Since they are products of nature, the quality of essential oils is affected by growing conditions, the particular species of plant, extraction techniques, and storage, among other factors. Even the type of soil, temperature, and cloud cover affect some oils.
To determine the quality of an essential oil, you'll need to be concerned with three crucial characteristics -- purity, grade, and integrity. The information below and lots of experience will guide you.
Purity is an important concern to anyone purchasing essential oils. They can be adulterated, cut, or entirely replaced with a cheaper substitute or extended or diluted with vegetable oils, alcohol, or solvents. These substitutes and extenders might not be derived from a plant at all. But even if they are, the oil will not be as potent as it should be, nor will it function as expected. Unfortunately, a label claiming a product is a pure essential oil is no guarantee that it is the real thing. An oil labelled rose or vanilla may have been produced in a laboratory out of synthetic chemicals, but it can still be labeled an essential oil.
Inexpensive oils such as orange, cedar, or peppermint are seldom altered. However, alteration is common with expensive oils that are in great demand, such as rose, melissa, and jasmine.
Dilution with vegetable oil is usually easy to detect. Dilution with alcohol may be a bit more difficult to determine, but these oils do have a slight alcohol odor. Oils adulterated with a clear, non-oily solvent are the most difficult to recognize. This is a potential health hazard as well, since such solvents are readily absorbed into the body when rubbed on the skin or inhaled through the lungs.
Many essential oils are sold to distributors in different grades. Their prices often reflect this: The better grades command up to double the cost of the lesser grades. For example, lavender is commonly available in at least a dozen different grades and lemon in four. The lesser grades are often still pure essential oil, but they contain less of the most important aromatic principles.
Different processing methods can produce different grades. For example, redistillation produces oil that is stronger in some compounds than others. This is typically done with peppermint oil so the chewing gum and candy it flavors has a lighter, fresher taste and smell.
Once your nose has had a little experience with essential oils, you'll find that higher grades generally are more intense and carry a richer bouquet of fragrance. Lower quality oils usually smell less complicated or weak because they do not contain a full range of aromatic compounds.
When two bottles of the same kind of oil smell differently, it does not necessarily mean that one is better than the other. The best quality oils are similar to fine wine in that even experts don't agree on their favorites. For example, one geranium essential oil might carry a distinctly stronger hint of citrus while another smells more like rose. Which is better? Most people will prefer the rose, but that doesn't make it better.
By integrity we mean that the oil is pure and natural and comes from a single species of plant (and probably even from the same region and harvest). An oil with integrity is not whipped up in a laboratory or composed of cheaper essential oils. But inexpensive lemongrass or citronella essential oils sometimes masquerade as the very expensive melissa (lemon balm) oil. To make an artificial rose oil in the laboratory, rose geranium may be used as a starting point, then chemically altered to mimic, although never completely accurately, a rose scent.
The problem here is that although the end product still contains only pure, natural essential oils, it will not have the properties you want and expect. Asking for an oil by its Latin name may help, but it doesn't guarantee that you will get what you want.
Now that you know what to look for, we'll show you how to shop for essential oils in the next section.
To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:
- Aromatherapy: Here you will learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
- Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
- How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
- Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
- Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.