From Folded, Distilled, Cold Pressed, Absolutes, Co2 Extracted– What’s the difference in how essential oils are produced, and why does it matter? If you’ve heard people talk about using 10x orange, 5x Orange, cold-pressed lemon, distilled lime, vanilla oleoresin, or jasmine absolute… you may have wondered, ‘What in the heck is the difference?’ Well, you’re not alone! When you first start using and learning about essential oils, it can seem like a brand new language.
Today, let’s try to demystify some of these terms, and explain what they mean when it comes to essential oils. This will be a very basic overview, but one we hope sparks your thirst for learning.
Distilled Essential Oils
Distilling is the most common method for obtaining essential oils from plants. The majority of the popular oils like lavender, cedarwood, tea tree, cinnamon, frankincense, and many others are extracted using this method. It’s one of the oldest, and most common, ways to obtain essential oils.
The plant matter (flowers, twigs, leaves, resins, etc) is placed in a still, with a predetermined quantity of water, and then heated. As the mix warms up, steam rises and is funneled through a cooling coil and condenses into a separate container. This steam is made of both the essential oil and the hydrosol. These are separated after the distilling is completed, and the essential oil is bottled. Voila, done!
The properties of a distilled essential oil will vary by the crop, location of the crop, and what parts of the plant were distilled. But not every type of plant matter can be distilled easily, and some can give very undesirable results or be destroyed by the steam! So, that’s why there are other extraction methods.
It’s also important to note that not every plant produces an essential oil! Many people are fooled each day by less than stellar suppliers selling things like ‘Strawberry Essential Oil’ when in fact it’s a synthetic fragrance oil. Strawberries do not produce any volatile compounds to make an essential oil. This is why having a quality reference guide, like The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, is so important.
Cold-Pressed Essential Oils
Essential oils that are cold-pressed are most often the citruses. Citrus peels naturally contain their essential oils, which can literally be pressed out, separated from the juice and bottled. These cold-pressed oils tend to have the most ‘true’ aroma of the fruits from which they come from, and are prized for aromatherapy purposes.
But they have a short shelf life! It is recommended that you keep cold-pressed citrus oils in a cool, dark location, and use them within 3 to 6 months. Many advocate keeping a mini fridge JUST for your sensitive EOs.
Another problem with cold-pressed citrus essential oils is that they retain the natural, phototoxic furanocoumarins that can cause terrible burns from sun (UV) exposure. This is the primary reason you should never use a cold pressed citrus essential oil for leave on products, like lotions, lip balms, etc.
However, citrus can ALSO be steam-distilled, and this is often done to remove many of the phototoxic compounds (always check your GCMS from your supplier to confirm). The downside is that it has noticeably less of the ‘fresh fruit’ scent you get from cold pressing. The upside is the distilled citruses will last longer than cold-pressed citrus, and also means they will likely hold better in Cold Process Soapmaking.
Note: Don’t confuse a ‘cold-pressed’ carrier oil or butter with an essential oil. They are NOT the same thing.
Folded Essential Oils (Redistilled)
This primarily refers to essential oils which have been ‘redistilled.’ After the original essential oil is extracted from a steam distilling, it is put through a secondary pressurization process. This allows the essential oil producer to remove many harmful, or shelf-life shortening compounds from the oil. Often a ‘rectified’ essential oil is one that has been redistilled or ‘folded.’
Citrus oils that are folded are often referred to as 5x, 10x or 15x, to indicate the number of times they have been ‘redistilled.’ Folded citrus oils, just like distilled citrus oils, still smell like the fruits, but have much less fragile scent molecules. Since they are much more concentrated, it makes them ideal for soap making. A folded citrus lasts a LOT longer than one that is simply distilled.
Redistilling some essential oils is also used to create isolates for particular perfuming uses, or aromatherapy or commercial fragrance or flavoring applications. An example of an isolate would be purchasing straight Linalool (which is a constituent found in Lavender, Ho Wood, etc). They are more often for creation of fine perfumes or flavors, and are often not suitable for soap making. Isolates are not covered by our calculator.
Absolutes (Solvent Extracted)
There are a great number of plants that produce essential oils that would NOT benefit from the heat of steam distilling. Jasmine and Rose are the most common absolutes. (Side note: Rose CAN be steam-distilled, but the scent from the essential oil varies greatly from the absolute.)
Absolutes are created when plant material or resins are combined with a solvent, most often Hexane. The solvents are then removed to create the absolute. Some solvents like Hexane may leave a small trace amount behind, but this is such a tiny concentration that it is not considered a toxicity concern.
Absolutes are always solvent-extracted. There is no alternative for this. Absolutes are popular in fine fragrance, flavor and aromatherapy use, but are most often not suitable (or cost-effective) for soap making. Absolutes are not covered by our calculator.
CO2 Extracts (Solvent Extracted)
These are extracts of plants that are created using liquid carbon dioxide (aka CO2) as the solvent. Once the extract has been created, the carbon dioxide simply evaporates away, leaving only the plant extract. It’s very important to note that CO2 Extracts are NOT what we think of as essential oils, NOR are they absolutes. Co2 extracts are most often used in fine perfumery and flavor applications, not soapmaking. CO2 extracts are not covered by our calculator.
These are simply essential oils or absolutes that have been pre-diluted in a neutral carrier oil and sold as a more ‘cost-effective’ way to use a more expensive, pure absolute or essential oil. These could be used in body product making, but are not suitable for most other applications, and are not covered by our calculator.
Oleoresins are a complicated, thick mixture that is often the texture of molasses or maple syrup. These are a complex mixture of some portion of volatile oil and flavor compounds of the plant. Many essential oils are actually distilled from an oleoresin, but some compounds are sold as-is for their aromatherapy benefits, or to commercial operations for flavoring use. Many Oleoresins are NOT soluble in water or oil, and need a solvent like alcohol or hexane to be truly ‘used’ in some applications. Oleoresins are not recommended for soapmaking, and are not covered by our calculator.
We realize a whole discussion about how essential oils are created is a VERY complicated topic, but hope to at least have given you a brief overview to help you learn more about the types of products you may encounter out on the market. We very highly recommend also purchasing Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oil Safety book.
Our site is specifically designed to cover Distilled, Cold Pressed and Folded/Redistilled whole essential oils for use in most Soap and Body Care products. We do not provide usage information for any other types of essential oils.
From body butters, to perfume rollers, to cold process soaps, to bath bombs, our free library is stuffed full of awesome essential oil blends that will inspire and elevate your handmade bath and body lines.
Calculate a usage rate from all our oils in the library, or get inspired to make your own blend.