Where do essential oils come from?

Karen Avidar

Despite their rise in popularity, there still seems to be an air of mystery around where essential oils come from and how they differ from other oils. So here it is, a simple biological answer to the question: where do essential oils come from?

The short answer to this question is that essential oils come from plants. The more detailed answer is that plants produce essential oil for various reasons, including to prevent competing vegetation from growing within their area, to serve as a defense against insects or other animals and to protect themselves from bacteria and fungus. 

Essential oils can be stored on the surface of the plant, such as the case with lavender essential oil, or inside the plant material, such as the case with citrus oils like lemon or bergamot where the oil is inside the peel. The location of the essential oil within the plant will determine the way the oil is extracted and made into the final product we buy in stores. 

Essential oils are constantly changing their chemical composition while in the plant to help the plant adapt to its environment. This is exactly why aromatherapists recommend using essential oils local to your region. Those plants will likely contain the chemical composition that is best suited to your climate and therefore can help with associated skin conditions or even the common cold. 

Oils such as argan or sweet almond oil are known as botanical oil or vegetable oils and they differ from essential oils in the way they are extracted and in their potency. These oils, also known as carrier oils, come from the fatty portion of the plant and are extracted using a pressing method. The result is an oil that can be applied directly to the skin and this is why they are used to dilute essential oils for skin application. 

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