A Guide to Essential Oils
Not sure how to use essential oils? We'll walk you through the building blocks to help you get a better understanding of what essential oils are, how they're used, and most importantly — essential oil safety! Gain confidence with your oils and make aromatherapy a bigger part of your life.
Click links below to navigate direction to sections of the guide to essential oils.
“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.” –Paracelsus
True Aromatherapy is an ancient form of plant medicine and natural healing. Essential oils were used by the most ancient civilizations and is reputed to be at least 6000 years old. Translations of ancient manuscripts indicate that priests and physicians used essential oils for healing and rituals for thousands of years before the birth of Christ. Essential oils can really be considered mankind’s first medicine and have been used worldwide for centuries. Essential oils, along with other aromatics, have been used in religious rituals, to treat various illnesses, and for other physical and spiritual needs.
Ancient Egyptians were the first to discover the potential of fragrance. In fact, three oils that are still commonly used today—Cedarwood, Myrrh, and Frankincense—were used in the embalming process. There are hundreds of references to oils in the Bible. Some precious oils like Frankincense, Myrrh, Rosemary, Cassia, and Cinnamon were used for the anointing and healing of the sick. The reintroduction of essential oils into modern times first began during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Essential oils have been used traditionally to kill harmful germs, as well as spiritually to balance mood, lift spirits, and dispel negative emotions.
What is Aromatherapy?
What comes to mind when you hear the word aromatherapy? A pretty scent or aroma? Aromatherapy is so much more than that.
Aromatherapy has been defined differently over the years. Jan Kusmirek, a clinical aromatherapist, defines aromatherapy as “the use of pure essential oils to seek to influence to change or modify mind body or spirit physiology or mood."
Salvatore Battaglia says, “Holistic aromatherapy should incorporate the pharmacological, psychotherapeutic and the metaphysical activities of essential oils. Aromatherapy works on a holistic level body, mind and soul.”
Our favorite explanation is by Valerie Cooksley, who says “Aromatherapy is blending ancient knowledge and art with scientific knowledge to support natural healing for a lifetime.”
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated volatile aromatic compounds produced by plants. Volatile comes from the Latin root volare which means to fly. They are natural substances which are extracted or distilled from tiny molecular sacs of each botanical. They are part of the plant's immune system and yet a separate substance created from the plant. Pure essential oils are highly concentrated extracts; 75 to 100 times more concentrated than dried herbs. For a comparison, it takes between 40 and 60 roses to make one drop of rose oil and one drop of chamomile is equivalent to the concentration of 30 tea bags of chamomile tea. Essential oils are very potent and powerful and should be used with caution and knowledge of their potency and efficacy. Essential oils are distilled/extracted from various parts of the plant or tree, wood or trunk, leaves, grass, needles, cones, flowers, flower buds, twigs, seeds, seed pod, roots, rhizomes or resin/gum.
Essential oils are a wonderful way to bring healing on every level into our everyday life. More and more people are gaining an understanding that aromatherapy goes beyond just a pretty smell.
Methods of Extraction of Essential Oils
Essential oils are technically extracted using a variety of methods. Below are the methods of distillation and extraction used for the oils at Stillpoint Aromatics.
Steam distillation, the most common method of essential oil production, involves the flow of steam into a chamber holding the raw plant material. The steam causes small sacs containing essential oil to burst. The oil is then carried by the steam out of the chamber and into a chilled condenser, where the steam once again becomes water. (Hydro-distillation is a similar process where the plant material is boiled, with the resultant steam being captured and condensed). The oil and water are then separated; the water, referred to as a 'hydrosol', can be retained as it will have some of the plant essence.
The processing of an absolute first involves the hydrocarbon solvent extraction of a 'concrete' from the plant material, a semi-solid mixture of typically 50% wax and 50% volatile oil. The concrete is again processed using ethyl alcohol (the same alcohol found in beer, wine, etc.) in which the wax is only slightly soluble. The volatile plant oil separates into the alcohol and this mixture is removed. The alcohol is then evaporated and the result is an almost pure plant extract—depending on the care taken in the evaporation process, sometimes 2% or less of the ethyl alcohol may remain. The use of solvents in the extraction process notwithstanding, absolutes can have incredibly deep and complex aromas.
There is both carbon dioxide and supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. Both methods involve the use of carbon dioxide as the 'solvent' which carries the essential oil away from the raw plant material. The lower pressure CO2 extraction involves chilling carbon dioxide to between 35 and 55 degrees F, and pumping it through the plant material at about 1000 psi. The carbon dioxide in this condition is condensed to a liquid. Supercritical CO2 extraction (SCO2) involves carbon dioxide heated to 87 degrees F and pumped through the plant material at around 8,000 psi – under these conditions, the carbon dioxide is likened to a 'dense fog' or vapor. With release of the pressure in either process, the carbon dioxide escapes in its gaseous form, leaving the essential oil behind.
Cold pressing is used to extract the essential oils from citrus fruit such as lemon, orange, grapefruit, bergamot, etc. This method involves the simple pressing of the rind at about 120 degrees F to extract the oil. Little, if any, alteration from the oil's original state occurs—these citrus oils retain their bright, fresh, uplifting aromas, like that of smelling a wonderfully ripe fruit. These essential oils have a relatively short shelf life and are phototoxic.
“Everything in the universe is a pitcher brimming with wisdom and beauty.” - Rumi
While knowing the chemistry and the chemical components of an essential oil is one important aspect to understanding the therapeutic benefits for an essential oil, it is not the complete picture. Becoming familiar with the energetic components the essential oils have to offer is just as important. One way to work with essential oils and their energy is to know and understand what part of the plant or tree the oil was distilled/extracted from. Each part of the plant or tree offers something different.
Essential oils that come from the roots or plants are grounding, anchoring and supportive. Emotionally they are calming, centering and sedating. Their aroma is very earthy and fresh, offering a deep connection to the Earth. They offer support for the first chakra and the emotional body that it accompanies. The first chakra deals with living on the planet and survival. To feel safe and balanced in our bodies on the planet at this time is very important. Just as the roots offer the plant or tree this stability and also nourishment, the oils that are distilled/extracted from these parts do the same. Some essential oils that come from the roots and rhizomes are Angelica Root (Angelica archangelica), Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Plai (Zingiber cassamunar), and Spikenard (Narodostachys jatamansi).
Essential oils that come from the resins of trees seem to be oils that were used in ancient times. Three examples of resinous oils that are reminiscent of these times are: Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and Galbanum (Ferula galbaniflua). These oils bring to mind Biblical times and days past in Ancient Egypt. They are wonderful to assist us with matters of the spirit. They are very powerful when used in prayer, rituals, and meditation. The resin of the tree is a type of liquid that is stored in the outer cells, that, when broken, release the resin to clog the hole created. This is very analogous to the way we heal with scabs. It makes sense, then, that these oils assist us with deep emotional wounds and the suffering in our emotional body. It is beneficial to choose an essential oil from a resin when we are wanting to heal these kinds of wounds and to assist in releasing deeply programmed beliefs that are no longer needed. Some other essential oils that are distilled from resins are: Balsam Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis), Elemi (Canarium luzonicum), Balsam Peru (Myroxylon balsamum) and Balsam Gurjun (Dipterocarpus turbinatus).
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. Essential oils that come from seeds, berries, and seed pods often correspond to the reproductive system and our second and third chakras. The second chakra deals with relationships, immune system, creation energy, and sexual energy. It makes sense that essential oils that come from seeds assist us with creation and birth of life and new ideas and beginnings. Seeds are full of potential energy and ready to sprout, grow and thrive. The third chakra deals with our personal power, distributes energy throughout the body and dreamtime. Juniper berry (Juniperus communis) is an essential oil used to protect and assist with this chakra. Many of these oils are beneficial for our digestive system as well, such as Cardamon Seed (Ellettatia cardamomum) and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgaris). Some other oils that come from seeds are Carrot Seed (Daucus carota) and Vanilla Oleoresin (Vanilla planifolia).
Essential oils that come from fruits are uplifting for the emotional and spiritual body. They assist us in getting “unstuck” both physically and emotionally. On the physical level, many of these oils are good for lymphatic support like Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi). On the emotional level, many of these oils help us get out of the “limbic depressive loop” like Orange (Citrus sinensis). The "fruit" is the part of a flowering plant that is derived from specific tissues of the flower, mainly one or more ovaries. It is important to remember that fruits are not just oranges, lemons etc. Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) and Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) are essential oils derived from the dried fruit. Essential oils derived from fruits also assist us in moving forward, in looking at the future with clarity, hope, joy and freshness—freshness that is reminiscent of the scent of a fresh orange being peeled. Some other essential oils distilled or cold pressed from fruits are Lemon (Citrus limon), Lime (Citrus aurantifolia), and Bergamot (Citrus bergamia). Please note: Most cold pressed citrus oils are phototoxic with the exception of Orange.
Essential oils that are distilled or extracted from the flowers of a plant or tree deal with matters of the heart, both physically and emotionally. The heart chakra is where we hold our Divine identity, unconditional love for ourselves and love for the Divine. Essential oils that are derived from flowers are emotionally supportive and nurturing, heart opening, and foster unconditional love for self and others. They represent joy, new growth and passion for life. Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) is an essential oil that on the physical level, assists in lowering blood pressure. Some other essential oils that are distilled or extracted from flowers are Rose (Rosa damascena), German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Tuberose (Polianthes tuberose), Jasmine (Jasmine grandifloram), Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea). We find it interesting that many of these flower oils are absolutes, which are solvent extracted. This is a delicate process and quite intensive, which is not a surprise when dealing with matters of the heart.
Leaves, Needles, Twigs and Grasses
Essential oils that are distilled from the leaves/needles/twigs/grasses correspond with our respiratory system. These parts of the plants or tree allow the plant or tree to breath. By definition a leaf is an above-ground plant organ specialized for the process of photosynthesis. This is the process a plant uses to combine sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and sugar (energy). Essential oils distilled from these parts assist us in moving; breathing deeply both physically and emotionally. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) and Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct 1,8 cineole) are powerful oils for respiratory distress. Oils such as Fragonia (Agonis fragrans) and Fir (Abies balsamea) are extremely potent oils for protection on the physical as well as the spiritual plane.
Wood, Heartwood, Trunk
Essential oils that are distilled from the trunk and the wood of the tree are very protective and supportive. Like essential oils from resins, they support us deeply on many levels and can assist greatly in healing emotional wounds. The trunk refers to the main wooden axis of a tree that supports the branches and is supported by and directly attached to the root. The oils that are distilled from the trunk such as Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) or Sandalwood (Santalum album) support our core, assist us in being grounded, while also helping us reach toward the sky. These oils parallel our skeletal system and assist us in being strong and solid. Some oils that are distilled from the wood of the tree are Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), Guaiacwood (Bulnesia sarmienti) and Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum).
“Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity” - John Ruskin
One of the most amazing aspects of essential oils is that they can be used in a variety of ways. You can grow confident in the application of essential oils by studying safety and the chemical components of your favorite essential oils. When in doubt, work with a low dilution or use inhalation. Inhaling essential oils is incredibly powerful!
Essential Oil Applications
Topical Application - Use the appropriate dilution percentage in a carrier oil, lotion, Aloe Vera gel, or soap. Use essential oils neat (undiluted) when appropriate and as directed by a Certified or Clinical Aromatherapist.
In a bath - Use only 5-8 drops total of essential oil in a carrier per bath. It is best not to pour the essential oils directly into the bath water. Dilute them first in an ounce of bath salts, ½ ounce of any carrier oil, or in one cup of whole milk or heavy/light cream.
Inhalation - Inhale directly, use a diffuser (spa mist diffuser), humidifier, or inhaler or put a drop of the oil or stock blend in a cup of hot water.
Internal Consumption – Some essential oils are suitable for internal use. Be sure to consult with your doctor and an aromatherapy certified in Medicinal Aromatherapy before using essential oils in suppositories or other methods of internal use. Do not drink essential oils!
Frequently we are asked how many drops of essential oil make up one ml, one ounce etc. The number of drops varies by the viscosity of the particular oil. A thicker oil like Vetiver (Veteveria zizenoides) or Sandalwood (Santalum album) will drip out of the orifice reducer in bigger/thicker drops therefore yielding less drops per ml, while a citrus oil like Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) or Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is a thinner essential oil therefore yielding more drops per milliliter (ml) or ounce.
Average drops of essential oils:
Approximately 600 drops = 1 oz
Approximately 300 drops = 1/2 oz 15 ml
Approximately 100 drops = 5 ml, 1/6 oz or one teaspoon
Approximately 20 drops per ml
Essential Oil Dilutions
Depending on the specific essential oil and the situation, a total of 5-18 drops of essential oil can be added into 1 oz (30 ml) of carrier oil. These amounts vary based on the person for whom you are making the blend (see dilution percentages below) and on the strength of the specific essential oil you are using. For example, you can use several drops of Rhododendron Essential Oil (Rhododendron anthopogon) to every 1 drop of Jasmine Absolute (Jasminum grandifloram) because of the strength of the aroma of these two particular essential oils.
1% dilution = 5-6 drops of essential oil to each ounce of carrier oil or cream. This dilution is used for children, elders, chronically ill persons, and pregnant women.
2% dilution = 10-12 drops of essential oils to each ounce of carrier oil or cream. This dilution is used for massage oils for the average adult.
3% dilution = 15-18 drops of essential oil to each ounce of carrier oil or cream. This dilution is used for specific illnesses or for acute injury.
“Nature is just enough; but men and women must comprehend and accept her suggestions." - Antoinette Brown Blackwell
Pure essential oils do not go rancid as carrier oils such as sunflower, olive, avocado oils can over time. Certain essential oils, however, can oxidize, deteriorate, and gradually lose their therapeutic value and aromatic quality. Shelf life addresses the question of chemical stability. Aromatic oils are mixtures of many compounds. If a mixture of compounds remains stable, meaning if it does not decompose or change its chemistry over a long period of time in storage, then it is said that it has a long shelf life.
The "shelf life" of essential oils varies tremendously, and actually their shelf life is directly influenced by many different factors. The lifespan or shelf life of essential oils varies tremendously from one oil to the next, from one batch to the next, and from one supplier to the next. Factors that can directly affect the shelf life of an essential oil are the quality of the botanical used, when and how the plant material is harvested. the method of distillation, the conditions during the distillation, the handling and storage of the distiller, the storage conditions of the company you are purchasing from, and the way in which they are stored once purchased.
So the question we are often asked is "What is the shelf life of this particular oil?" The so-called 'shelf life' of natural products like essential oils can be extremely difficult to predict with any certainty because of the tremendous amount of variables. Essential oils are not the same as cream cheese or bread, which follow a predictable and rapid path toward spoiling over a known period of time. The shelf life of an essential oil is governed by its chemical stability, and anything that interferes with this stability will cause the oil to start the slow process of deterioration.
There are some generalizations that can be made based on the chemical makeup of an essential oils for reference. The most important thing is to purchase essential oils from a company that understands the importance of proper storage and imports the highest quality oils from distillers who know their craft.
So for a little bit of chemistry: Essential oils fall into different chemical families. Knowing which chemical family an essential oil belongs helps you know some of the therapeutic properties that oil has to offer as well as general guidelines for the shelf life of essential oils that fall into that particular family or combination of families. The chemical families are monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, monoterpenols, sesquiterpenols, aldehydes, esters, oxides, ketones, and phenols. Please note that the shelf life listed below is from our experience with our own oils. We can not make this a generalization for other companies, as there are many many factors that influence shelf life as mentioned above.
The best way to know if your oil is at the end of a shelf life is to know your oils. Essential oils do not know your timeline and they do not expire because they are supposed to because a certain amount of time has passed.
Monoterpene rich essential oils are effective airborne deodorizers and purifiers. They are emotionally uplifting & energetic and often provide an analgesic effect where muscle pain and stiffness are present. They help to reduce stagnation, both physically & energetically, as they support movement & change in the body. Monoterpenes are small molecules, so they are great skin penetration enhancers.
Shelf life of Monoterpene rich essential oils is generally 3 years (some a bit longer).
Monoterpenes are unsaturated and and are considered unstable & prone to oxidation. It is important to store monoterpene rich oils well, sealed tightly, away from heat & light.
Shelf life of Sesquiterpene rich essential oils is 8 plus
Sesquiterpene rich essential oils cover a large group of oils and their therapeutic effects cannot be generalized. Within this family, there are oils that are analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, cooling, and sedative. Sesquiterpene rich oils tend to be emotionally, energetically grounding, calming & centering. Most often they are middle & base notes, and are notably heavier oils.
Shelf life of Monoterpenol rich essential oils is 6-7
Monoterpenol rich essential oils are often effective anti-infectious agents; being antibacterial, anti-spasmodic, anti-fungal and/or antiviral. They have the advantage of being non-toxic, mild on the skin and mucous membranes. They are great for long-term use. Oils high in Monoterpenols are great for skin care, because of their antiseptic and often anti-inflammatory properties. They nourish and support the nervous system, support emotional balance, and strengthen the immune system.
Shelf life of Sesquiterpenol rich essential oils is 10-15 years (usually longer).
Sesquiterpenol rich essential oils, like sesquiterpenes, have varied therapeutic properties. Within this family there are oils that are grounding, sedative, anti-spasmodic, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, skin healing, and immune stimulating. Generally considered to be base notes, these heavier oils are energetically & emotionally grounding. Individual components have unique effects, so each oil should be looked at for the specific properties it offers. Some sesquiterpenol rich oils offer long term support of the terrain, and act as a tonic for the veins and lymph system. Sesquiterpenols are generally safe oils and not known to be skin irritants.
Shelf life of Aldehyde rich essential oils is 5 years.
Aldehyde rich essential oils have sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and anti-infectious properties. They are cooling & calming. They are great antifungal agents and can also be tonifying to the nervous system, temperature reducing and cooling. They are middle notes with a typical lemony aroma. Aldehyde rich oils can be irritating to the skin, especially if oxidized.
Shelf life of Ketone rich essential oils is 5 -7 years.
Ketone rich essential oils are valuable in respiratory infections such as colds and flu, as they are highly effective mucolytics and can also act as expectorants, reducing mucus and relieving pain. Ketones are also analgesic. Some ketones are wound healing, others have a circulatory effect. Ketone rich oils tend to be middle notes. Note: please check safety concerns of individual oils containing high levels of ketones. Look to the specific component to determine the safety of the oil. Camphor should be avoided with infants & young children.
Shelf life of Oxide rich essential oils is 5-6 years
Oxide rich essential oils have antiviral and mucolytic & expectorant effects. They can be effective aids in any respiratory illness. Some are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antifungal, antibacterial and analgesic. They tend to have a stimulating effect on the mental process.
Shelf life of Ester rich essential oils is 5-7 years.
Ester rich essential oils are antispasmodic. They tend to be sedative, balancing, analgesic, calming, soothing & uplifting. Some ester rich oils are good digestive aids, many are anti-inflammatory, analgesic and most are great for the skin. Their aroma tends to be floral & fruity middle notes.
Shelf life of Ether rich essential oils is 5-7 years.
Ethers tend to have an aroma like licorice/anise. They are calming, antispasmodic & carminative. They help to reduce pain & spasms. Look to the specific chemical components to determine safety of the ether rich oil you are using. Some Ethers can be skin irritating.
Shelf life of Phenol rich essential oils is 4-6 years.
Phenol rich essential oils have great antiseptic, rubefacient, anti-bacterial, anti infectious & disinfectant qualities and also have greatly stimulating therapeutic properties. Please note: Essential oils that are high in phenols should be used in low concentrations and for the short term; they can lead to toxicity if used over long periods of time. Known to be the most irritating to the skin & mucous membranes.
Storage of Essential Oils
Essential oils must be stored in dark, airtight, glass bottles. Exposure to light, oxygen, and heat will begin to break the oils down and they can then become skin irritating. Essential oils will evaporate fairly quickly if the bottle is not capped as they are volatile substances, therefore, it is important to replace the cap tightly. Some essential oils, when stored properly the shelf life of oils will increase dramatically. Some essential oils’ aromas and quality actually improve with age.
All essential oils need to be kept cold. The ideal temperature for storage is 35-40 degrees. A refrigerator designated to only store your essential oils is ideal. Heat is a huge culprit in the oxidation process of essential oils. Citrus essential oils are the most prone to oxidation, so to avoid the damage caused by temperature variations, you could store them in the refrigerator if you have the space. Massage and most carrier oils will also benefit by this type of cold storage.
Never store undiluted essential oils in plastic bottles since most oils will eat into, and in some cases, melt the plastic. Diluted essential oil blends (massage oils and lotions) are fine in plastic since the concentration of essential oil is very low.
How is the quality of essential oils measured?
It is essential to buy therapeutic, high quality essential oils; cheap oils or “bargains” are almost always of poor quality. In order for essential oils to have a therapeutic effect they must be pure plant extracts. The best way to assure purity and quality of each batch of oil is by knowing your source and knowing that each essential oil was tested using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). Testing every batch of essential oil with GC/MS technology assures purity and gives us the exact chemistry of each oil. This process is vital for therapeutic blending and for quality assurance.
While GC/MS testing will tell you if the oil is adulterated, it can not tell you the vibration or energetic quality of the essential oil. For that you must trust the company that you are purchasing from. Here at Stillpoint Aromatics, we know each farmer and distiller that we purchase our essential oil from.
Our oils are stored in our cold room until we receive your order. Each bottle is "nitrogen capped" forming an oxygen barrier, which decreases the oxidation process immensely. We do not pre pour any of oils. They are consciously hand poured for you upon receiving your order. In this way, you are receiving the freshest oil with the highest vibration which is an energetic match to you.
So how do you know that your essential oil company really knows what they are offering you?
Here are some questions that you can ask when buying essential oils:
Are your oils tested with GC/MS technology?
Do you test each batch of oil?
Can you provide the batch specific GC/MS for the oils I buy?
Can you provide the season and year the oil was distilled?
Can you provide lists for which of your current oils are organic?
How are your oils stored?
How are your oils poured?