6 Foundations for Determining a Quality Essential Oil
The intent of this information is to give you solid standards on how to pick a worthy product every time. With a healthy respect for your time and effort, I will do my best to keep it short and simple.
Essential Oils are a hot item. Everybody wants some or products made with some. Since they are in demand, that means that clever marketing and maximum profits are in demand as well as gimmicks and short-cuts. So, it is crucial to know what to look for in order to stay safe as well as get the most for your time and money.
Essential oils have been around for thousands of years and have been proven through both time and testing to be effective medicinal and cosmetic aids. However, the ugly truth is that most EOs on store shelves could very well do more harm than good. Case in point, this last year a national manufacturer of home care products sold by one of the biggest retail establishments had to recall some "aromatherapy” products (the term is used very loosely) after several people experienced serious illness and some even died.
Here are some foundational guidelines to keep in mind when buying essential oils:
1) Ingredients listed should include the Latin name (especially for single oils) so you can distinguish the characteristics and properties it should possess. Therapeutic properties specific to each EO will vary among genus, species, chemotype, and even plant parts. Testing (see #5) also helps with identifying properties. A perfect example is Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia which is often used as a sleep aid whereas Spike Lavender - Lavandula latifolia is known to be envigorating. Yet a different example is how Neroli - Citrus aurantium v. amara / Orange Blossom EO is very different and much more expensive than Petitgrain - Citrus aurantium v. amara / Orange Leaf EO and Bitter Orange -Citrus aurantium v. amara / Bitter Orange Peel EO. The plant parts, properties, scent, and price are very different thought the Latin name is the same.
2) Label includes a Best-By or Expiration Date or similar. Every EO has a shelf life. A blend's BB date should be determined by the EO with the shortest shelf life. Citrus peel oils, like the one mentioned above, are typically good for 2 yrs from the production date. Each essential oil will begin to oxidize and degrade once its shelf life has started to wane. This can lead to adverse effects and increased health risks as time passes. The benefits as well as color and odor will also degrade.
3) Directions should not encourage internal use! Internal use can lead to burning, vomiting, organ damage and more. Internal dosage should only be used when under the guidance of a certified practitioner. EOs can be poisonous if ingested.
4) The product should be certified as Organic or Wildcrafted/Unsprayed with documentation to support this. Essential Oils are highly concentrated and no one should get a highly concentrated dose of pesticides, herbicides, or other agricultural/horticultural chemicals..
5) Single oil products should offer documentation of independent testing. "Pure" and "Therapeutic Grade" are marketing gimmicks with no standards or oversight whatsoever. Purity pledges and similar statements do not offer you any facts. There are even bogus "testing" statements made about odor and color quality which have no value. As well, many commercially marketed EOs are diluted with cheaper oils, synthetic imposters, alcohols and other fillers which have no place in Aromatherapy. Such additives do not always have to be included in the ingredients and can lead to irritation, injury, or worse. Acceptable testing methods include: GC/MS, Optical Rotation, Refractive Index, Relative Density, and Specific Gravity.
6) EO blends should be in dark, UV protected glass bottles to protect the product from light. Light, heat, and air aid in the oxidation of EOs which can, in turn, cause irritation or injury. Plastic is petroleum (a.k.a. oil) based, porous, and can be broken down and even blend with an undiluted essential oil (diluted blends do not pose this problem).
There is an awful lot of information out there and it is made to look really good. You shouldn’t have to study volumes of research in order to find a great product. Hopefully, this information is clear and simple enough to help you hone your hunting skills and get some good product. Aromatherapy is such a wonderful way to treat yourself with plant-based wellness products. Our goal is to help you do just that – in every way possible; whether helping create a healthier home or work space or any space you are in.
Cathy Hawkins, Certified Aromatherapist and Healthy Home Consultant, Chief Consultant with Ambient Essentials Aromatherapy