When I started learning about essential oil chemistry, long, long time ago, at my first aromatherapy training, it was overwhelming but somehow I knew that there lies the key to really understanding how essential oils work – not ‘magic’. As I continued to educate myself in that direction I understood more and more that this is ‘the magic’. Thousands of different chemical components, made up of same three elements carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Moreover, they can have identical number of the same elements present but create completely different molecules with a unique smell, safety issues and useful properties. Let’s take Linalool for example, because it is present in so many of our favourite essential oils (Bergamot, Geranium, Lavender, Neroli, Rose etc). Linalool has 10 carbons, 18 hydrogens and 1 oxygen, the list of useful properties goes on and on from antidepressant1, antioxidant2, anticonvulsant3 to antibacterial4 and insecticidal5, but rearrange the same elements just a tiny bit and you get Borneol, Citronellal, Eucalyptol, Fenchol, Geraniol, Lavandulol, Menthone, Myrcenol, Nerol, Terpineol, Terpinen-4-ol. Any of these sound familiar? Now if that isn’t magic I don’t know what is.
Now that we’ve finally realised how cool chemistry is, how do we apply it in our practice? Well, the good news is that many of these chemical components have been well researched as opposed to many essential oils that haven’t. Another great fact is that many of these well researched chemical components dominate quite an impressive number of essential oils. For example, Linalool is found in over 60% in oils such as Coriander, Ho wood, Rosewood, Magnolia leaf and Thyme ct linalool. You’ll find Eucalyptol, better known as 1,8 cineole, at over 60% in many different Eucalyptus species as well as Cajeput and Rambiazana essential oils. You can check this out yourself on my site Dropsmith that I’ve created as a result of my endless curiosity on the subject.
OK, but how does this help my practice or bring more value to my work? Let me show you in two examples. First, we’ll take a look at a very cool but rare oil you may enjoy using in your practice but have no clue how because there is no information on it and then take a very well researched oil that you (probably) use every day and see how you can apply this knowledge on that as well. We’ll start our journey with the very interesting Magnolia leaf essential oil. You may be intrigued to use it for many reasons perhaps you like the smell or you want to use something special and sensual in your product as a marketing attraction or you simply love Magnolia and want to incorporate it in your practice. If you dig deep you might find a tiny bit of aromatherapy advice on how to apply the oil and you are in luck with this one because it is mentioned in Tisserand and Young Essential Oil Safety book but unfortunately no scientific research has been done on Magnolia leaf essential oil. This leaves you very limited options for use and now you have a gorgeous bottle in your cabinet and have no idea what to do with it. Sound familiar? I have a whole collection of those in my refrigerator. Luckily, Magnolia leaf essential oil is very rich in Linalool and as mentioned earlier, Linalool has many useful scientifically backed properties that give me a good idea on how to use it and quite a confident rationale for my clients or superiors to back up my choices. Besides, it contains other well researched chemical components that support many of these properties as well. That is why I’ve created Dropsmith to add those up for you and make it easier to apply right away.
Now let’s take a look at an essential oil that you probably use every day and assume you know a sufficient amount of useful information. Our ‘blend easily with everything’ Sweet Orange essential oil. Sweet Orange oil is quite well equipped with scientific research as well as many recommendations for aromatherapy use from various authors and practitioners. Something I personally have not come across is support for wound healing. I have read many suggestions for skin care but never wounds. However, knowing that limonene makes up most of this lovely oil it got me curious. Limonene is another very well researched and useful component frequently found in hundreds of different essential oils so it pays off to pay attention to it. Among a long list of useful properties is wound healing6 as well. Surprised? Not really. Sweet Orange has so many wonderful properties we already know about it shouldn’t be a big surprise that it is useful for wound healing as well but it does give you that extra professional look to know why it actually works that way as well as the confidence and firm grounds to include it in your products. And above all, it gives you a broader and more valuable outlook on the oils you already have in your collection. This way you can take maximum advantage on the oils you already have and save money, get more credibility for your work and gain confidence in your knowledge.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on why incorporating the knowledge of essential oil chemistry is so vitally important in our role as professional aromatherapists. This knowledge will not only save you money and time but build your confidence and your clients’ trust. More than that, once you understand how useful it is and how it directly affects the quality and effectiveness of your work it will lead you to further explore your essential oils, what they really are, biochemically speaking. It will reveal a much clearer understanding of their therapeutic action, the most appropriate dosage and very, very effective blending. Understanding how essential oils work holistically it’s one of the things that sets aromatherapist apart, however, it includes all aspects – body, mind, spirit and chemistry is there to help us make sense of it all.
All references are from Dropsmith and I invite you to check them out yourself including the mentioned oils:
You can play with different ratios of chemical components and find out which essential oils contain them in Dropsmith’s filter here
Thank you Melanie for offering your time so generously to our readers. We use Dropsmith as a resource within our school and have found it to be a valubale blending and research tool and would highly recommend it to any clincal aromatherapist.
1. Dos santos ÉRQ, Maia CSF, Fontes junior EA, Melo AS, Pinheiro BG, Maia JGS. (2018) Linalool-rich essential oils from the Amazon display antidepressant-type effect in rodents. J Ethnopharmacol. 212:43-49.
2. Cutillas AB, Carrasco A, Martinez-Gutierrez R, Tomas V, Tudela J. (2018) Thymus mastichina L. essential oils from Murcia (Spain): Composition and antioxidant, antienzymatic and antimicrobial bioactivities. PLoS One, Jan, 13(1):e0190790.
3. De siqueira RJ, Rodrigues KM, Da silva MT, et al. (2014) Linalool-rich rosewood oil induces vago-vagal bradycardic and depressor reflex in rats. Phytother Res. 28(1):42-8.
4. Herman A, Tambor K, Herman A. (2016) Linalool Affects the Antimicrobial Efficacy of Essential Oils. Curr Microbiol., 72(2):165-72.
5. de Oliveira BM, Melo CR, Alves PB, Santos AA, Santos AC, Santana AD, Araújo AP, Nascimento PE, Blank AF, Bacci L. (2017) Essential Oil of Aristolochia trilobata: Synthesis, Routes of Exposure, Acute Toxicity, Binary Mixtures and Behavioral Effects on Leaf-Cutting Ants. Molecules, Feb 25, 22(3).
6. Keskin I, Gunal Y, Ayla S, Kolbasi B, Sakul A, Kilic U, Gok O, Koroglu K, Ozbek H. (2017) Effects of Foeniculum vulgare essential oil compounds, fenchone and limonene, on experimental wound healing. Biotech Histochem, 92(4):274-282.