What are Essential oils?
Essential oils are very potent aromatic chemicals. They are hydrophobic (meaning they do not like water) but they are lipophilic (fat loving). Making them insoluble in water but soluble in fixed oils, alcohols and dissolve in fatty materials (ie. grease).
Because of this essential oils are diluted using carrier oils before use on the body.
But how are these richly potent but tiny amounts of essential oils obtained?They are obtained through the process of of steam distillation. This is one of the most common methods of extracting essential oils from their plant.
How does this process work?
Let’s take Ylang-Ylang as an example.
Ylang Ylang comes from the Cananga odorata plant. Using the process of steam distillation, this plant would firstly be placed in tank-like piece of equipment, above boiling water. The water is boiled to allow the steam it generates to break apart the micro-particles, present in the plant, that conceal the essential oil.
Once these micro particles burst (due to the hot steam) they release the essential oils. The oils will now travel along a tube across the equipment set up. After that, the steam carrying the essential oils (along with some water) will travel into a condenser. The condenser is cooler in temperature to allow the steam to condense back into a liquid.
The liquid is collected in a separate tank that has two separate collection tubes. One collection tube is at the top and the other at the bottom. Why is that? This is because the essential oil will rise to the top, above the water, which will remain at the bottom of this final tank.
The essential oil is now collected, from the top. But what happened to the remaining water? This water at the bottom of the tank is now ‘Floral water’ which can also used for the purpose of beauty and well-being.
An alternative method: Cold pressing
You might have heard about cold pressing as some supermarket stores are now cold pressing fresh juices for customer consumption. Cold pressing involves juicing the fruit or plant you want to extract the juice from using a big blender-like machine. The left over pulp made as a result of this juicing process is saved and pressed to generate a greater yield (greater amount) of juice.
This process is more so used to make carrier oils/ vegetable oils.
How is this better than steam distillation? Well, steam distillation requires a significant amount of heat to burst those micro particles. Any process that requires a lot of heat/ energy usually costs a lot of money.
In case you were interested in exploring the methods of essential oil extraction, here are a few youtube videos i recommend watching: