Extracting Actives and Oils from Nature: Making the most of their benefits

Here at KIATA, we pride ourselves in sourcing and obtaining the most powerful, exclusive raw materials from Australia and around the world to create unique skincare formulas with proven results.
After carefully selecting our exclusive natural and organic ingredients, we find the most effective and environmentally friendly ways to extract their essential oils whilst retaining all their incredible benefits.
Here’s a quick look at some of the different methods used to extract essential oils for skincare.

Essential oils vs extracts

First thing’s first, let’s explain the differences between essential oils and extracts.
An ‘extract’ is something that is produced when a particular benefit or quality of a plant is isolated for a specific purpose. For example, if you wanted to extract just the flavour or scent of a plant, that particular part of the plant with those qualities would be broken down to release a liquid extract. This is usually obtained by dissolving or soaking the plant in liquid, meaning that the resulting extract is more of an infusion (much like the liquid produced after making herbal tea) rather than a pure extract of the plant. An extract is therefore usually a more ‘diluted version’ of the plant’s benefits.
Essential oils are much more complex to extract and more concentrated than extracts. Essential oils are obtained when a plant is broken down and its oils are separated from the plant through a distillation process. It therefore takes a lot more plant matter to produce the same quantity of essential oil than an extract, making it a more exclusive ingredient. The essential oil is a concentrated version of the plant’s benefits and therefore more potent than extracts, meaning that you need less of it. However, it’s worth noting that not all plants are able to produce essential oils that can be used in cosmetics, which is why extracts are sometimes the only alternative.

Extraction methods

Oil extraction methods vary according to what type of plant or material the essential oil needs to be extracted from, as well as what part of the plant the oil comes from. Some materials may require more breaking down (like wood or bark), whilst others may simply be compressed (like seeds or flowers). Delicate materials will also require more gentle methods to ensure their benefits are not lost during the extraction process.
A few different types of extraction methods used to obtain essential oils for skincare include:

Steam distillation

This is one of the most popular methods to extract oils for natural products as it doesn’t require the use of any chemicals in the process and is environmentally friendly. However, it doesn’t suit delicate materials such as fruit or flowers due to its high processing temperatures, but is perfect for wood, bark and nuts.
Plant materials are placed in a large steel container (called a ‘Still’) and blasted with steam. The steam heats and breaks down the plant material, releasing the essential oils and creating a gaseous vapor. This vapor escapes from the Still and travels through tubing which is surrounded by cold water (known as a ‘Condenser’) to cool the vapor, changing it from gas to liquid. This liquid then drains into a ‘Separator’. Here, the liquid can be separated into two parts; the plant’s essential oil floats to the top and the water sinks to the bottom, since the two components never mix. The essential oil is a pure extract of the plant and the water (sometimes referred to as ‘floral water’) is a by-product that can be used as a fragrant essence.
A great example of an essential oil extracted using this method is Sandalwood oil. To extract the oils, the heartwood of the Sandalwood tree is broken down into wood chips which are then processed using steam distillation. The leftover wood chips are then used to create Sandalwood carvings, incense sticks, insect repellents and more, ensuring nothing goes to waste. Here at KIATA, we use Pure Australian Sandalwood oil in our products – the only Sandalwood oil that is NOP (National Organic Program – USA) and ECOCERT certified organic (Europe).

Water Distillation

Water distillation works much like steam distillation but is more suited to delicate plant materials such as flowers and blossoms that may stick together when steam is introduced. Instead, water distillation allows plant material to float in water which is boiled, then the steam is passed through a Condenser to cool to a liquid. This cool liquid enters a Separator to separate the essential oil from the floral water. A very similar but much gentler process!


One of the most expensive, timely and oldest essential oil extraction methods is enfleurage. It’s no wonder this method isn’t commonly used anymore – however it’s gaining popularity amongst at-home DIY lovers as it can be easily replicated on a small scale (try it for yourself!)
Enfleurage involves infusing fat (animal or vegetable, hot or cold) with a plant or flower. The fat (highly purified and odourless) is placed over framed glass plates (called a ‘chassis’) and left to set before the plant materials are pressed into the fat and once again left to set. Depending upon the type of plant material used and the amount of extraction required, the fat and plant combination can be left from just a few days up to a few weeks before beginning the next step in the process.
During this ‘infusion’ stage, the plant material can be removed from the fat and replaced several times to obtain a more potent infusion. Once the desired level of extraction has been met, the fat-plant combination (known as the ‘enfleurage pomade’) is washed in alcohol so that the plant extract and fat are separated. Once the alcohol evaporates from the remaining mixture, the essential oil is leftover and can be used. The fat is then used as a by-product for other cosmetics such as soaps and balms.

Cold-Press Extraction

For plant materials such as fruits and peels, cold-press extraction is the most popular method. Similar to juicing oranges or lemons (you may see the phrase ‘cold-pressed’ on your juice bottles), the process begins with placing a whole fruit on a conveyor belt which is eventually fed through a machine to pierce the fruit through the rind to release the essential oils (which are usually stored just underneath the rind).
The fruit matter is then moved to a Compressor where it’s pressed to squeeze out all the juices and oils, which then goes through a Centrifuge to separate any solids from the liquids. The remaining liquid passes through to a Separator where the essential oil floats to the top and is separated from any remaining fruit juices. The essential oils are added to your skincare and home products, while the juice is used in the food industry.
Since this method doesn’t use any added heat, the purest of oils are extracted from the fruit, maintaining as much of their benefits as possible.

Getting the most out of nature

Here at KIATA, we use environmentally friendly and chemical-free extraction processes to obtain the most benefits from our carefully selected natural and organic ingredients, in line with our COSMOS Organic certification and ethical values.

To learn more about our ingredients, take a look here.