How to find the best essential oils… a question easier asked than answered. If you are like me you’ve probably spent countless hours researching and studying up on essential oils and various companies, only to go into purchasing with more trepidation than confidence, or given up in frustrated defeat after you can’t make sense of your findings on top of all the opinions out there. It feels something like locating and gathering a set of darts that have been haphazardly strewn all over the house, and once I have them and am ready to enjoy throwing them at a dart board I realize… I don’t know where that is either.
If you have a desire to find the best essential oils in a practical, straightforward, scientific way that will allow you to dodge all the clever marketing tactics being thrown your way, then this 4 Part Blog Series is for you.
Have you missed any of this series? Read them here…
- The Life Cycle of an Essential Oil from Seed to Market – Part 1
- Grade, Purity, and Integrity of Essential Oils – Part 2
- Guidelines for Buying the Best Essential Oils Do’s & Don’ts & Proceed With Caution – Part 3
- How to find the BEST Essential Oils Company – Part 4
Understanding Grade, Purity, and the Integrity of essential oils
Alright my friends, let’s tackle what is likely the BIGGEST concern for anyone who has ever thought about buying an essential oil… how do I know if the oil I’m buying is pure, and if it will actually work?!
First, we need to have a basic understanding of the grade, purity, and integrity of essential oils. When I first started learning about them I remember thinking, “Aren’t those all kind of the same thing?” The answer is a resounding ‘nope!’, they are not the same, and using the terms interchangeably means those using them don’t understand the importance of each and how it relates to finding the best oils.
In this article I will define essential oil grade, purity, and integrity, and teach you how to use this knowledge so you too can be a confident, savvy shopper of quality essential oils.
Essential Oil Grade
Essential oils are graded like many other products, the higher the grade the more expensive it will be. For example, there are four grades of lemon essential oil, and at least twelve grades of lavender essential oil. In the case of essential oils, grade is not really an indicator that one type of essential oil is better than another, as the process of grading them is very subjective with no published standard to measure against. Think of essential oils more like fine wines that even experts have difficulty agreeing on.
Grading is more typically the method of specifying what type of essential oil is best for a specific purpose. Let’s take the example of peppermint oil: there will be a food-grade that is best suited for candy manufacturers because of characteristic flavors they want their products to have, while other peppermint oil is better suited for aromatherapy use, because it carries higher levels of therapeutic chemical constituents and the flavor of the oil itself isn’t as relevant. Both grades of oils are “good essential oil”, but they are not intended for the same use.
As you experiment and gain experience using essential oils there is an undeniable trend that the more expensive, higher grade essential oils have more complex aromas than those of lower grades. As a general rule, the more complex the fragrance of an essential oil the more chemical constituents it will contain. Chemical constituents are the therapeutic properties that give essential oils the ability to act on the body. If there are low levels you have to use more oil to achieve the same effect you would get from a higher grade oil.
I will cover the cost of essential oils later in this series, but I want to clarify now that buying an expensive essential oil does not guarantee it is a pure, natural, high-grade oil. But it is also an undeniable trend that if the essential oils you purchase are super cheap, they are most likely shoddy imitations that are little more than fragrance, and not aromatherapy quality
So what does this mean for us? Whatever “grade” an essential oil company carries is really more of a marketing term, and has no relevance to actual essential oil purity. It doesn’t mean the oil isn’t good, but oil grades are subjective, like wine preferences, so caution should be used when evaluating them as you search for the best essential oils.
Essential Oil Purity
Plain and simple, for an essential oil to be considered pure, it needs to be 100% essential oil. No fillers, no additives, no stabilizers, no contaminants, just 100% essential oil.
Essential oils are expensive, and easy to imitate with synthetic fragrances or extend with other material, so the biggest risk in this industry is that you are buying a watered-down, diluted version that may smell right, but it is not pure essential oil. And in the worst case scenarios, which happens more than you may think, those filler substances may actually contain toxins and be harmful to you and your family.
So how do you, as a consumer, know if an essential oil company is selling oil that is pure?
I’ve never seen an essential oil company claim they carry anything other than purest essential oils, I’m trying to picture it in my head, advertising that reads…
“Get your slightly pure-ish oils here!”
“We don’t dilute or adulterate much! So little, in fact, you won’t even notice it’s not pure! That’s what makes our prices so low, low quality oil, low price!”
“We don’t dilute with harmful vegetable oils or solvents like some companies do! We only dilute with really cheap essential oils so you can’t tell the difference! Buy today!”
Yes this was SUPER sarcastic, but that’s because sarcasm is my second language. The sad thing, though, is these flagrant messages are all too often true; this industry is full of pure-ish and adulterated oils.
The most common practices of extending (also known as adulterating) essential oil, especially the really expensive ones, are to add other similar smelling, but less expensive essential oils; adding a carrier oil or vegetable oil (and selling it as 100% essential oil); adding alcohol; or adding solvents. Any form of adulteration is going to lessen the effectiveness of a pure essential oil, so you are not getting the results you would expect.
Some of my favorite essential oil products are a blend of essential oils with carrier oils. This is not an adulteration because the essential oil company is selling it as a “blend” or a “synergy”. The best essential oils companies will also tell you what the concentration of essential oil to carrier oil is, either on the website product page or directly on the label.
Remember, though, that knowing an essential oil is pure is not enough for that oil to be right for any use. You can have a pure oil that is low in chemical constituents (low grade!) and therefore still not right for aromatherapy use.
And that, my friends, brings us to the next section, which is quite possibly the most important thing to understand about identifying essential oils that are worthy of your hard-earned cash.
Essential Oil Integrity
To define an essential oil as having integrity, we are looking for a single plant species, from the same region, and almost always from the same harvest. Each harvest has a chemical profile as unique as a fingerprint. And every region a harvest is from will have similar trends in their chemical profile that can be identified and compared to known standards for essential oils used for aromatherapy purposes.
The largest essential oil companies in the industry have such a high demand for oils that they generally combine harvest yields from various regions to supply their customers. This doesn’t automatically mean the oil isn’t of high quality, but it does mean they can’t PROVE that it is of high quality because they have mixed various chemical profiles together and now they can’t be identified. In other words, their batches of essential oils are mutts. They may be of good quality, but you won’t be able to tell one way or the other from a scientific standpoint.
I have good news, though! There is an easy way to determine if an essential oil is both pure and of high integrity. Stay with me, we are going to get science-y for a minute.
Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) is a technique that chemists use to separate, identify, and quantify complex mixtures. The test results spell out the complete chemical breakdown of the sample (in our case, an essential oil) so it can be objectively evaluated to determine if it is of a pure and natural origin, potent enough for therapeutic use, and free of contaminants and adulterants.
What does this mean for us? An essential oil company that is willing to be transparent enough to show their GC/MS test is basically saying, “Our oils are pure and have their integrity intact, we don’t just say our oils are of the best quality, we SHOW you.”
So if an essential oil company is NOT willing to provide proof by way of a GC/MS test for each and every batch of oil they carry… I’m not buying from them, simple as that. You want my money, prove to me your oils are as good as your marketing says they are.
If you have ever been discouraged along your path of researching out the best essential oils, you are not alone. Researching essential oils is like trying to identify a specific shape or color while looking through a kaleidoscope of ever changing shapes and colors, a nearly impossible task.
Never fear, I’ve been there too, and I will give you the exact information you need in an easy to understand way.
By the end of this blog series you will know what’s important, what’s not, and how to confidently identify and shop for the best essential oils.
|Definitions||What Does It Mean?|
|Essential Oil Grade: An unstandardized and subjective way of rating essential oils for various industry purposes.||Essential Oil Grade is not an objective scientific way to determine essential oil quality as there is no determined standard for essential oil grades, it’s more of a marketing term.|
|Essential Oil Purity: 100% essential oil with no filler, additives, stabilizers, adulterants, or contaminants.||Identifying an essential oil company who sells pure oil is very important, but that alone doesn’t ensure you are buying an essential oil of high quality.|
|Essential Oil Integrity: Essential Oil identified by a botanical name and regional chemical profile from a GC/MS test, and compared to a known standard for that essential oil.||The best essential oils will be those that are pure and natural, and have their integrity revealed and approved by a chemist through thorough testing, including a GC/MS test. If a company won’t provide GC/MS test results for every batch they sell, DO NOT BUY from them, it’s not worth the risk.|
Next up in the series of How To Find The Best Essential Oils is Part 3 – Guidelines for Buying the Best Essential Oils.
Other Articles in the How To Find The Best Essential Oils Series:
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