The largest problem with essential oils is that there are so many on the market today. How do you determine what to buy? What is good for general use vs. therapeutic application? Does more expensive mean better? The information can be overwhelming and confusing.
To give you a better idea of how to assess essential oils, I have decided to take my own experience and share what I apply in selecting ingredients for Lucie’s Apothecary. Essential oils typically come in small bottles and cost a decent amount of money. There is a reason! It takes an agricultural farm an entire season to grow one type of plant.
Let’s take Lavender as an example. A farm must grow and harvest a particular genus of lavender plant material, then separate flowers, stems, leaves and roots, and steam-distill approximately one hundred pounds of one of those parts to make one pound of lavender essential oil. Are you seeing the cost involved? Water, fertilizer, bug repellent, tractors, gas, processing plants, bottling, labeling and staff? Most companies buy their oil from the same farms. After all, French Lavender all comes from France. They may be different regions of France but the bottom line is, there are only so many farms that produce French Lavender essential oil in France. The only difference really is one farm is certified organic while the other is not. That is it. So, why are there so many factors by the time it gets to the consumer?
Due to the overall expense of production, the cost to companies can be significant! In fact, 400 pounds of lavender essential oil can run a company between $20,000 – $40,0000 depending on where it was grown and whether it is certified organic. So, if that company carries 20-50 different essential oils, you can imagine the cost just to have the product! Now they have to bottle it, label it, advertise it and sell it. In order to get more return for their end product, many companies will dilute the pure oil they get from the farm. This means that some companies will add a carrier oil (like jojoba oil) to the bottle which doubles their product amount. Health wise, this is not a bad thing as certain carrier oils have their own benefit. The argument here is why pay the same amount for a cut oil when you could buy a clean essential oil? Other companies will blend their expensive pure oil with a lesser oil and just label it French Lavender. Technically they are not lying, but they are not telling the truth either. When looking for oils that have therapeutic properties, this can be a major problem as they may contain contaminates, adulterants or additives that can cause unexpected issues. This is the primary reason it is important to choose oils from companies that can document their oil sources, full ingredient disclosures and have an excellent reputation. In my opinion, it is smarter to always buy the best oil you can find because you never know what you might need it for.
Many self-appointed experts will tell you to seek out “therapeutic grade” oils, but this is a trademarked term and not a term that identifies purity. In fact, there is no organization that screens or monitors oils in the United States for purity levels, so you must do your own research! As certain terms like pure, therapeutic grade and natural become more and more used in describing essential oils by the general public, companies have adopted these terms on their labels to provide consumers a reference they are familiar with. Unfortunately, they don’t mean much. The only term that holds any value is “organic” because companies must go through an organic certification process. Here is my personal advice on what to look for on a bottle of essential oil:
- Oil must be labeled as 100% organic or certified organic
- Packaging lists the latin name of the oil (essential oils come in several varieties and they are not all equal), the oil’s origin (very important), method of distillation & the part of the plant being used
- Packaging lists any dilutions (these can be in the form of additional ingredients or listed as a percentage under the title)
- Packaging MUST say Essential Oil (products labeled just Lavender oil can be perfume oil)
- Test the oil! Essential oils should not be oily or leave a greasy residue! (They are only referred to as oil because they float on top of water, but they are not oily)
- Packaging includes company contact information
- Pricing usually dictates quality! Cheap oils are not typically not pure. (A 10ml bottle of Organic Lavender is between $10-15)
- No two oils in the same sized bottle are equal! If you find essential oils that are all 5 mL bottles and priced the same no matter the type (lavender, chamomile, orange, etc), walk away! It is almost guaranteed that the product has been cut with something.
- Look at bottle sizes. Compare product cost based on the size of the bottle. Most common bottle sizes in the store are 5, 10 & 15 mL. Professional sizes usually come in 30, 50 & 100 mL. Larger bottles should be more cost effective. Make sure when comparing different companies at the store that you are comparing the same size bottle.
- All other information (pure, natural, therapeutic) is strictly bonus and should not be your primary decision making point.
There is one other point that I think is worth adding. There are several companies that sell essential oils using independent distributors (aka multilevel marketing). You may know a couple of the larger companies as Young Living and DoTerra. While I think they have wonderful oils for sale (and I have used both in the past), they are heavily over priced! If you don’t want to take the time to research your oils, they would both be a safe buy. However, keep in mind that you are paying a heavy premium for their oil so the hundreds (if not thousands) of people in that seller’s downline are getting paid a cut of your purchase. I judge not here, I am simply stating the obvious. Like I mentioned earlier, all French Lavender comes from France. The oils that DoTerra and Young Living sell are no different. DoTerra claims they control their product from seed to bottle, which is a great selling point, but it is not enough of a justification for me. Many reputable companies buy directly from farms that log everything and simply rebottle. The purity and control is still there. You can choose to take a moment to research another company or pay a premium for convenience.
On a side note, I have to say that Europe is ahead in handling essential oils as they consider them a pharmaceutical and screen/monitor them very closely! After all, the use of essential oils and herbs for natural health was around in Europe for centuries before the trend made it here to America. I grew up in the Czech Republic and essential oils and herbology were always the first step for doctors in treating a condition. Pills and pharmaceuticals came as a last resort. This is why European essential oil companies go through extensive licensing to sell them, so if you are in Europe, grab a bottle! But be aware that unlike here, they are not allowed to advertise what the oil does or what it is used for, so go knowing what you need.
I hope that this article has shed some insight on choosing oils. I live by this method and after you do it a few times, it becomes second nature. There are many reputable companies out there! For obvious reason, I cannot endorse or recommend specific brands here. Sorry. However, I have been asked so much, that I have decided to source out my own oils. Lucie’s Apothecary will be adding a basic set of 100% organic essential oils to our store for anyone that is interested.
If you have found a brand of essential oils you feel are worth checking out, feel free to list them in the comments below.