How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

I wish the plant alchemists who coined the term “essential oil” in the Middle Ages would’ve paused to consider just how much confusion they’d cause for future skincare enthusiasts. Back then, “essential” meant “of the essence” — and therefore, an essential oil was one extracted from a pure, whole plant. But in this century, “essential” is most often used as a marketing term; as in, “This face oil is essential to your routine.” Nope, not the same thing. In an effort to clear the confusion around regular oils vs. essential oils, I went straight to the experts: dermatologists, aromatherapists, and cosmetic chemists.

“Essential oils are a concentrated mixture of natural, volatile, and aromatic compounds obtained from plant material — flowers, buds, seeds, leaves, twigs, bark, herbs, wood, fruit, and roots,” Suzanne LeRoux, the founder of One Love Organics (who also happens to be an aromatherapist and a cosmetic chemist), tells The Zoe Report. Essential oils are typically created by steam-distilling the entire plant into a concentrated liquid. “They also sometimes are made by cold-pressing the plant — think of peeling an orange and the little droplets that emerge when you bend the peel,” adds Shannon Davenport, the aromatherapist behind Esker Beauty, in an email to TZR. “With woodsy oils like frankincense, they dry the sap, also known as resin, and then steam that so it becomes a liquid.”

To make things even harder to understand, this concentrated liquid doesn’t usually feel like oil — essential oils are pretty watery, in fact. They don’t “sink” into the skin like face oils, either; instead, they evaporate quickly. “[It] makes me feel like ‘essential oil’ is a bit of a misnomer,” Davenport says. “I like to think of them as pure plant extracts.” She likens them to herbs and spices: “Basically, essential oils are the liquid form of a group of plants, and they vary wildly in usage, function, and characteristics — just like curry powder is super different from basil.”

In the same way you don’t consume a spice on its own, you don’t use an essential oil on its own, either. These extracts are potent, and need to be combined with a “carrier oil,” or a thicker oil that doesn’t evaporate easily, before use. “Essential oils are almost always diluted by mixing them into something,” Emily Voth, the founder of Indigo Wild, tells TZR. “They are called ‘carriers’ because they carry the essential oils onto the skin.” So, if skincare was soup (stick with me here) essential oils would be the spices and carrier oils would be the broth.

Carrier oils are also referred to as “plant oils” or even just “oils,” for short. “Plant oils are fats taken from plants — usually from plants’ seeds, nuts, or kernels,” LeRoux explains. “They generally contain components such as fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that nourish the skin, so they are quite beneficial in their own right.”

They differ from essential oils in so many ways, but three of the biggest are fragrance, feel, and effect. “Carrier oils do not contain a concentrated aroma like essential oils — though some may have a mild distinctive smell, like fresh virgin organic coconut oil,” LeRoux says. “Carrier oils also have a more ‘fixed’ state, meaning that they stay on the skin while essential oils evaporate quite easily.” As such, all plant oils basically have one common goal: to support the skin’s barrier, which is (not coincidentally) made up of many of the same lipids found in plant oils. Essential oils, on the other hand, provide therapeutic benefits specific to each plant — and powerful therapeutic benefits at that, hence the need for dilution. “So you need a carrier oil to use an essential oil in most cases, but you do not need an essential oil to use a carrier oil,” LeRoux summarizes.

Examples of essential oils commonly used in the skincare space would be lavender, frankincense, rose geranium, bergamot, and tea tree. (All of which have aromatherapeutic benefits, too. Inhaling frankincense, for example, has been shown to ease anxiety.) “Tea tree oil, if properly diluted, can be helpful with acne,” Dr. Devika Icecreamwala, M.D., F.A.A.D., a dermatologist with Icecreamwala Dermatology, tells The Zoe Report. Popular carrier oils include almond oil, avocado oil, jojoba oil (although jojoba oil is technically a “wax ester” pressed from jojoba seeds), olive oil, castor oil, and rosehip oil.

Here’s where a lot of misinformation starts: Some plants, like rose, are used to produce both essential oils and carrier oils. Rose essential oil is distilled from the entire plant, while rosehip oil (a carrier oil) is pressed from rosehips, the fruit of the rose plant. How are you supposed to know which is which? If you’re not able to touch and smell each oil that piques your curiosity in person — essential oils will be watery and fragrant, carrier oils will be thick and mild — scan the product description for some keywords. “Reputable essential oil companies will say on the bottle ‘100 percent pure essential oil,’” Voth says. “If it doesn’t say that, it’s not an essential oil.” Another telltale sign? Essential oil bottles are typically tiny (you only need a drop or two at a time), and carrier oil bottles are bigger.

The final piece of confusion to clear up, then, is the safety of essential oils. There’s a lot of debate about their place in skincare: Some enthusiasts swear by them for everything from brightening hyperpigmentation (thanks, frankincense!) to killing acne-causing bacteria (that’s all tea tree), while others warn against their potentially irritating effects. “I feel sad when I hear people say things like ‘essential oils are known irritants,’ because the same is true of so many amazing skincare ingredients — look at retinol,” Davenport says. “Retinol would be a disaster if we applied it to our skin in its pure form, but instead we understand that it needs to be a specific, very low concentration in order to do its job without damaging our skin.” Essential oils require the same thoughtful formulation and careful application.

“Over the past 20 years, I have experienced amazing beauty and skin benefits with the correct use of essential oils,” LeRoux says. “I think sensitivities to these oils pop up when the formulator is not experienced in using them, or choose ones that are great in aromatherapy but are not good for skincare, or buy products from manufacturers who do not know how to source, store, and carefully introduce essential oils into the production process.” For this reason, it’s probably best for beginners to buy pre-mixed products from reputable sources, rather than experiment with essential oil DIYs.

Ahead, 10 essential oil products — all properly diluted in carrier oils, of course — that are, ahem, essential to any skincare routine.

Take back your health with products made from natural ingredients that grow in Alaska

Essential oils versus infused oils: The battle of which is better

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

Last week I went over the basics of what essential oils are. This week I will go over the battle of essential oils versus infused oils. Specifically, I’ll go over the properties that can be used in salves. I will also go over the cost needed for each.

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

Infused Oils

I’ve gone over how to infuse oils, both hot and cold methods, but what does it really mean to infuse oils? When an herb is infused into something, whether it’s oil, vinegar, alcohol, or water there are certain properties that are being extracted into that substance. Each substance will extract slightly different properties. For instance, making a water infusion (read: tea, or pouring boiling water over the herb) out of something will extract different properties than making a water decoction (read: boiling the herb in water versus a tea). Making a tea or decoction of an herb will create a different medicinal effect than making a tincture. So one herb can be used multiple different ways using different infusion methods. I’ll write a more in depth post on the different infusion methods soon.

When using oil for an infusion, usually it’s to extract properties that need to be absorbed through the skin. An oil used for extraction has lipids, or fats, which is one of the main differentiators from essential oils. That was covered in last week’s post.

It’s also easier to make infused oils versus essential oils. This is due the process being much simpler: a little heat and time in the oil, or just a long time in the cold oil. It also does not require quite as much of the plant itself, making it cheaper in the long run. The process is cheaper in the long run because not as much time is needed to collect the amount of the herb you need (if you’re harvesting it yourself) and the process of infusing the oil is much cheaper.

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

Here are some of the essential oils that I use.

Essential Oils versus Infused Oils for Salves

The nice thing about using essential oils is you don’t have to use a lot due to its potency. However, with that potency comes a lot of possibility of skin irritation. Finding the correct amount to put in a salve can be difficult as a lot of people have different skin sensitivities. The other thing that is nice about essential oils is, sometimes, they’re a lot easier to get your hands on. Especially if you don’t have the time to infuse your own oils with herbs. You can just go to the store and buy it. Unfortunately, because the amount of plant material needed, some essential oils can be cost prohibitive to purchase.

If you, or someone you are making a salve for has a sensitivity to strong scents or a skin sensitivity, infused oils are the way to go. What I like about the infused oils is their subtle scent. Infusing oils does take more time, even if you use the heated/faster method. However, as I mentioned above, there are some properties that you can’t get from methods other than oil infusion. Oils also lend itself to making balms more readily available to absorb into the skin. You can read more about different carrier oils and their absorbability in this article.

If you want a more thorough discussion all in one place of essential oils versus infused oils, check out this article here .

My personal preferences

Basically, each of them have their own use. Sometimes I use essential oils, but I prefer infusing oils with plant matter. My preference is based on cost, the fact I know exactly what is in it, it’s less likely to cause problems, and it’s still effective while using less of the plant. When I do use it for fragrance. I use the plant as well since the properties of essential oils are only added after the fact and I want the properties to be in the infused oil as well.

It’s even more rare for me to use essential oils, however, because a lot of them don’t grow up in Alaska. I believe that Alaska provides everything that we need to live a healthy life. That is why all of my products are made with things that grow in Alaska.

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it helps you live a natural life. What is your favorite essential oil to use a fragrance?

Understanding the difference between an essential oil and an extract is an important first step in building your knowledge of homeopathy, herbs, cosmetics and any other field dealing with natural ingredients. An herb used for many centuries, rosemary is commonly found in both forms. The difference between the two is the manufacturing process and the way each is used.

Rosemary Extract

Rosemary extract is created when rosemary leaves are soaked in a compound, perhaps alcohol, which separates active ingredients from plant matter. The resulting solution can be used as a tonic or tincture for teas and other heath aids. Some people prefer liquid extracts over supplements in powder or capsule form because, according to folklore, they are more effective. Those who ingest rosemary as a dietary supplement do so in hope of a health benefit. A 1999 abstract from a study on the pharmacology of rosemary identified caffeic acid and antioxidants as substances that might deliver healing or cancer-preventing effects.

Rosemary Essential Oil

According to the Natural Ingredient Resource Center, the most common method of producing an essential oil is through steam distillation. In this process, rosemary is placed into a steam chamber that causes the oil to sweat out of the plant. The oil travels from the chamber into a condenser that turns it into a solution of water and oil. The oil strained from the formula is called essential oil. Essential oils from many sources are packaged and sold in stores.

Distillation maximizes rosemary’s woodsy, invigorating scent. For that reason, it is commonly used in shampoos, soaps and lotions, and is a staple among aromatherapists. Like most distilled oils, rosemary essential oil should not be ingested; however, it can be used to gain therapeutic benefits. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, rosemary is used topically to prevent baldness, improve circulation, ease eczema, heal wounds, repel insects and — through massage — relieve pain in the joints.


Rosemary extract is primarily used as a health aid. Those who believe that this liquid form of rosemary is more helpful than its capsule form add it to teas and tonics, or ingest it alone as a medicinal tincture. In essential oil form, rosemary’s primary role is as an aromatherapeutic agent in skincare products. It is also used in massage oils and inhalers to address specific health conditions, such as stress, or to enliven the memory and senses.


Both essential oils and extracts are highly concentrated, and users should exercise caution when using them for any purpose. Rosemary in any form might affect you in ways unknown, such as with an allergic reaction. Never swallow essential oil or apply directly to the skin. Use a recipe from a certified aesthetician or qualified aromatherapist when creating homemade products with rosemary.

Although the terms “essential oil” and “extract” are sometimes used interchangeably, they technically have different meanings. Certified aromatherapist Katharine Annett, R.N., explains, “extracts are for cooking and are not as potent. Essential oils are the essence of the plant and are medicinal; extracts are not.” Rosemary is one such plant that is used both as an extract and as an essential oil.


An Austrian study published in the September 2010 issue of the journal “Scientia Pharmaceutica” investigated the different forms of rosemary. Researchers from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Graz, discovered that rosemary extract contains different amounts and types of components than rosemary essential oil. The study found that rosemary extract contained much less oil from the plant than the essential oil. The recommended dose of rosemary essential oil equaled 190 to 380 mg, whereas rosemary extract only contained 6.39 to 6.57 mg of essential oil per recommended dose.

Uses of Rosemary Extract

Rosemary provides your body with antioxidants when ingested, as in the case of rosemary extract. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which many experts believe are responsible for cancer and other diseases. The article in “Scientia Pharmaceutica” explains that the extract is used in herbal medicine, although science has not sufficiently studied it for this use. Some uses include relieving headaches, respiratory sicknesses and upset stomachs, as well as being added to ointment for skin infections, sores and insect bites. Otherwise, it is used in food.

Uses of Rosemary Essential Oil

Rosemary essential oil has antimicrobial properties, fighting Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli. Rosemary essential oil is used for a variety of skin problems, including acne, infections and eczema. Annett explains that you can add rosemary to your shampoo if you are a brunette, as it “acts like a dye for dark hair.” She notes that it is also used to stimulate memory and uplift your mood when inhaled. It is used for respiratory sicknesses and to soothe sore muscles and arthritis when added to a bath or massage oil. More research is needed to back up these claims.


While you can ingest rosemary extract, there is a risk of allergic reaction. Also, taking more than recommended doses of the extract can cause fluid in your lungs, miscarriage, vomiting, spasms and coma. Avoid rosemary if you have ulcers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure or are breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor if you are taking medications, as it can interfere with some. As for rosemary essential oil, ingesting it can be toxic. Generally, you should not ingest any essential oils, unless under the direction of a certified aromatherapist or other qualified health practitioner.

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oilThe quality of essential oils can vary widely. As a consumer (and even as an aromatherapist), it is difficult to assess quality. Essential oils come from all over the world, and suppliers or companies usually obtain oils from farmers or wholesalers whose practices and integrity they have come to trust over time. The end consumer would not be aware of (or have the capability to assess) those relationships and practices. For those interested in learning more about regulating bodies and certifying organizations, some information and links are provided below.

How are essential oils regulated?

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for regulating foods, food additives, drugs, cosmetics, and dietary supplements. The legal difference between these categories is determined by the product’s intended use.

The FDA considers essential oils either cosmetics or drugs, depending on their intended use. The FDA makes decisions concerning the regulation of essential oils on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a company claimed that the aroma of an essential oil promoted attractiveness, the FDA would most likely regulate the product as a cosmetic. If a company claimed that an essential oil was effective as an aid for quitting smoking or in treating or preventing any other condition or disease, the FDA is more likely to regulate the product as a drug.

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

You can’t think about the medicinal value of essential oils without also considering their terpene profiles. That’s because the oils you’re buying get their healing qualities in large part from their terpene content .

In this post, you’ll learn all you need to know about essential oils vs terpenes, including what this difference means for your health and your brand.

Essential Oils vs. Terpenes: The Simple Version

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

We know you’ve got meetings and emails and Netflix reruns to binge (we’re guessing Breaking Bad if you’re reading this).

Here’s the TL DR version geared toward you visual readers:

Imagine an organic soup broth. Don’t go make soup to cure your munchies. You’ll do it at the end.

Now, you can break the broth into individual ingredients. These individual ingredients give the soup its aroma, flavor, and the potential effect on the human body. But too much or too little of a necessary component, like black pepper, salt, etc., can really spoil the smell and taste.

In this analogy, the broth is the essential oil. The “individual ingredients” are the individual terpenes.

The conclusion:

Terpenes are the main organic compound (ingredient) that give essential oils (the soups) their aromas, flavors, and medicinal benefits ( 1 ). Different terpenes yield different aromas, flavors, and benefits.

How can you use this juicy information?

Use individual terpene isolates to control the aromas, flavors, and medicinal effects of your products, like essential oils, creams, or food. In other words: make your own soup. (Ok-now go eat.)

Keep reading for some of the science behind it.

The Truth About Essential Oils

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

Essential oils are the aromatic (and arguably medicinal) liquids obtained through the processing of certain aromatic plants. They are often named for the botanical from which they came. For example, we derive rose oil through the distillation of roses.

While essential oils aren’t directly necessary to sustain human life, we refer to them as “essential” because they’re considered to represent the pure essence of the smell or flavor of a particular plant species.

The thing is, essential oils aren’t actually responsible for this.

These highly concentrated plant elements do appear in liquid form, but refining processes like steam distillation remove materials like fatty acids, which are major constituents of the fluids we have classified as ‘oils’.

Brands tend to refer to essential oils as ‘pure’ due to the rigorous extraction processes required to obtain them. But they are actually combinations of different chemicals. As PubMed says:

Each type of essential oil has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it is used by the body. Even the oils from varieties of plants within the same species may have chemical compositions different from each other. (2)

You can divide the chemical composition into two main groups, mostly based on the presence of oxygen:

1) Hydrocarbons – A molecule composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen. Subsets include secondary metabolites like terpenes (monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and diterpenes)

2) Oxygenated Compounds – Including esters, oxides, phenols, aldehydes, ketones, and alcohols

Unlike the combinations of terpenes and other chemicals that comprise essential oils, Abstrax terpenes are 100% pure. There is nothing in our Alpha-pinene, for example, except undiluted Alpha-pinene. Beta-caryophyllene contains pure, unadulterated beta-caryophyllene. Likewise, our blends are combinations of virgin terpenes.

What does this mean for you?

Conclusion: You Need Terpenes, NOT Essential Oils

How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

Using pure terpene isolates and isolate blends allows for much more precision and control than using essential oils or selective breeding of whole plants when formulating products. I mean, imagine trying to guess how much of an ingredient should go in your recipe over and over again.

Instead, you can use precise measurements of the terpenes as flavor or aroma agents, as well as for their medicinal value, instead of guessing.

If you’re trying to scale your brand and need a large number of different terpenes, never settle for mystery soup.

Enjoy our award-winning, custom blends, or feel free to formulate your own masterpiece from our quality ingredients.

From cleaning to cooking, sleeping to sports, essential oils have the power to improve whole-life wellness. The best way to access the benefits in those little amber bottles? Use essential oils correctly.

Even the most experienced oil aficionado can use the occasional EO refresher. And while this list of 10 essential oil mistakes isn’t carved in stone, consider it solid advice.

Mistake 1: Assuming all essential oils are created equal

Not all essential oils are created the same—quality and purity varies greatly among companies. If you want to ensure you’re getting the highest quality oils, go with the trusted industry leader. Yep, that’s us! Young Living’s Seed to Seal® quality commitment means we’re super strict on what ingredients we allow in our products and how we source the botanicals for our essential oils. We test the water, the soil, and the air on our farms to safeguard the process and protect our products. If it doesn’t meet our superior standard, we walk away.

If you’re as into knowing just what’s inside your bottle of Bergamot oil as we are, here are a few things you can do:

  • Carefully read the ingredients on your essential oil bottle.
  • Research how the company sources and produces their oils:
    • Do they put synthetics, contaminants, or cheap fillers in their products?
    • Does the company care about the communities, ecosystems, and agricultural practices related to their farms?
    • Do they test their essential oils an average of 95 times before they hit the market? We do, thanks to our Seed to Seal quality commitment.

    Mistake 2: Leaving essential oils out of your personal care routine

    If you’re not using essential oils in your personal care routine, you’re missing out on some major perks. Plus, pampering yourself is easier than you think! Here are some ideas to get you started:

    • Add some essential oils to your bath. Only a few drops of Lavender, Geranium, and Copaiba and bathtime quickly becomes a mini R&R retreat.
    • Ramp up your relaxation with an oil-infused massage and enjoy a much-needed at-home spa night.
    • Say yes to renewed, radiant skin when you include essential oils in your skin care routine. Tea Tree battles blemishes, Helichrysum hydrates parched skin, and Frankincense gives you that radiant glow. And that’s just a handful of the beauty-boosting oils on the list.

    Mistake 3: Ingesting all essential oils

    Sure, some berries are edible, but unless you picked them from the garden or grocery store, it’s best to proceed with caution before popping random berries in your mouth. The same holds true for essential oils.

    While you can flavor your favorite beverage with fresh lemon juice, you don’t always have fresh citrus on hand. Lucky for lemon—and lime and tangerine—lovers, our Vitality™ line of essential oils is an easy way to add a burst of flavor to your beverages. Use Black Pepper, Ginger, or Coriander Vitality oils to spice up your cooking or infuse your next batch of baked goods with a little Cinnamon Bark Vitality. You’re welcome!

    How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

    It goes without saying that true lavender essential oil can be a wonderful addition to your aromatherapy routine. But did you know that some essential oils claiming to be “lavender” don’t actually come from that plant after all?

    How to tell the difference between essential oil and infused oil

    If you want to reap all the benefits of lavender essential oils, it’s crucial that you get products made from true lavender. That’s why certified aromatherapist Caroline Schroeder is spreading the word about lavandin, which is a cheaper-to-produce hybrid of lavender and spike lavender that some essential oil companies use to substitute for true lavender.

    Schroeder explains: “Although the two ingredients come from the same botanical family and may have a somewhat similar aroma, they are from different plants with varying properties and effects.”

    While some essential oil companies like GuruNanda use only true lavender, it’s important not to assume that every brand — especially one that you’re unfamiliar with — is doing the same. Luckily, Schroeder says there are a few ways to know the difference between lavender and lavandin. Keep this list handy the next time you’re browsing for a new lavender essential oil, and you can feel confident that you’re getting the real deal with your purchase.

    Lavender vs. Lavandin: How to Tell the Difference

    1. Double-check the oil’s Latin name. Most essential oil companies will provide the Latin names for the oils. This is where it gets a bit tricky, because lavender and lavandin have an ever-so-slight difference: Lavender’s Latin name is “lavandula angustifolia,” while lavandin’s is “lavandula intermedia.” Before you buy, be sure it’s the former and not the latter.

    2. Take a sniff of the oil. While true lavender boasts a sweet, floral, and delicate scent, lavandin tends to have a more medicinal aroma due to its higher camphor content, which is sometimes used in cleaning products.

    3. Beware of confusing nicknames. Sometimes, lavandin is called “French lavender” because it was developed for the French perfume industry. True lavender is occasionally called “English lavender” because it was created for English perfumes. In reality, both of these plants can grow in many different countries. (Psst: Some of the best true lavender is said to be grown in Bulgaria.)

    4. Find out the therapeutic properties. Lavender is said to help with relaxation and sleep, as well as soothing discomfort that comes from problems like headaches or burns. Meanwhile, lavandin tends to act more like an antiseptic.

    5. Look closely at the price. It’s easy to get excited when you see a “discount” or “deal” on lavender essential oils. But the truth is that lavandin comes from larger plants that produce more oil than lavender, which makes lavandin much cheaper to produce. When all else fails, remember the old saying: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

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