How Are Essential Oils Made?

essential oils distillation imageWhen I first started learning about aromatherapy and essential oils I had so many questions. Where do they come from, how are they made, who makes the best oils, why do they work? These are all important questions if you are going to use essential oils regularly. Why does it matter you ask? It matters because essential oils won’t work properly if they don’t have certain chemical characteristics. If you want to use essential oils as perfume, then maybe it won’t matter to you. If you are someone who wants to have a great smell that is functional and for a specific purpose, then it does matter.

So if you are sitting there and wondering, how is an essential oil made. Let me begin by telling you that really, essential oils are not made. They are extracted from the plant because the components that make up the oil are already in the plant. Oils can come from many different parts of the plant and is specific to the particular oil. For example, rose essential oil comes from the rose petals, lemon is produced from the peel, and juniper is produced from the berries, valerian from a root and cinnamon from the leaf or bark.

There are many factors that go into extracting an essential oil. The key factors include, the time of day and time of year the plant material is harvested; the region of the world as well as the temperature of the region. Each of these factors play a very important part in producing an oil that renders the desired chemistry that it will have therapeutic/functional impact.

So back to the question, how are essential oils extracted? The methods used include distillation, expression (also referred to as cold pressed), solvent/absolute extraction, CO2 Extraction, maceration and enfleurage. Today I want to focus on the process of distillation.5876_1e_large

Distillation: The process of passing steam through plant material.

1. Load plant material into Still, usually copper or stainless steel.
2. Steam or water/steam passes through still
3. The steam breaks down the plant material and removes the components of the plant in the form of vapor
4. Oil and water vapor moves to the stills condenser, where the steam changes back to water or oil droplets
5. The water and oil separate. Most often, but not always the oils sits on the surface.
6. Oil is captured by pouring the water off, leaving the essential oil.

The essential oil that results from this process contain many individual chemical components. While these components are specific to each plant, there are certain characteristics/ molecular structures that are often found in certain groups of plants. These structures are important because it allows each oil to be categorized based on its function (or therapeutic property). An example of these structures would be esters, alcohols and terpenes.

I like to think of it this way, (using the image below.) If you were able to look inside the essential oil Coriander seed, you would see structures like Linalool, -Pinene, -Terpinene floating around; or perhaps Thyme (linalool CT) which contain -Caryophyllene and Carvacrol in its composition.

chemistry 2

In reality, essential oils are just made up of a bunch of structures. If you understand these structures, you can understand the functions of your oil. Take Terpenes/Terpenoids for example. They are known for anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral and bactericidal therapeutic actions. This then tells you how you should use your oil.

I hope that I haven’t confused or overwhelmed you with nerdy, science talk, but have given you a better understanding of how essential oils travel from the plant into your hands.  Check out the cool video showing the distillation process.

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

People often ask me how aromatherapy works.  I love it when people ask questions!  Next week I will be posting a more in depth blog about memory-emotion and aromatherapy.  Before I get into that I would like to just give you a basic understanding of how/why aromatherapy works.  As a scientist and certified aromatherapist it is important to help people understand that essential oils and aromatherapy are more than just  a pretty smell- they are functional!

Cue the quick science lesson:  Essential oils are volatile.   This means that essential oils can evaporate and easily turn into vapor. The vapor of the oil when released into the air travels as molecules.  These molecules travel to your nose.  From the minute an aroma hits your nose there is a process that occurs.  In this process there are 4  key concepts that are important to understand- Detect, Transmit, Perceive and analyze.

DETECT: Essential Oil molecules travel up the nose into the nasal cavity, where they come into contact with chemoreceptors. When an odor molecule stimulates a chemoreceptor, changes to your brain occur.

TRANSMIT: The change to your brain is caused by a nerve impulse which creates a signal- (known as an aroma print) that travels to the olfactory bulb .

PERCEIVED & ANALYZED: The aroma print travels to other parts of the brain for perception, analysis, storage in memory and emotional response.

Check out the fun little video




Find Your Scents

Have you ever looked for a natural alternative to the challenges you face?  I have…..This begins my story of Divine Scents.

My interest in aromatherapy began because I had chronic back pain and didn’t want to take pills or deal with the side effects that came with it.  I found that aromatherapy made the difference and worked. Being a scientist my curiosity lead me to begin formal training and become a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist.

Halfway through my training, my son was diagnosed with cancer.  I began working with the oncologist to use aromatherapy to support my son through treatment.  Aromatherapy was very effective in combating his nausea and anxiety – it was astounding; even the nurses were amazed by how well it worked.

I found that other families in the cancer clinic were also interested in trying aromatherapy to support themselves and their children undergoing treatment.  Once thing led to another and I found myself giving free advice to any parent who wanted to use aromatherapy for their child with cancer.

It was through this experience that I realized this could be something for everyone, a way to support people in their total body and mind.  This is how I began Divine Scents.

Divine Scents passion is to help people who want a natural alternative.  Through the science of aromatherapy Divine Scents products are crafted for everyday challenges that can be safely and easily used.

Most of my products offered have been crafted based on people’s requests.  My wish is to continue to build this very personal component by expanding products that people need, offering custom blending services, as well as establishing a consultation practice with-in the community.

I believe Divine Scents offers natural solutions to everyday challenges; and will improve the lives of those that use them.

Check out the wide range of aromatherapy products at





Frequently Asked Questions.

I spent last weekend in Chicago talking with almost 500 women about aromatherapy.  It was a great opportunity to find out what women think about aromatherapy, their concerns, needs and issues.  A few things clearly stood out to me, one of them was about essential oil usage.  I often as an aromatherapist get asked usage and safety questions.  I thought this month it would be good to answer some of those questions for you all.

                                    How long can I diffuse essential oils in my diffuser?
Inhalation using a diffuser can be very powerful and effective.  It is estimated that as much as 60-70% of the molecules in an essential oil can be adsorbed into the body.  I recommend that you not diffuse more than 30-60 minutes at a time.  I always advise people to get a diffuser that has an intermittent button and timer.  For example, you can diffuse for 60 min., where your diffuser goes on for 5 sec, then off for 5 sec.  It will do this the entire time you diffuse.  It is a great way to control how much essential oil is being emitted into the air. A timer allows it to turn off even if you are not in the room, or if you are sleeping at night.

An indication that you are diffusing too much could be headaches, light-headedness, trouble breathing. If you experience any of these you should turn off the diffuser and move to a room with fresh air.

In a cold air diffuser I usually recommend (for adults) starting with 3-5 drops of essential oil.  You can add EO if you desire a stronger aroma, but never more than a total of 10 drops.  Essential oils have what is referred to as a low therapeutic margin.  This means there is a fine line between a beneficial dose and a toxic dose.  It is always good to begin at a lower amount and work your way up.

                                                    How do I store my essential oils?
Essential oils are “volatile”; meaning that they can easily evaporate at room temperature.  More importantly, heat,  light and oxygen can cause evaporation and degradation (break down), rendering them useless.  Because of these factors, essential oils should be stored in a cool, dark area.  Preferably in a dark, glass container.  Citrus oils- high in Terpenes-tend to spoil the quickest, so placing them in a refrigerator will help prolong the shelf life of the oil.  A separate small refrigerator for all your essential oils is really the best way to go.  On a final note, If your essential oil comes in a large quantity, it may be worth aliquoting it into smaller bottles to reduce unnecessary exposure.

                                                   Why do I need to Dilute?
Why do you need to dilute? Dilution is important because essential oils can cause irritation, sensitivity, redness, blisters and itching  when used undiluted. For many of you out there I am sure you are thinking it’s natural, it must be safe.  Essential oils can be effective and safe, BUT, when used in the correct way.  Take for example that it can take as many as 3,000 lemons to produce 1 kilo of lemon essential oil.  That is something like 45 lemons in 1-15ml bottle of essential oil-that my friend is a lot of lemons!  Lemon essential oil is also known to be phototoxic (can cause sensitivity to the sun). Now try putting on 1-undiluted drop onto your skin and then go out in the sun-ouch.  For further info on dermal reactions visit and for guidelines on dilution visit: or

References for this blog and for further information on essential oil safety :
Tisserand, Robert. Essential Oil Safety: 2nd Edition, Elsevier, 2014.
Petersen, Dorene. Introduction to Aromatherapy.  American College of Healthcare Sciences, 2012.

Aromatherapy 101

I understand there is a huge amount of information about essential oils out there. It can all be overwhelming!  I decided to write this post because  in the last few months I have been having a lot of conversations with people about essential oil safety.  As a certified clinical aromatherapist, I am excited about people’s interest in EO’s and concerned for the lack of information people have as they use them.
I thought if I tried to narrow down some of the necessary safety information  it may help people use EO’s more safely.

I am giving out what I will call my Aromatherapy 101.  It has the safety basics of essential oil use.  This is just a beginning and I always advocate doing your own homework.  Get a good essential oil safety book, there a few really good ones out there.  Here it goes………

Beginning basics and safety:

Essential Oils should always be diluted.  You can use jojoba oil, vegetable oil or something like apricot or almond oil.   For whole body lotions and massage oils essential oils can be used at 1-3%; Facial applications 0.5-1%; Pain or wounds 5-15%.
Children and the elderly should use much less 0.5-1%. If pregnant or taking medications, you need to be particularly careful since essential oils can interfere with the metabolism of some drugs.  It is not recommended to use essential oils with children under 2.  There are a few exceptions like rose.  Hydrosols are a better avenue for children under 2 yrs. Of age.

I do not think that the average person should ingest essential oils.  Even as an aromatherapist there are only a few oils that I would ingest.  While essential oils may be natural, they can be extremely potent.  Ingesting essential oils without proper knowledge could be dangerous.

Never put EO’s in the eye.  What to do if you (1) get an EO in your eye on accident (2) EO irritates or burns the skin.  Use milk to flush or wash it off.  Water can make it worse.  The fat from the milk will soothe the irritation.

Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions can sometimes happen.  An allergic reaction could range from mild redness of the skin, red and slightly thickened skin, red swollen skin, water blisters to intense swelling, redness and large blisters.  If any of these symptoms occur discontinue use of the essential oil that is causing the reaction.

A cold air diffuser should be used.  Never use heat with oils since they are volatile.  The oil will evaporate and or break down under heat.  The benefits you will get from the oil will be less than with a cold air diffuser.  Many are on the market, I recommend one that has a timer so that you can regulate how much you are diffusing.
Symptoms that may indicate you are diffusing too much:  Headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath.  If this happens, move to an area with fresh air.
Diffusing all day, every day is not recommended. When you inhale an essential oil, as much as 70% can be adsorbed.  That is a lot of essential oil to adsorb into your body.  If you are diffusing a lot, you are exposing yourself to a higher chance of sensitization.  EO’s filter themselves through the liver and kidney, you could be unnecessarily taxing your organs by overexposure.  Recommended diffusing times…..3-4 hrs a day.  Not all at once, but 30min. on, 30min. off.

EO’s can cause photosensitivity-meaning that you should be extra careful when exposed to UV or sunlight.  Diffusing them will not cause this-topical application could cause this.  Citrus EO’s such as pressed lemon, lime, grapefruit and bergamot oil can cause sensitivity to the sun if applied to the skin.
If using one of these oils do not expose the area for 12-24hrs. Make sure to cover the area that EO was applied to so that it is not exposed to sun or UV.  (Could cause sunburn.) This is especially important for people on medications who could already be at risk to the sun because of medications.

Nomenclature for Essential Oils
Making sure that you use the correct latin name when buying the essential oil.  An example…Lavender is known as Lavendula angustifolia (officinalis).  Do not mistake this with lavendula abrialis which is Lavendin and has very different properties than Lavender.

Buying Essential Oils
Where should you buy your EO’s.  When making your decision the two most important qualifications are these:  (1) they should be organic, unsprayed or wildcrafted ;(2) they should be a very high quality grade.  EO’s are very concentrated and if they are not organic or unsprayed then you are getting concentrated pesticide with it.  High quality grade is important because some companies will put additives into their oils, thus diluting the oil and reducing the effectiveness of the oil.  Some companies publish their testing results on their sites.  This is a great way to know that your oils contain what they are supposed to.