Young Living’s essential oils in Singapore have an “ingredients list” on the label.  This does NOT mean that there is anything added to the pure single essential oils, but is indicative of the chemical constituents of the oil and of the plant itself.  This can be quite misleading unless we understand at least a little of the chemistry.

Essential oils are composed primarily of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur.  When these are arranged in different ways, very different molecules are formed, giving the oils their unique properties.

Fatty oils are composed of only carbon and hydrogen arranged in a simple linear structure while essential oils have a complex ring structure.

There are thirteen different categories of constituents:

Alcohols, Aldehydes, Alkanes, Carboxylic Acids, Coumarins, Esters, Ethers, Furanoids, Ketones, Lactones, Oxides, Phenols, Terpenes

Alcohols:  The names of these constituents end in “ol”.  Some common alcohols found in essential oil are citronellol in rose, linalool in rosewood, alpha-terpinol in melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree), and lavendulol in lavender.  Alcohols are cleansing, antiseptic, and anti-viral.  Terpene alcohols are immune stimulating and work as a diuretic and general tonic.

Aldehydes:  The names of these constituents end in “al” or “aldehyde”.  Adlehydes are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and calming.  Some can cause skin sensitivity.  They are found in cassia, cinnamon bark, and lemongrass.

Alkanes:  The names of these constituents end in “ane”.  Very few essential oils contain alkanes, and usually less than 1%.  However rose contains 11-19% alkanes.

Carboxylic acids:  The names of these constituents always contain “acid”.  Carboxylic acids are stimulating and cleansing.  They form esters when combines with alcohols.  Mandarin, cinnamon, geranium, and valerian all contain carboxylic acids.

Coumarins:  Coumarins are widely found in nature.  Coumarins and the blood-thinning drug, Coumadin, are NOT the same.  One is natural, and one is synthetic, and they have VERY different chemical formulas.  Coumarins have antibacterial, anti-viral, and antifungal properties and are found in Cassia, Fleabane, and Lavendin.

Esters:  The names of these constituents end in “ate”.  Esters are soothing and balancing on all levels and also anti-fungal.  Some oils containing esters are Birch, Wintergreen, Bergamot, Helichrysum, Roman Chamomile, Geranium, Peppermint, Cistus, Citronella, Clary Sage, Clove, Pettigrain, Spruce, and Ylang Ylang.

Ethers:  Ethers are not particularly common in essential oils, but are found in Anise, Elemi, Tarragon, and Nutmeg.  They are balancing and uplifting.

Furanoids:  Furanoids are lactones or coumarins with names beginning with “furano” or ending with “furan”.  Furanoids can have the same benefits as lactones or coumarins.  Many also amplify the effects of the sun when applied topically, causing photosensitivity.  Bergamot, Ruta, Grapefruit, and Lemon are some of these.  However, Myrrh, Mandarin, Tangerine, and Orange do not cause photosensitivity.

Ketones:  The names of these constituents usually end in “one”.  Ketones have strong aromas.  They are excellent decongestants, and they cleanse receptor sites and promote cell regeneration.  Oils containing ketones are Spearmint, Rosemary, Fennel, Jasmine, Myrrh, Peppermint, and Vetiver.

Lactones:  Lactones are highly anti-inflammatory, and anti-parasitic.  Oils containing lactones are Fennel, Myrrh, and Anise. 

Oxides:  Oxides are oxygenated hydrocarbons and are excellent decongestants for the respiratory system.  Oils which contain oxides are Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Peppermint, Hyssop, Rose, German Chamomile, Clary Sage, and Thyme. 

Phenols:  Phenols are oxygenated hydrocarbons that have antioxidant and immune stimulating properties.

Terpenes:  Terpenes are the most prevalent constituent in essential oils.  Oils high in monoterpenes are Frankincense, Balsam Fir, Orange, Pine, and Ginger.  Oils high in sesquiterpenes include Cedarwood, Copaiba, Sandalwood, Myrrh, and Patchouli.

  • The information is complied from the Essential Oils Desk Reference, 5th Edition, and from The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple by Dr. David Stewart.