How are essential oils made?

Essential oils have been used for hundreds of years for their therapeutic effects. Powerful healing both physically and psychologically, they also have an important place in perfumery.

They are accompanied by absolutes, concrete, resinoids or synthetic products. We will talk in a future article about these synthetic products that are often controversial

For the moment, let’s focus on some of our natural ingredients. So essential, absolute, concrete and resinoid oils are all from nature. What are their differences, from which flowers, trees, roots or fruits do they come from? What process is used to obtain them?

Let’s focus more specifically on essential oils

What are the ingredients behind essential oils?

Several families of ingredients are used to obtain an oil.

We will first have citrus fruits, which are a very specific category :

  • orange (sweet, bitter)
  • lemon (yellow, green)
  • mandarin (red, green, yellow)
  • grapefruit
  • bergamot
  • limette
  • yuzu
  • kumquat

Flowers ; few deliver their perfume to us with essential oils. The majority of them will be absolute:

  • rose
  • ylang-ylang
  • neroli

Trees such as : 

  • sandalwood
  • Atlas Cedarwood
  • birch
  • styrax

Essential oils also come from spices (cinnamon, pepper, cloves…), aromatics (thyme, lavender, basil…), berries (juniper, rose…).

These raw materials originate from all over the world. Their transport is sometimes impossible so as not to degrade the raw material. Distillation is then done on site.

Citrus fruits: their essential oils by cold expression

The oil extraction method is called the cold expression. It’s not distillation. You will understand why.

For citrus fruits, are the only fruits from which we recover essential oil and juice. It is located in the epicarope, which we also call the skin and juice in the pulp. It is for this reason that it is important to pay as much attention to the skin as to the fruit.

The first step in the process is to separate the epicarp from the fruit.

The skin is then pierced with small holes or scratched. Then it is pressed mechanically to extract the gasoline. This is driven by water before being separated from it by settling. Decantation will separate essential oil from water.

What is water vapor distillation? 

Water vapor distillation is the extraction process used to obtain essential oils.

The raw ingredients are placed in a tank. They are sometimes fresh like rose petals, mints and sometimes dried like chamomile, lemongrass or nutmeg. In this tank, which is also called still, water is injected. Everything is then heated to a temperature of at least 100°C to obtain water vapor.

This makes it possible to burst the cells of these natural materials and extract their essential oils from them.

Essential oils are composed of volatile molecules so they are driven by water vapor. Once cooled, it condenses. A mixture of water – essential oil is obtained. Naturally, they separate because their density is different. The 2 phases are clearly visible in thessencier, the essential oil at the top and the hydrosol (scented water) at the bottom.

This technique limits it to ingredients that can withstand such heat. Flowers such as jasmine will have to undergo volatile solvent distillation (hexane or alcohol). We are talking about jasmine flower absolute and not essential oil.

Why does the price vary so much between essential oils?

Essential oils have very different prices compared to each other. A sweet orange essential oil costs less than €10 per 10mL in stores while a rose essential oil will approach €25.

There are 2 main characteristics that determine the price:

  • Cultivation 
  • Yield

Cultivation: some plants reproduce very easily favoring an unpoptating harvest and also require low maintenance. In this case, there is little impact on the price. On the other hand, when there is regular manual maintenance (cutting, watering, picking…) there will necessarily be a strong impact on the final product. Added to this are the years of poor harvest often caused by the weather. The scarcity of products obviously makes them more expensive.

Yield: the more material you need to extract 1 simple drop of essential oil, the higher its price.

Take the example of the rose: its maintenance requires special attention.

First of all, there is its harvest: it is done exclusively by hand. Then its extraction: it must be distilled on the same day as its harvest and regularly aerated before being introduced into the still so as not to ooze. Its yield is around 0.3% or about 200 million petals for 1kg of essential oil. In conclusion, its price is high.

Conversely, Atlas Cedar requires little maintenance and its yield is about 3/4%. Its price will be much lower than the rose and low in general.

The manufacture of essential oils now has no secrets for you.