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Home Page > Aromatherapy Articles & Guides > What are Essential Oils?

What are Essential Oils?

Essential Oils
An assortment of essential oil bottles surrounded by freshly picked flowers and herbs  

An essential oil is a liquid that is generally distilled (most frequently by steam or water) from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, or other elements of a plant. Essential oils, contrary to the use of the word "oil" are not really oily-feeling at all. Most essential oils are clear, but some oils such as patchouli, orange and lemongrass are amber or yellow in color.

Essential oils contain the true essence of the plant it was derived from. Essential oils are highly concentrated and a little goes a long way.

Essential oils are not the same as perfume or fragrance oils. Where essential oils are derived from the true plants, perfume oils are artificially created fragrances or contain artificial substances and do not offer the therapeutic benefits that essential oils offer. See the What are Fragrance Oils? article for more information on fragrance oils and why they are not used in aromatherapy.

The chemical composition and aroma of essential oils can provide valuable psychological and physical therapeutic benefits. These benefits are usually achieved through methods including inhalation and application of the diluted oil to the skin.

For detailed profiles on over 100 oils, see the Essential Oil Profiles area.

Essential oils are often used by diluting them with a carrier oil (sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil) and then applying this blend to the skin for absorption. See the Carrier Oil Profile section for more detailed information about carrier oils.

Careful inhalation of the oils can also provide therapeutic benefit as the oil molecules enter the lungs and are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Essential Oils are usually sold for individual use in very small bottles. See the Storing Your Oils page for information on how to store your oils and to view pictures of essential oil bottles.

Essential oils can vary greatly in quality and price. Factors that can affect the quality and price of the oil include the rarity of the botanical, the country of origin and growing/climate conditions, quality standards of the distiller, and how much oil is produced by the botanical.

Essential oils can often be purchased as blends of several essential oils. The advantage if it is a blend of pure essential oils is that you can save from having to buy every essential oil individually. The disadvantage is that you have no control over the blend by not mixing it yourself nor can you reliably mix the blend with other oils.

AromaWeb's Global Aromatherapy Business Directory provides a wonderful categorical directory of sellers of essential oils and aromatherapy products.

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