What Are Essential Oils Made Of?

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Essential oils have many medicinal benefits and effects.

These oils have been around since ancient times.

They are a staple factor in the alternative medicine industry.

You may know the uses of essential oils, but do you know what they are made of?

Essential oil is an oil obtained by distillation and having the characteristics of the source from which it is extracted.

These oils are usually extracted from sources like flowers, leaves, bark, roots, seeds, and peels.

Knowing the chemical properties of essential oils will help you get a better understanding of how and why they work.

Continue reading to learn more about what an essential oil consists of and ways of making oil.

Chemical Makeup of Essential Oils

You may not think of chemistry when you look at essential oils.

Essential oils can be subcategorized into two distinct groups.

The first group being hydrocarbons and the second being oxygenated compounds.

Hydrocarbon

Hydrocarbons are compounds consisting only of hydrogen and carbon.

Hydrocarbons are made up of terpenes.

Terpenes are known to be able to release toxins, mostly toxins targeting the liver and lungs.

And can be broken down into two classes, monoterpenes, and sesquiterpenes.

Monoterpenes promote a warm, bright sensation.

Sesquiterpenes are the opposite and give off more of a relaxing effect.

Examples of Hydrocarbon oils

  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Eucalyptus
  • Chamomile
  • Patchouli
  • Lavender
  • Clary Sage
  • Fir
  • Cedarwood
  • Oregano

Oxygenated Compound

Oxygenated compounds embody alcohols, esters, phenols, and aldehydes.

They still contain a terpene “backbone.”

Alcohols are known for their antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Esters are the result of the reaction of alcohol and acid.

They are found in most essential oils and give off a calming effect.

Phenols are mainly responsible for the aroma of the oil.

Aldehydes are known for their potent smell. It also can help with digestion.

Examples of Oxygenated Compound Oils 

  • Jasmine
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint
  • Frankincense
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Sandalwood
  • Wintergreen
  • Dill

Solvents

A solvent is something that can dissolve another substance, essentially making a solution.

Because essential oils can’t be made but only be extracted, solvents are vital to the production process.

Solvents are combined with the materials taken from the plant source, resulting in the extract solution.

Solvents are the preserving agent that encourages the material’s cells to release its constituents.

Methods for Making Essential Oils

Making an essential oil is a long time process.

There are many ways to extract essential oils (click here).

The most common listed below.

  • Solvent Extraction – Separation of a compound based on its solubility
  • CO2 Extraction – CO2 is pumped into the distillery until the gases become liquid
  • Maceration – infused oils
  • Enfleurage – flowers are laid on top of a fat oil until the fragrance is absorbed
  • Cold press Expression
  • Steam Distillation
  • Water Distillation

Each method affects the quality of the oil.

With all of these methods available, we’re only going to focus on the most important two.

Distillation

The first most common method is distillation.

During this process, water is heated so that steam can pass through the plant.

This allows the plant to release the compounds to be vaporized.

Each plant requires a different amount of heat.

Be careful not to make the temperature too high, or it can destroy the beneficial properties of the oil.

After the compounds are converted into vapors, the resulting steam travels to a different vessel, where the oil can then be separated from the water.

This is a natural separation that occurs as the oil and water begin to cool.

The oil will organically rise and settle at the to of the water.

From there, the oil can be filtered, collected, and stored.

Expression

Expression or cold-pressed is the second most used method.

This method is specific to citrus-based oils.

Little to no heat is used during this process.

This method will result in a higher quality oil.

The first step in expressing the oil is to create punctures in the rind of the fruit.

Next, you would want to squeeze and press the fruit to release the oil.

After that, the oil is then collected and given time to separate from the water or juice of the fruit.

When you’re able to siphon off the oil, the process is complete.

There is also a heated version of this method where the beginning material is heated first then continuing with the same steps as the cold-pressed version.

This variation of the method is rumored to be able to produce a larger amount of oil but causes the quality of the oil to suffer.

Infused Oils

It is easy to get essential oils confused with infused oils.

Infused oils aren’t extracted directly from a botanical source, and the fragrance isn’t as potent as the one emitted by essential oils.

They are created by pairing the plant with a vegetable oil like grapeseed oil and heated together over a long period.

It is way easier to make infused oil at home.

The materials needed are usually things you have in your home already.

Examples of Infused Oil

  • St. John’s Wort
  • Comfrey
  • Calendula
  • Mullein

Carrier Oils

The high concentration of essential oils can pose a safety concern for your skin.

Using oil that hasn’t been diluted will cause a possibly dangerous skin reaction or systemic toxicity.

Luckily, carrier oils exist!

A carrier oil is a base oil used to dilute essential oils.

Most of these oils are odorless or have a faint “nutty” smell.

Carrier oils are macerated or cold-pressed from seeds or vegetables.

Unlike essential oils, carrier oils don’t evaporate, so it is easier to store them.

This is the type of oil you would use to make an infused oil.

Example of Carrier Oils

  • Coconut Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Almond Oil
  • Castor Oil
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Canola Oil

Fragrance Oils

Fragrance oils aren’t produced like essential oils.

Instead of being extracted directly from plants, they are created in laboratories.  

Fragrance oils last longer than essential oils.  

They are commonly used in products like soaps, perfumes, lotions, candles, etc.

There are two types of fragrance oils, synthetic and natural.

Natural Fragrance Oils

Natural fragrance oils are made from natural plants.

These plants are plants that don’t have as many benefits as the plants used for essential oils.

Natural fragrance oils are generally only used for smell.

Although natural fragrance oils are made from plants found in nature, they can only be scientifically made.

Examples of Natural Fragrance Oils

  • Pomegranate Fragrance Oil 
  • Strawberry Fragrance Oil
  • Honeydew Fragrance Oil
  • Watermelon Fragrance Oil
  • Vanilla Butter Fragrance Oil
  • Blueberry Seed Fragrance Oil
  • Green Apple Fragrance Oil
  • Apricot and Peach Fragrance Oil
  • Banana Fragrance Oil
  • Nectarine Fragrance Oil 
  • Blackberry Amber Fragrance Oil

Synthetic Fragrance Oils 

The obvious difference between synthetic and natural fragrance oils are synthetic oil is made up of artificial compounds that naturally don’t exist.

Synthetic fragrance oils have no therapeutic properties to offer.  

They tend to last longer than natural fragrance oils.

One plus side to synthetic fragrance oils is the wide range of scents possible to create, while natural fragrance oils ore limited to plant material.

Synthetic fragrance oils pose a greater risk of irritation to sensitive skin, so be sure to read the labels of any new oils you are thinking about buying.

Examples of Synthetic Fragrance Oils

  • Cotton Candy Fragrance Oil
  • Fresh Linen Fragrance Oil
  • Caribbean Escape Fragrance Oil
  • Oatmeal, Milk and Honey Fragrance Oil
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Fragrance Oil
  • Bitter Almond Fragrance Oil
  • Macaroon Fragrance Oil
  • Salted Caramel Fragrance Oil
  • Sunshine Fragrance Oil
  • Lollipop Fragrance Oil 

Additives

It is really difficult to find a 100% pure essential oil.

An additive is a substance that’s been added to something to improve it.

A brand may label an essential oil as pure even though that’s not true.

They have many sneaky ways of putting additives into essential oils.

One way is by adding a chemical solvent to the water during the distilling process.
The chemical is boiled and vaporized along with the compounds that will soon become essential oil.

Sometimes companies will grow the plants on poor land to lower the production costs of the oils.

Because the soil quality is low, the farmers will use harmful pesticides and chemical-filled fertilizers.

Making the oils impure from the start.

Colorants

We can’t discuss additives without addressing colorants.

A colorant is a dye or pigment added to something to give it color.

It is hard to know exactly what chemicals make up a colorant and how many chemicals are used.

Colorants are everywhere.

They are used in products ranging from soaps to makeup and even food!

There are different types of colorants: natural and artificial.

Natural Colorants

Natural colorants are just what you expect; they are pigments made from any substance that already naturally exists.

They aren’t usually as vibrant in color as artificial colorants, but they are preferable by most people.

Natural colorants have to be combined with each to get the desired color.

There is no specific formula or measurements for any general color shade like with artificial colorant, which is why it is more expensive for companies to use them.

Even though they are named natural colorant, they still contain toxins like copper, arsenic, and mercury.

Examples of Natural Colorants

  • Ground Chamomile
  • Beet Root
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Turmeric
  • Sage 
  • Spearmint
  • Spirulina
  • Henna
  • Madder Root
  • Curry Powder

Artificial Colorants

Artificial colorants are made in scientific labs derived from the compounds that make up substances like petroleum.

They have a more vivid color than natural colorants and offer a wider variety of colors.

The good thing is that they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA).

Even though they are regulated, artificial colorants are linked to several potential health risks.

Some of the risks include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Skin Allergies
  • Kidney Tumors
  • Increased Migraines
  • Increased risk of cancer

It’s easy to get exposed to the toxins in artificial colorants because they are used so much and very often.

It is up to you as a consumer to steer clear of artificial colorants if you prefer to not associate with them.

The FDA has banned many colors from use over the years because of the health epidemics thee had caused.

Examples of Artificial Colorants

  • FD&C Blue No. 1 
  • FD&C Blue No. 2
  • FD&C Green No. 3
  • FD&C Red No. 3
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6

Making an Essential Oil

If you want to achieve making your essential oil at home, you will need to invest in some equipment.

The first item you want to buy is a distillation kit.

There is a beginners kit on Etsy that have positive ratings and reviews.

Now that you have your distillation kit and you have picked your plant of choice, you can begin the distilling process.

Your distilling apparatus should come with basic instructions on how to set it up.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is extracted from the peppermint plant.

It is recognizable by its crisp and refreshing smell.

Peppermint oil has many uses:

  • It can be used as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
  • It can be used as a relief from itchy skin, sore muscles, and cold symptoms.
  • It is used in hygiene and beauty products.

To make peppermint oil, the steam distillation process would be a good option.

Lemon Oil

Lemon oil is mostly used in aromatherapy.

It is extracted from the peel of a lemon.

Using lemon oil as aromatherapy comes with great benefits:

  • Lowers anxiety
  • Boosts mood
  • Pain relief

This oil is also used in cleaning and household products.

Because of its citrus components, this oil can be extracted using the expression method.

Lavender Oil

Lavender oil is said to be the most versatile essential oil.

The oil is extracted from the lavender flower.

This multipurpose oil has many uses:

  • It has soothing properties that allow the oil to be used as a sleep aid.
  • It is detoxifying.
  • And can be used as an antidepressant.

The distillation method of extraction is the best way to produce lavender oil.

Patchouli Oil

Patchouli oil is extracted from the patchouli herb.

The health benefits of this oil are endless:

  • Antidepressant
  • Antiseptic
  • Soothes inflammation

Just like peppermint oil, patchouli oil is on the list as one of the most versatile essential oils.

To produce your patchouli oil, you should focus on steam distillation.

Frankincense Oil

Frankincense oil is made from the properties of the Boswellia tree.

This oil has been favored since ancient times.

It can be used cosmetically or medically.

Here are a few perks of frankincense oil:

  • Reduce skin discoloration
  • Reverse signs of aging
  • Boost the immune system

Frankincense oil has a sweet and earthy smell to it.

Distilling the resin of the Boswellia tree will result in this essential oil.

Warnings

Now that you have read about different oils and how they are made, it is important to know about the cautions of essential oils.

Even though essential oils have many uses and health benefits, they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Putting essential oils directly on your skin without diluting it can potentially cause skin irritations.

This is due to the fact that essential oils are highly concentrated.

Not all essential oils are safe for consumption.

Always consult a trained professional before consuming any essential oil.

The use of essential oils is always at your discretion.

Take into account that each oil may react differently to every situation.

Many artificial colorants have been banned over the years due to the health problems they caused.

Natural colorants contain toxins like mercury, arsenic, and copper.

Recap

Essential oils are highly concentrated extracted oils with so many beneficial purposes.

They can be extracted from a variety of botanicals, mainly flowers, seeds, leaves, peels, and roots.

Essential oils are roughly classified into two chemical groups, either hydrocarbons or oxygenated compounds.

Hydrocarbon oils are made up of terpenes.

Oxygenated oils are made up of alcohol, esters, aldehydes, phenols, and terpenes.

To extract oil from a substance, there are two methods: distillation and expression.

Distillation is the most common way of extraction.

Expressing oil is most useful when using citrus fruit.

The difference between infused oil and the essential oil is infused oil isn’t extracted.

It is heated with a carrier oil and combined.

To make an essential oil at home, you will need to purchase a distillation kit.

Solvents are important to the production of essential oils.

Carrier oils are mild smelling oils used to dilute the concentration of essential oils.

Fragrance oil is mainly used for its smell and has little to no actual health benefits.

Synthetic fragrance oils last longer than natural fragrance oils but pose a greater risk of allergic reactions.

Natural fragrance oils are made from plants available naturally, still can only be produced in a lab.

A colorant is a pigment or dye added to something to give it color.

Artificial colorants are vivid, and FDA regulated, but the increased risk of health issues is greater with artificial colorants.

Natural colorants are made from substances that are already naturally available.

Closing

Essential oil production is a world of its own.

It can be overwhelming to look at every kind of oil in hopes of figuring out which one you’re looking for.

With this new-found knowledge of the essential oil production process, everything should be a little more clear to you.

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