Essential Oils FAQ

Methods of Extraction of Essential Oils

Steam Distillation: Steam is passed through the plant material to release the essential oils into a mist which is collected in a condenser.  This is cooled by water which turns the steam back into water.  The essential oil is floating on top and is removed.

Physical Expression: The essential oils are literally pressed or squeezed from the plant material.  Ideal for some plants, like the citrus family.

Solvent Extraction: This system uses chemicals to separate the essential oils from the plant material.  This system is used by the cosmetic industry but not favored by the aromatherapy industry because of the possibility of chemical residue.

Because of the huge amounts of plant material and the equipment required for these methods of extraction it is easier, quicker and cheaper to buy already prepared essential oils or blends.

Always purchase pure essential oils from a reliable supplier, someone you trust and have vetted through reading quality reviews. Otherwise you may find that you're wasting your money. 

Ways To Use Essential Oils

The most effective way to use the essential oils is by inhalation or external application. It is not recommended to take essential oils internally.

So you can use them as massage oils, in baths (including foot or hand baths), burners, compresses, body lotions, room sprays, shampoos, cleaning solutions and inhalations (via steam or on a tissue).

Blending Your Own Essential Oils

When blending your own essential oils to use for personal use there is a correct ratio to be used for essential oils to carrier oils. Please see carrier oils for directions.

Another important point: if you want to make your own blends just remember that the ratio of essential oils to each other in any particular blend is the key to the success of that particular blend.  Just by adding a dash of this and a dab of that and giving the whole thing a shake is not necessarily going to have the desired result...

Always get recipes for blends from qualified Aromatherapists, ethical websites or reputable essential oil suppliers. 

Storage of Essential Oils

  • Essential oils are plant derived and will deteriorate.  They need to be stored away from light and heat. 
  • Always store your essential oils in either a blue or amber bottle with a non metallic tight lid. 
  • If you receive your essential oils in clear glass or a metal container pour them into a blue or amber one as soon as possible. 
  • A reputable supplier should not send essential oils in clear glass anyway, so if they have ask them how long it has been in a clear glass container.
  • Preferably don’t store your essential oils with a dripolator as the rubber or plastic will perish and spoil the essential oil within.
Storage of Essential Oils
  • Don’t store your essential oils in the fridge or in a sunny or light position, keep them clearly labelled and keep them away from children.  If a child swallows any essential oils take them directly to the hospital, don’t try to induce vomiting.
  • All essential oils will break down over time. Be careful when purchasing any essential oil or blend that the oil hasn’t been on the shelves for a long time – check for dust on the tops or an expiry date.
  • Essential oils used for therapeutic purposes will lose their effectiveness at about two years so don't keep them for any longer than that.  The aromas/scent of the oils will last longer.

Industry Terms

Absolutes: are essential oils which have been extracted from the plant material with the use of solvents.  Because traces of this chemical may remain in the essential oils these types of oils are never used by the aromatherapy industry

CO2s:  are essential oils extracted by pressurizing carbon dioxide until it becomes a liquid.  This liquid acts as a solvent on the plant material, absorbing the essential oil.  The pressure is reversed, the carbon dioxide becomes a gas and the essential oil remains.

Reconstituted oils, nature identicals, isolates, perfume compounds, aromas:  these are either imitations of pure essential oils or blends of a small quantity of essential oil with plain oil. They are not useful for any medical purpose at all as little or none of the pure oil is available for healing.

Synergistic Blends:  when the combination is more than the sum of the parts there is a synergistic effect.  When blending two or more essential oils together the healing effect is greater than the individual oil.  The proportion is the important element here so the right combination of each oil is what will produce the desired result.

Adaptogens: an Adaptogen is an essential oil which acts as a natural balancer in the body's systems.  For example Lemon is both a tonic and a sedative, depending on the need's of the autonomic nervous system. Peppermint is classified as both a sedative and a stimulant - again depending on the body's needs.  Hysop balances blood pressure - normalising high or low.

Chemotypes: dependent on ground and climatic conditions the same species of plant can produce different chemical compounds. 

Cautions for Use of Essential Oils

Never use essential oils neat on the skin without advice from a qualified Aromatherapist as they can cause a reaction.    The exceptions are Lavender and Tea Tree.

Essential Oils have amazing health benefits, if used correctly.

However, there are some oils which can be hazardous to use and precautions need to be taken.  

Some oils can be photosensitizing or phototoxic which means they can cause skin pigmentation if exposed to the sunlight.

They include:

  • Bergamot
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange
  • Lovage
  • Angelica
  • Mandarin
  • Tangerine

If used in a massage blend then make sure it is used at least 12 hours before exposure to sunlight; this will give your skin enough time to assimilate the oil.

It is advisable to avoid  using essential oils during pregnancy.  Some are ok to use but to be on the safe side I would suggest waiting until the baby is weaned before using any essential oils.  If in doubt, please consult a qualified Aromatherapist for advice.

Most essential oils are non-irritating but some people are sensitive to the compounds contained in the essential oil so always pre-test a drop on your skin before general use – this is to ensure you are not allergic to the oil itself.  Some of the more irritant oils are: black pepper, tea tree, lemon, basil, cedarwood, clary sage, thyme, chamomile, ginger, juniper.

The essential oils which should not be used without a qualified Aromatherapist’s advice: 

Bitter Almond

Boldo leaf


Yellow Camphor


Jaborandi leaf