Don’t Be Afraid of Essential Oil Chemistry

Don’t Be Afraid of Essential Oil Chemistry

So, you’ve learned that essential oils are all about the chemistry … but chemistry wasn’t your favorite subject. 

I want you to know, you’re not alone. Many people discover that they have a passion for essential oils—only to find out that it means learning (or re-learning) one of the most feared sciences. 

But it’s also one of the most fascinating (IMHO).

In the early days, when I used to sit in nearly every aromatherapy class that my mom taught, I was relieved to find out that learning essential oil chemistry didn’t mean I had to learn all chemistry. 

She would often say, “Most essential oils are made up of different combinations of virtually only 3 different atomic elements.” 

Though this is a slight oversimplification, it isn’t so by much. 

As you study essential oil chemistry, you might find a component containing a molecule that has a nitrogen, and maybe one with a sulphur, but you’ll find those are few and far between. 

I remember thinking to myself, “I can handle three kinds of atoms.” 

That became the door that opened my mind to understanding as much as I could about these volatile aromatics … a.k.a. aromatherapy.

Here’s the deal: you can totally start to understand aromatherapy on a scientific level. It starts one layer at a time. 

Do you need an essential oil chemistry pep talk? 

Check out these words of encouragement from us:


If you’re just beginning to learn about essential oil chemistry, or you’ve got a background but want to go deeper, here are a handful of amazing resources that we highly recommend:

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to learning essential oil chemistry?

Let us know by leaving a comment below, and let’s see if we can tackle those so you can learn more.

How to Fall In Love with Essential Oil Chemistry

How to Fall In Love with Essential Oil Chemistry

Are you struggling to understand essential oil chemistry?

Do monoterpenes and aldehydes go bump in the night, sending you into flashbacks of the classes you hated in high school? (They did for me!)

Do you yearn to speak of esters and phenols with fondness, the way some aroma-nerds do?

I previously had an experienced aromatherapy teacher ask me for advice on teaching essential oil chemistry. This person has been studying essential oils since before I graduated from high school, but they still find it difficult to teach something that many students find hard to grasp.

Chemistry Can Be Fun

Chemistry is one of those subjects, which for so many, fear takes their curiosity hostage. But no more, aroma friends!

The truth is, chemistry can be enlightening, empowering, and (even) fun. Today’s interview shows you how.

I recently sat down with my friend and colleague, Dr. Timothy Miller. Tim is a naturopathic physician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered aromatherapist whose passion is in teaching. In this arena, he wears his heart on his sleeve—making his love for aromatic chemistry known far and wide. But not only that, he also wants to spark that love in all of us.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • How the love of chemistry (and the teaching of it) started for Dr. Tim.
  • What the biggest blocks are when studying chemistry—and how to break through them.
  • How aromatherapy sometimes gets chemistry wrong (or just not-quite-right).
  • How to study essential oil chemistry at home.
  • What makes trans-anethole unlike any other component.


We hope this interview can help clear up some misconceptions and allow you to approach chemistry in a new light. Once we start embracing this molecular science, we can enjoy a deeper understanding of the aromatic materials we’re working with. It can make us better students, better teachers, and better aromatherapists.

Did something in this interview spark a love for chemistry in your heart?

Leave us a comment and let us know what you learned. What fascinates you about essential oil chemistry? In what ways could essential oil chemistry still woo your heart? What larger questions do you still need answered?

Thank you for sharing in the love of chemistry and essential oils with us. We are grateful, as always, to be a part of your journey in aromatherapy.

Aromatically Yours,




Learn AromaChemistry with Dr. Tim

aromachemistry poem

Do you want more chemistry with Dr. Tim?  Learn more about his AromaChemistry online course here.

Want to learn more about aromatherapy, essential oils, and their chemistry with us? Check out the Inner Sanctum Library and our other course offerings.

Be a Cool Nerd ~ Essential Oil Chemistry & Dr. Tim

Be a Cool Nerd ~ Essential Oil Chemistry & Dr. Tim

Last Sunday, Mom and I got to talking about why essential oil chemistry is something worth learning about. Even when Sylla began studying aromatherapy over 40 years ago, she felt resistant to learn this molecular science. However, once she did, the world of essential oils opened up to her in incredible ways. Though decades behind, I can attest to the same. We both agree there is great value in understanding the chemistry of essential oils.

Here are five reasons why we think every aromatherapist needs to learn essential oil chemistry:

  1. You’ll sound like a NERD … Yeah, we actually think it’s cool to be nerdy when it comes to chemistry. Knowing the chemistry makes you sound smart (who doesn’t want that?). You can pronounce words like cinnamaldehyde and alpha-bisabolol. More than that, you know what they mean and how they contribute to the therapeutic effect or safety concerns of the oil. Plus, being smart also means that research papers and conference presentations make a lot more sense.
  2. It is not as hard as you think. Unlike the organic chemistry class you had in college, essential oil chemistry is primarily concerned with only three elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Just knowing that all the aromas we work with are virtually countless combinations of these three elements still blows our mind!
  3. When you think on the molecular level, you enter a whole new world. This can open doors to other fields of study, perhaps biochemistry or physiology. Then, you start to understand how your own body works, which gives you a deeper understanding of health and healing.
  4. Learning about essential oil chemistry means you’ll be more informed on how to read and understand the components of a new oil or product. You can look up the constituents (Need a resource? Our Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual has a Phytochemical Index) and what the known therapeutic properties of that component are. You’ll also learn how to not fall into the trap of determining effects based solely on major components. A study of essential oil chemistry quickly reveals the nuances of these “potent chemical cocktails,” as Dr. Tim likes to call them.
  5. You’ll learn that the magic of the oils comes from the chemistry. For us, this doesn’t break the spell. It’s just the opposite: understanding the science only enhances the magic.

So, you want to be a nerd? In October, we are hosting Dr. Timothy Miller for AromaChemistry, a fun-filled weekend of nerdalicious learning. Even though we both teach essential oil chemistry in our Beginner’s Course and Practitioner Training, we wanted to host Tim because he’s like no other teacher we’ve ever had.

You can see how Tim and I get along so well.

In Sylla’s words:

“I’ve studied a bit in my 40 years, and Tim Miller stands out as an exceptional teacher. Not only does he have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in his field as healer, but his personality shines through when he’s teaching. He brings a fresh new energy that is quite appealing.

When he teaches, I find myself fully engaged by his youthful presence. He has a way of recapping each lesson, relating the previous concepts to the next lesson, and making sure students understand before moving on. Tim is a refreshing new teacher with lots to share.”

Hear Tim speak for himself: