What is an Essential Oil?

What is an Essential Oil?

With all the aromatic oils and other substances on the market, how do you know what is truly an Essential Oil?

True essential oils are volatile substances extracted from plants by way of distillation or expression.

The ISO (International Standards Organisation) defines an essential oil as –

“An essential oil is a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.”

There are a number of other fragrant plant extracts that aromatherapists sometimes use in their practice such as absolutes, oleoresins, co2 extracts and macerated or infused oils. However, these are not true essential oils even though they have their purpose within the practice of aromatherapy. On occasion you may see them referred to collectively as essential oils, but strictly speaking they are not.

Synthetic or perfume oils are NOT and can never be essential oils.

Although called “oils”, essential oils are not the same as vegetable or carrier oils. They are not “oily” as such but are called oils as they are lipophilic and hydrophobic. (In other words, they dissolve in oil but not in water.)

Although essential oils all differ in terms of which plant or plant part they have been extracted from and also with regard to their particular properties, there are some characteristics that essential oils all share –

  • Essential Oils are all extracted from plants
  • Essential Oils are volatile
  • Essential Oils are aromatic
  • Essential Oils are soluble in oil
  • Essential Oils are soluble in alcohol
  • Essential Oils are not greasy
  • Essential Oils are all antiseptic to some degree – although some are more effective than others
  • Essential Oils are synergistic – Their effectiveness may be enhanced by combining them with other essential oils
  • Essential Oils are flammable
  • Essential Oils are combinations of various chemical components which determine their overall therapeutic properties
  • Essential oils are all fragrant gifts from nature with the power to be of great help for health and wellbeing.

Essential oils are all fragrant gifts from nature with the power to be of great help for health and wellbeing.