Essential Oils vs Absolutes

Linden Tree

Image courtesy of Andrey Zharkikh at flickr.com

In Aromatherapy we use essential oils to make our creations. In an earlier post I explained that essential oils are the distilled liquid of the volatile components produced by plants. In distillation, steam or water is used to separate the essential oil from the leaves, stems, seeds, bark, roots, flowers, or other parts of a plant. But what if a plant is too delicate to be distilled? In that situation an absolute is created.

An absolute is a concentrated extract made using chemicals solvents (such as hexane and ethyl alcohol), not water. The extraction “process results in a wonderfully aromatic liquid (although some absolutes are semi-solid) … The difference between an absolute and a pure essential oil is that the pure essential oil contains only the essential oil portion of the plant, whereas the absolute contains the essential oil from the plant plus more coloring constituents, plant waxes and other constituents from the plant. In addition, an absolute usually contains a small percentage of alcohol remaining from the second phase of the extraction process.”

The more common absolutes are produced from fragile flowers – jasmine, linden, rose. Although you will find a distilled rose called Rose Otto. “Rose Otto is lighter in color and thinner in viscosity than is Rose Absolute … Rose Otto is the preferred oil for topical aromatherapy applications because Rose Absolute may contain trace amounts of residual solvent … Rose Absolute is often favored by fragrance formulators and perfumists for its fragrance, aromatic strength and lower cost.” In general, absolutes are more often used in perfumery than Aromatherapy because the residual solvents are not desired in a clinical practice.

The essential oil of rose has been researched as a method of stress reduction. “Inhalation of rose essential oil significantly inhibited … the increase in the salivary concentration of cortisol.” The results suggest that the effects of chronic stress “can be limited or prevented by rose essential oil inhalation, possibly through its inhibitory effect on the HPA axis.” But, don’t stress if you have Rose Absolute and not Rose Otto. It also has relaxing benefits.