Core Class 3: The Chemistry of Essential Oils

All substances on our planet are composed of different combinations of molecular stuctures. Scientific research has enabled us, for better or worse, to create synthesized compounds based on our knowledge of their molecular building blocks. These have become the medicines and functional synthetic chemicals of today.

The same research that has enabled the creation of synthetic drugs has given us an accurate picture of the Lavender Essential Oilchemical structure of essential oils: nature’s first medicine. Essential oils, unlike synthetic chemicals which are created for single purpose solutions, are extremely diverse in their effects.

A common misconception is that a plant’s essential oil is the same as a vegetable oil and, therefore, equivalently benign. While both are oils, the molecular structure of essential oils are far more complex than that of vegetable oils. Known chemically as fatty acids, vegetable oils are linear in structure with a simple chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. In contrast, the chemical structure of a plant’s essential oil forms a ring of many complex molecules and additional atoms, such as sulfur and nitrogen, that are not found in other non-essential plant oils.

Chemical Constituents of Essential Oils

Some particular groups of organic molecules are commonly found in a variety of essential oils. Much research has been completed on these groups of constituents and their effects have been well documented. Here are a few of the more common ones:

  • Alcohols (found in Ravensara, toning)
  • Aldehydes (found in Lemongrass, calming)
  • Esters (found in Lavender, balancing)
  • Ethers (found in Tarragon, balancing)
  • Keytones (found in Sage, mucolytic)
  • Keytone Molecule

    Keytone Molecule

  • Phenols (found in Savory, stimulant)
  • Terpenes (found in Pine, stimulant)

You are probably already familiar with many of these constituents as they are commonly present in our medicines, foods, and surroundings and are often responsible for the characteristics of many products. For example, the aromas found in fine wines are a direct result of a particular combination of aromatic esters and liquid vapor.

One of the things that makes essential oils so unique and beneficial is that they do not consist of a single chemical. Each oil is a combination of hundreds of different organic chemicals. This makes them ideal for killing and preventing the spread of bacteria. Here’s why: when a bacterial colony encounters a synthetic antibiotic with only one active chemical, some bacteria mutate to survive the attack from the antibiotic. This results in stronger bacteria such as MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) that have evolved to be completely resistant to an antibiotic.

Even a single essential oil contains such a large and varied number of antiseptic and antibacterial constituents that bacteria have trouble mutating enough to survive each and every one. This broad spectrum action results in extremely effective, natural antibiotics. Research was presented at the March 2000 International Symposium in Grasse, France by Dr. Bérangere Arnal-Schnebelen showcasing the antibacterial effects of essential oils against several harmful infectious agents. In his study, Dr. Bérangere Arnal-Schnebelen found that Spanish oregano and cinnamon proved to be over 95 percent effective against Candida albicans, E. coli, and a Streptococcus strain.

Antioxidant Properties of Essential Oils

Molecules called free radicals, long believed to be the culprits behind aging and serious conditions such as cancer and heart disease, cause a harmful process in the cells called oxidation. According to the US National Library of Medicine, “free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation.” Because of this, there has been a huge health movement focused around bringing more antioxidants into the body. High levels of antioxidants can be found in many foods, such as certain berries and spices, but they are also found in high concentrations in some essential oils due to their unique chemical composition.

Antioxidant Rich BlueberriesAntioxidant capacities of substances are measured in laboratories by a standardized system called ORAC which quantifies the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. The antioxidant values of different substances are publicly available at various online databases such as

If you know the ORAC value for a certain essential oil, you can now compare that to common “super foods” such as blueberries, Acaii berries, and pomegranate. All ORAC values are reported as micromoles Trolox equivalent (TE) per 100 gram sample.

Pomegranate: 2,341
Blueberries: 6,552
Acaii Berries: 102,700
Cinnamon Essential Oil: 103,448
Oregano Essential Oil: 153,007
Clove Essential Oil: 10,786,875

Essential oils can enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, or absorption. We will discuss these in detail in a later lesson when we learn the safe and proper uses of essential oils.

The next lesson focuses on the following 3 topics.

  1. Essential Oils & the Human Body
  2. How Plants Form Essential Oils
  3. Therapeutic Grade & the Dangers of Adulterated Oils

We will also be introducing our Oil Classes which give you detailed application & properties information about each oil. These lessons will be available 24/7 online to our wonderful community of Wholesale Members (Young Living Independent Distributors). Becoming a Young Living Independent Distributor is easy and the benefits are huge! As a distributor you will be able to order oils for your own personal use at the wholesale prices, receive additional discounts on regular orders, become eligible to earn commissions, and unlock access to a world of information & opportunities only available to Young Living Independent Distributors. Click below to learn how!