Essential Oils

Essential oils have been used by people for thousands of years for various purposes. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese culture were among the first to use essential oils. Essential oils were and still are used for cosmetics, as food supplements, and as therapeutics. These particular oils have a very special effect that unfolds on body, mind, and soul.

General Information 

An essential oil is a highly concentrated substance obtained from different parts of plants. The substance is derived from various biochemical compounds, which are produced by the metabolism of various plants. It helps the plants to defend themselves against pests and pathogens, as a means of communication with each other and to attract insects for pollination. Parts of the plant store oil in so-called oil glands, which can be located in the seeds, fruits, blossoms, leaves, branches, roots, bark, needles, and herbs.

Overview of plant parts in which essential oils are produced
  • Whole plant/herb: marjoram, balm, immortelle 
  • Leaves (folium): cajeput, geranium, cistus, tea tree 
  • Flowers (flos): chamomile, lavender, rose, neroli, jasmine
  • Flower buds: cloves, worm seeds
  • Needles: silver fir, Swiss stone pine, pine
  • Fruits/Seeds: Tonka, fennel, coriander, carrot seeds, anise, nutmeg
  • Wood/branches: Atlas Cedar, Sandalwood, Rosewood 
  • Pods: vanilla 
  • Grass: Palmarosa, Citronella, Lemongrass 
  • Roots: Vetiver, Angelica, Valerian, Violet
  • Rhizome/Tuber: Iris, Ginger 
  • Bark: cinnamon bush, sandalwood and camphor tree 
  • Resins/Balsams: Benzoe, Frankincense, Myrrh 
  • Fruit peel: Lemon, Orange
  • Seeds: bitter almond, musk seeds
  • Cabbage: garlic, peppermint, wormwood

Effect of essential oils on the skin

Most essential oils have an antimicrobial effect, which means they are effective against bacteria, viruses and fungi. The germ-repelling effect of essential oils has been proven by various scientific studies. Some essential oils support the regeneration and renewal of skin cells and are therefore frequently used in skin care oils and other cosmetic products. The influence an essential oil has on physical processes is mainly determined by the chemical composition of the oil.

Hautzustand                                                                      Ätherisches Öl

Normal skin: Rose, Lavender, Rose Geranium
Combination skin, oily skin:

silver acacia, ylang ylang, elemi, cumin, cedar wood, camphor, lime, neroli, petitgrain, bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, orange, cypress, lemongrass, palmarosa, citronella, eucalyptus, juniper, litsea, tea tree, cajeput, rose geranium, patchouli, rosemary, sandalwood, yarrow

Blemished skin, inflamed skin, acne: Yarrow, lemon verbena, rosewood, ylang ylang, cumin, cedar wood, camphor, lime, neroli, petitgrain, bergamot, mandarin, myrrh, coriander, cumin, cypress, lemon grass, palmarosa, citronella, carrot seed, eucalyptus, wintergreen, immortelle, juniper, litsea, chamomile, tea tree, cajeput, lemon balm, basil, patchouli, rosemary, sandalwood, benzoin oil, cloves, thyme vanilla

Dry skin, mature skin: Rosewood, birch, incense, ylang ylang, elemi, rockrose, neroli, lemon, orange, rose geranium, myrrh, cumin, palmarosa, carrot seed, immortelle, lemon balm, basil, rose, real sage, sandalwood, benzoin oil, vanilla, violet
Large-pored skin: Incense, grapefruit, real sage, violet

Extraction of essential oils

The most common method of extraction is steam distillation. However, the essential oil can also be obtained by synthesis, extraction with solvents and carbon dioxide or by mechanical pressing.

Destillation

The distillation process is the most common process for obtaining essential oils. In the first step, a pre-treatment is necessary: grasses are cut, bark crushed, wood and roots sawn, fruits and seeds crushed or ground. Only with this pre-treatment the steam can gain access to the cells and tissue containing the oil. In the next step, the oil-like material is filled into the distillation apparatus. Water vapor is then inserted at the appropriate pressure and temperature. The hot steam removes all volatile fragrances from the plant parts. Through condensation and the subsequent separation process, the essential oil is skimmed off of the plant water. The flower water, a so-called hydrosol, is produced as an additional product during the distillation. This hydrosol contains the plant’s large molecular water-soluble substances. 

The amount of essential oil obtained depends entirely on the plant in question. For example, approximately 11000 – 15000 lbs of rose petals are needed to produce 35 oz of rose oil. Whereas only 65 lbs eucalyptus leaves are sufficient to produce 35 oz of eucalyptus oil. This discrepancy also explains the different prices for the respective essential oils.

Cold pressing

With citrus fruits, the essential oil is merely extracted from the peel. Since the oil sits in the pores of the peel, it is quite easily accessible. The peels are simply crushed, pressed, centrifuged and filtered. This means that no heat treatment is necessary and the oil yield is relatively high. For example, the peel of 100 – 150 oranges is needed to produce 35 oz of orange oil.

Extraction

Precious flower scents (jasmine, lotus or narcissus) are usually obtained through an extraction process. The plants are first soaked in a solvent that dissolves the fragrances. In the next step, the solvent and plant waxes are removed by a further extraction or distillation process. This is how the so-called absolute is obtained. An absolute contains both the water-soluble and the fat-soluble components of the plant parts. It is characterized by its intense and rich fragrance.

Carbon dioxide extraction

This procedure is a relatively new and gentle extraction method. It is mainly used for temperature-sensitive plants and plant parts. The process is carried out with liquid CO2 at around 86 °F and under extremely high pressure. The resulting fragrances are particularly natural and intense. However, this process is still rarely used.


Difference between essential oils and vegetable oils / carrier oils 

Base oils are obtained from the fat-rich seeds, nuts, or fruits of a plant. One of their uses is to dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin. Essential oils can be obtained from the flowers, leaves, or fruits of a plant and are highly concentrated.


Properties and effects of essential oils

The physical effect of essential oils 

An essential oil can consist of up to 100 different individual substances. This explains why the oil can have several different effects. The individual chemicals complement each other synergistically and mutually reinforce each other. 

Effects: Antibacterial, anticoagulant, antiviral, antitumoral, anti-inflammatory, hormone balancing, antihypertensive, cell-regenerating, expectorant, antifungal, antispasmodic, appetite-inhibiting, appetite-stimulating, immune strengthening, pain-relieving, antiseptic, diuretic, blood circulation stimulating, liver strengthening, kidney strengthening, circulatory stimulating, detoxifying, hormone balancing, antioxidant, etc.

Psychological effects of essential oils 

Via our olfactory nerve, the active ingredients directly reach our brain and unfold their full effect there. They mainly affect our limbic system, which controls our emotions. Hence, essential oils can have a direct influence on our mood and psyche.

Effects: Stimulating, anxiolytic, antidepressant, aphrodisiac, balancing, calming, relaxing, grounding, euphoric, memory enhancing, concentration enhancing, nerve strengthening, mood-brightening, centering and much more.


Storage and shelf life of essential oils

Essential oils are sensitive to light and oxygen. Therefore it is recommended to store the essential oils in dark, closed bottles as cool and dry as possible.

Citrus oils are more perishable than other essential oils. When stored properly, they can be kept for a maximum of 2 years. Wood oils and patchouli last up to 4 years, or longer if necessary. All other oils have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years. High quality rose or sandalwood oil can mature and improve over time.


Quality of essential oils

It is not easy to recognize a high-quality essential oil, since the term “essential oil” is not protected and therefore also used for purely synthetic products. Natural products, on the other hand, are obtained directly from the plant.

100% natural

The specified stem plant is subject to strict quality control. It is left in its natural state, i.e. its composition and fragrance can vary slightly (in given constants) depending on the harvest, climate and soil conditions.

Natural oils

Natural oils are not up to 100% extracted from the plant that gives them their name but consist of several natural components. For example, lavender oil can be mixed with another, cheaper, essential oil. However, no synthetic additives may be used.

Nature-identical oils

The substances of nature-identical oils are produced artificially and then mixed. The chemical composition reflects natural examples. This is noticeable by the identical scent. For example, a nature-identical rosemary oil consists of about eleven components, whereas the natural oil has about 150 components. The effectiveness of these mixtures is arguable.

Artificial oils

These oils are not based on natural examples and are usually only produced specifically to have certain odor properties. These oils are criticized as well because they accumulate in the fatty tissue of the organism and have hormone-like effects.


Information on the quality of essential oils

Cultivation method

Controlled organic cultivation or wild collection is preferable to conventional cultivation with fertilizers and pesticides.

The English and botanical name of the plant

The indication of the English name, as an example “lavender”, is not sufficient by itself, since there are numerous lavender types, which differ in their effects. Thefore, the botanical name should be indicated on the essential oil label as well. 

Country of origin

The essential oil may have slight differences in composition, scent, and effect depending on the manufacturer, country, and batch. Climatic conditions, soil conditions, altitude or the “vintage” cause such variations. Therefore the label of high-quality oils always shows the country of production and the batch number. The biochemical and physical analyses can be called up from the manufacturer using the batch number to identify the oil.

Used parts of plants

The essential oil should indicate the used part of the plant such as the root, flower, fruit or leaf and also the chemotype of the plant.

Extraction process

The manufacturing processes such as steam distillation, expression and extraction also provide an indication of the quality of the essential oil.

Product details for extraction

The indication of the solvent and whether the product is residue controlled should be provided.

Diluent

For viscous essential oils (such as vanilla or tonka bean), the type of diluent (usually ethyl alcohol, alcohol or jojoba oil) as well as the mixing ratio should be specified in percent.

Notes on Use/Declaration

The product should indicate its intended for example as a commodity good (e.g. for room scenting), for cosmetics (for use on the skin; e.g. in cosmetic products or aroma care), for food (flavoring food), for pharmaceuticals, and other (animal feed, insecticides).

Indication of certification or inspection body

Indication of allergenic ingredients according to Cosmetics Regulation

Ingredient information (INCI)


Use of essential oils

The fewest oils should be applied to the skin undiluted. Usually, the essential oil is added to a carrier oil or a mixture of carrier oils. In principle, these carrier oils should be cold-pressed and contain as few additives as possible. More information on this subject can be found in the section on vegetable oils

Suitable carrier oils
Apricot kernel oil Avocado oil Safflower oil Rosehip seed oil Hemp seed oil Jojoba oil Macadamia nut oil Almond oil Sesame oil Wheat germ oil St. John's wort oil Olive oil Sunflower oil

 


What is the difference between native, refined, unrefined and cold-pressed?

Native/unrefined oil

To obtain native oil, the plant, its leaves, seeds or fruit, are pressed without any supply of heat. These oils remain unchanged (native) and are therefore often darker than refined oils, since they may still contain some deposits. It is also not allowed to roast the raw material (seeds, fruits, seeds or plants). Native oils are of high quality, beacause the gentle production process preserves valuable ingredients. Native oils are also called unrefined oils.

Cold-pressed oil

Cold-pressed oils are produced using only mechanical processes such as centrifugation or cold pressing. In contrast to native oils, it is permitted to roast the raw material or to treat the oil with hot steam after pressing. However, this must be indicated on the label.

Refined oil

Refined oils are obtained by hot pressing the plant or parts of it followed by solvent extraction. This process allows for more oil to be obtained. However, since the oil still contains various accompanying substances such as pigments, odors, and bitter substances after the first step, it must be purified or refined. These accompanying materials are often considered undesirable since they affect the appearance, durability, and taste. The refining process goes through several stages at high temperature and serves to de-slime, deacidify, bleach, and deodorize the oil.


Caution!

Essential oils are usually applied diluted. The internal use of essential oils can lead to serious health problems. The application of essential oils can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions. Some oils should also not be used on infants and young children. For sensitive skin, a contact test should always be carried out in the crook of the elbow. Allergy sufferers should note that a reaction to a certain plant is also expected to result in reactions to the corresponding essential oils.