Most of us who are seeking to use essential oils to support our wellness care about quality and also want to make sure we are not paying too much.
Confession: I did not make conscious choices in my essential oil purchases until about 8 years ago, in 2013.
30 years ago in 1991, I was 18 when I bought my first bottle of essential oil on my own. It was from a little booth at the Camden Market in the UK when I was on vacation. I still have my first aromatherapy reference book that I purchased in the same year in 1991. I then proceeded to have an unconscious love affair with essential oils for the next 24 years, purchasing without any consideration for anything else except price and trendiness.
While I was not yet aware of the impacts of the rancid and toxic essential oils I was using on my body, I realize now that I was purchasing different brands because none of them had yet to achieve the results that my aromatherapy textbook referred to. I reflect back in time and see the perfect unfolding of my seeking that led me to an essential oils company that I fell in love with only after 2 weeks of using their products. I sensed a deep knowing within me that I had finally found what my soul was searching for and it had to do with the frequency of the essential oils resonating within me.
I write this 3 part series to help you in your search and to share with you what I have learnt in my essential oils journey so you don't have to go through years and hundreds of dollars wasted on cheap, ineffective and toxic products like I did. Part 1 is all about the essential oils industry and the grades and qualities that are being sold in the marketplace. Part 2 will give you a list of questions to ask the essential oils companies that you have narrowed down your search to. Part 3 will talk about the company that I choose to partner with in my essential oil needs.
The first step in making a decision about which essential oils company to purchase from is to form your own value list.
I believe that every dollar we spend is a vote for our values.
Today, my essential oils purchases are guided by these values:
Fair wage for the farmers
Support for the community in which the farms are located
Respect and a long-term stewarding relationship with the environment
Grown without chemicals
Grown from seed instead of clones
Emphasis on quality using the best science
Diverse and equitable corporate environment
Focus on their consumer's wellness not on profit
What are the values that guide your purchases?
Source: Essential Oils Desk Reference, 8th Edition published by Life Science Publishing 2019
The first thing to understand is that there are no regulatory agencies in the United States that certify the grades of essential oils. There are many companies in the marketplace that label their essential oils as therapeutic, medicinal or 100% pure. It takes some research to truly read beyond the labels into the growing methods, distillation practices and quality control of the individual companies.
According to Dr. David Stewart in his book "The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple", therapeutic-grade essential oils are categorized as such when:
The plants are grown organically or wild in a clean environment (not along a busy highway)
Plants are from proper botanical genus, species and cultivar
No chemical fertilizers are added to the soil
Cultivation is free of herbicides and pesticides
Steam distillation is at the minimum temperatures and pressures
No chemical solvents are used in extraction
Chemical profile of principal constituents fall within AFNOR (Association Francaise de Normalization) standards
Nothing is added or removed from the essential oil
Once distilled, it is packaged in containers that protect from light, heat and air
A common practice is to take an organically grown grade of essential oil and dilute it up to 95% with an odorless, colorless solvent while labeling it 100% organic and pure, which is still within the FDA guidelines. This diluted essential oil attracts a consumer to save money on a bottle while having to use a lot more drops to achieve the desired strength in scent.
We can extrapolate from the industry statistics to gain an insight into the marketplace. 95% of all essential oils produced globally is for the flavor and fragrance industry that do not meet the standard above for therapeutic-grade. These industries generally require only the presence of one or two compounds that contribute to the scent and taste. It is not uncommon to find artificially produced compounds in these essential oils to standardize the scent or taste to the manufacturer's preference.
When the focus is on producing the scent as cheaply as possible, shortcuts are taken in the growing process with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. While there is nothing wrong with producing and bottling these essential oils to produce the intended scent, the problem is that many of these companies are claiming to be therapeutic-grade when they are not suitable to be used for such means.
For every pound of Frankincense distilled worldwide, more than a dozen pounds are eventually sold, mostly diluted, adulterated or synthetic. Similarly, according to the Lavender Growers Association, there is a 100 times more Lavender Essential Oil exported from France each year than is actually grown there.
In his Materia Medica of Essential Oils (Based on a Chinese Medical Perspective), Jeffrey C. Yuen cautions the reader on paying attention to the quality of essential oils by giving some examples such as:
Juniperus is often being sold as Cedarwood,
Marigold is sold as Carrot Seed Oil,
Citronella is used to adulterate Melissa and Lemon Verbena,
German Chamomile can be adulterated with other oils containing azulene and
Jasmine and Neroli absolutes are very likely to be adulterated due to its cost.
Consequently, there is a lot of confusion about the safety of using essential oils. Warnings and precautions about using topically or internally are warranted when many of these essential oils are not therapeutic and sometimes concentrated with toxic ingredients.
Given the marketing tactics of essential oil companies, it is necessary to ask questions about the growing and distillation process, with the goal of finding a company that exceeds the standards of a therapeutic-grade essential oil as defined above.
In Part 2, I will discuss what questions to ask your essential oils company to ensure the quality.