The Science Of Essential Oils


You’ve probably read some weird things on the Internet about essential oils. And you’ve probably heard some wild claims, too. Here’s the truth about essential oils: they’re not all woo. They’re not all witchcraft and nonsense. It’s actually science and chemistry. Let’s talk about it, shall we?




Essential oils are made of carbon and hydrogen. The different way these molecules are arranged create something called a hydrocarbon, or a constituent. Hydrocarbons form two groups:

  1. Terpenes, which contain only hydrogen and carbon
  2. Terpenoids, which contain hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen

Terpenes have two (2) subgroups:

  1. Monoterpenes, which contain 10 carbons and 15 hydrogens. These constituents oxidize rapidly, they fill the room quickly, and so you smell they right away. They last a few hours, but dissipate quickly. Monoterpenes generally have the following properties: antiseptic, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, general lymphatic stimulant and other properties. An example of a monoterpene is alpha-pinene, d-limonene, myrcene.
  2. Sesquiterpenes, which contain 15 carbons and 24 hydrogens. These constituents don’t oxidize as quickly, have a more subtle aroma, and last longer. Sesquiterpenes generally have the following properties: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, analgesic, antispasmodic, immune stimulating. An example of a sesquiterpene is alpha-phellandrene, zingiberene, beta-carophyllene.

Terpenoids are a series of other constituents, each with different properties and found in different essential oils, too many to list. Examples are:

  1. Ketones
  2. Esters
  3. Ethers
  4. Monoterpenol alcohol
  5. Sesquiterpenol alcohol
  6. Penols
  7. Oxides

and more!

Often, you can tell what essential oil a constituent belongs to by the name. For example, alpha-pinene is found in pine. D-limonene is found in lime. Geraniol is found in geranium. Eucalyptol is found in eucalyptus. Thymol is found in thyme. You get the idea.

So what’s the point of knowing this? Well, knowing what constituents are in which essential oils is really technical information, but it does help you understand. If you know what an essential oil is made up of, you can understand what an essential oil does. AND you can find research!


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