Dear Love Natural Sunshine: What are Essential Oils Anyways?

Do a simple Google search and you will find many articles speaking of the benefits of essential oils for hair care. But the question, “What exactly is an essential oil?” is often overlooked.
To put it simply, an essential oil is an oil that has been taken from plant leaves, fruits, stems, or roots. The process of “taking” the oils from their original source, like plant leaves, is called extraction.

Essential oils can be extracted from “exotic” to “everyday” plants. Essential oils can be extracted by using several methods like distillation, expression, solvent extraction, enfleurage, and carbon dioxide extraction. The most common method used to extract essential oils is steam distillation, where the plant is steam cooked in order to “release its essences.”

Definitions of essential oil extraction methods

Steam distillation: extracts by steam cooking the plant
Expression: extracts by using “high pressure to squeeze” the plant
Enfleurage: extracts by “saturating” the plant with vegetable oils
Carbon dioxide extraction: extracts by using steam from carbon dioxide
Solvent extraction: extracts by using chemicals like alcohol

What does this mean for your natural hair?
Since essential oils do not feel oily, they can be used to care for natural hair when added to a shampoo, conditioner, pre-shampoo (pre-poo) treatment, hot oil treatment, or when used in a scalp massage. To learn about the benefits of specific essential oils for your hair read: 11 Essentials Oils to Combat Dry Natural Hair or take a look at this pictorial guide. Remember that essential oils should always be diluted by a "carrier" oil like olive oil, grape seed oil, sweet almond oil, etc.

Characteristics of essential oils
  • Non-oily
  • Light or strong aromas
  • Little to no color

How to use essential oils for natural hair
  1. Add 5-6 drops of an essential oil to your favorite shampoo or conditioner for added benefits
  2. Add 5-6 drops of an essential oil to the oil(s) in your pre-shampoo or hot oil treatment for added benefits
  3. Add essential oils to a “carrier” oil and use to massage your scalp
Source: Soaps, Creams, and Herbal Gels by Marlene Jones

There you have it, a simple definition of essential oils!

"Dear Love Natural Sunshine" is Love Natural Sunshine’s Q&A column that answers basic natural hair questions. Have a basic natural hair question? Ask me at

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