Choose an essential oil according to its biochemical composition

An essential oil is composed of many chemical molecules, giving it its active principles. These components can be divided into 12 major families: terpenes, alcohols, aldehydes, carbides, ketones, coumarins, esters, ethers, lactones, oxides, phenols and finally phthalides.

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The different types of molecules

An odorous molecule is a molecule that, as its name suggests, will have an odor. It should not be confused with the term aromatic molecule, which is often used by abuse of language, and corresponds to molecules containing an unsaturated cyclic carbon chain (i.e., there will be double bonds in the ring, making the molecule very stable). However, most aromatic molecules are odorous, but some odorous molecules are not aromatic, as we will see. In short, a good example of the complexity of chemistry!

Terpenes represent the most common biochemical family of essential oils. They are the perfect example of non-aromatic scent molecules! They are composed only of carbons and hydrogens. In essential oils, we will find monoterpenes, with 10 carbons, sesquiterpenes, with 15 carbons, and to a lesser extent diterpenes, with 20 carbons. Terpene compounds are very varied in essential oils. When functional groups (alcohol, ketone, aldehyde, etc.) are present, they are called terpenoids. Thus, according to the number of carbons and functional groups, there will be a multitude of terpenes ... Uh terpenoids sorry. Between monoterpenol, sesquiterpene carbide or terpene epoxide, the choice is as dense as varied!

We know it well, essential oils have a very complex composition. If they were only composed of terpene molecules, it would be known! Indeed, one will find in addition to non-terpenic aromatic molecules, like aromatic aldehydes, or the famous coumarins for example.

Chemical families


Carbides are chemical compounds containing only carbon and hydrogen atoms. Monoterpene carbides are much more frequent in essential oils than sesquiterpene carbides.
Activities of monoterpene carbons

Examples: limonene, pinenes, terpinenes, paracymene, sabinene, camphene, beta-phellandrene,...

Main essential oils containing it: citrus essences (Lemon, Orange, etc.), Black Spruce, Scots Pine, Cistus, Coriander, Thyme, Mountain Savory, Ravintsara
Activities of sesquiterpene carbons

Anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, spasmolytic, calming.

Examples: beta-bisabolene, alpha-humulene, beta-caryophyllene, D-germacrene...

Main essential oils containing: Balsam Fir, Oregano

The alcohols

Alcohols are the most abundant constituents of essential oils. Again, sesquiterpene alcohols are much rarer than monoterpene alcohols. Their properties are provided by the hydroxyl groups (an oxygen atom linked to a hydrogen atom). A little chemistry reminder: there are 3 types of alcohols, primary, secondary and tertiary!

Activities of monoterpenols (or monoterpenic alcohols)

anti-infectious (bactericide, virucide, fungicide, parasiticide), general tonic, immunomodulating, spasmolytic.

Examples: linalool, geraniol, citronellol, terpinen-4-ol, thujanol-4, menthol, borneol...

Main essential oils containing: Thyme, Fine Lavender, Palmarosa, Rose Geranium, Tea Tree, Shell Marjoram, Field Mint...

Sesquiterpenol activity

Tonic, venous and lymphatic decongestant, estrogen-like for some.

Examples: farnesol, elemol, viridiflorol, cedrol, sandalwood, patchoulol, globulol

Main essential oils containing it: Lemongrass, Ylang Ylang, Niaouli, Patchouli, Eucalyptus globulus,...


Aldehydes are derived from alcohols, but are present in traces in essential oils. Much more volatile, they are dermocaustic and photosensitive. There are 2 types of aldehydes, terpenic and aromatic.

Activities of aldehydes

Anti-infectious (anti-bacterial, antifungal, antiviral), anti-inflammatory, general tonic, calming the nervous system, immunomodulating, digestive.

Examples of monoterpene aldehydes: citrals (neral and geranial), citronellal

Main essential oils containing: Java citronella, Lemon Eucalyptus, Lemon balm, Lemon,...

Examples of aromatic aldehydes: cuminic aldehyde, cinnamic aldehyde

Main essential oils containing it: Cumin, Cinnamon...


Ketones are organic compounds with a double bond between a carbon atom and an oxygen atom. They are called carbonyl groups. They present a high risk of toxicity on the nervous system on the one hand, and an abortive risk on the other. Essential oils containing them should therefore not be used in too high a dose or in repeated doses. To recognize them it is easy, it has a suffix in "one".

Ketone activities

Anti-infectious (antifungal, antibacterial, antiparasitic), mucolytic, healing, lipolytic, antihematoma, nerve tonic (in low doses), analgesic, anti-inflammatory, cholagogue and choleretic.

Examples: verbenone, thujone, borneone (camphor), fenchone, menthone, carvone, italidiones...

Main essential oils containing: Rosemary Verbenone, Sage officinale, Rosemary Camphor, Lavandula Stoechas, Peppermint, Caraway, Italian Helichrysum...


Oxides are compounds resulting from the combination of an oxygen with another substance. In essential oils, monoxides, dioxides and terpene epoxides are found. They will have an action on the exocrine glands of the respiratory and digestive mucosa.

Oxide activities

Anti-infectious (anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial, antifungal), expectorant, stomachic, carminative, immunomodulating.

Examples: 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol), linalool oxide

Main essential oils containing it: Eucalyptus, Noble Laurel, Ravintsara, Niaouli, Cajeput,...


Monoterpenic esters will act mainly on the nervous system, via the ionic channels, hence the properties which result from it.

Ester activities

Antispasmodic, calming, anti-inflammatory, antiarrhythmic.

Examples: bornyl acetate, linalyl acetate, geranyl formate, neryl acetate, benzyl benzoate...

Main essential oils containing: Siberian Fir, Black Spruce, Clary Sage, Petit Grain Bigarade, Rose Geranium,...


Antispasmodic, anti-allergic, analgesic

Examples: methyl chavicol, apiol, safrol, myristine

Main essential oils containing: Basil, Tarragon, Sweet Fennel


Lactones are characterized by the presence of a ketone function in a ring. Therefore, they present the same risks as ketones, they are neurotoxic and abortive in high doses, but are much rarer.

Activities of lactones

Mucolytic, expectorant, anti-infectious (anti-bacterial and anti-fungal), immunomodulating, antispasmodic, hepatostimulant

Examples: alantolactone, xanthatin, santalolactone, costunolide

Main essential oils containing: Scented Inula, Noble Laurel, Roman Chamomile, Italian Helichrysum...


The action of phenols is very powerful, it is necessary to pay a particular attention to their use in order to avoid accidents and side effects. Moreover, essential oils containing high doses of phenols are dermocaustic, so avoid skin applications.

Activities of phenols

Powerful anti-infectious (bactericide, virucide, fungicide, parasiticide), anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, analgesic, general tonic

Examples: carvacrol, thymol, eugenol

Main essential oils containing: Oregano Compact, Thyme Thyme, Clove, Mountain Savory


Coumarins are indeed aromatic molecules this time. Present in small quantities in essential oils, they are no less powerful! Sensitive to UV rays, coumarins are photosensitizing.

Activities of coumarins

Sedative, nervous calming, spasmolytic, anticoagulant, hypotensive

Examples: bergapten, herniarin, limettin, angelicin...

Main essential oils containing it: Cinnamon, Bergamot, Lemon, Lovage, Tangerine...


Phthalides are related to coumarins. They possess an action on the liver and kidneys by stimulating their elimination action.

Activity of phthalides: Anti-infectious (bactericide, fungicide, parasiticide), hepatocyte detoxifying, toning, calming

Examples: Z-ligustilide, z-butylidenphthalide,...

Main essential oils containing: Lovage, Celery

Healing with oils... Theophane de la Charie

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Healing with oils...

Theophane de la Charie

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