Essential Oil Chemistry – a crash course

Everyday Oils collectionFirst I want to point out, unlike synthetic, chemical, perfume and adulterated essential oils higher quality essential oil chemicals (constituents) are diverse in their effects. Thus, like the human body, no two essential oils are alike. This is why we must be extremely careful when selecting aromatherapy essential oil products. The synthetic, chemical, perfume and adulterated essential oils in personal care products, cleaning products, and low quality aromatherapy essential oils (yes, this does include the oils labeled “100% Pure” too) are exposing our bodies to some rather toxic stuff, un-beneficial stuff that can cause the user harm. The only essential oils I recommend and use, because I have found them to be the best, are Young Living Essential Oils.

Here is a testimonial that demonstrates why we cannot trust the labeling of essential oils that state “100% Pure” on the label (100% pure means absolutely nothing) and why we would never choose to use an inferior essential oil…

I thought you might be interested in an experience I had. Yesterday a co-worker got mixed up with a large grinder here at work.  It peeled the hide off three of his fingers, one finger nail was ground clear through.  I called Delene and had her bring the lavender over.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to put it on because it might burn. I told him that if anything it would take the burn out of the burn.  

We applied it and it really helped. The pain was mostly gone and the stiffness went out of it.  I applied the lavender about once an hour and as he was going home offered the bottle.  His response was, that’s ok, we have some at home. I explained that the training I had, had warned us about some of the “cheap” lavenders and  what they did to burns. He assured me that he had “good” stuff and left.

This morning as soon as he got here he looked me up. Seems like his “lavender” isn’t the good stuff. He said that when he put it on, it about set his hand on fire. ~ Keith B.

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Essential Oil Chemistry: what makes Young Living therapeutic-grade oils work?

Main constituents found in essential oils:

· Alcohols
· Aldehydes
· Esters
· Ethers
· Ketones
· Phenols
· Terpenes

Each of these can be broken down into numerous smaller units. Take terpenes, for example. This classification includes monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, sesquiterpene lactones, Di-terpenes, etc. Listing them all is beyond the scope of this brief overview.

Each constituent has its own action, or effects. For example, the ketones found in lavender, hyssop and patchouly, stimulate cell regeneration. Whereas, phenols, found in oregano and thyme oil, are highly antimicrobial.

Because the chemistry of essential oils is very complex, essential oils are diverse in their effects. This also supports their antimicrobial effects, because the wide variety of antiseptic compounds in essential oils makes the mutation of microorganisms extremely difficult. In l985, Dr. Jean C. Lapraz stated that no microbe could survive in the presence of the essential oils of cinnamon or oregano.

Essential Oil Constituents and what they do

Essential oils high in aldehydes and esters are calming, sedating, combat insomnia, stress, and nervous tension. Esters and aldehydes have a stimulating and sedating effect on the nerve endings. Some Young Living oils high in aldehydes are: Lemongrass (calming), Citrus Fresh, Inner Child, SARA, Trauma Life, lavender (esters), and Tangerine (which also happens to be high in limonene which prevents DNA damage).

Eugenol on the other hand is anti-septic and stimulating. Eugenol is found in essential oils of: Basil (1-10%), Cinnamon Bark (20-30%), Clove (75-87%), Laurus nobilis (10-18%).

Ketones stimulate cell regeneration and liquefy mucous. Ketones are found in lavender, hyssop, sage, and patchouli.

Phenols are highly antimicrobial and are found in oregano, , Mountain Savory, and thyme oil. Phenols are antiseptic and kills bacteria, an are anti-oxidant which increase the oxygen into the tissue to

relieve muscles spasms.  Phenols also increase the velocity in the blood by increasing

the oxygen and moving it along.

Sesquiterpenes are soothing to inflamed tissue and can also produce profound effects on emotions and hormonal balance. They are  predominant in vetiver, cedarwood, and sandalwood. Sesquiterpenes are found in some essential oils, which is what gives them anti-septic, and anti-inflammatory properties, makes them soothing to inflamed tissue, sesquiterpenes can produce profound effects on emotions and hormonal balance. They work on the liver and are a gland stimulant, they increase oxygen around the pineal and pituitary gland and have the ability to go beyond the Blood Brain Barrier (meaning they can cross the blood brain barrier thus increasing oxygen to the brain).

Young Living’s basil has 72% metha charvicol which works great on spasmodic muscles.

If the muscle doesn’t relax then the nerve may be affected, so you would want to

look for an oil that has Esters, which is calming and relaxing to the nerve.

For instance, by using 1 drop Basil and 3 drops Eucalyptus applied to the chest it may very likely help relax the lungs and increase the oxygen.

Or, using 3 drops Basil, and 1 drop Black Pepper with a carrier oil on the spine for the anti-viral effect.

Note: using fewer drops of the essential oil with the highest Phenols, because the less you use it pushes the effect you want.

For skin problems such as shingles and herpes simplex, relief of pain and itching may be obtained by using 7 drops Bergamot (for the calming and soothing feeling), 3 drops Melissa (for its soothing effect), and 5 drops Lavender ( for balancing).  When the problem is better reduce the Lavender and add Myrrh for the healing effect.

Generally, people with high acid are often helped by using essential oils that are high in Sesquiterpenes.

Someone who is attracted to phenols may likely have a bacteria in the body.

If the body is building mucous using Lavender to balance the parasympathetic system that produces mucous may help assist the body to an alkaline state.

Most viruses, fungi and bacteria cannot live in the presence of many essential oils, specially those high in phenols, carvacrol, thymol, and terpenes. This, perhaps, offers a modern explanation why the Old Testament prophet Moses used aromatic substances to protect the Israelites from the plagues that decimated the ancient Egyptians.  A vast body of testimonials suggest that those who use Young Living therapeutic-grade essential oils are less likely to contract infectious disease. Moreover, oils users who do contract an infectious illness tend to recover faster than those using antibiotics.

The complex chemistry of essential oils make them ideal for killing and preventing the spread of bacteria, since microorganism have a difficult time mutating in the presence of so many different anti-septic compounds.  At the March 2000 International Symposium in Grasse, France, Dr. Berangere Arnal-Schnebelen presented a paper showing the anti-bacterial properties of essential oils against several infectious agents. Spanish oregano and cinnamon essential oils tested at above 95% efficiency against Candida albicians, E.Coli, and a Streptococcus strain. This is significant as we face life-threatening, drug-resistant viruses and bacteria.

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Basic Chemical Structure 

Essential oils molecules are made up primarily of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

The aromatic constituents of essential oils are built from hydrocarbon chains (carbon and hydrogen atoms). They are normally joined together in ring-like chemical structures. The chains are held together by carbon atoms linked together. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and other carbon atoms attach at various points of the chain, to make up the different oils.

The aromatic-ring structure of essential oils is much more complex than the simpler, linear carbon-hydrogen structure of fatty oils. Essential oils also contain sulfur and nitrogen atoms that fatty oils do not have.

The basic building block of many essential oils is a five-carbon molecule called an isoprene. Most essential oils are built from isoprene. This is the building block that makes up the terpenoids.

When two isoprene units link together, they create a monoterpene; when three join, they create a sesquiterpene; and so forth. Triterpenoids are some of the largest molecules found in essential oils. They consist of 30 carbon atoms — or six isoprene units linked together.

Different molecules in the same essential oil can exert different effects. For example, the azulene in German chamomile has powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. The bisobolol German chamomile also contains has sedative and mood-balancing properties. Other compounds in German chamomile perform still different functions, such as speeding the regeneration of tissue.

This is because the chemical structure of an essential oil determines its function. Phenols generally create antibacterial activity. Carvacrols have anti-inflammatory activity and Limonines are antiviral.

A single species of plant can have several different chemotypes based on its chemical composition. A plant such as basil grown in one area might produce an essential oil with a completely different chemistry than basil grown in another location.

Get Young Living Therapeutic-grade Essential Oils Here!

101 Uses for the Essential 7 Oil Collection and it’s free until May 31, 2009 see details.

This article by Evelyn Vincent Young Living Distributor is meant as an introduction to a vast field of study that is beyond the scope of this website. For more information, the following publications may be helpful: 


Essential Oil Chemistry by D. Williams. 

Lavandes and Lavandins by Christiane Meunier, Aix-en-Provence 1985. 

Phytochemical Dictionary edited by Jeffrey B. Harborne and Herbert Baxter. 

Journal of Essential Oil Research (JEOR) Tel: (630) 653-2155 Fax: 630 653-2192. 

Aromatherapie by Jean Valnet, M.D., Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, 1982. 

Aromatherapy by René-Maurice Gattefossé, Ph.D., Girardot, Paris 1937. 

L’aromathérapie exactement by Daniel Pénoël, M.D., and Pierre Franchomme. 

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