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What's the Difference? Terpenes and Essential Oils

What is the real connection between terpenes and essential oils? Terpenes are aroma emitting phenols that are made by every plant, flower, and even some insects. One terpene you may recognize is Linalool. Lavender essential oil is primarily composed of Linalool. Chemists tell us that linalool makes you tired so Lavender essential oil makes you tired. Simple right?


Essential oils are the aromatic (and arguably medicinal) liquids obtained through the processing of certain aromatic plants. They are often named by the botanical from which they were derived - For example, rose oil is obtained through the distillation of roses. While essential oils aren’t directly necessary to sustain human life, they are called essential because they are considered to represent the pure essence of a particular smell or flavor of a plant.

The thing is, essential oils aren’t actually oils. While these highly concentrated plant elements do appear in liquid form, the refining process removes materials like fatty acids, which are vital components of the fluids we have classified as ‘oils’.

While essential oils are said to be ‘pure’ due to the rigorous extraction processes required to obtain them, they are actually combinations of different chemicals, which can be divided into two main groups, mostly based on the molecular presence of oxygen:

1) Hydrocarbons - Including terpenes (monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and diterpenes)