What are Essential Oils?

What are essential oils? Let me answer with an example.

When you scratch the skin of a lemon or orange, you will get a hit of a wonderful, fresh, citrus smell. You will also see little droplets on the skin where you scratched.

Those droplets make up the essential oil or essence of the fruit.

What are essential oils

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are the concentrated collection of compounds that hold the unique smell of the source plant.

You can find these compounds in many parts of the plant. The fruits, peels, seeds, flowers, leaves, bark and even roots can each or altogether contain these fragrant compounds.

Of course, it makes sense to extract the compounds from the parts they are most concentrated in. That’s why lavender essential oil is extracted from flowers and ginger oil comes from the root (rhizome).

Now, going back to the scratched lemon, you’ll notice the droplets don’t stick around for very long. That’s because the aromatic compounds in essential oils are volatile. So they evaporate quickly into the air; which is why you get the smell almost immediately.

And you should know ALL PURE essential oils are plant based. So they’re all natural, non-synthetic compounds.

Carrier Oils

Essential oils are super concentrated. So rubbing them onto your skin is a big no no! The best way to ‘carry’ or apply essential oils to your skin is to dilute them in a carrier oil.

The words are silly, I know. But, it is serious! If you do not dilute essential oils, you can end up with serious, sometimes permanent skin damage.

Carrier oils are much more stable than essential oils. They do not evaporate quickly and can be heated. Plus they are generally safe to use, unless you are allergic to the plant it comes from.

Chances are you are already using carrier oils. Coconut, grapeseed, jojoba, olive and sweet almond oils are common carrier oils used with essential oils.


In your research into essential oils, you’ll come across absolutes.

They are very popular in the perfume industry and are similar to essential oils in that they are concentrated, aromatic compounds taken from plants. But, how they are extracted from the plants is a little different.

Usually, steam is used to ‘pull’ the essential oils out of the plant material (flowers, leaves, etc). But some oils are too unstable and can actually breakdown with heat (e.g. lily).

So manufacturers use solvents (like hexane and ethanol) and filtration to remove the unnecessary compounds. The result is a thick mixture of the plant’s aromatic compounds.

While absolutes smell more like the source plant than essential oils and use no heat, there has been concern about the types of solvents used in the extraction process. And there are trace amounts of solvents left in the absolutes after.

So when buying absolutes, find out more information about the extraction process before paying. It’s good practice to know what you’re exposing your body (and family) to.

Learn more about essential oils, carrier oils and absolutes from any of these great books!

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy           

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