Quality Myths – Finding True High Quality Essential Oils
Only high quality therapeutic essential oils should be used for medicinal purposes. However, how can you tell what a “high quality essential oil” is, especially when bottle labels are so misleading?
“Quality essential oils” can mean many things, depending on how you intend to use the oils. To a perfume formulator, geranium essential oil spiked with artificial chemicals to enhance the fragrance might be considered a “quality essential oil”. To a massage therapist, a natural lavender oil diluted in a soothing base might be considered a high quality essential oil. To a doctor addressing bacterial challenges, only a truly pure, medicinal strength, wild crafted oregano oil that is high in natural carvacrol content would be considered a quality essential oil.
Obviously, essential oil quality is subjective and the word “quality” on the label means very little. The majority or essential oils produced around the world today are made for the perfume and cosmetic industry and are wholly inappropriate, ineffective, and in many cases dangerous for therapeutic uses.
Common Labeling Claims – What Do They Really Mean?
The quality standards and testing requirements for commercial essential oils available from essential oil brokers are irrelevant to the quality of the oil for therapeutic uses. Listed below are some common claims you will find on essential oil labels that may not mean what you would think:
- 100% Pure. Oils that say “pure” or “100% pure” are allowed to have as little as 51% essential oil by law! Isn’t that amazing? Therefore, “pure” on the label doesn’t really mean pure. And, even if an oil is “pure” in the sense of not being diluted, it may still be adulterated with synthetic chemicals, residual pesticides and with solvents, or it may be of mediocre medicinal quality.
- Aromatherapy Grade. Many oils are certified as being “aromatherapy grade” oils, but this does not necessarily mean they are “therapeutic” grade essential oils. The criteria that define “aromatherapy grade” does not guarantee sufficient quality for therapeutic and medicinal applications.
- Therapeutic Grade. The use of “therapeutic” on oil bottle labels is not regulated. Thus, it may or may not a therapeutic quality essential oil even if it’s labeled as such.
- AFNOR Certification. Standards for essential oils have been developed by the Association French Normalization Organization Regulation (AFNOR). AFNOR certified oils pertain to perfume and fragrance grade oils only, not to therapeutic high quality essential oils.
- ISO Certification. ISO certification is about a companies control procedures, training practices, organizational efficiency and tracking systems. ISO certification indicates a well run company. It does not guarantee the medicinal quality of the products the company produces.
- “In a base of…”. Unfortunately, many companies will use an extender oil like almond or safflower oil as a base to dilute the essential oil in order to cut costs. This creates a slower acting oil, and one that is much less effective for many uses. Extender oils can also become rancid quickly, reducing how long the oil will last. Even if a high quality base oil is used, diluting the original essential oil limits how you can use the oil.
- Botanical Name. High quality essential oils should have the botanical or “scientific” name (genus and species of the plant) listed on the label. Beware that inferior oils will blend certain plant essential oils together that do not make a “healthy mix” and are therefore not good for your health. It is also common for some oils to be made from cheaper or less therapeutic plant species and then misleadingly labeled as “therapeutic” grade oil. Lavender oil is a prime example, where hybrid “lavandins” are often used instead of the genuine and authentic Lavandula augustifolia vera.
- Absolutes. Absolute essential oils are extracted with a chemical solvent, usually alcohol or a toxic chemical called hexane. Absolutes are not suitable for therapeutic use, as it’s nearly impossible to remove the chemical solvents from the essential oils.
- Low Price. When it comes to essential oils, you get what you pay for. Growing, harvesting and distilling essential oils of the highest medicinal quality requires extra time and labor, requiring methods that are frankly slower and “less efficient” than modern large commercial producers. It’s the basic law of supply and demand: a small supply of a higher quality product will always cost more than a large supply of a lower quality product.
Harvesting and High Quality Essential Oils
For the best therapeutic quality essential oils, the growing conditions and harvesting practices greatly affect the medicinal effectiveness of the oil. The growing and processing methods listed below are usually not conducive to large-scale operations, lending themselves better to small, independent farms.
- Certified Organic Farming. Certified by independent monitoring agencies to be grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. They are distilled in organic facilities according to the highest standards.
- Organic Farms. These farms practice organic cultivation, yet are not independently monitored. This is usually due to the lack of an agency in the area. Farms in more remote areas are usually unable to purchase the herbicides and fertilizers due to their cost. Personal contact with the farm is required to confirm that their cultivation is organic and clean, producing quality essential oils.
- Wild Crafted Selected Farming. These are plants gathered in their natural environment and are essentially free of any artificial intervention. They are truly organic… grown in the wild and touched only by the hand of nature.
- Distilled Fresh. The percentage of the plant in bloom, the time of day for cutting and many other factors are critical for producing top quality therapeutic essential oils. German chamomile, for example, must be harvested in the late afternoon to maximize levels of azulene and bisobolol in the oil.