What is essential oil?
Essential oils are liquids extracted from plants. These volatile liquids carry concentrated aroma compounds of the plants. Essential oils normally are complex mixture of thousands of aroma compounds. The word essential is used because they contain distinctive aroma or essence of that plant.
Essential oils are usually known as the oil of plant they are extracted from. Essential oils are liquids which have important cosmetics and medicinal uses. These oils can be extracted by using a variety of methods; distillation is the most common method while solvent extraction and expression are also used.
There are various kinds of essential oils which are extracted from different parts of the plants like seeds, leaves, stems and flowers. Plants use different natural compounds to grow, to avoid diseases and for protection against pests and harsh environment. Natural compounds found in these plants are also beneficial to humans. They are miniscule in molecular size so they are absorbed by skin quite easily.
The scent and the precious natural compound present in the essential oils means they are used for many purposes. Most of these oils can last for at least 5-10 years without losing their properties. They are very concentrated so few drops are used for most medicinal and cosmetics purposes. Their durability and concentration make them a bit expensive but they are worth every cent. There are three grades of essential oils present; therapeutic grade, food grade and perfume grade. Therapeutic grade oils are best in quality and thus the most expensive.
Essential Oils Extraction
For centuries, humans are using plants for many purposes. Essential oils are the liquids extracted from the plants and they are used for several purposes ranging from perfumes to medicine. These oils can be extracted from the plants using different methods. Nowadays, four methods are commonly known for the extraction of essential oils. These methods are distillation, solvent extraction, expression and CO2 extraction.
Expression is the simplest and the most environment friendly of these methods. In this method, liquids are extracted by simply pressing the specific plant part such as petal, fruit, leave or root. Expressed essential oils are generally the most volatile ones.
Another method of extraction which is quite different from expression is solvent extraction. This method is usually used for flower petals. In this method the plant material is dipped or washed in a solvent dissolving its volatile extracts. Then the solvent bath is heated leaving behind a crystallized substance. The oils created from these crystallized substances are known as absolutes.
CO2 extraction is a relatively modern method. This method is not very common because oils produced are thicker, less fragrant and do not blend well.
The most common method used for thousands of years for extraction of essential oils is distillation. The quality and properties of the oil extracted by this method depends on a number of factors including plant materials used, steam density, temperature and shape of distillation apparatus used. In this method, steam is pushed through plant material making it release its precious oils. The vaporized oils and steam are condensed and separated through the process. Temperature should be kept as low as possible so that oil does not lose its properties and aroma. Increasing temperature to a great extent can make oil therapeutically completely ineffective. The quality of extracted essential oil can be tested by scientific methods such as gas chromatography.
Essential Oils Safety
There are many benefits of essential oils but you should follow certain guidelines to ensure safety of yourselves and your family while using them. You should never intake these oils without recommendations from certified medical personnel or aroma therapist.
You should always keep these oils away from the reach of children and take great care when using them on children. Pregnant women should avoid using any of essential oils. If you are a patient and are using medication, always seek your doctor’s advice as some oils can interfere with the medicines or deteriorate your medical condition. Read about the oil you are taking internally and ensure that they are safe to ingest.
For application on skin, always ensure that the essential oil is diluted with a suitable carrier oil or liquid. People with sensitive skin should always do a skin patch test before usage. Some oils should not be applied before going out as they can cause rash when exposed to sun. Avoid applying these oils on skin near eyes as they cause irritation and can even damage your eyes. Wear gloves while handling concentrated essential oils and wash your hands properly afterwards.
Some oils are extremely flammable; you should try to keep them away from a potential spark. Essential oils are volatile; you should keep them in an air-tight container. The majority of oils are also sensitive of temperature and light, try to keep them in a dark and cool place.
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