Essential oils chemistry: 8 common chemical components of essential oils

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Essential oils are very complex by nature on account of their presence in plants. Their molecular structure is complex, consisting of all kinds of atoms, including hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. Even sulfur atoms are also present sometimes. Though made of several chemical ingredients,  every essential oil acts together as a whole, treating infections or promoting healing, based on the dominant chemicals in them. This article will explain in detail the chemical components of essential oils.

Essential oils chemistry:
Essential oils are complex structures to study. However, studying them or understanding their chemical structure can help with use of them for treatment or therapeutic purposes. Apart from that, when you know the chemistry of an essential oil, you can know its hazardous as well as therapeutic properties. This will make things easy for you if you have allergies against particular chemicals. Below are a list of the common chemical ingredients present in essential oils:


1. Monoterpenes: Found in most essential oils, Monoterpenes are antiseptic and tonic in nature. They are good air purifiers which have about 10 carbon atoms in them. Though Monoterpenes are present in almost every other essential oil, a large percentage of them are found in Citrus oils. They are colorless, highly volatile and deteriorate quickly. Hence, they should be handled with care and kept at cool temperatures. Limonene found in Lemon oil, pinene found in Pine and camphene found in Camphor are examples of essential oils.

2. Sesquiterpenes: Though not as volatile as Monoterpenes, Sesquiterpenes are effective and have about 15 carbon atoms in them. They have a calming effect, are anti-inflammatory and anti-infectious. Zingiberene in Ginger oil, cedrene in Cedarwood and caryophellene in Clove oil are some of the sesquiterpenes found in essential oils.

3. Phenols: The most antiseptic chemicals found in plants, Phenols stimulate bodily functions in small doses. However, large doses of can be a poison to the nervous system and can cause skin irritations as well as digestive comfort to sensitive people. Thymol found in Thyme oil and eugenol found in Clove are examples of Phenols.

4. Alcohols: A lot of alcohol content is also present in essential oils. Highly antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-fungal and antibiotic, alcohols are good tonic to the nervous system and stimulate immune response in the body. Lavendulol  in Lavender, nerol in Neroli and geraniol found in Geranium oil are examples of alcohols in oils.

5. Ketones: Anticoagulants, Ketones can relax, sedate and heal scar tissues, immune system or respiratory system in the body. However, Ketones can be harmful to the nervous system and can result in miscarriage, convulsions and epilepsy. Examples of Ketones are thyone in Sage, pinocamphone in Hyssop, and carvone in Peppermint.

6. Ethers/Esters: Ethers and esters have similar properties but ethers are the stronger of the both. Antispasmodic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, ethers are gentle on skin and help in rebalancing the nervous system effectively. Cinnamyl acetate in Cinnamon and myrtinly acetate in Myrtle.

7. Aldehydes: Anti-inflammatory, Aldehydes have properties that are similar to Ketones and Alcohols. However, excess of Aldehydes can cause major irritation to the skin and the mucous membranes. Furfurol in Lavender, Sandalwood, Cinnamon and Cypress are aldehydes.

8. Coumarins: Anti-convulsant and anti-coagulant, Coumarins have a relaxing and sedative effect. As these chemicals can be photosensitive, essential oils with these constituents should be used with caution and should not be exposed to the sun. Bergaptene in Bergamot, angelicine in Angelica and Citroptene in Citrus oils are examples of Coumarins.