How Are Essential Oils Derived?


When shopping for natural products that contain essential oils, you may have wondered from time to time how essential oils are derived and why prices can vary so much. There are a few different methods to extract essential oils, and which method is used can have an impact. Prices of different essential oils, and sometimes the price for the same essential oil sold by different companies, can vary greatly. As a maker of body care products that contain many different essential oils, we thought we would give our customers some in-depth information about how essential oils are produced.

Essential Oils and Their Pricing

If you have ever shopped for essential oils yourself, you may have noticed that the price for one essential oil can be very different from company to company. One reason could be attributed to company A selling only pure, therapeutic grade oils, for example, while company B cuts their oils or adulterates them in some way to sell them at a cheaper cost. Another reason could be that company A gives more attention and care to the extraction, storage and shipment processes (thereby needing to charge more), while company B does not take such care (so can get away with charging less). As the old adage get what you pay for! So do your research and buy from reputable companies that are quality control certified and provide certificates of analysis for all their oils. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.


There are several other reasons why one essential oil could cost more than another essential oil. You may have noticed, for example, that cinnamon bark essential oil will cost more than cinnamon leaf essential oil, even from the same reputable company. This can be attributed to the fact that cinnamon oil from the bark is more concentrated in scent and more like true cinnamon; the oil is more difficult to extract from the bark as opposed to the leaf and therefore harder to come by; it is preferred for aromatherapy and massage; and it is more popular with consumers and so is in more demand. What country the oil is from can also impact the cost; for example, cinnamon from Ceylon or Madagascar has a better quality, aroma and purity than the cassia type cinnamon oil that comes from Indonesia, China or Vietnam.

Some other reasons that one essential oil could be more expensive than others is that it could be derived from organic crops, it could come from a plant that is just naturally more costly to grow and harvest, or it could take vast amounts of the plant to get just a drop of a pure absolute (like rose). Also, prices could differ because of the way a certain essential oil is made. And with that said, let’s talk about the different ways essential oils are derived.

Steam Distillation

The most common way (and therefore the most cost effective) in which essential oils are derived is through a process known as 'steam distillation.' In this method, hot steam slowly breaks through the plant material to remove its volatile constituents. These volatile constituents rise up and become a vapor that separates from the steam and collects in a condenser. The condenser cools the vapor back into liquid form and then any water left over from the process is removed, leaving only the essential oil.

Solvent Extraction

Some plants are far too fragile to go through the high heat of the steam distillation process, so they go through an alternative method known as 'solvent extraction' to create an absolute. Absolutes are different from essential oils because they can contain both aromatic and non-aromatic chemical constituents During solvent extraction, the plant is put into a bath with a solvent (like carbon dioxide, methanol, ethanol or hexane) that will best dissolve the plant material. The plant usually goes through this process several times using more than one type of solvent. The final liquid mixture contains the essential oils and other parts of the plant and is then filtered and processed through a low pressure distillation process. Some plants that have to go through this type of extraction process are gardenia, rose, carnation, calendula, jasmine and tuberose.

Cold Pressed

When dealing with any citrus essential oils for example, there is a different process entirely. These types of oils go through a cold press extraction method as most of their oils are found in the rinds or peels, and would lose much of their aroma compounds if subjected to the high heat of steam distillation. Because this method only minimally affects the aroma compounds, the resulting oils are as pure and as strong as they can be. For this reason, most citrus essential oils are not recommended for use in leave-on body products as they may cause photo sensitivity.

How Do We Choose Essential Oils?

At Artliss® we only buy the best essential oils from the best companies! We tested sample oils from many companies when we first started making our products, and finally settled on three or four companies that we trust. And it's not about buying the cheapest essential oils for us! Recently, for example, we were running low on Vanilla essential oil (actually an oleoresin) and went online to buy more from the same company. We were shocked that the cost had gone up 5X what it had cost previously due to a worldwide shortage! So we scoured the internet to find another company that could offer the same thing for a better price. We found one company that was offering it for 20% less, apples to apples, but after reading all of the reviews (hundreds!) and researching long and hard about this company's manufacturing and sales practices, we decided to stick with the company we trusted and pay more. The vanilla from this other company may have been fine, but we were not willing to take the chance of negatively affecting our products and disappointing our customers.

If you would like to try a product that contains both Madagascar cinnamon and vanilla essential oils, try our Sweet Orange Vanilla soap bar. You will love the creamy lather with the rich, layered scent of orange, vanilla and exotic spices!