What to Look for When Buying Essential Oils
Some of the most commonly asked questions I get and see online are: “Is this a good essential oil company?” or “Is this a pure oil?” While there is no way for anyone to definitively test an oil for quality or purity at home, there are general guidelines that can be followed to immensely increase your chances of purchasing a good oil. In addition to our knowledge of who is well-known for being reputable in the industry, the following are many of the things qualified aromatherapists keep in mind when we are assessing a company and their products.
Important Points to Remember
- Just because an oil states that it is 100% pure, does not mean that it is! This has been proven numerous times by analyses performed by chemists that specialize in essential oil analysis, some of which can be found here and here.
- There is no regulating/independent body that determines essential oil grades. Therefore, if oils are said to be “Therapeutic Grade”, “Perfume Grade”, etc., know that these are not industry standards. They are only standards decided on by that particular company or individual.
- Be wary of any company claiming to have the “purest oils.” The truth is that essential oils are either pure, or they are not… PERIOD.
- Just because something has a scent, does not mean that an essential oil can be produced from it. For instance, there is no such thing as apple, strawberry, or watermelon essential oils.
- Purity does not equal quality, and only pure, high quality oils produced for the aromatherapy industry should be used. Avoid anything labeled as anything less than that, such as fragrance oils.
- Oils do have a shelf life that varies depending on the particular oil. This is something else to keep in mind when deciding where to purchase from. Do the sellers know how to properly store the oils and rotate them so that you are not getting a bottle of already oxidized oil? At best oxidized oils will have diminished effects. At worst they can cause serious adverse reactions.
- It is recommended that you do NOT buy oils from internet marketplaces or anywhere other than the actual company or qualified distributor that sells the oils. It is very easy for someone to adulterate, tamper with, and even knock off a known company’s oils. Also, replacement tamper-evident caps can be purchased easily for just a few cents a piece and used to recap the bottle so that it looks like it has not been previously opened. Please only buy from trusted sources.
Key Details to Look for on the Bottle and/or Website
- Common name and complete latin botanical name including chemotype (ct.) if applicable
- Plant part used
- Country of origin
- Method of extraction/production (Is it an essential oil, absolute, CO2, etc? If an essential oil, is it steam distilled, hydrodistilled, or cold pressed? For example, if the company claims it is a pure essential oil and calls it a CO2, that is a major red flag. EOs, absolutes, and CO2s are not the same thing and a reputable company will not make that mistake.)
- Contents of bottle (Should indicate if it is a pure single oil, diluted in a carrier, etc. If a blend, it should list all oils in the blend.)
All of these things are very important as the chemical composition is different for each of these aromatic materials, which also may affect its usage safety guidelines as well as therapeutic properties and aroma. For example, cold pressed/expressed Lime is phototoxic and can cause burns when it is applied topically and exposed to UV light, but steam distilled Lime is not.
Another example using phototoxicity is Orange. Expressed Sweet Orange (Citrus x sinensis) peel is not, but expressed Bitter Orange (Citrus x aurantium) peel is. Neither of which should be confused with the oil produced from the (Citrus x aurantium) leaves (Petitgrain) and the flowers (Neroli).
There are examples like Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) ct. linalool which is much milder in chemistry and aroma than Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) ct. thymol, which must be diluted much more than the linalool chemotype when used topically. You also do not want to confuse oils like Cinnamon Bark with Cinnamon Leaf essential oil.
It is also important to know that there are various different species and sometimes even varieties of plants from which essential oils are derived and many of those oils are referred to by the same common name. So if it just says Frankincense, is it Boswellia carterii, Boswellia serrata, B. frereana, B. papyrifera, etc. or a blend of them all? Is that Eucalyptus… Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus radiata, E. dives, E. citriodora, E. smithii, or E. staigeriana? Some of these are similar, while others are vastly different.
Then there are the suppliers that do not even know the difference between an essential oil and a lipid (carrier) oil. The last thing you want is someone who is not educated enough about what they are supplying, to get it wrong when they are selling these types of products.
Additional Things to Consider
- How are the oils packaged? (They should be in glass bottles without a rubber dropper top. Pure oils will deteriorate these droppers and they will ruin the oils left in the bottle so NO reputable essential oil company will ever package pure oils this way.)
- All oils should not be the same price.
- Are the prices in line with other reputable companies? Are the prices too good to be true or extremely overpriced? (Keep in mind that average commercial pricing where pure essential oils are produced and sold in large amounts to thousands of people will be different than Artisan made oils that are produced in much smaller quantities and are usually a few liters at most. They are produced with keeping the oils at the highest quality possible in mind, and most times yield is sacrificed due to this. Artisan producers and sellers usually cannot meet these averages due to production size and quantity levels. As with any small business, it is not uncommon to see higher prices in these cases.)
- What do you know about the supplier? How long have they been in business and what is their education and qualifications in the field? For example, is the company owned by or does it have a qualified aromatherapist on staff?
- Do they provide quality safety information for the products they sell and do they promote safe usage?
- Do they provide batch specific GC/MS reports either on their website, or by request, that are performed by a reputable 3rd party lab?
- Do they sell oils from threatened and endangered plants? If so, are they CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) certified?
I hope that these guidelines help you on your aromatherapy journey to find the exact quality and products that you are looking for. If you have questions about a specific brand, please feel free to ask.
What is the Best Essential Oil Brand?
How to Buy Essential Oils
Quality vs. Purity – Aren’t They the Same Thing?
Botanical names and chemotypes: do you know what’s in your bottle?
What’s in a name?
Scamazon (Why it is recommended that you not buy from online marketplaces or big box stores.)
Scamazon Oils Part 3: Majestic Pure
Facebook posts about fraudulent oils by Essential Oil University
How to Identify Fraudulent or Meaningless EO Analysis Reports
Which is Better – A “C of A” or a GC/MS Analysis for Essential Oils
Quality Control 101, Part II. How to read a GC report
CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This podcast with Liz Fulcher and Dr. Kelly Ablard explains more about it.
For more on endangered plants see the following websites…
Consumer Review Groups
Aromatherapy and Beyond: a Review Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/AromatherapyandBeyond
Healthy Lifestyles Consumer Reviews https://www.facebook.com/groups/371205026644625
Essential Oil Consumer Reports https://www.facebook.com/groups/442314462631612
Sheppard-Hanger, S. (1995). The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual. Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy
Sheppard-Hanger, S. (1995). The Aromatherapy Practitioner Correspondence Course. Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy
Tisserand, R. and Young, R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety; A Guide for Health Care Professionals, Second Edition. Churchill Livingstone
DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and is for educational and informational purposes only. When incorporating any complementary alternative therapy into your health care regimen, always seek the advice of your medical doctor or qualified healthcare provider, and watch for any possible interactions or side effects. Statements made on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration).
Aromatic Elements - Saint Matthews, South Carolina