A common ingredient in natural products, essential oils are used commonly through inhalation or by topical application of diluted oil. Because these oils are so readily available to the public, many people incorrectly assume that no particular knowledge or training is needed to use them. Unfortunately, there are many who make this mistake. Some have read a little about aromatherapy, or a friend or supplier has told them a particular oil is good for this or that. But essential oils can cause problems if used incorrectly. How much do you really know about these powerful botanicals?
Some have read a little about aromatherapy, or a friend or supplier has told them a particular oil is good for this or that. But essential oils can cause problems if used incorrectly. How much do you really know about these powerful botanicals?
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids extracted from plant material-bark, berries, flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, or twigs-that are produced in several different ways.
The most common is steam distillation, in which pressurized steam is passed through plant material, causing oils to evaporate out. The resulting mixture of oil and steam is condensed back into a liquid, and the oil is skimmed off.
Plants that are too fragile for steam distillation, such as jasmine, orange blossom, and rose, can have their oils extracted using solvents. Oils created by this process are called absolutes and are generally used in perfumes or diffusers because the solvent residue makes most of them unsuitable for topical use.
A third method is carbon dioxide extraction. While these oils are technically absolutes, the pressurized carbon dioxide used as a solvent leaves no harmful residue and also creates a thicker oil with a more rounded aroma.
Finally, cold-pressed essential oils are those that have been extracted from fruit rind by grinding and pressing it.
Most essential oils do not have an indefinite shelf life: citrus oils will lose their efficacy after about six months, while most floral oils will last a year or maybe two. A few-cedarwood, patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver-become better with age. You can refrigerate oils that you do not use often. It is also a good idea to store them away from sunlight, in small bottles with less air space.
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