What are Essential Oils?

A technical answer to the question, “What are essential oils,” goes something like this: Essential oils are the concentrated liquid or oil that is obtained by distilling the seeds, leaves, branches, wood, bark, berries, flower, sap, needles and peels from plant botanicals.

Lavender essential oil

While true, this definition doesn’t completely explain the significance of essential oils. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) gets closer to the heart of the matter in their definition. NAHA starts their explanation with the following:

The term “essential oil” is a contradiction of the original “quintessential oil.” This stems from the Aristotelian idea that matter is composed of four elements, namely, file, air, earth, and water. The fifth element, or quintessence, was then considered to be the spirit or life force. Distillation and evaporation were thought to be the process of removing the spirit from the plant … Nowadays, of course we know that, far from being spirit, essential oils are physical in nature and composed of complex mixtures of chemicals.

This description recognizes that both the physical and spiritual properties that make essential oils so special. There is an “eau de vie” quality that explains the benefits that essential oils offer for not just the body but the mind and spirit as well.

To understand the importance of essential oils we will focus on concrete physical properties of the oils as well as the therapeutic uses of these “quintessential oils.”

At Source Vitál Apothecary we look to nature as the inspiration for our skin care, body care and aromatherapy solutions. We begin with three main elements: marine seaweeds, whole plant botanicals, and 100% pure essential oils. While seaweed is the heart of our holistic philosophy, essential oils are the soul.

Seaweeds and whole plant botanicals are important elements of our formulations in that they work to supplement lacking nutrition and protect our skin from the effects of environmental damage, bad diet, stress and the visible signs of aging. Essential oils go deeper. Not only do they offer powerful benefits to the appearance of our skin, body and hair, they also promote the relaxation and emotional support needed to reinforce the body’s own regenerative forces.

Aromatherapy is the art and science of using essential oils for therapeutic uses. For hundreds and even thousands of years, essential oils have been used in traditional remedies, religious ceremonies and enjoyed for their aromas. Aromatherapy, through the use of essential oils, is where we are able to truly connect the body with the mind and spirit. This is the primary pursuit of any holistic wellness program.

Like grapes and the wine they produce, the climates and conditions the plants are grown and harvested under can impact the components present in the essential oil they yield. Some oils are higher quality than others, and yield a smaller extraction during distillation, but each essential oil has a unique and specific chemical constituency, which allows for creativity in application and blending.

Due to this individuality in composition, some essential oils may be more efficient for respiratory situations, circulatory stimulation, mental clarity, relaxation or in the formulation of skin care, just to name a few.

What are essential oils?

Properties of Essential Oils

Concentrated essential oils contain plant hormones and components that allow the plant to grow and thrive. These functions work similarly to how hormones control our own bodily functions.

The divine wisdom of nature allows our bodies to easily recognize and assimilate plant material, like essential oils, for therapeutic use - they increase the body’s ability to receive the nutrients it needs to maintain optimum health.

The primary properties of essential oils include:

Hydrating/Remineralizing – Replacing moisture loss and lack of vital nutrients from the nutrient-dense properties of botanical essential oils.

Antibacterial: Many studies site the powerful purification abilities of essential oils. They are able to protect the body from germs and keep the skin cleansed from substances that can weaken the immune system.

Oxygenating – Essential oils are a concentrated form of plant material which includes chlorophyll. When introduced into the human body chlorophyll has been shown to increase the oxygen levels in the body, thereby bringing more oxygen to the tissues to keep them healthy and efficiently functioning.

Detoxifying – Using essential oils to cleanse, exfoliate and massage promotes a feeling of detoxification for the body. The increase in hydration and stimulation from essential oils allows the body to more easily rid itself of unwanted elements.

Immune Support –As the largest organ in the body the skin is our first line of immunity defense. By helping to cleanse and protect essential oils work to fortify the skin and support the immune system.

With the use of essential oils, we increase our ability to bring more hydration, more oxygen and more nutrients into the body and give the cells the fuel needed to function at their optimal level. With their botanical origins, essential oils and their constituents contain antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are vital to our health because they help neutralize free radicals which can damage healthy cells. By protecting the health of our cells, antioxidants help prevent diseases, keep our skin appearing youthful, and may even increase longevity.

The use of these oils helps the body create the healthy, ageless person we want to be.

How to Use Essential Oils

Why Quality is Important

Don’t expect to get a good quality essential oil on the cheap. The concentrated liquid often requires a vast collection of plant material, which is labour intensive and therefore can’t be produced at a low cost. Cheaper versions may not be as concentrated or contain water or even carrier oils, such as grapeseed or sunflower oil. This means you don’t get the beneficial properties and quality that is present with 100% natural concentrated oils.

Good quality oils last longer and are more effective too. Blended oils should also contain pure oils, unless the formula is intended to be used topically on the skin. In that case the blend should contain pure essential oils and high quality carrier oils. Oil blends are formulated for a number of uses ranging from pleasant aromas to special mixes intended to uplift the spirit, promote a feeling of stress relief, ease the discomfort of congestion or help you to relax.

How to use Essential Oils

Used for deep breathing, enjoyment of their lovely, natural scent, or applied to the skin with botanical carrier oils, essential oils have endless benefits for the mind and body. Pure essential oils can be taken into the body in two ways – through the skin or by inhalation.

Topical Application

The molecular structures of essential oils are small enough to enter the skin through hair follicles and pores, which then allows them to make their way into the blood stream. Most essential oils are too strong to apply directly to the skin, with the exception of Lavender and Tea Tree oils.

Typically, we take in essential oils through creams, lotions, elixirs, or mixed with a nutritive carrier oil like sunflower seed oil. Another method is through the skin via massage. When used for an aromatic massage, essential oils help to stimulate muscles, and ease stress and tension by kneading the muscles with naturally soothing oils.


Inhalation is perhaps the easiest way to experience essential oils. When essential oils are dispersed in the air we breathe them in, transporting the properties of the oil to the part of the brain that regulates sensori-motor activity. The aromas of the oils are translated by the brain to tell the body to relax, calm or even excite.

Methods of Inhalation

  • Simply breathe in the scent straight from the bottle
  • Add a few drops of oil to hot water and breathe in the steam
  • Add a few drops of oil on a cotton ball and hold a few inches below the nose, take a deep breath
  • Use an aromatherapy diffuser

Aromatherapy Diffuser

A diffuser disperses the essential oils through the air producing aromatic vapor. Diffusing is an easy way to enjoy environmental scenting while breathing in the beneficial properties of the oil. Not only is this method great to calm emotions, relax the mind or help relieve feelings of tension, it also helps to get rid of odors and cleanse the air in your home.

Steam Inhalation

With steam inhalation, simply heat up water and add a few drops of essential oils. Cover the hot bowl and your face with a rag or cloth, and inhale the steam. This method is can help soothe coughs, respiratory issues, sore throats and sinus infections. Oils such as Pine and Eucalyptus are good for encouraging easy breathing in the midst of a cold. 

Safety Information

It is important to always take the proper precautions when handling essential oils. They can be extremely powerful. Always read any warning labels before using an oil. Also, make sure to use 100% pure and natural oils, free from any chemicals, pesticides, parabens, synthetic perfumes or fillers. Remember, essential oils are potent, and it’s important to be mindful of essential oil dosage. A little bit goes a long way. Some essential oils are highly concentrated and can have harmful effects if used in abundance.

Here are some standard guidelines for working with essential oils to keep you and your family safe:

  • Avoid direct contact with the eyes.
  • Do not apply essential oils direct to skin. Dilute in unscented cream/lotion/oil.
  • For external use only. Do not ingest oils.
  • If you are pregnant, epileptic, have cancer, have liver issues, or any other serious illness, consult a medical professional prior to using essential oils.
  • Always keep essential oils out of reach of children.
  • And, keep oils tightly closed and in room temperature or cooler location

Additional Safety Information

For more information about essential oils including safety information here are some helpful resources:

About Source Vitál Apothecary Essential Oils

At Source Vitál Apothecary we offer single essential oils and essential oil blends that encourage a healthy mind, body and spirit. All of our aromatherapy products are 100% pure, undiluted, and never contain any fillers or synthetics. With 117 single essential oils, we have one of the widest varieties of essential oils available on the market.

More and more people are starting to integrate essential oils into their daily lives. Having trouble sleeping, want a natural way to clean household surfaces, child sick with a respiratory illness? These are just a few ways that people are looking to essential oils to give them a natural way to deal with common issues. There is a host of DIY essential oil books and online resources to that go in depth about the properties of specific oils and offer blends to care for particular problems. Click here for some easy DIY blends to invigorate, make sore muscles feel better and to use for respiratory symptoms.