despite the word "oil" in their name, essential oils are quite different from conventional carrier oils like coconut oil or jojoba oil.
Conventional oils, often referred to as "fixed oils" or "carrier oils," are made up of lipids. They have fatty acids that contribute to their thick, viscous nature.
On the other hand, essential oils are potent, which means they evaporate quickly and do not leave a greasy film. Their name is derived from the term "essence," indicating the extraction of the quintessential aroma of a plant. Essential oils are composed of tiny molecules that can easily evaporate, and it's this property that makes them so aromatic.
The methods of extraction further highlight the difference. Carrier oils are often obtained by pressing the fatty parts of plants, like seeds or nuts. Essential oils, however, are usually extracted through distillation, where steam captures the volatile aromatic compounds from various plant parts, such as leaves, flowers, and bark.
Are Fragrance Oils and Essential Oils the Same Thing?
When diving into the world of scents and aromatherapy, one might come across two seemingly similar terms: fragrance oils and essential oils. However, while both can be used to add aroma to products, their origin, composition, and applications can be vastly different.
|Characteristic||Essential Oil||Fragrance Oil|
|Origin and Composition||The extraction is typically done through processes like steam distillation or cold pressing. The resulting oil captures the "essence" of the plant.||Also known as "perfume oils," these are blends that may include synthetic products. They can be a mix of synthetically-derived aromatic chemicals and natural essential oils.|
|Usage and Application||Given their potent nature, essential oils are often diluted with carrier oils before application.||These are commonly found in perfumes, candles, and some cosmetics. They provide a consistent scent, which is often longer-lasting than that of essential oils.|
|Cost and Sustainability||Producing high-quality essential oils can be resource-intensive, which is often reflected in their price.||Being lab-produced, these can be created in large quantities without depending on crop yields, often making them cheaper.|
Can Essential Oils Be Ingested?
As delicious as some of them smell, most essential oils are NOT safe for ingestion.
That’s because essential oils are the highly concentrated essence of plants. A single drop can represent vast quantities of the plant. This intense concentration can be harmful if consumed.
While the plant itself may be edible, its essential oil will not be. For example, while oranges are delightful and nutritious to eat, concentrated sweet orange essential oil can be problematic if ingested.
Does Each Oil Have Its Own Unique Scent?
The intricate world of essential oils offers a symphony of aromas, each with its distinct character and potential. No two essential oils smell the same. When used responsibly and knowledgeably, these oils can offer a range of practical and aromatic uses. However, as with all potent substances, it's crucial to understand each oil's specific purpose and benefits.
Are There About 300+ Essential Oils?
Essential oils have been harnessed for millennia, and in our modern age, their popularity has soared to new heights. With about 300 essential oils currently in general use, the variety offers a rich tapestry of scents and practical benefits.
While there may be around 300 in common use today, it's worth noting that human civilisations have been experimenting with and discovering the uses of essential oils for thousands of years. The current selection represents those that have stood the test of time and have been found to be beneficial in various practical and aromatic contexts.
With so many oils at our disposal, the possibilities for creating unique blends are nearly endless. With practice, you can craft specific mixtures tailored to individual needs, combining the properties and scents of multiple oils. Given the vast number of essential oils available, it's crucial for enthusiasts and professionals alike to source high-quality oils that are fit for your purpose.
For those embarking on the exploration of essential oils, the adventure promises to be one of sensory delight and a deepened connection to the natural world. Whether you're drawn to the classics like lavender and rosemary, or the more exotic like frankincense and myrrh, there's an essential oil to resonate with every preference and purpose.
Does It Take a Lot of Plants to Make Essential Oils?
The process of creating essential oils is a testament to the art of extraction. These potent liquids, which carry the very essence and aroma of their parent plants, are derived from copious amounts of plant material.
Perhaps one of the most striking examples is rose otto essential oil. It takes roughly 10,000 roses to produce a mere 5 ml of rose otto essential oil. This astounding ratio sheds light on why certain oils, especially those from delicate flowers, can be so precious and expensive.
Trees like sandalwood, which are prized for their aromatic heartwood, need to grow for years, sometimes decades, before they can be harvested for oil production. A large tree might only yield a modest amount of oil, making it a resource to use with reverence and care.
On the more generous side, citrus essential oils like lemon or orange are cold-pressed from the rinds of the fruit. Given the more substantial oil content in the peels, these oils can be produced in larger quantities from fewer fruits compared to floral oils.
Given the vast plant material required, sustainable farming and ethical harvesting are pivotal. Overharvesting can endanger plant species and harm ecosystems. It's essential for producers and consumers alike to support sustainable practices in the essential oil industry.
The high plant-to-oil ratio underscores the potency of essential oils. A small bottle can go a long way, offering lovely aromas, and functionality across a range of applications.
Can Essential Oils Be Patented?
Given their innate and natural origins, the pure forms of these oils cannot be subjected to patents. Their very nature, unaltered and untouched by human innovation, places them outside the purview of patentable entities.
However, the realm of patents within the essential oil industry is not entirely black and white.
Although the individual oils in their unadulterated form remain unpatentable, there's room for innovation in other aspects. For instance, new methods of extraction and unique formulations or blends can potentially be patented.
If an innovator were to design a new method of extracting oil or create a proprietary blend, those could be subjects for intellectual property rights. While the pure, natural compounds remain free from patents, their synthetic counterparts crafted in labs can be patented. These lab-generated compounds might mimic the aromatic or therapeutic properties of natural oils, finding their way into various applications.
With claims of "purity" and "natural origin" abound, it's important to verify sources, understand product labels, and practice due diligence.
Can Essential Oils Be Used Undiluted on the Skin?
As a rule of thumb, essential oils should not be applied undiluted to the skin. Their concentrated nature means they can cause irritation, sensitivity, or allergic reactions in many individuals. Always dilute essential oils with carrier oils before using them. When using a blend of carrier and essential oils, a patch test is recommended before incorporating them into your skincare and hair care routines.
To safely harness the benefits of essential oils for topical application, they should be diluted with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, coconut or almond oil. The dilution ratio varies depending on the essential oil and its intended use, but a common guideline is to dilute 2-3 drops of essential oil in 10-15 drops of carrier oil.
Why Are Essential Oils Kept in Dark Bottles?
Sunlight, especially the ultraviolet (UV) rays it carries, isn't great for essential oils. Just like how our skin can get damaged if we're out in the sun for too long without protection, these rays can break down and change the important parts inside the oils. If this happens, the oil might not work as well or could even change in smell or feel. This is why you often see essential oils in dark bottles, like amber or deep blue. These bottles are like sunglasses for the oils; they block out the harmful sunlight and keep the oils safe and effective. So, when you see essential oils in those dark bottles, it's just a way to make sure they stay as fresh and helpful as the day they were bottled!
We hope these answers have quenched your thirst for some essential oil knowledge. Should any lingering queries bubble up, or if you’ve got any more facts to share, our team is all ears! Reach out to us anytime – we relish every opportunity to learn and converse about these botanical treasures.