September 1, 2021 by D.Fathia
Updated September 1, 2021

What are essential oils?

What are essential oils?

At home, as at every house in my region, olive oil is a treasure to cherish for a lifetime. I am quite sure that this is also the case around the Mediterranean basin. However, there are other oils to be cherished and used.

Essential oils have been a discovery for me for a while now. These oils enjoy great characteristics that make them wealth for the body. The cosmetics industry relies heavily on such oils thanks to their evident advantages.

Keep scrolling down to find out more about the benefits and uses of these oils.

What are essential oils?

Also labeled volatile oils, ethereal oils, or aetheroleum, essential oils are the oils extracted from plants. You will usually find them in the markets under the name of the plant from which they were extracted.

The term “essential” does not stem from the fact that these oils are necessary for human consumption. The label comes describes the origin of these products as they come from the essence of the plants.

Production and methods of extraction:

There are several methods for extracting oils. The most known and used method is distillation. In the past, they used primitive ways of distillation. They would put raw plant materials, such as leaves, roots, or flowers, in an alembic over water. When the water heats up, the chemicals vaporize and then condense and turn back into a liquid.

Now, pieces of equipment might have been sophisticated, but distillation is still the same process of extraction through boiling and condensation.

The second major method is expression. Most citrus trees are expressed or cold pressed the same way as olive oil. This method is used in part because the plantation and production cost of these trees is low compared to other types and hence the quantities available are always high.

Some types of plants are too delicate to be expressed or distilled. High heat can easily damage their chemical composition. That’s why; solvents such as hexane or supercritical carbon dioxide are used to extract their oils. The extract is not pure oil; it is rather a mixture of waxes and resins called concretes.

To purify the oil, another solvent called ethyl alcohol is used for the final extraction.

Other methods do exist but some of them were banned in a few countries because of the damage they leave behind. Using forasols yields perfect oils; unfortunately, this chemical has high global warming potential. The European Union banned the use of this solvent through a phased process that began in 2011.

What are essential oils used for?

History reveals that essential oils have been used in folk and primitive medicine for centuries. Persian physician Ibn Sina, or Avicenna as known in Europe, and Ibn al-Baitar, an Arab Al-Andalusian physician and chemist, were the first to use such products and define the techniques of extraction.

In recent years, interest in these items has been revived thanks to the development of the cosmetics industry and a branch of medicine called aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is a branch of alternative medicine. Most practitioners of this medicine rely heavily on historical accounts rather than on scientifically proven claims. Uses range widely, from skin therapy to chronic diseases.

It is advised that you pay attention to any claims concerning the efficacy of such oils. However, these are natural products and usually, they do not harm the skin, unless you have allergies.

One recent study, on the effects of the Boswellia plant, revealed that frankincense has calming effects on the nervous system. A certain area of the brain is affected by this incense and hence mood can be enhanced significantly.

The following is a list of some of the most known and used essential oils:

  • Tea Tree isused to fight infections and might play a major role in boosting the immune system.
  • Jasmine oil isused to help with depression.
  • Lemonis used to aid digestion and headaches.
  • Peppermint oil isused to boost energy and might aid digestion.
  • Lavender oilis used to relieve stress.

I might have not used some of these oils myself, but I do believe in their effects. I mean, the smell of lavender alone can change my mood and lift my spirits.

The bottom line: what are essential oils? They are fragrant natural products that you can use in your daily skin routines, in flavoring your food, or in an at-home session of aromatherapy.


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