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What is an Essential Oil?

by Wendy Mackay MIAAMA


Aromatherapy is based on essential oils. But what are they? What is an Essential Oil?

What is the difference between essential oils and other oils? Are they the same as fragrance oils?

Essential oils have a few things in common, but the first one is that they all come from plants - a product of Mother Nature.  Synthetic fragrance oils are NOT the same as essential oils.

The ISO (International Standards Organisation) defines an essential oil as :-“ An essential oil is a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase"

This means that only those oils extracted by distillation or expression are essential oils.

This excludes , for example, absolutes, which are solvent extracted but which many people think of as a type of essential oil. These include jasmine, vanilla, and some types of rose.

Essential oils that are extracted by expression are the citrus oils, such as lemon, grapefruit, lime, orange, mandarin and bergamot.

Most essential oils are extracted by distillation, such as lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, frankincense etc.

Essential oils are different from vegetable or carrier oils. Essential oils are volatile, meaning that they evaporate readily. This is different to vegetable oils such as sweet almond, grapeseed etc, which do not evaporate readily.  Unlike these “fixed” oils, essential oils do not, despite their name, feel “oily”. In fact they often feel quite watery in comparison to the fixed oils.

Some characteristics that essential oils all share with one another are :-

Essential oils are a fragrant gift from nature with the power to be of great help for health and wellbeing.

 To read more about individual essential oils, refer to the individual oils on our website


(This information is meant as general advice.  Please consult your health practitioner or a qualified aromatherapist for advice on your specific situation.)

Wendy Mackay is a qualified Aromatherapist and a member of the International Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine Association (IAAMA). Wendy along with her husband David is the Founder and Director of Essence of Wellbeing. Essence of Wellbeing is dedicated to the best in Aromatherapy and Pure Natural Skin Care and is located in Mornington on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

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