Are All Brands of Essential Oils the Same?
There is such a large variety of essential oils available today, with companies charging a few dollars to hundreds of dollars for products. With all the differences, you can’t help but wonder, are they all the same? No, there are huge differences between companies that produce essential oils. Companies range from those that produce the highest quality pure essential oils, to those that dilute their oils with harmful chemicals, which can be harmful to your skin— and to your health. Navigating your way through the sea of essential oil companies can be quite confusing. To add to this confusion, there is a host of titles and catch phrases invented and used by many companies in an effort to elevate their products over that of the competition. For much of the public, several of these phrases seem to equate with high quality. This can easily give the impression that there is some type of governing body that regulates oil production, and assigns different labels to the different “grades” of essential oils. Some examples of these types of phrases are: Therapeutic Grade, Better Than Organic, Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG), 100% pure, All Natural … and the list goes on. The truth is, there are no inspection processes in the US, no required testing, no regulations, no grading system, and no oversight whatsoever to the production and distribution of essential oils. So while these terms may give a buyer confidence in the grand illusion that some sort of governing body of essential oil experts deemed this particular oil worthy of a certain label, in the end it is just that — an illusion. Essential oil companies in the US have no accountability to any governing body, and at the end of the day, no one to answer to anybody other than themselves, for whatever claims or labels they put on their oils. And of course they are going to claim their oils are the purest and the greatest! Why wouldn’t they? All companies in the US can put whatever title of grade or quality they wish on their oils, no matter how good, or bad they may be. All testing is conducted by the companies themselves, or any outside laboratories they wish to have helping them, but there is no outside governing body to hold them accountable in any way or form for the quality, or lack of quality, of the oils they choose to sell.
What To Look For In An Essential Oil Company
So with all that said, and all the confusing titles and marketing techniques used by so many companies, how DO you determine if a company is good, and if it produces quality essential oils? I personally have done a lot of testing with many different brands of essential oils, comparing results etc. But I’m a little on the crazy side of things, and most of you won’t want to buy hundreds of oils and test and research them like I have, so here are some ways you can make sure you are getting and using quality essential oils.
First, I will start with a few basic things to always avoid. If you see the following labels on the bottles, ALWAYS avoid using them, because they are not actually essential oils, but synthetic, man-made fragrance oils: Fragrance Oil, Natural Identical Oil, or Perfume Oil.
Now we move on to the more challenging task of identifying companies that produce high quality pure and natural essential oils. How do you know if a company produces pure oils? When you are considering purchasing essential oils from a certain supplier, ignore all terms such as “therapeutic grade,” “aromatherapy grade,” “Clinical grade” or “certified therapeutic grade” etc., because as discussed above, there is no oversight of the production of essential oils, and ANY titles like these are simply titles that companies make up and assign to themselves. They may have internal testing that they follow, which is good, but the titles mean less than nothing. Because of this, it is important not to judge a company on its use, or non-use of such terms, but rather to use other tips to determine if you wish to shop with that company. I often hear people who have been falsely informed by various companies and their marketing strategies, commenting that their oils are “therapeutic grade” and that means they can be used internally, unlike other oils that may be sold in health food stores that say “not for internal use” on them, which means they are a lower quality oil. This is NOT true, and is just a marketing strategy. I also hear various people claiming their company has been approved by the FDA, and because of this is allowed to market their products for internal use, unlike other unapproved companies. Again, this is NOT true, and is just a marketing strategy. No essential oils are “approved” by the FDA. The FDA does not deal with approving essential oils, which are considered a cosmetic. It is true the FDA has a GRAS list (Generally Regarded As Safe) list of oils, but this is NOT company specific, it is plant specific. Any essential oil, not matter what company, is either on the GRAS list, or not on the GRAS list based on the plant oil itself. For example, peppermint is considered a GRAS oil. It does not matter what company you purchase it from, and it does not require “approval” of any type. It is very important to note here that GRAS does not mean an essential oil is safe to consume in large amounts, or for medicinal purposes. The GRAS list is comprised of oils that are considered safe for food flavoring amounts. These are incredibly small amounts that are often used in candy, gum, or other minute amounts as flavoring. The GRAS oils are in NO WAY approved for consumption in multiple drops, in capsules, water, etc., for medicinal purposes. Food flavoring and using an oil in large amounts (more than one or two drops in a cake etc.) is completely different, and should never be confused. There are some companies out there trying to blur or even remove the lines, and teach their customers that GRAS means the oils are safe in any amount, or for medicinal purposes, and use this GRAS status as an assurance to their customers that they cannot injure themselves with the oils, because the FDA has said they are safe for internal use. But using an oil as a flavoring is far different than using it in quantities needed for medicinal purposes.
So what DO you look for in a company?
The first thing to look for is vendors that sell their oils in dark glass bottles. It is very important to have essential oils in glass bottles, as many pure essential oils can dissolve plastic in a matter of minutes or hours. Also, having the oils in dark bottles protects them from the breakdown that is caused by light. If a vendor is selling essential oils in clear glass bottles, be wary. Or if they are selling supposedly “pure” oils in plastic bottles, that is strong sign that they are NOT in fact pure. Many pure oils will “eat” through plastic bottles sometimes in minutes, so if they are in plastic bottles, most likely they are at the least very diluted. Some vendors sell larger quantities in aluminum containers, which is okay if the containers are lined properly. I avoid essential oils sold in aluminum just because I don’t wish to take the risk that the oils pulled any aluminum into them. But that is a personal choice of mine, and does not mean a company that chooses to use them should be considered bad.
Be wary of vendors whose oils are all the same, or very close to the same price. Oils vary HUGELY in price, according to demand, ability to obtain plant matter, and most importantly, the amount of essential oil found in the plant matter that it takes to distill the essential oils. Some of the most common plants have the most expensive oils, such as rose and chamomile. So if a company sells all its oils at relatively the same price, it is a sign the oils are not pure.
Avoid buying from suppliers who do not list each plant’s botanical name on the bottles of their essential oils. Above is an example of essential oil bottles with the type listed, and then below the botanical name of exactly which plant was distilled. There are many different types of certain plants, like lavender for example, but only a couple have the therapeutic properties desired in essential oils. Many companies take short cuts and mix a little of the therapeutic varieties of a plant, with the rest derived from other cheaper varieties. While the oil is still technically “pure” it does not have the desired properties for successful use in aromatherapy. Some of these less expensive oils can be great for things like making soap, which require large quantities of essential oil. In such a case, you might want to keep the soap all natural, but you don’t really care so much about the therapeutic properties, since you are rinsing the soap off of your skin anyway. But for traditional aromatherapy use, it’s best to avoid these oils. Having the specific chemotype of the plant on the bottle is another great thing to look for. Some reputable companies don’t list this, so just because it’s not there doesn’t mean you should ditch a company in and of itself, but it is a great thing to have on the bottle, and can save you a lot of problems along the way as usages differ greatly based not just on the plant, but by the chemotype as well.
Let’s return to price for a moment. Price is something that needs to be considered when purchasing essential oils. While a cheaper price does not indicate in and of itself that the oil is inferior, it could be. Some people have become accustomed to the high prices that many companies have, and think that this is the standard for essential oil prices. They seem to be under the impression that any oil that is more reasonably priced is inferior, just because of the “low” price. But some companies are arbitrarily charging much higher prices than other companies in the aromatherapy world, so their prices should not be the measuring stick by which you determine if a company is marketing cheap oils that aren’t pure. Look around at the market and get a feel for oil prices over a wide range of companies. This will give you a good foundation that will help you identify companies whose prices are too good to be true.
Look for a company that is open and up front about its distilling practices. Find out how they distill, and if they use chemical solvents during the distillation process. Be wary of companies that use terms like “proprietary distillation method” or “patented extraction,” and do not give you specifics of what these terms actually mean. A company should be proud of the process it uses, and more than willing to share it with their customers. Also, the types of testing done on the oils is another important factor. Many of the plants used for essential oils are grown and distilled in small corners of the world by local farmers. While this is great, rigorous testing needs to be performed on the essential oils when they are obtained by the distributors in order to test for purity, pesticides, certain medicinal compounds, etc. I am not going to go into too much detail on specifics, but if a company is open about its testing procedures, that is a good sign. What testing practices should be done is a discussion for another day, as that would take up way too much space here. But if a company has no information on its testing practices, that should be a red flag.
Many people say you can tell a good essential oil by the smell. While I believe this to be true in many cases, I do NOT believe that most beginners have the experience necessary to use smell when determining the purity of an oil. An oil should not smell candy sweet, or too perfume-like. An oil should be earthy and complex. Many pure oils actually have a “dirty” smell to them. But unless you have a lot of experience using essential oils, I recommend the smell test not be a factor in determining a company. Some of the purest oils do not smell “good,” and some of the most adulterated oils smell heavenly, so avoid making judgments on smell for now. Many companies that offer more expensive oils, will claim that anyone could tell by the first whiff, that their oils are higher quality. However, some of these oils have been independently tested and contained small amounts of synthetics that boosted the smell. So what your nose considers “better” often can be inaccurate, unless you’ve spent years dealing with, and smelling and testing various essential oils.
A company that tells you where each species of plant was grown is another thing you can look for. Sometimes this will not be on the bottle, and many times you will have to ask, but being listed on the bottle is a great sign of a good company that you can trust. A company that will share with you where its plants come from is another good sign of safe, responsible practices, and a company that truly cares about the oils it is producing.
Some people teach that a customer needs access to GC/MS testing for any and every oil they purchase. I disagree with this, simply because unless you are specifically trained in how to read these testings, they do the average consumer no good whatsoever. And while a company who provides these tests upon request is a great sign of transparency, procuring them for yourself will do little good, as you won’t have the slightest clue what they mean. Many very well educated and experienced aromatherapists aren’t even educated on how to tell all the intricate details or read GC/MS tests down to their smallest detail. And of course, as I mentioned a company who tests their oils, and provides each batches testing results upon request is a great thing, procuring them for yourself will do little good. But if it makes you feel better you can request them from a company with your oils.
And lastly the MOST important thing in my opinion is to look for a company that is down to earth and honest. Flowery claims, lofty tales, and miracle cures are not a good sign AT ALL. Not only are these claims illegal, they reveal a company that is more worried about profits, and promoting their product than they are about the safety of their customers, and the quality of their oils. A company that quietly produces quality oils and lets THE OILS do the talking, rather than relying on vast amounts of publicity, claims that their products are superior, and trying to paint every other company in a bad light, is a much better indicator of the quality of the products. Look for honesty and openness in the little things, like clearly marked bottles stating the different types of oils, essential oils or absolutes. Look for openness about any dilution, even with natural carrier oils. Dilution is not a bad practice, because some oils are so expensive they would be unavailable to most of the public otherwise. But if a company is upfront with the oils it dilutes, and in what it uses to dilute the essential oils, it is a good mark of honesty and openness. If a company is honest about any short cuts taken (and every company takes them, it is just a matter of where) then it is much less likely that it is hiding other things. A company that claims to have only the VERY BEST of everything, and admits to nothing short of that in every area of business, from production to distillation, all the way down to packaging to shipping… it is best to stop and take a second look! Honesty and openness is VITAL. Don’t buy an oil simply based on the amazing language that the company is using to assure you of the high quality of its oils, without specific knowledge of the company’s practices. Some companies claim or imply that they grow and distill ALL their own plants, which makes you feel good, but is sadly impossible, unless they are only selling a handful of varieties. Many essential oils come from plants that grow and are distilled in random parts of the world, and most certainly are NOT distilled by any US company. While flowery language in and of itself is not a reason to avoid a company, it is also not a reason to trust it, because we all know about the motivation to make money. Just be sure to dig a little deeper. And when researching a company, do NOT go off only what the company says about themselves, or what sales people or reps say about them and their oils. Look outside of the company. Look to experienced aromatherapists, scientists, etc., and see their opinions on a certain company and their essential oils. Far too often people think that a company is amazing and wonderful, but the only information they have on the company is what the company and it’s staff say about themselves. Which is at the very least, biased.
Also a company that produces educational material that does not simply promote its own brand, but offers good education to the public on essential oils as a whole, is another good sign. The educational material a company puts out can be extremely telling as well. If they push over use, using oils neat (undiluted) and large amounts of internal use, this sheds a light on their agenda. To sell more oils you have to push more use. But more is NOT better with essential oils. In fact, studies have shown that the human body responds the BEST to essential oils at a 1-2% dilution. That means 1 drop of essential oil to 99 drops of a carrier oil. This does not dilute it and make it less effective, it actually has the opposite effect, it makes it MORE effective! Essential oils are so concentrated that often times the body cannot correctly process them. But when they are diluted in a carrier oil, and applied over a larger area of the body, the carrier oil helps the body process and use them more efficiently. But properly diluting your oils before use will mean that you buy much less, and many companies are not interested in how oils can be the most effective for you and your family, they are interested in making money. And recommending over use of essential oils is a great way to insure that you buy more and keep them in business. That doesn’t make these companies evil, every business is interested in making more money, however, it does mean that what they are teaching has an agenda, and that agenda may not be in the best interest of you and your family. Educate yourself from books written by people not trying to sell you anything, aromatherapists, or classes that are not affiliated with any company etc. In this information age, there is SO SO much false and dangerous information floating around out there. Be wise. Any company that is honest and respectable will spend far more time teaching about specific oils and safety, and correct use, rather than trying to get customers to ONLY purchase their products, and read their material. If they take the time to really educate people, without the marketing hype, it can show that the company cares about true education, production of quality oils and the art of aromatherapy, not just boosting its own profits.
What Are Carrier Oils?
The last topic for today covers carrier oils. Carrier oils are fixed oils, which in essence means that they do not evaporate if the lid is left off. Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils to prevent skin irritation, to help spread a small amount of essential oil over a larger section of the body, and also to help the body absorb the essential oils more effectively. There are many different types of carrier oils, and this can be quite confusing to someone just starting out. People often wonder if carrier oils have different medicinal properties like essential oils do, and if that is why they frequently are used in conjunction with essential oils. The answer to that question is no. A carrier oil is simply an oil used to “carry” another substance. The reason essential oils, and “carrier” oils are used together so much is because many essential oils is for the reason stated above, that many essential oils cause irritation to the skin if applied directly, or can cause other negative side effects in the body if used undiluted over a period of time. But when we are using essential oils, and these other “carrier” oils together, we need a word to make sure people understand we are talking about a different “type” of oil. So the term “carrier” has been widely adopted to differentiate between the medicinal oils, (the essential oils) and the oil that is only used to “carry” it. Carrier oils are nothing special, they are just regular oils that we are using for the purpose of “carrying” (which just means they have been mixed with) an essential oil. That being said, there are some reasons you might want to use one type of carrier oil over another for certain applications. I will briefly list a few different types of oils you might want to use as a carrier oil, and why you might choose to use, or not use them for certain situations.
Sweet Almond Oil
Sweet almond oil is a great, fairly inexpensive oil that is not really heavy, nor really light. It is good for many different skin types. It makes a great massage oil.
Castor oil is a very thick, sticky oil that is used only for specific applications, mainly in soap making to help give homemade soaps more “suds” without adding a chemical sudsing agent.
Avocado oil is a rich oil that is full of fatty acids, and good nutrients for your skin. It is an oil best used on dry or damaged skin. Avoid using avocado oil on acne prone skin, as it is too thick, and may cause more breakouts. Because it tends to be thicker, it can be a great choice for a massage oil, as it will absorb more slowly than other lighter oils.
Most people are familiar with olive oil and its many wonderful properties for health and beauty. It is an excellent choice for using as a carrier oil, but if used on acne prone or oily skin, it can be problematic.
Grape Seed Oil
Grape seed oil is a fantastic, light oil that is wonderful for oily skin, acne prone skin, or in applications where quick absorption is desired.
Apricot Seed Oil
Apricot seed oil is another fantastic light oil that is wonderful if your skin is oily or acne prone, or if quick absorption is required. It can be added to other oils and used as a massage oil, but when used alone, it may absorb too quickly and not stay on the skin as long as is desired for massaging.
Jojoba (pronounced ho ho buh) oil is said to the closest plant oil to the oil that our skin naturally produces. It is excellent for both oily and dry skin. It is rich, but not too sticky, and has many wonderful nutrients and properties that make it extremely desirable for using on many different skin types. The drawback to jojoba is that it is much more expensive than all the other oils listed above, however it has a much longer shelf life, so that can be taken into account as well.
Coconut oil is a beautiful oil that unlike many other carrier oils, has an extremely long shelf life, and a list of great properties for the skin, and other health issues as well. Coconut oil is solid below about 72 degrees, and can work beautifully for helping thicken balms and salves, but can be a bit cumbersome to use alone especially in colder environments. Fractionated coconut oil stays liquid at room temperature, due to a process which alters the coconut oil and removes certain components, allowing the oil to stay liquid at room temperature. Many people prefer to use fractionated coconut oil as their carrier oil of choice, because it’s liquid form makes it much easier to use, and it’s shelf life is far superior to many other carrier oils. I personally never use fractionated coconut oil because I prefer to use the oils in their natural state. I use pure coconut oil, or jojoba oil for most of my carrier oil needs, but that is a personal choice of my own. Some people don’t mind the fact that the coconut oil has been altered from it’s natural state, and find it a great addition to their aromatherapy cabinet.
I could literally go on and on and on with carrier oils and their properties. But there are too many to cover here. Palm oil, neem oil, evening primrose oil, sesame seed, sunflower, argan, tamanu, the list goes on and on. Start with some of the basic oils, and as you get more confident, move into experimenting with other carrier oils. They have many different properties and can be a wonderful addition to many different creations. Experiment! You might just find a new favorite!
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