What Are Essential Oils? 21 Facts About Essential Oils You May Not Know

Written by Marnie Clark

Reading Time: 8 minutes

What are essential oils? These extraordinary substances have a few thousand years of historical use for treating everything from an infected wound to the plague. There are 188 references to essential oils in the Bible. Essential oils were even part of the ingredients used by ancient Egyptians in the embalming process for mummification.

Essential oils have been used traditionally in Greek, Roman, and Chinese medicine, although the extraction methods in ancient times certainly differed widely from today’s high-tech distillation processes.

So, just what are essential oils and what is it about them that makes them so attractive and useful beyond just smelling nice?

21 Facts About Essential Oils

Here are 21 interesting facts about essential oils that help to explain what they are and what makes essential oils so beneficial…

  1. It is estimated that only 10% of the plant kingdom has been assessed for the essential oils they contain. Each year more plants are discovered and identified for the essential oils they contain that may be beneficial for therapeutic purposes. Today over 300 essential oils are distilled or extracted worldwide.
  2. The term “essential oil” is a misnomer because technically they are not oils at all. They contain highly concentrated plant compounds, but because they contain no fatty acids (which is what makes an oil an oil) they are not actually an oil.
  3. Essential oils exist in plants to help them be more resistant to disease and insect invasion. These oils are located in the seeds, leaves, stems, bark, roots, fruit, and flowers of the plants. What protects the plant also has a wide range of uses for humans.
  4. The total essential oil yield of plants is generally quite low; it rarely exceeds one percent. For instance, it takes about 22 pounds (9.9 kg) of rose petals to make just 0.16 oz (5 ml) of rose essential oil.
  5. lavender essential oil contains over 200 phytochemicalsEach essential oil is composed of hundreds of different compounds known as phytochemicals – plant-based, naturally occurring chemicals. For example, lavender oil is known to contain approximately 200 phytochemicals!
  6. Essential oil phytochemicals fall into 13 types or categories, and each one is responsible for some of the therapeutic action of that oil. The categories include: terpenes, phenols, alcohols, aldehydes, ethers, esters, ketones, carboxylic acids, oxides, lactones, coumarins, alkanes, and furanoids.
  7. Essential oil molecules are unique in that they have the ability to penetrate cell membranes and diffuse throughout the skin, tissues, and blood. They can travel throughout the body in just minutes, whether applied to the skin or inhaled. They are metabolized by the body just like other nutrients.
  8. High-quality essential oils do not accumulate in the body over time. They exert their action and they pass on through.
  9. Essential oils are known as volatile compounds, which means when they are exposed to the air, they are expelled as a gas. This is why you can smell the oil so quickly after taking the cap off a bottle of essential oil. It also means that when applied to the skin “neat” (undiluted) it can evaporate off the skin fairly quickly.
  10. Essential oils are lipid soluble, meaning they dissolve in fats or oils. But because they are volatile and do not themselves contain fats, they leave no oily residue. If you combine essential oils with a carrier oil, it improves absorption and decreases how rapidly they evaporate from the skin.
  11. Essential oils contain and carry oxygen molecules. These oxygen molecules help transport nutrients into cells. When a nutritional deficiency exists, there is also a corresponding oxygen deficiency, and this is where disease can begin. Because essential oils carry oxygen, one can begin to see why they can be so useful for supporting a healthy body.
  12. Besides being oxygen carriers, essential oils may also contain potent antioxidants just as fruits and vegetables do. Antioxidants are known to fight against free radical damage which is linked to cell mutations, cellular oxidation, aging, and a sluggish immune system.
  13. Essential oils have been studied for their ability to support important bodily functions such as the secretion of neurotransmitters, antibodies, endorphins, hormones, and enzymes.
  14. Many essential oils have demonstrated potent antimicrobial properties. In vitro testing (done in test tubes) and in vivo testing (in the body) tests an oil’s efficacy against various strains of bacteria. Even bacteria that are known to be resistant to antibiotics, such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) have been decimated by certain essential oils. Some of the best oils for this are tea tree oil, lavender, manuka, eucalyptus essential oil, geranium, lemongrass, thyme, and oregano.
  15. Research indicates that diffusing essential oils can increase oxygen in the room where the diffuser sits. It can also remove metallic particles and toxins from the air, increase ozone and negative ions, inhibit bacteria, eliminate mold, and subdue odors from cigarette smoking and pets.
  16. Because essential oils cannot be patented, many pharmaceutical drugs have been created by copying the natural phytochemicals found in essential oils. For instance, aspirin was created by scientists studying the nature of the bark of the willow tree. The active constituent in aspirin, salicylic acid, is chemically similar to methyl salicylate, the natural phytochemical in willow bark (also found in birch and wintergreen).
  17. Humans are a complex combination of body, mind, and spirit. Essential oils can help to support physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and oils even have the ability to affect all three simultaneously.
  18. In our modern world one of the most common health problems, experienced by young and old alike, is anxiety. A plethora of recent studies has shown that essential oils can help with anxiety and stress relief, regardless of the reason. The essential oils with the most research showing their anti-anxiety benefits are lavender, frankincense, bergamot, vetiver, orange, lemon, ylang ylang, chamomile, and rose.
  19. If your olfactory system (sense of smell) isn’t working, essential oils can work on your behalf anyway! Animal studies done with lavender showed that even though the animals (who had an impaired sense of smell) could not smell the lavender oil, its calming effects were still felt. Researchers discovered that olfactory stimulation was not required for the calming effects of lavender to be experienced.
  20. High-quality essential oils have a long shelf life. Citrus oils, frankincense essential oil, tea tree, pine, and spruce have the shortest shelf life, being one to two years because they tend to oxidize more quickly. Storing them in the refrigerator helps to prolong their shelf life. Most other essential oils will last on the shelf between two to three years. Oils that have a high store essential oils in dark bottles out of sunlightpercentage of a compound known as sesquiterpenes tend to last the longest – up to ten years. These include sandalwood, patchouli, myrrh oil, vetiver, and a few others.
  21. Store essential oils in dark glass bottles, out of sunlight, with the caps tightly closed, and/or refrigerated to lengthen their shelf life. You can tell if an essential oil has deteriorated if the aroma has changed, it has thickened, or become cloudy.

2 Ways to Tell the Difference Between an Essential Oil and Fragrance Oil

Many people believe that essential oils and fragrance oils are the same things, but this is not the case. Here are two ways that will help you to determine whether an essential oil is high quality or merely a fragrance oil:

  1. If it is a fragrance oil, the label may contain the word “fragrance” or “perfume.” The term “natural fragrance” might also be used, but don’t be fooled because the word “natural” in this case has no meaning at all. Even the words “essential oil” on the label can be misleading.
  2. A good quality essential oil should have the scientific name for the plant on the label. For example, Peppermint is Mentha piperita. Some bottles may say 100 percent pure, but this still may not be the case. Look for the word “organic” which indicates the plants were grown without pesticides or herbicides which can lodge within the cells of the plant and cause problems for health. Sometimes essential oil ingredients do not have organic certification but are grown without pesticides or herbicides. Before you buy, find out how that company grows its plants and distills its oils.

It is estimated that at least 77% of essential oils on the market are synthetic. These oils not only have little to no therapeutic value – they can be toxic and dangerous to use. Roughly 21% of essential oils on the market are adulterated with fillers and/or toxic chemicals.

That leaves a tiny two percent of essential oils on the market that are the real thing, meaning the plant ingredients are properly grown and distilled so that their therapeutic phytochemical content is what it should be.

In the United States, essential oils are not regulated or certified which means there are no quality control guidelines in place for essential oils whatsoever. As a smart consumer it is up to you to learn about what you are buying, and the practices of the company that manufactures the oil.

How to Test an Essential Oil for Purity

To test an essential oil for purity here is a quick and easy test you can do. It is not fail-proof but in most cases will give you a good idea about the quality of the oil you are testing. Put a single drop of oil on a piece of white paper and let it dry. If it leaves behind an oil ring, it is most likely not a pure essential oil.

(Note: If the oil you are testing is a blend, it may have a carrier oil with it, so there are exceptions to this guideline. But the label should tell you whether or not a carrier oil is present.) Also, some essential oils are thicker in consistency and have a natural, deeper color that can leave a slight tint behind, but it still should not be oily. Sandalwood, patchouli, and German chamomile fall into this category.

Purity and quality count when it comes to essential oils. Every time you use an essential oil you are creating a direct pathway to transmit every ingredient in that oil into your body. Essential Oils from Organixx are among the highest quality oils available to consumers and are made with indigenously sourced plants retrieved from the world’s best sources.

Organixx Essential Oils
Marnie Clark
Marnie Clark has studied natural medicine for over 25 years. She is a breast cancer survivor since the early 2000s and a breast cancer coach for the past decade. Marnie is passionate about empowering others on how to make their bodies hostile terrain for cancer development through nutrition, detoxification, mind/body techniques, energy medicine, and other healing protocols. You can find her at her website.

Article Summary

  • Essential oils are extracts from the seeds, leaves, stems, bark, roots, fruit, and flowers of plants. They have been used for thousands of years in Greek, Roman, and Chinese medicine.

  • Each essential oil is composed of hundreds of different compounds known as phytochemicals – plant-based, naturally occurring chemicals.

  • The term “essential oil” is a misnomer because technically they are not oils at all.

  • If you combine essential oils with a carrier oil, it improves absorption and decreases how rapidly they evaporate from the skin.

  • Essential oils can help to support physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

  • High-quality essential oils have a long shelf life. Store essential oils in dark glass bottles, out of sunlight, with the caps tightly closed.

Reader Interactions


  1. Thank you so much for clarifying so many things that I was getting fooled by and for addressing the importance of certified organic as well as other great tips!
    Much appreciated

  2. I am using essential oils for tig years, mostly in an electric arom stream, all day long
    and I am never sick. touch wood. my oil collection is great and I buy new one whenever
    I come accross it. I am not so keen on the cytrus oils, but use them anyway for the smell
    and inhalation. best regards

  3. Do you have a list of what is good for what? And when, how often and how should essential oils be used? ( Short cut chart )

  4. Good morning, I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I have recently had facial surgery to remove a BCC tumor on my face. The scar runs from the inside corner of my eye to the corner of my mouth. It was done nearly 3 weeks ago and is quite ugly.
    I have been suggested a few things to use. Bio Oil seems to be the first thing on peoples lips to use, but this is a petroleum based product and I don’t want to use it. Also been recommeded Vit E oil and Rosehip Oil. I have purchased your 12 pack of oils and wondered if there was something in there that would be best for smoothing out this scar. There is alot of scar tissue at the bottom by the mouth. Hard lump and numb.

    • Greetings
      I am very timid about responding on website. However If I was in your position I would have hope someone shared something that will help.
      Apart from oils or poultice herbs or DMSO is another cutting edge discovery….put it direct on to area (will heal but with a short stinging) three are books ( Amazon) and numerous website and articles. Essential oils will also do wonders. Hope this helps and wish you a speedily recovery!!

    • Your surgeon should have advised you to very gently massage the scar several times every day. I had a scar like that after removal of a squamous cell carcinoma and my surgeon told me (after the stitches were removed) to gently massage the entire scar tissue several times a day. I used coconut oil, but probably one of the essential oils would be a better choice. —

    • My experience is to use, after surgery and/or a bruise, the essential oil helycrisium ital. dilute 5 drops with 25 drops of a good oil (avocado, sweet almond, etc) and gently aplly on the scar

    • Research cold pressed organic nuts like tamanu or argan oils. They are great for scars. Also helichrysum EO is good too.

  5. Great article. I like the article summaries that are always put at the end.
    Am I correct in my understanding that when diffusing essential oils, a cool oil diffuser should be used and not one where the oil is heated up? Does this matter or not?

  6. How does one know how to use these oil? My oils have been sitting in a box untouched because I don’t know which oil does what or how best to apply them. Are you selling a hard covered book that guides you of the benefits and how to use these oils? I prefer hard covered books to ebooks. Please let me know. I would be interested.
    Miss Cheryl

    • Cheryl, you can never hurt yourself with the oils so just experiment and you will discover the ones your body likes the best. First, just breathe them in. Put one drop in the palm of your hand, swirl around with your finger and cup over your nose. The fastest way to your brain is through the olfactory gland. You can put a dab on your wrists, behind your knees, behind your ear or on earlobe – depends on the oil and what you are aiming to do. Some oils need to be diluted with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba, even olive oil. Never use citrus when going out in the sun as you will burn. I have all of Ty’s work but personally, I use Young Living EO’s which are the best in the world as Gary Young studied with experienced distillers and pioneered many of the techniques. He has started farms all over the world and built distilleries on site. Seed to Seal is the YL motto. We have a book that describes each oil and blend and every possible way to apply whether “neat” (straight) or diluted.

  7. I was wondering if you could suggest specifically some essential oils that might help someone like me who by the time of diagnosis,had Lyme for a minimum of 2+yrs,long enough to damage approx 30% of my brain,most noticeable in short term memory? Also best way to use? Please?

    • Deborah,
      We do not have information about Young Living Oils. But our oils are USDA certified organic and are free of GMOs! We stand by the quality of our oils. For more information about them please contact our customer support team: https://support.organixx.com/

    • Shellie,
      We do not have information about using essential oils in nebulizers, but the oils can be put into a diffuser.

  8. I just ordered the 12 essential Oils package – can you please send me something that will tell me how to use these Just suggested …I can’t seem to print it off my computer

  9. I have 8 essential oils books. My favorite is ‘The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy’ , 25th Anniversary Edition by Valerie Ann Worwood. 700 pages; over 800 recipes. Purchased on Amazon. I consider it the gold standard!

  10. I am using Frankincense oil and Magi Complexx internally to treat ovarian cancer after surgery. Also I am using treatment from Hoxsey clinic (Tijuana, Mexico). It includes Pink Tonic that is very sensitive for alcohol because alcohol will neutralize Tonic. Even small quantities such as alcohol based herbal tinctures, flavorings such as vanilla, cough syrup, mouth wash, liquid vitamins, and fermented foods such as kefir that produce alcohol and more would destroy the Tonic that is the main ingredient in treatment. So my very important question is – is any trace of alcohol in Frankincense oil and Magi Complexx oil?

  11. Yes, I’m interested in trying Frankincense Essential Oil and I guesss there is a Magi- Complex EO. as well. If you take any essential oils or want to internally- I’m sure they need to be very very diluted. Can you tell me ratio and mixed with what? Also I just purchased the EO – orange to flavor my spring water, I don’t like the taste of water by itself and am so sensitive to preservatives and chemicals . Thanks for any help!!???

    • Cucumbers work well for flavoring water. Just put organic cucumber slices in a glass, add water. Then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Tastes great – refreshing, and also adds nutrients and minerals to your water.

  12. Can you tell me if there is a name for a person who mixes essential oils? Like mixologist for alcohol, herbalist for plants, alchemist for metal…

    • Hi Francine, thanks for your interesting question. According to our research, there are two careers that are related to mixing essential oils. There’s an aromachologist and an aromatherapist. The former practices aromachology, which is a method of using smells or essential oils to create, either in isolation or through blending in formulations. The latter practices aromatherapy, a treatment that uses essential oils to promote physical and emotional well-being. Hope this helps!

  13. It’s cool that the same oils that protect plants from disease and insect invasion have a side range of uses for humans. My wife and I have been looking into essential oils for aid in preventing diseases in our home. We’ll now be looking further into the benefits and uses of essential oils.

    • That’s wonderful, Thomas! Thank you for sharing with us. Glad to hear you found the article beneficial. If you haven’t done so already, we’d love for you to check out some of our USDA Certified Organic Essential oils here: https://shop.organixx.com/#essential-oils. Wishing you all the best!

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