How Are Essential Oils Made?

Posted by Dima Gouralnik on

Thanks to the rise of Pinterest, the DIY trend is taking the nation by storm. While there are an impressive variety of DIY alternative health projects to enjoy like brewing Kombucha and making your own dishwasher detergent, do-it-yourself essential oil making isn’t on that list. Essential oil extraction is a lengthy process that requires complex machinery and an intricate botanical knowledge. Even if you can’t make your own oils at home, it is still helpful to understand how your favorite Peppermint essential oil made it into that tiny brown bottle.

The Basics of Extraction

Essential oils blend with other oils, alcohol, and fats, but not with water, leading the majority of extraction to occur with water so that the oils can be easily separated. The type of plant material ultimately dictates which method of extraction needs to be used to obtain an essential oil. It’s incredibly important for oils to be extracted correctly, as poorly executed extraction will damage the oil and likely ruin its therapeutic benefits. Overall, distillation is the most common form used to extract essential oils from their plants.

How Distillation Works

The basic concept of distillation involves the conversion of an essential oil into a vapor that condenses back into a liquid. It’s a popular method because it’s efficient, safe, and cost efficient.

In order to achieve distillation, specific parts of a freshly picked plant are suspended over boiling water. The steam from the boiling water actually pulls the plant’s oils right out. As the steam rises, the steam-oil blend is captured in a large vessel that pushes the steam along through tubing. The steam is then cooled to condense, but the oil separates out since water and oil don’t mix.

After the oils have been collected, only the condensed water remains. Certain essential oils leave the water so fragrant that aromatherapists consider it a prized possession for use in cosmetics and moisturizers.

Despite the seemingly simple nature of the distillation process, all distillation is not equal. The cooking chambers, condensers, separators, temperatures, and pressure settings can all have an incredible influence on the quality of the oil. As with any machine, the distillation process is only as intelligent and effective as the person controlling it.

How Cold-Pressed Expression Works

Expression is another legitimate form of essential oil extraction, and it is also the most direct method. Often called cold pressing, expression is most commonly used to gather citrus oils like Lemon, Sweet Orange, Bergamot, Lime, and Tangerine.

Hundreds of years ago, expression was done by hand after soaking the citrus rind in warm water to make it more receptive to pressing. A sponge was utilized to press the rind, break the essential oil cavities, and absorb the oils that flowed out. Today, machines using centrifugal force are utilized to separate the essential oils from the fruit juice. This is considered cold pressing because no heat or steam is needed to gather the oils.

While cold pressed citrus oils undoubtedly offer stronger therapeutic properties and a truer aroma, they do contain some nonvolatile residues like rind waxes that have the potential to clog diffusers or stain fabrics.

Other Non-Therapeutic Grade Extraction Processes

If you are seeking essential oils that can be used for physical and emotional therapeutic benefits, you want to stick with oils that have been distilled or expressed. Other forms, while they may sound sophisticated, are very likely to destroy the health benefits of the oils and load them up with extra chemicals.

Solvent extraction, for example, is the leading process in the perfume industry because chemicals such as hexane and acetone are used to increase the oil production volume and thus affordability. Unless you shop carefully, these are the adulterated oils found in toothpastes, shampoos, candles, and air fresheners.

To ensure you use oils that can deliver all of the benefits they are meant to naturally offer, stick with an essential oil provider that you can trust to use legitimate distillation and expression processes.


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