How are essential oils for sauna obtained?

What could be better than being pampered with seductive, invigorating or relaxing scents in the all-round soothing sauna? In this article you will learn how the oils are obtained and how they work.
The preparation of essential oils for sauna

The production of essential oils for sauna

What are essential oils?

Essential or volatile oils are highly volatile mixtures of substances consisting of organic substances such as alcohols, esters, ketones, or terpenes. This composition makes most oils highly flammable. Another component is aromatic compounds, which are responsible for the strong fragrances that usually accompany these oils.

The history of aromatherapy – essential oils

The healing properties of essential oils were already known in ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations. The oils belong to the oldest substances used medically and cosmetically. In Egypt, frankincense, myrrh, cedar wood and other fragrances were processed into ointments and used for religious rituals and as cosmetics. Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is considered the father of medicine, often recommended massages with essential oils even then.

The Arab civilization emphasized extraction by means of distillation flasks, which is still used today. The spread of this process was greatly promoted by the alchemical studies of Paracelsus and the printing of books, invented by Johannes Gutenberg. Aromatherapy itself was invented in 1910 by the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé. After an accident in his laboratory and an unexpectedly quick recovery thanks to lavender oil, the chemist decided to delve further into the properties and effects of essential oils.

Essential oils: Their effects and areas of application

Depending on their properties, essential oils are used in different ways. Oils can be absorbed by the body through the skin or mucous membranes. From there, they enter the tissues or the bloodstream and can develop very different effects. Classic applications that take place through the skin are massages, baths, and aroma therapies (although the oils are also inhaled in the case of the latter two). In addition to the physical effects of heat, cold or pressure, the oils play a major role in these applications.

Depending on the oil chosen, these can have relaxing and stimulating effects and even enhance emotional well-being. When absorbed through the mucous membranes of the nose, the fragrances quickly reach the brain. There they are processed by the limbic system and can unfold their respective effects. Oils absorbed in this way can relieve coughs and calm the respiratory tract. Eucalyptus, pine, rosemary or peppermint are particularly suitable for this purpose.

Since our brain can link strong memories with smells, the scents of oils can change our mood or even increase our concentration. Oils taken orally can have digestive, calming or even pain-relieving effects. Since many people react differently to certain scents because they may have certain associations with them, no general statement can be made about the effect of all oils.

How are essential oils obtained and manufactured?

Oils can be synthetically produced or derived from natural sources. Below we present some natural methods of extraction.

1. Production by steam distillation

The Persian physician Abu Sina invented the distillation of rose petals with steam, thus laying the foundation for steam distillation to extract essential oils. Even today, the vast majority of essential oils are obtained by distillation. In this process, parts of plants are heated over steam, and the fragrances they contain are passed together with the condensed water into a container called a Florentine vase.

In this container the oils separate from the water due to their lower density, there they are extracted with an appropriately placed “water chicken”. Woods, barks and roots must be crushed for this process, leaves, and other soft plant parts can be distilled without preliminary work. Some plants must be distilled immediately after harvesting because of the volatility of the oils, others are better dried first.

2. Cold pressing: natural method for oil extraction

For heat-sensitive citrus peel oils alone, the very gentle cold pressing process is used. The oil containers in the peels of citrus fruits are visible to the naked eye, these are destroyed by rasping and the contained fragrance can be collected. Originally, this process was laboriously done by hand.

The peels were squeezed by hand and the oils were collected with sponges and then collected in containers. Now there are machine processes that grate the peels. The pieces of peel are grated into a container comparable to the drum of a washing machine and centrifuged. Due to the colorants in the peels, citrus oils may contain a cloudiness, but this is not a quality defect.

3. Enfleurage – extraction from fat

Due to the high amount of work involved, this process is hardly used nowadays; it is simply not competitive. Although the quality of the obtained fragrances is better, the resulting products would be many times more expensive than their competitors, which are produced much cheaper. For this process, glass plates are spread thinly with fat (usually lard) and flowers are placed in this fat again and again by hand, which are replaced with new flowers every 12 hours.

This process is repeated 36 times. In this way, the fat-soluble fragrances are released from the flowers and saturate the fat. Finally, the flower essence is dissolved from the fat with alcohol, which is evaporated. What remains is essential oil of the best quality.

4. CO2 – carbon dioxide extraction

Extraction of natural fragrances yields more fragrant oils than distillation. This is because this process also extracts the larger fragrance molecules, which are too heavy to rise with the steam during distillation. In this process, liquid CO2 is subcooled and simultaneously heated by means of compression. This brings the CO2 to a supercritical state, which means that it has the properties of both a liquid and a gas.

The resulting high fluidity allows the CO2 to penetrate the smallest pores and release the desired fragrances from the added plants. Subsequent expansion and heating causes the CO2 to become gaseous again and volatilize completely. Due to its inertness, the gas does not react with the oils and therefore does not adulterate their properties.

5. Extraction with solvents

Extraction with alcohols or hexane is used for very sensitive flowers. The flowers are treated extremely gently in this process, as they are not exposed to heat or steam, which would destroy the fragrances. In this type of extraction, the plant parts are mixed with the solvent and carefully heated. In this way, fragrances are released from the plant to the solvent, which is then evaporated.

Why do plants produce essential oils?

Natural oils contain secondary plant constituents, substances that plants produce but are not essential to life. Plants produce the oils for a variety of reasons. Many plants use the oils as attractants for insects and other animals that pollinate the plant or disperse its seeds. Another purpose of the oils is to keep pests away, as some scents deter them.

Are essential oils disinfectant?

Naturally occurring essential oils have strong antimicrobial and antiviral effects. The antibacterial properties of essential oils are a direct result of the plant’s evolutionary adaptations. For this reason, the oils work very well here.

Frequently asked questions:

Can tea tree oil be used as a sauna infusion?

Finnish company Finnsa has developed a natural tea tree oil for sauna infusions. Due to its high concentration and excellent quality, it is also great for aromatherapy and the cosmetics industry. Australian tea trees are tapped for their potent oil. There are a variety of effects, all of which have been experimentally proven. Indigenous Australians have long recognized its remarkable healing potential. Australian tea tree oil is now used extensively as an aromatherapy ingredient and in the medical and cosmetic industries.

What water is used for a sauna infusion?

Should cold or warm water be used for a sauna infusion? Essential oils are best used in an infusion with warm water. Warm water evaporates faster and mixes well with the oils. The humidity in the sauna is temporarily increased by this water vapor.

What effect do essential oils have in the sauna?

Overview of essential oils and their effects:

  • Some essential oils have antibacterial properties that make them useful in treating bacterial infections such as sore throats, colds, and tonsillitis. Thyme (all chemotypes), all bay varieties, all manuka varieties, all myrtle varieties, all rosewood varieties, all tea tree varieties (best used within 6 weeks of opening), and all lemongrass varieties are examples.
  • However, for viral illnesses such as flu, colds, etc., it is advisable to use antiviral, or virus-killing, oils. These include all chemotypes of the following oils: cajeput, eucalyptus globulus and radiata, myrtle, ravintsara, tea tree and thyme.
  • In addition, there are essential oils that have an expectorant and expectorant effect, so they are useful for the treatment of coughs, colds and bronchitis. Benzoin, cajeput, myrtle, anise, niaouli, eucalyptus globulus & radiata, cardamom, bay, ravintsara, thyme, linalool, silver fir and niaouli are suitable.

Essential oils with antibacterial effect

Naturally occurring essential oils have strong antimicrobial and antiviral activity. The antibacterial properties of essential oils are a direct result of the plant’s evolutionary adaptations. For this reason, the oils work very well here.

Antibacterial oils are:

Roman chamomile,
tea tree,
lemon, lemongrass and
peppermint oil.


The production of essential oils for sauna is a fascinating process based on centuries-old methods. Essential oils are highly volatile mixtures of organic compounds and are known for their strong fragrances. They are extracted from plants and have a wide range of effects and applications.

The history of aromatherapy and essential oils goes back a long way, to ancient civilizations in China, Egypt and Greece. Today, essential oils are used in medicine, cosmetics and wellness, as they can have a relaxing, stimulating or healing effect, depending on their properties.

Essential oils are extracted in different ways, such as steam distillation, cold pressing, enfleurage, CO2 extraction and solvent extraction. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but all serve the purpose of extracting the valuable fragrances from plants.

In the sauna, essential oils are popularly used for infusions to intensify the effect of the sauna visit. The oils can exert their effect both through the skin and through inhalation. In addition to their relaxing and stimulating effects, they also have antibacterial and antiviral properties.

It must be taken into account that essential oils are highly concentrated and should be properly dosed and applied. In addition, reactions to certain fragrances may vary individually, as they may be associated with personal associations and memories.

The production of essential oils for sauna is a combination of traditional knowledge and modern technology. The variety of scents and their health benefits make them a popular addition to a relaxing and invigorating sauna experience.