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Chemistry of Essential Oils

Most people either use essential oils for their therapeutic effect or for the fragrance alone. However it is worth leaning about the chemistry of essential oils as it can shed light on a variety of information:

  • It is the chemistry of essential oil that helps indicate if your essential oil is adulterated or contains solvents. Therapeutic grade essential oils don't contain propylene glycol or petrochemicals. AFNOR standards for essential oils are solely based on the chemistry of the essential oil.

  • Chemistry analysis will show you if a plant has a Chemotype.

  • The individual chemical constituents can identify the medicinal properties of the oil.

 

It is not only interesting to know the chemical components that each essential oil contains, but also to be aware of the fact that we are unable to synthetically create an identical oil to those produced by nature. Synthetically created oils will not have the same therapeutic effect as the natural and pure essential oil. And though we pride ourselves on being a technology advanced society, modern science can still not unlock the secrets of essential oils and why they can do what they do.

If you for instance took all the correct chemical components, which will include lavandulol, borneol, terpineol, geraniol and linalol, and try to make up Lavender essential oil in a laboratory, you will not have an oil that can successfully treat burns the way that true Lavender oil can.
 

Essential oils, like all organic compounds, are made up of hydrocarbon molecules and can further be classified as terpenes, alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones and phenols etc.

To help you in the understanding of the chemical constituents of the oils, it may be a good idea just to have a look at what an isoprene unit is.

Every single oil normally has more than a hundred components, but this figure can also run into thousands, depending on the oil in question.

When you analyze essential oils with a chromatograph various organic components are found and the primary ones are as follows:

  • Terpene hydrocarbons

    • Monoterpene hydrocarbons

    • Sesquiterpenes

  • Oxygenated compounds

    • Phenols

    • Alcohols

      • Monoterpene alcohols

      • Sesquiterpene alcohols

    • Aldehydes

    • Ketones

    • Esters

    • Lactones

    • Coumarins

    • Ethers

    • Oxides

What is a Fatty Oil?

Fatty Oils are slippery oils also known as lipids.

  • They are obtained by pressing nuts or seeds.

  • They are used as carrier oils for essential oils in cooking, lotions etc.

  • They have a greasy or slippery texture.

  • They are not volatile.

  • Some are high in linoleic acid.

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Fatty Acid - Long-Chain Carbon Structure
Essential Oils and Fatty Oils Complex Chemistry
  • Essential Oils contain hundreds of different chemical constituents.

  • For example, Lavender is composed of more than 400 different constituents, some of which are still unknown.

  • Constituents often act synergistically together.

  • Constituents that may be toxic in isolation are actually beneficial when accompanied by other constituents.

  • The complex balance and interaction of different chemicals gives and essential oil its inherent properties.

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Essential Oil - Aromatic Ring Structure
Interesting Similarity
  • All living things have these constituents in common:

Human

Hydrogen

Oxygen

Carbon

Nitrogen

Sulphur

Animal

Hydrogen
Oxygen
Carbon
Nitrogen
Sulphur

Plant

Hydrogen

Oxygen

Carbon

Nitrogen

Sulphur

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