*How to Choose a High Quality Essential Oil
As the popularity of essential oils grows, everyone wants to cash in on the market. Unfortunately, this brings the risk of unethical companies trying to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting and undiscerning customers.
There are certain qualities you need to look for in companies and their products when purchasing essential oils. Here are a few of the things you need to know in order to find safe and high-quality essential oils.
One of the most important qualities you should look for when checking out essential oils is to make sure the plants are grown organically. Products which are "USDA Organic" have been certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Because essential oils are so highly concentrated, you want to be sure that the plants used were not grown with synthetic pesticides and herbicides, which are especially harmful in such large dosages.
Although you will dilute most essential oils in a carrier oil, you should buy your essential oils pure and confirm that they are not diluted beforehand. If the essential oil you are using is significantly cheaper than other brands, you may want to question whether it has been diluted or mixed with something else. Your essential oils should state that they are 100% pure. Unless you intentionally bought an essential oil mixture, the essential oil should be the only ingredient on the list.
Your essential oil should be labelled using its Latin name. Essential oils may come from several species and you need to know which one you are buying.
Some may state the simple name on the front of the package, but it should include the species in the ingredients list.
Country of Origin
Essential oils should clearly state where the oil was grown. If it is grown in a different country than it is being sold in, it should indicate who has certified it as organic, if it is organic.
Customers have the right to know where their products originate from, and when companies are not making this clearly known they should be pressured to make necessary changes.
Double Check Fancy-Sounding Words and Phrases
A company may claim that its product is a number of things, but before you get pulled in by fancy words, find out who is the governing body that is making this designation.
Words like "therapeutic" and "grade A" may sound reassuring, but sometimes a company will create their own designations and catchy trademarked phrases which don’t necessarily mean anything as compared to other brands in the world of aromatherapy.
Some oils with these designations may be high quality, but do your research and don't rely on a phrase to give you the information you need.
Information Should Be Easily Obtainable
It makes sense that all information about a product may not fit onto the tiny bottles that most pure essential oils come in. However, the important information that you seek should be easily accessible. If it is not, you should question whether the company is trying to hide something.
Essential oils are great for a variety of purposes, but you need to make sure you are using high quality oils. By knowing what to look for, you can be reassured that the essential oils you are exposing yourself and your family to are great quality oils that will benefit you and boost your health, both now and in the future.
Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Decoded
First and foremost, aromatherapy is not intended as a substitute for traditional medical treatment. More accurately, it’s an extension of a long-established practice of treating medical conditions with plants found in nature. Today's aspirin evolved from experiments with the by-product of the spirea plant at the Bayer & Co dye factory.
An enterprising chemist, Felix Hoffman, synthesized the first acetylsalicylic acid, known from earlier research to treat rheumatism successfully. We've cured cold symptoms for generations with Vicks Vaporub, whose main ingredients are synthetic forms of mint (menthol), laurel tree (camphor), and eucalyptus (eucalyptol), in addition to cedar leaf, nutmeg and pine oils. Coca Cola was originally marketed as a 'nerve tonic,' containing various essential oils of citrus and spices.
Aromatherapy, like all healing, is both a science and an art, providing a fascinating but sometimes overwhelming study. Basically, essential oils are aromatic molecules removed from plant material - petals, leaves, twigs, seeds, needles, wood, resin and rind.
Knowing the basic jargon of aromatherapy is the first step in understanding the remarkable way essential oils are used to treat 'whatever ails you,' physically, cosmetically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Following are basic terms and concepts to help wade through a plethora of botanical and pharmacological data, which at times might seem confusing and contradictory. They are listed in alphabetical order for easy reference.
Absolutes are the alcohol-soluble, or semi-liquid oil that results from the solvent extraction process used with plants that have an unusually low yield. For instance, 1,000 pounds of flowers yield one teaspoon of jasmine absolute. One teaspoon of rose absolute requires 5,000 pounds of petals; but steam distillation to obtain an equal amount of rose essential oil, called rose otto (attar) requires twice that amount, or 10,000 pounds of petals. Consequently, rose otto is twice the price of rose absolute which is among the costliest essential oils.
'Blends,' sometimes called 'formulas' or 'synergies,' are basically a manufacturer's recipe for a combination of oils targeted to treat a specific condition. There are as many pre-blended oils as there are ailments, diseases, bodily functions, moods, states of being, and levels of spiritual growth. The selection is limited only by a seller or manufacturer's imagination.
Professional aromatherapists have their own 'recipes,' based on knowledge and experience. Experts advise even the novice or dabbler in aromatherapy to study the profiles of individual essential oils and concoct their own treatments based on a modicum of knowledge and personal preference.
The blends, however, are excellent if you want to experiment with pre-mixed formulas, but it will be just as time consuming as learning about individual oils. No two blended formulas, say, for congestion will for the same. Perhaps, when you compare blended remedies, you might find common ingredients, but their proportions will not be the same.
Whether essential oils are thick and oily or thin and watery, they share a common chemical characteristic: oil and water don't mix. Essential oils, even if they are clear and runny, will only blend well with fatty oils or alcohol. The primary way to dilute essential oils is in a carrier oil, sometimes called base oil. Carrier oils are usually pressed from seeds, nuts, vegetables or trees. Common carrier oils are almond, coconut, jojoba and sunflower.
In most essential oil 'blends,' the major ingredient is a carrier oil with small quantities, in some case only drops, of essential oils, which for the most part are too strong to be applied to skin undiluted, or too expensive to be used alone. A few essential oils, such as lavender or tea tree, are gentle enough to be used as carrier oils.
Carrier oils are a way to distribute small amounts of essential oil over the entire body during the massage process. Additionally, carrier oils retain moisture and keep essential oils from evaporating too quickly when exposed to air. Diluted essential oils last longer; during massage this means essential oils will linger and absorb slowly into the skin.
Extraction is the process used to remove oil molecules from plant material. It's important to understand extraction because it determines an essential oil's properties, its benefits, how it's purchased and ways it's used. The four primary methods of extracting essential oils are steam or water distillation, solvent extraction and expression.
Distillation by steam under pressure is the most efficient means of extraction. Plant material is heated, a vapor forms and when it cools the resulting liquid is essential oil. In water distillation, plant material is covered in water and heated in a sealed container; this method takes longer than steam pressure and risks damaging delicate components of essential oils from longer exposure to heat. Steam distillation is the preferred and most commonly used method of extraction.
Solvent extraction is used for delicate petals such as jasmine and rose with a low yield of essential oil. This extraction is the end process of a method called enfleurage, where petals are placed on glass and covered with an odorless fat or oil. An alternate method is to stir flowers into heated oil.
Flowers are added until the oil or fat becomes saturated with flower essence, forming a substance called 'concrete' or 'pomade.' The pomade is soaked in alcohol which absorbs the fragrance of the fat, and the two are separated. The alcohol is allowed to evaporate, leaving particulate plant matter, the 'absolute' essence of the flower.
The fat is used in soap manufacturing. When a synthetic petrochemical such as hexane or benzene is used as the solvent, the aromatherapy benefits of the absolute are inferior to those obtained with alcohol solvent, an organic substance derived from sugar or starch.
Expression is the method for extracting oil from the rind of citrus fruit such as bergamot, lemon and orange. Traditionally, this was a time-consuming project done by hand; today, expression of rinds is mechanized. You may experiment with hand expression by cutting off a segment of peel from a washed and dried piece of fruit.
Pierce the peel with your fingernail, or knife tip and over a bowl use your fingers to squeeze drops of essential oil from the rind. Store this oil in a dark glass bottle in a cool place. This is as good as any commercially obtained essential oil of citrus and can be used in any form of aromatherapy.
A fifth recently discovered method of extraction utilizes carbon dioxide (CO2) process at low temperatures. This method produces highly fragrant aromas and many aromatherapists believe the process is preferable to solvent extraction. The CO2 process, however, requires expensive equipment making these oils costlier, as well as rare and difficult to obtain.
Opponents of this type of this process believe the temperature in CO2 extraction is not high enough to properly distill plant molecules and that essential oils processed this way should be reserved for non-therapeutic uses, such as soap, candles and room deodorizers.
5% Or 10% Oils
These are a type of blend, or formula, usually associated with more expensive essential oils. Suppliers make these costly essential oils more affordable by diluting them with a carrier oil. The percentage does not refer to the quality of an essential oil, but rather denotes its quantity. For example, a 1-ounce bottle described as '5% Rose Absolute in Jojoba' will have 30 drops (1.5 ml) of pure rose absolute and 95% jojoba oil.
Fragrance & Perfume Oils
Fragrance oils, also called 'fragrant oils' or 'perfume oils,' are synthetically compounded aromas that simulate natural aromas. They should not be confused with pure essential oils. The scents might replicate natural scents, and have qualities of familiarity, richness, complexity and endurance.
But fragrance oils are specifically formulated for addition to perfume, soap, candles, skin care, hair products, room deodorizers and household cleaners. They have no value nor application in aromatherapy. Some good examples of so-called essential oils are China Rain, Forest, Black Rose, Lily-of-the-Valley and Vanilla. These are fragrance, or perfume, oils commonly made from synthetic aroma chemicals.
Hydrosol - also called hydrolat, floral or flower water - is the water or vapor by-product of distillation. It contains the fragrance of an essential oil and has the same benefits. Hydrosols are valuable skin-care products, especially when used in addition to skin care with essential oils. Flower waters for cosmetic purposes are made, for example, from chamomile, neroli and rose petals.
Most essential oils are too strong to be used undiluted and the warning often appears: 'Do not apply neat'. The rare exceptions are lavender and tea tree oil which, in addition to carrier oils, are safe when applied directly to skin.
Technically, 'organic essential oils' must meet the same standards applied to organic food and bear the UDSA green-and-white circular seal that appears on food products.
This means plants must be grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides; and cannot be processed with artificial, synthetic or chemical additives or preservatives. If roses, for instance, are grown organically but their essential oil is extracted with a petrochemical or synthetic solvent, the resulting essential oil will not be 'organic.'
The term organic is used loosely and confused with words such as '100% natural,' 'pure,’ ‘chemical-free,' 'highest or finest-quality,' 'no pesticides,' 'all-herbal,' 'grown wild,' and 'unsprayed.' These terms are not synonymous even though they are used interchangeably. The only way to be sure you’re getting truly 'organic essential oils,' is to look for the USDA seal or ask a trusted dealer if they can certify a particular product is organically grown as well as organically manufactured.
In aromatherapy there are two schools of thought whether organic essential oils have a superior aroma or are more beneficial than non-organic oils. One argument is essential oils are highly concentrated and therefore they hold onto high concentrations of contaminants; however, there is no scientific evidence to support this reasoning.
The counter argument is when oils are steam, water or alcohol distilled, molecules of pesticide and fertilize are too large to pass through the distillation process. Hypothetically, only pesticides sprayed onto plant material during or after harvesting, two unlikely occurrences, could survive distillation.
Whether to use organic essential oils is as personal as one's decision about organic food. Similarly, organic essential oils are more expensive than non-organic, sometime more than 100% higher.
The Shelf Life of Essential Oils
All essential oils have a shelf life. Not all bottles indicate an expiry or "best before" date, though, so if you cannot find it, check with the manufacturer.
Here are some general rules you can follow to determine whether your essential oil is still fine for use, or whether you should throw it away.
Some essential oil manufacturers print the expiration date on their bottles. This gives you a clear indicator of how long you can use your oil.
If you are buying essential oils from the store, look on the bottle to see when it expires, and choose the bottle with the furthest future expiry date if you don’t plan on using it quickly. Ask the individuals in the store if there is a way to find the date if it is not clearly marked.
Keep in mind that the oils you buy were not created on the day you bought them, so try to purchase your oils from a store or supplier that keeps their product moving regularly. In this way, you aren’t purchasing an essential oil that is already far along on the way to expiration.
If there is no expiry date on the bottle, keep a list of all your essential oils and when they were purchased. This will allow you to quickly check how long you have had an oil before using it each time.
General Shelf Life of Popular Oils
Each essential oil has a given amount of time before it expires. There is a range between about 1 to 6 years depending upon the type of oil. Some of the more popular oils and their general shelf life are listed here.
Essential oils with a shelf life of about 1 year are lemon, orange and mandarin. Oils with approximately a 2-year shelf-life are lime, all varieties of frankincense, and tea tree. Oils that expire in about 3 years are rosemary, neroli, oregano, melissa, bergamot and blue tansy.
Oils in the 4-year range include cinnamon bark, cardamom, peppermint, ylang ylang, lavender, geranium, clary sage, and chamomile. Oils that are good for 6 or more years include cedarwood, vetiver, sandalwood, wintergreen, rose, myrrh, copaiba and ginger.
Of the popular oils, patchouli has the longest shelf life, which is usually more than 10 years.
There are three factors that cause essential oils to lose their potency and effectiveness quickly. These are light, oxygen and heat. The best way to keep your oils in the best condition possible is to fight these factors by storing your oils properly.
To counteract exposure to light, buy your essential oils when possible in amber glass bottles (so the light does not penetrate the bottle as it does with clear glass) and keep them in a dark place. Keep your essential oils in a cool area, or in the refrigerator if you have room.
Always keep your bottles tightly closed when not in use, and don’t leave them sitting around with the lid open for any amount of time. Protect your essential oils from contamination by not using rollers that can pull random particles back into the bottle with your essential oils.
Essential oils have a specific shelf life. Oils won’t instantly go bad on the expiry date, but at that point they are on their way to losing their potency. Learn this general information so you know how long to keep your essential oils, and when to replace them.
Aromatherapy Labeling – Buyer Beware
In the United States the term "aromatherapy" is not regulated. In other words, manufacturers may market any type of product as aromatherapeutic, or delivering aromatherapy benefits. Remember, perfume oils are not essential oils, even if they are labeled as aromatherapy products. They usually contain synthetic chemicals that do not provide the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, cold pressed vegetable oils, sea salts and other natural components used in aromatherapy.
You should also look out for labels that claim a product is made "with essential oils". There is no guarantee that harmful man-made chemicals are not present. The same goes with any claim that states natural ingredients are used.
Unless the label says "100% natural ingredients" or "100% essential oils", you are probably getting a watered-down, chemically-based product.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils, plant oils and other natural substances whose aroma and/or physical application provides therapeutic relief of some condition. When unnatural chemicals and perfumes are inhaled or applied to your skin, you can experience a number of negative side effects.
For instance, the natural green apple scent is very effective when used in treating migraine headaches. If that natural compound is mixed with synthetic chemicals, the result could aggravate headache pain rather than alleviate it. Stick to 100% essential oils and natural components for all of your aromatherapy applications.