Fractional Distillation

Fractional Distillation

One of the most common and widespread practices in the Aromatherapy industry in the United States of America is the “fractional distillation” of most essential oils. Americans are a finicky people who love their candles, scented plug-ins, and car air fresheners. The age of science that bombarded us in the 1950’s is wreaking havoc on us all today in the form of synthetic headaches, depression, obesity, hormone issues, and early onset diseases. But Americans still love their scented fragrance and may not realize it may be the source of some of their issues.

Due to this market trend of wanting everything to smell delicious, the Aromatherapy industry thinks you, the consumer, would rather have a better smelling oil over therapeutic value. The simple procedure called “fractional distillation” is all that is needed to produce a more pleasing smelling aroma, which translates into more sales. The oil is still considered pure, but it is modified from its natural state.

Here is how fractional distillation works. The distillery processes the plant material through their distillation stills. The end product is a pure, unadulterated, true botanical essential oil. It smells like the actual plant does. After the original processing of the plant material, either the original distillery or often times the buying company will take the raw oil and distill the oil 1-3 times to take out the heavier, dirtier smelling (earthier) molecules.

The best way to visualize this is to consider coconut oil. You can buy raw coconut oil that is solid and opaque at room temperature. If you get fractionated coconut oil, it is clear and liquid at room temperature. This is exactly the same concept applied to essential oils. Those two carrier oils are not the same, nor are essential oils that have been fractionated the same. Fractionated essential oils may smell better but they do not have the same action.

Plainly speaking, a fractionated oil, while still considered pure, is something completely different. It will still have therapeutic qualities, but those qualities will not have an action that is as deep or that lasts as long as its true botanical un-fractionated counterpart. When a company decides to remove the heavier molecules, they are removing the earthier aroma, but they are also removing the very nature of the oils ability to stay on and in your body longer. Fractionated essential oils are altered. They are not the true botanical.

How can you know if your company does this? It is quite simple really. Smell them. Bring a few of your oils to a nursery such as your Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, and Spearmint. If you have Melissa ask for Lemon Balm and if you have Helichrysum ask for Curry. For your Lavender, check the species your company sells and ask for that species. Most of you will have Lavandula angustifolia. Peppermint is hard to find, so ask specifically for it. Most better nurseries will carry it. For Lemon, you can use the rind of a lemon from the grocery store and scratch the surface with your finger to get the essential oils to release.

Once you find the plants, open your bottle, take out a drop, rub it in your left hand, then gently crush some of the leaves between your fingers of your right hand and smell your fingers and then smell your other palm with the oil. If the oil smells sweeter, you have a fractionated oil. If the oil smells the same as the plant you most likely have a true botanical oil.


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