My husband and I were having a date night. We stopped into a CVS Pharmacy for a minute. (Because obviously nothing screams date night like a trip to CVS.) While waiting for my husband, I perused the health aisles and came upon a collection of so called "essential oils". All of them were priced $4.98. I chuckled out loud when a lady walking by couldn't help but notice my amusement.
"Excuse me. What's so funny about that bottle?"
I replied, "Neroli is priced the same as Lemon!"
She looked at me completely dumbfounded. She took a look at the bottles and said, "Why wouldn't they be the same price? It's the same thing, just a different scent."
That's when it hit me. The general public really has no idea what essential oils are, how they work, or how to pick out a quality oil. And yet, you can find them on grocery store shelves almost anywhere. So, as a certified aromatherapist, I want to educate YOU on how to choose a pure, high quality essential oil.
First, let's look at the word "pure". According to Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, pure essential oils "should mean absence of similar essential oils". (1) Basically, if it says it's lemon oil, it should be lemon oil and nothing else. But purity isn't everything. In fact, saying that it is pure means nothing to me. I'm looking for more.
According to Dr. Robert Pappas on his page Essential Oil University, (2)
"Let's face it, an oil can be pure as the driven snow but still be low quality, I see this on a daily basis in the samples I analyze for my clients in order for them to make good buying decisions."
Looking for an essential oil that is also high quality is my requirement. So, what's the difference between purity and high quality? Imagine you are using an orange to make orange juice. You pick an orange and squeeze it into a cup. There you have "pure" orange juice. It contains only juice from an orange, so it's the truth to say it's pure.
But let's imagine that the orange wasn't ripe or has spoiled. The inside of the orange wouldn't be as juicy or it would have a different smell or taste. But you could still squeeze it and get juice. Therefore, it still is considered "pure" orange juice, just not high quality. Wouldn't you want BOTH?
Essential oils can be pure but if harvested too early or distilled at the wrong temperature, they can lose their therapeutic value. This basically renders the oil's value for fragrance only. In other words, you could be paying high prices for something that simply smells good.
How can the average consumer know that an oil is pure AND high quality? You need to look for a few things. A high-quality essential oil company should disclose the following to its consumers:
1. Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) report. This report will reveal the constituents in the essential oil and its corresponding percentages. Can everyone read a GC/MS report? No. But the fact that a company would disclose that information is a huge indication of their company's transparency. If you ask for a GC/MS report and they answer no and give some excuse like it's a trade secret, politely say no thank you to their oils and move on! If they do supply you with one, but you have no clue how to read it, then ask a certified aromatherapist. We are trained to read these reports. I will be doing an entire blog post detailing GC/MS at a later date.
2. The source of that oil (where it was collected). This is important because where it was gathered can be a big indication of the therapeutic value of the oil.
3. The type of extraction method (distilled, cold-pressed, CO2). Take Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) for example. If it is cold-pressed Lime, then it is photo toxic. But if it is distilled, it is not. That is an important safety factor to know!
4. The part(s) of the plant that were used in extraction. Sometimes different essential oils can be taken from different parts of the same plant.
5. The Latin name of the oil. Take Rosemary ( Rosmarinus officinalis) for example. Rosemary has different chemotypes. A chemotype means that it has the same genus and species name but has different constituents. For example, Rosmarinus officinalis ct. camphor has different safety concerns and therapeutic values than Rosmarinus officinalis ct. 1,8 cineole or Rosmarinus officinalis ct. verbernon. If a company just labels it Rosmarinus officinalis then you aren't getting the whole picture.
6. The distillation date. Contrary to popular belief, essential oils have shelf lives. While some oils like Patchouli (Pogostemom cablin) or Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) get better with age; some oils, like the citrus oils, can oxidize very quickly. When oxidized, they can cause skin irritation.
7. Education. I have found that companies who not only sell essential oils, but educate their consumers on essential oil safety and usage, tend to have the best oils. Most of these companies have certified aromatherapists on staff or consult with certified aromatherapists. They should reference sources that are widely accepted by those who are experts in the aromatherapy field and by organizations such as the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy or the Alliance of International Aromatherapists. If a company points consumers to sources that only reference their brand, that should be a red flag.
So is there one brand I would recommend? No. I buy from several companies, all who pass my requirements. Sometimes I like Neroli better from one company and Tea Tree better from another. Limiting myself to only one company is like only trying chocolate ice cream and never trying another flavor. While chocolate is an amazing flavor, that doesn't mean it's the only good one out there. Why miss out on the deliciousness of cookie dough or mint chocolate chip?
My suggestion is to try different oils from companies who meet the above criteria and see what you like. Most of these companies have sample sizes you can purchase or who will give free samples with your order. While these suggestions are not guarantees, they help narrow down the list.
So next time you are strolling around Walmart and you come across essential oils all priced for $4.87, you can smile knowing that you know better now. Please SHARE this post so others can know too!
(1) Schnaubelt, Kurt. (2007) Aromatherapy Course: Third Edition. p. I-29. Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy: San Rafael, California.
(2) Pappas, Robert. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/notes/essential-oil-university/essential-oil-myth-1/10152759991813083