Vegetal & Essential Oils Production: The Earth-To-Skin Value Chain

Vegetal and Essential oils are significant ingredients in skincare products, fragrances, and cosmetics. However, their production relies on a complex and opaque supply chain. In this post, we’ll embark on an earth-to-skin journey, unearthing shiny insights and aspects of oil products that we’d like to make beautiful.

Essentials of Harvesting

You can make vegetal and essential oils out of different plant components, such as leaves (e.g., eucalyptus, tea tree), petals (e.g., rose geranium, ylang-ylang), bark (e.g., cinnamon), seeds (e.g., sesame), rhizome (e.g., ginger), fruit pulp (e.g., avocado), nuts (e.g., macadamia), buds (e.g., clove). 

Along with the type of biomass used, the time of harvest is essential for producing these plant-derived aromatic potions. For instance, farmers should collect rose petals between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. as the hotter daytime temperatures will decrease the crop oil yield. On the other hand, growers can pick their eucalyptus leaves anytime.

The location also plays a key role, as each oil-bearing crop will grow optimally under certain climate conditions. For example, ylang-ylang oil is derived from the Cananga odorata tree, a tropical species that mainly grows around the Indian Ocean (i.e., India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia). Overall, China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam are the world’s largest producers of vegetal and essential oils. 

Processing Extract

Plants start losing their organoleptic properties (like fragrance) soon after being cut. For this reason, collectors should pick up their oil-producing crops at the farm straight after harvesting and carry them to distilleries, oil presses, or other processing facilities. Here, operators will extract oils from the raw materials via the following Physicochemical methods. 

  • Distillation (e.g. typically through hot steam);
  • Extraction (e.g., using solvents like ethanol or CO2); 
  • Mechanical or cold pressing (a.k.a. expression).

Although being the most widely applied extraction approach, steam distillation is not always the best choice. Feedstock having a low oil content (e.g., flowers) or degrading at high temperatures and pressures will yield a better oil quality when subjected to organic solvent extraction.

Beauty companies source high-value oils (e.g., tea tree, ylang-ylang) and mix them with other components to create cosmetic formulations. Regarding skincare, depending on the plant matter they’re extracted from, oils can help people get rid of wrinkles (e.g., clove), acne (e.g., rose, geranium), and others.

Some Ugly Facts About Beauty Oils

In countries like Indonesia, the vegetal and essential oil value chains generally involve multiple actors (i.e., growers, collectors, distillers, exporters, and other middlemen). These elaborated operations result in a lack of visibility on the quantity and quality of oil production, farmers’ livelihoods, and environmental impact with the traceability gap widening at the farm level. Because of inadequate first mile tracking, both farmers and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) struggle to comply with organic certification and other market requirements, thus limiting their business opportunities.

Aside from economic limitations, the low level of traceability along the first mile of the oil supply chain may lead to poor working conditions on the farm. According to the CBI, Indonesian children may be helping their parents during harvest. Also, seasonal and low-skilled workers often don’t receive a fair wage.

Another key issue associated with essential oils is their potential counterfeiting. While essential oil demand is ever increasing, the crops they’re made from have a low yield. Just to give you an idea, you would need up to 500 kg of rose geranium petals to squeeze out 1 kg of oil. This toxic formula inevitably drives product adulteration. For instance, growers may spike their harvest with other crops.


Here we are. We got under the skin of the essential oil value chain. If you enjoyed the ride so far, don’t miss the next stop. We’ll share how our farm management software helps clean up the oily stains on cosmetic sustainability.

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