What are Essential Oils?

How Essential Oils Work

Scents influence our mood and physical bodies...

Consider, for example, the aroma of your favorite food. The delicious scent will stimulate your appetite by making your mouth water and at the same time cause your digestive juices to flow. If the aroma is associated with a happy occasion then memory comes into play as well, adding to the pleasurable rush.

Pleasing aromas, along with enjoyments such as eating, falling in love, listening to music and looking at beautiful things, cause the release of certain “happiness chemicals” which form part of a family of opium-like substances broadly labeled enkephalins and endorphins. Such release is found in chocolate and rosewater in the form of phenlethylamine. These “happiness” substances are also known to help strengthen the immune system and are mood enhancing.

It has been proven that if we dislike an aroma we are able to block its effect on the central nervous system. This supports the case for using the oils we like best, especially for stress-related problems.

Experience has also shown that we are instinctively drawn to the essential oil that is right for our needs at a given time. As our state of mind alters, so may our preferences

-Jacqui MacNeill


Why do perfumes smell different on each person?

Scent choice is thought to be largely influenced by body odor which, in turn, is related to diet as well as ethnic and genetic influences, emotions, ill health, the pill and other drugs, as well as hormonal changes caused by puberty, pregnancy and menopause. You will be drawn to what you need the most.

This explains why the same perfumes smell different on each person and why our choice varies when we select essential oils. As we age, our bodies secrete different pheromones, subliminal scent-chemicals, and as a result a favorite scent in youth may seem far less attractive in maturity.

Aroma conditioning or fashion may also play a part in directing choice. Unfortunately this can be counter-productive when it inhibits personal needs and hinders the beneficial effects of essential oils. Essential oils are very different from synthetic perfumes and, for people not accustomed to them, may seem strange at first. However, once regularly used, the “strangeness” wears off, revealing naturally beautiful aromas.

Scentless after 15 minutes

Just like your other senses, your sense of smell has an enormous impact on your overall state of being. A healthy olfactory centre can pick up over 10,000 different odors. However, if it is subjected to the same odor for even a short while, the olfactory cells become “saturated”, exhausted and cease to detect odor, even though we may, from time to time, experience a fleeting reminder of its presence. This is why customers can’t smell a diffused scent after about 15 or 20 minutes.

Blending extends the 'life' of a diffused scent

Blending extends the ‘life’ of a diffused scent, as all blends are medley of top, middle, and base notes. As these each evaporate at different speeds, the scent subtly changes over time and the blend can be detected for a longer time.

Aromatherapy can be an enjoyable, therapeutic and beneficial way to change or re-structure bad odors, increase your immune system, fight bacteria, help with muscular aches and pains, headaches, and skin disorders (just to name a few), while at the same time just making you happier.


Classification of Essential Oils

There are many ways to group essential oils or to classify them so that their functions and properties are easier to understand. Many different courses and books classify them according to one of the following techniques:

  • Taxonomy
  • Therapeutic
  • Alphabetical
  • Biochemical

Summary of Essential Oil Classifications:


It is possible to group essential oils by their botanical classification or by the families they belong to. This method is used in some books, but is very difficult to understand unless you have studied aromatherapy for a long time or if you are a botanist.


Essential oils may be grouped by their therapeutic effects. Any list that shows ailments or complaints and then tells you what oils are good for those problems is listing essential oils therapeutically.


Essential oils can be grouped and listed alphabetically. This is a really easy and quick way to look up specific essential oils and determine everything about them.


Essential oils can also be grouped together according to their chemical constituents. This is very uncommon and is usually only used by those advanced in aromatherapy.


Escents Aromatherapy categorizes Aroma Blends in mood categories depending on the mood the oil helps to create.

Grades of Essential Oils

  • Commercial: Laundry Soap, Dish Soap, Candles etc.
  • Cosmetic: Perfumes, Make-Up, body wash, candles
  • Therapeutic: Highest Grade. This is what Escents Aromatherapy Uses.

Quality, Storage & Care of Essential Oils

If properly cared for, many essential oils can have a shelf life up to seven years or longer.

Some essential oils will get better with time:

  • most of the resinous oils
  • benzoin
  • myrrh
  • frankincense
  • patchouli and sandalwood - even though they are not true resins

They Don't Go Rancid

Most essential oils and essences do not go rancid like vegetable oils. Essential oils they just lose their potency and can smell “off”. There are a select few oils (such as jasmine) that can smell really off as they age, but these are rare.

Loosing their potency

Citrus oils are the first to lose their potency; if opened regularly they could lose their potency in 5 – 12 months.

Avoid touching the essential oil dropper to the skin ; this can cause a build-up of bacteria, decreasing potency and causing a scent change.


Keep essential oils in a dark place out of direct sunlight or any direct source of heat – the fridge is an ideal place! Avoid bathrooms, as these have regular temperature changes that harm essential oils.


Extraction Methods

Steam Distillation – The Escents Way

True essential oils are those that are extracted through steam distillation. This is where the plant material is placed on a grid with hot water underneath. The steam draws out the essential oils from the plant material. These tiny molecules evaporate with the water and then go through a cooling system where they end up back in liquid form. Here the essential oils are either floating on top of the water or settled on the bottom depending on the density of the oil. Then the essential oils are separated from the water, leaving the floral waters, called hydrosols, which still retain some of the therapeutic properties.


Citrus oils are extracted through expression. Here, the rind of the fruit is pressed between two blocks of wood with one side having a sponge. The little sacs are squeezed so that the essential oils saturate the sponge. The essential oil- or essence is then squeezed out of the sponge. Often rind particles find their way into the essential oils and it is not uncommon to see floating bits or sediment. When this process is used, the proper name for the resulting liquid is an essence; however, most people don’t know this and just refer to them as essential oils.

Essences are very vaporous and will evaporate quickly if left uncapped or in the heat.

Solvent Extraction – Resinoids

Resins are the solid or semi-solid substances exuded from the bark of trees or bushes when wounded – also known as sap. The gum-like substance produced does not exist in the tree beforehand, but is produced pathologically, solely as a result of the incision, and hardens on exposure to air. Various solvents can be used to extract the aromatic molecules from the resins; the most frequently used being the hydrocarbons (e.g. benzene, hexane) or alcohols-each extracting different molecules. The solvents are filtered off and afterwards removed by distillation to leave either resinoids (from hydrocarbon solvents) or absolute resins (from alcohol solvents).

Solvent Extraction – Concretes

The extraction of concretes is similar to that of resinoids; hydrocarbons are used as solvents. For concretes however, plant material (leaves, flowers, roots, etc.) is used instead of resin – this is the main difference. Most concretes are solid wax-like substances and are often used in food flavourings.

Solvent Extraction – Absolutes

An absolute is prepared from a concrete by adding an alcohol to extract the aromatic (alcohol-soluble) molecules. The alcohol is then evaporated off gently under a vacuum, leaving the absolute, a thick, coloured liquid. It is usually rare and very delicate flower petals that this method is used for because steam distillation is too harsh and no essential oils can usually be derived from such delicate petals. Absolute of jasmine, tuberose and vanilla are achieved using this process

Absolutes and resins are much used in the perfumery world, and although they can be useful in some applications of aromatherapy, it must be appreciated that they always retain a small percentage of the solvents used in their reduction. Luckily, very small quantities of the absolute are used for each aromatherapy application so the risk is negligible.