If you’re an aromatherapy lover, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the word “absolute” as you’ve scanned bottles of essential oils online or in your health food store. If you’re curious like me, there’s a good chance you’ve wondered what in the heck an absolute is and what makes it different than the other oils it shares shelf space with. Today, I’m answering your burning questions about these oft misunderstood members of the aromatherapy family. Stick around until the end because I’ve also put together a lovely recipe for you!
What is an absolute? When working with certain fragile flowers, the normal methods of extraction are not always feasible. The heat employed in steam distillation cause the super-delicate plant material to collect in a mass that is too large for steam to pass through and when this happens, a two-stage process is employed to extract the oil. First the material is placed in a cylindrical drum along with a solvent (typical solvents are toulene or hexane) and this drum rotates to allow the material to absorb the solvent and separate the aromatic extract. The extract is then vacuum distilled to remove the solvent, and what remains is classified either as a concrete (if the result is waxy) or a resinoid (if it has a resinous texture), Concretes and resinoids are useful products on their own, but in order to create a liquid from the heavy consistency, a second process is performed. In this step, alcohol is introduced (usually ethanol) and it goes to work to separate the aromatic compound from the wax or resin. Once cooled, the wheat separates from the chaff if you will, the resulting aromatic essence is filtered and the alcohol is vacuum distilled off. What’s remaining is an absolute.
What other differences are there? The consistency is often heavier, and sometimes requires a little ingenuity to get out of the bottle. If you’ve ever liquefied solid coconut oil by setting the jar in warm water, then you’re already a pro at this. The same method works quite well when dealing with sticky absolutes. The fragrance of an absolute is also pretty dang identical to it’s live, growing source. For this reason, some producers even use this method to extract fragrance from plant material that can endure traditional steam distillation. Absolutes are often more concentrated than their steam distilled counterparts, as well. In some cases, they are so powerful that someone who isn’t trained in aromatherapy cannot even recognize them without heavy dilution. They can be wonderful for naturally scenting beauty products or making perfumes because so little is needed and the benefit is still so great.
Wouldn’t the chemicals used in the process ruin the therapeutic benefit? You’d think so, but not if the producer can be trusted to uphold good manufacturing standards. This is why it’s so important to align yourself with a company who has a good reputation for clean, quality products and not just slick marketing and pretty packaging. If you trust your company of choice with essential oils, it’s probably safe to assume their absolutes are safe, too. If you’re concerned about solvent use, it’s good to know that they cost a pretty penny, so most companies making absolutes will want to make sure they get as much out as possible for recycling purposes.When in doubt, ask for a recent GC/MS report. If the company is one of the good guys, they will be happy to provide you with one and will take the time to educate you about the process their absolutes go through to put your mind at ease. If they aren’t upfront or something doesn’t feel right, keep looking. As for the alcohols, there are barely detectable amounts left in a properly produced absolute. As long as they are diluted properly and not being applied neat, which you should never be doing unless guided by a certified aromatherapist or physician, you’d be looking at parts per trillion. If you’re still concerned about applying absolutes to the skin, you can simply diffuse them instead, and still get the benefits.
Speaking of diffusing, didn’t I say I was going to give you a recipe? I created this Absolutely Uplifting Diffuser Blend just for you! The beauty of this blend is that while it’s making your home smell amazing, it also contains oils and an absolute that have been reputed to help lift your spirits, too! How rad is that?! Here’s what you need:
Follow the directions on the diffuser of your choice, hit play and enjoy!
I want to hear from you! Do you have experience using absolutes? Which ones are your favorites? Are there any you’re excited to try? Leave me a comment below and feel free to share any recipes you’ve made using these awesome members of the aromatherapy family!
Wishing you Total Well-Being (and Happy Sniffing!),
P.S. You can get the oils I mentioned above through my affiliate link. If you buy them through me you get good prices on great oils and absolutes, and I get to spend a little extra each month putting together more recipes and future tutorials!