What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are complex mixtures of organic compounds that have a basic carbon and hydrogen framework with functional groups added, including alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ethers, ketones, and phenols (Buckle, 2015). Much of essential oils research is focused on their chemical constituents and not on the entire oil complex. However, many aromatherapists maintain that essential oils are more than the sum of their parts and that the entire oil should be reviewed for its healing properties and clinical applications (Reis and Jones, 2017). Nowadays are mainly used in the pharmaceutical, healthcare, cosmetic, agricultural and food industries (Bakkali et al, 2008).

Essential oils. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a field of complementary medicine that uses essential oils to treat and prevent diseases through several routes of administration, usually topical, inhalational or oral (Ali et al, 2015). Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, antidepressant, analgesic and antidiabetic activities of essential oils have been studied and reported recently in several publications (Bakkali et al, 2008; Bhalla et al 2013; Edris et al, 2007; Gandhi et al, 2019; Heghes et al, 2019; Peterfalvi et al, 2019; Zhang et al, 2019).

Essential oils. Properties

There are a large number of published articles which highlight the antimicrobial action of a variety of essential oils from different parts of the world. In this sense, essential oils have been shown to disrupt ATP assembly leading to cell wall damage in fungal pathogens. In bacterial pathogens, essential oils can also disintegrate mitochondrial membrane interfering with the electron transport system (ETS) pathway and, therefore, with the energy production. Moreover, essential oils inhibit the growth of drug-resistant microbial strains which are even difficult to treat by conventional antibiotics (Tarik et al, 2019).

Essential oils are generally used in aromatherapy to relieve anxiety symptoms (Lillehei et al, 2014). More than 20 compounds derived from essential oils have shown an anxiolytic effect in rodents, two thirds of them are alcohols and terpenes. Monoamine neurotransmitters, amino acid neurotransmitters, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are thought to play important roles in the anxiolytic effects of essential oils. Furthermore, in comparison to traditional drugs, essential oils have fewer side effects (Zhang et al, 2019).

The anti-inflammatory properties of essential oils have been extensively investigated and reviewed in various studies (Peterfalvi et al, 2019). These studies have revealed a potential activity of essential oils and their compounds for the treatment of inflammatory diseases, especially chronic ones, through mechanisms involving reduction of reactive oxygen (ROS) and nitrogen species (NOS), increase of antioxidant enzymes, as well as the reduction of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) and the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (De lavor et al, 2018).

In summary, essential oils help to optimize the therapeutic properties of cosmetics by promoting the tonicity of the venous walls and lymphatic drainage, soothing muscle and joint pain, increasing the body’s defenses and improving the immune system, and delaying the signs of aging, reducing the appearance of spots, wrinkles, acne, dryness or cellulite, among others.


Ali, B.; Al-Wabel, N.A.; Shams, S.; Ahamad, A.; Khan, S.A.; Anwar, F. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pac. J. Trop. Biomed. 2015, 5, 601–611

Bakkali F, Averbeck S, Averbeck D, Idaomar M. Biological effects of essential oils–a review. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Feb;46(2):446-75

Bhalla, Y.; Gupta, V.K.; Jaitak, V. Anticancer activity of essential oils: A review. J. Sci. Food Agric. 2013, 93, 3643–3653

Buckle, J. (2015). Clinical aromatherapy: Essential oils in healthcare (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

De Lavor ÉM, Fernandes AWC, de Andrade Teles RB, Leal AEBP, de Oliveira Júnior RG, Gama E Silva M, de Oliveira AP, Silva JC, de Moura Fontes Araújo MT, Coutinho HDM, de Menezes IRA, Picot L, da Silva Almeida JRG. Essential Oils and Their Major Compounds in the Treatment of Chronic Inflammation: A Review of Antioxidant Potential in Preclinical Studies and Molecular Mechanisms. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018 Dec 23;2018

Edris, A.E. Pharmaceutical and therapeutic potentials of essential oils and their individual volatile constituents: A review. Phyther. Res. 2007, 21, 308–323

Gandhi, G.R.; Vasconcelos, A.B.S.; Haran, G.H.; da Silva Calisto, V.K.; Jothi, G.; de Souza Siqueira Quintans, J.; Cuevas, L.E.; Narain, N.; Júnior, L.J.Q.; Cipolotti, R.; et al. Essential oils and its bioactive compounds modulating cytokines: Asystematic review on anti-asthmatic and immunomodulatory properties. Phytomedicine 2019, 31, 152854

Heghes SC, Vostinaru O, Rus LM, Mogosan C, Iuga CA, Filip L. Antispasmodic Effect of Essential Oils and Their Constituents: A Review. Molecules. 2019 Apr 29;24(9):1675

Lillehei AS, Halcon LL. A systematic review of the effect of inhaled essential oils on sleep. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Jun;20(6):441-51

Peterfalvi A, Miko E, Nagy T, Reger B, Simon D, Miseta A, Czéh B, Szereday L. Much More Than a Pleasant Scent: A Review on Essential Oils Supporting the Immune System. Molecules. 2019 Dec 11;24(24):4530

Reis D, Jones T. Aromatherapy: Using Essential Oils as a Supportive Therapy. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2017 Feb 1;21(1):16-19.

Tariq S, Wani S, Rasool W, Shafi K, Bhat MA, Prabhakar A, Shalla AH, Rather MA. A comprehensive review of the antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral potential of essential oils and their chemical constituents against drug-resistant microbial pathogens. Microb Pathog. 2019 Sep;134:103580

Zhang N, Yao L. Anxiolytic Effect of Essential Oils and Their Constituents: A Review. J Agric Food Chem. 2019 Dec 18;67(50):13790-13808

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