Understanding What True, Pure Essential Oils Are (and How We Extract Them)

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Not all essential oils are created equal. It's easy to put "pure and organic" on a label. It's not as easy to stand behind these words. Brands have been known to dilute versions of the real thing, adding filler or carrier oils, chemicals, or isolates to extend the quantity or shelf life. Experts in the field estimate that approximately 80 percent of essential oils are adulterated in some form.

At UMA we’ve been striving for centuries to create the highest quality blends of essential oils that are authentic, pure, and completely organic. We ensure our purity through our organic farming methods and meticulous extraction. Nothing is ever compromised.  Join us for a look. We’re about to get a little technical but bear with us. It's important that you know exactly where your essential oils are coming from—and why these gorgeous compounds need to be pure in order to reap their benefits.  

The History

Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants. Ancient Egyptians were among the first to use essential oils, incorporating them in medical practices, religious ceremonies, spiritual enhancement and, of course, embalming. When tombs are uncovered today, it's common to discover traces of Cedarwood and Myrrh. There are more than 150 references to essential oils in the Bible, including the story from the New Testament about the three wise men gifting baby Jesus Frankincense and Myrrh at his birth.

Modern medicine's reintroduction of essential oils began during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since that time, essential oils have been used to kill harmful germs, balance mood, lift spirits, and dispel negative emotions. And of course, they've long been lauded for their skin and hair benefits. At the Uma Estate, we use centuries of ancient wisdom about essential oils in order to create highly effective pure blends that are perfectly suited for the modern day.

The Sources

Check out our ingredients page and you’ll see that we create oils from a myriad of botanicals and spices, from saffron (yes, it comes from the incredibly expensive spice) to rose. Berries, seeds, bark, rhizome, leaves, flowers, and fruit peels are all potential sources for essential oils. The storied frankincense and myrrh? They are extracted from resin. Our production of such a variety of essential oils means we manage many types of unique crops—and some are very high maintenance. Precious Sandalwood (one of our favorite oils) is derived from the wood of a tree that takes more than fifteen years to mature. Our growing, harvesting, and production of all our crops is completely vertically integrated. 

UMA's Extraction Methods

There are several highly complex methods for extracting essential oils. The more sophisticated methods come with a higher price tag. At UMA we've never been willing to compromise on results and purity. (We also don't compromise on sustainability; we recycle all our waste and leftover water from production.) 

Distillation: This complex method creates quality oils effectively and gently. Here’s how it works: Water is heated to produce steam. The steam softens and ruptures plant cells and carries the volatile compounds. Then the steam flows through a condenser, cools, and forms back to liquid.
Finally, the material is collected at the surface. This is your essential oil. Distillation is an ultra-sensitive process. The time, temperature, and pressure must be constantly monitored. But this extra effort yields gorgeous results.

Expression/Cold Pressed: This is the method we use to produce most citrus oils, like orange or lemon. It requires no heat, which protects the natural structure of the citrus fruit. Here’s how it works: A lot of pressure is applied to the citrus peel to break open oil glands under the surface. (Citrus peels contain lots of oil which means they are more easily extracted, making them less expensive than other essential oils.)

This method has been modernized somewhat and evolved to processes like ecuelle a piquer. During this process, the rind of the fruit is placed in a spiked rotating container that gently pokes the rind, releasing the essential oil into a small container. Modern expression techniques like this are a little less labor intensive and are often accomplished using a centrifuge machine. 

Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE):  This method is similar to a type of solvent extraction, but it is completely nontoxic and odorless. The final essential oil is solvent free—and the solvent itself is recyclable. Also, SFEs can penetrate and extract from micro-porous substrates because of their gas-like diffusion properties. This is a completely sustainable extraction method. 

Other Extraction Methods 

Solvent Extraction: This relatively inexpensive method typically works best for extracting the essential oils from jasmine or tuberose. An organic solvent like hexane or methanol is used to wash the plant material, eventually separating out the oil from the solid.  The alcohol solvent usually evaporates but traces of it can often be found in the products—which is not ideal. We avoid this method at UMA because any trace of alcohol compromises the essential oils' purity.

Enfleurage: The Ancient Egyptians loved this old process, but it has fallen out of favor today. Glass trays are covered in an animal or plant fat where the flowers are placed and left for days or weeks. The fat absorbs the essential oil from the flowers. The flowers are removed and the fat is solubilized with alcohol. After the alcohol evaporates the essential oils are left. We avoid this method because fats do not effectively extract the oils, which leaves weaker results.

 

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