How To Find Quality Essential Oils

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There is so much marketing among essential oil companies talking about quality and bashing each other for not measuring up based on whatever test they chose to use to prove their case, it makes you wonder if there are any tips available to help you know how to find quality essential oils.

There is no doubt essential oils are a hot topic today, especially when talking quality.

There is no set regulation or standard in the essential oil manufacturing or education industry

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy states on their website:

“Aromatherapy is currently an unregulated and unlicensed field both for the practice of aromatherapy as well as the manufacture of aromatherapy products…”

“… aromatherapy is an unlicensed profession in the United States.”

What does this mean? There is no regulatory body that establishes consistency between essential oil manufacturers. And there is no regulatory body that establishes consistency between essential oil educational and certifying schools.

Basically, this proves why I find inconsistent advice among certified aromatherapists that studied at different certifying programs.

What is crazy is that anyone can create their own certifying coarse for less than $1,000 investment. So if you’re studying essential oils with the intent on getting certified, or considering it, be sure that you pay attention to the reviews and ensure it is a reputable place offering the cert.

The FDA and FTC does not have a definition of what an essential oil is

According to the FDA:

“There is no regulatory definition for “essential oils,” although people commonly use the term to refer to certain oils extracted from plants. The law treats Ingredients from plants the same as those from any other source. “


What does this mean? In the eyes of the law, essential oils can be made from plants or synthetically created in a lab. So yes, quality DOES in fact matter. And no, you won’t be able to figure it out based on a label (more on labeling requirements in a moment).

But the FDA approves and certifies essential oils, right? No. Essential oils are considered to be supplements, which are not regulated by the FDA, or any other governing bodies.

In fact, the only real regulation (aside from bottle label requirements) that the FDA and FTC require is marketing.

No entity is legally permitted to discuss detailed health benefits of essential oils if they could potentially earn an income from the sale of an essential oil. Doing so puts yourself at risk, even bloggers who could potentially receive commissions from the links they place on their websites. (This is exactly why you don’t see any medical claims on this website about how essential oils may benefit your health)

Few brands actually know where their essential oils come from

This may sound like a bit of a shock, because what is the point of selling essential oils – or anything marketed for health – that you don’t know where they come from or how they’re crafted.

Unfortunately, there are many essential oil companies that are more concerned with their marketing plans and profit margins than they are what they are selling. And now that the essential oil industry has peaked over $1BILLION, there are many companies out there who just want to make an easy profit.

Most companies purchase from brokers

Most companies take the easy way to acquiring essential oils… through a broker, or aggregator. This aggregator (think wholesaler) sources oils from distillers who source their “essential oils” from various locations (farms, chemical plants, distillers…etc), collecting everything to resell to a company who will place their label on the bottles and handle all the marketing and selling.

While this makes a lot of business sense and reduces time costs researching and connecting with farmers and distillers, more and more people are waking up to find shady things happening within this business plan. For example…

  • Farmers aren’t always (or usually for that matter) farming sustainably, allowing some chemicals (organic or not) to seep through the distillation process
  • Distillers don’t always distill their oils for long enough, not unlocking some of the best therapeutic benefits of essential oils… instead opting for high heat for shorter periods of time to speed up production and turn out an inferior product
  • Some distillers cut their oils with cheap odorless solvents that increases their profits
  • Many brokers cut their oils again with more cheap, odorless solvents that increase their profits.
  • Some brokers purchase their essential oils directly from a synthetic perfume lab, labeling them as essential oils to maximize their profits
  • Many reselling companies again cut the oils with cheap, odorless solvents that increase their profits and stretch their supply.

After hearing Henry Pouchon, the president of the Confrerie de la lavande in 2000, say that France produces about 50 tons of True and clone Lavender, while brokers export 250 tons doesn’t necessarily give warm and fuzzies about knowing whether or not what you buy is what the label says it is.

Yes… you read that right… this means France export 500% MORE lavender than they produce!!

Gasp!! This means a “100% pure essential oil” could actually be anything from 75% vegetable oil or solvent (or 95% solvent for that matter) to completely synthetic, and still fit within the legal label laws!

Legally, bottles labeled as 100% pure essential oils don't actually need to contain any true essential oil... make sure what you're using is the real stuff...Click to Tweet

Listening to a talk by Dr Eric Z, an authority on essential oils, it is presumed over 75% of essential oils on the market are synthetic or adulterated. The biggest problem with this is that most essential oils are purchased for their health benefits.

Using synthetic or adulterated oils contain an imbalanced constituent structure that the body doesn’t respond as well to, and may actually cause negative effects including skin issues, allergies, Alzheimers, autoimmune disorders, and other adverse reactions (thanks to synthetic fragrances). Our bodies are not designed to metabolize the synthetic ingredients and unnatural amounts of constituents used to create synthetic essential oils or the solvents often used to dilute them. This happens because it is cheaper to manufacture.

There is no way to tell the actual ingredients list by the bottle labels

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (enforced by the FTC) covers “household” products (including oils that are labeled just for diffusing) only have to list:

  • a generic description of what is in the bottle (like ___ essential oil)
  • the amount in the bottle
  • and where the company’s headquarters is located

This means anything else on the bottle is 100% marketing.

Yes, it is often good practice to ensure the Latin name of the plant is listed, but any company can argue “generic description” as legally written.

Transparency is what you need. Complete company transparency, right down to letting you in on their entire farming, distilling, and bottling processes. Any company not willing to let you in on their processes likely doesn’t know what they are because they buy from a wholesaler.

“100% Pure” and different “grades” on essential oil labels are 100% marketing!

The FTC and FDA do NOT have any legal definitions as to what an essential oil is. “Essential Oil” is in an of itself a generic description. This could encompass natural true essential oils in terms of what we think it should be… but it can also encompass completely synthetic or diluted variations too, and still be a 100% legal claim.

For more info on this, check out our Essential Oil Dirty Little Secrets article!

Basically, there is no such thing as a grade of essential oil. Any “grade” mentioned is 100% marketing descriptive terms or tag lines (sometimes registered trademarks) to help that brand feel like they’re standing out from their competitors.

I harp on this all the time on this website, but really the only way to know for sure whether your oils are in fact a high quality essential oil that isn’t diluted is to develop a relationship with that company and see their practices first hand… or put your trust into a blogger who writes about their detailed experiences touring through the company’s facilities. For me as a blogger on a personal level, I wanted to see and experience quality first hand… and then I started a blog to document and share about those personal experiences.

What about essential oil testing reports?

Because of loose regulations in both the manufacturing and the educational realms of essential oils, there is no standard in testing, manufacturing, marketing, or certifying essential oils. With consumers demanding GC/MS reports, many companies are now using that extra pressure to chemically alter their oils to comply with what they feel *should* be in the normal range… not always accounting for variations in the impacts that weather and soil fluctuations may cause.

So… how do you find quality essential oils?

Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about “organic” labels. Organic oils, just like organic produce doesn’t mean 100% free from pesticides. There are many chemicals used in the farming process with Organic and Certified Organic labels that have little safety studies done. They can also have harmful farming chemicals drifted over in the air or water runoff from neighboring farms that use harmful pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. So you cannot 100% guarantee there is nothing on them. While Certified Organic is likely better than conventionally grown, the quality of essential oil has more to do with how and where the plants are processed, sourced, harvested, and all else that happens prior to bottling.

Pure, unadulterated essential oils can be expensive, but that is because of how concentrated they are, and because making them properly .

For example, it takes anywhere from 500-2,000 pounds (or more) of a plant’s material to produce just 1 (ONE) pound of essential oil! Distilling that plant matter properly should be done through low heat and low pressure for longer periods of time, compared to the more popular high heat high pressure for shorter periods of time. And plants that cannot be distilled are extracted most commonly with solvents that may or may not harm your health instead of the more expensive CO2 extraction methods.

This is precisely what entices many companies to take cheap short cuts with synthetic ingredients and additives.

If you’re using essential oils for therapeutic purposes or to remove toxic alternatives from your lifestyle, then you need to know:

  • where the plants come from,
  • who owns the farms,
  • who distills the plants,
  • how the plants are treated before being distilled,
  • whether or not the farm uses pesticides or herbicides,
  • whether the company offers testing and reports,
  • how long the company has been in business

The answers to those questions will tell you an incredible amount of information about that brand.

Brands unwilling to answer don’t deserve your hard earned money.

If they’re not willing to answer, then they don’t know or give overly vague answers, then they likely purchase their oils from a broker or have no idea where their oils come from nor are they aware  of adulterations that could happen during the transporting and sales processes.

Remember… According to the FDA, the law treats Ingredients from plants the same as those from any other source.

There are absolutely NO 3rd party agencies regulating the essential oil industry – for both the manufacturing AND the educational certification programs.

Every company creates their own standards and conducts or contracts out testing. Neither the US FDA or FTC has any regulation or legal definition designed to create a standard for the essential oil industry.

What does this mean? Each company has their own standards, and whether you chose to believe them boils down to how well you’re able to trust them… and really by that I mean how transparent they are about the farming, distilling, and bottling process.

Essential Oil Company Warning Signs:

A good thing to look for in a company that sells essential oils is in their other products. Any company claiming to be promoting health and wellness should not be using any harmful or potentially harmful ingredients in their products. Doing so shows they care more about profits, and indicates they may not be as diligent as their marketing claims.

See more about harmful ingredients to avoid in my toxin series.

Healthy Home, Happy Life online course teaches you all about how to identify toxic ingredients in common household products, including cleaners, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soaps, skin care, cosmetics, hair care, and laundry products. It provides lists of chemicals to avoid, how to read labels, and suggest safe alternatives.

How to find quality essential oils:

There are a few questions you should ask a company about their essential oils before you decide to purchase from them:

  • Where does the company source their oils from?
  • Who owns the farms?
  • Who distills the oils?
    • How are the plants cared for prior to distillation?
    • Does the farm use pesticides or herbicides? Remember, if it’s on the plants, it can get in your body.
    • When are the plants harvested? Do they do any testing on the plants to know when peak harvesting times are?
    • How long do the plants sit before being distilled?
  • How long has the company been in business?
    • Essential Oils are very popular now. New companies with or without reputable interests are popping up all over the place to cash in on the growing market.

MS/GC… what is it… do you need to see it… or is there more to the story??

I have on that list whether or not a company offers MS/GC reports… but not for the reason you may think. In fact… it’s kind of the opposite. Many companies out there post their MS/GC reports as a form of marketing so you can see how “transparent” they are… and to provide the company with a means to bash on competing companies who don’t offer it.

Personally… I feel as though companies who publish their MS/GC reports do so because the average consumer doesn’t know how to read them. In all reality… it is a marketing technique so they don’t have to answer the hard questions about farming, distilling, and bottling… to sum it up… its lazy.

Another reason I don’t appreciate seeing MS/GC reports is because it provides a lot of pressure for the company to replicate the exact same numbers, knowing full well the soil, time of year, weather… etc… all throw off the numbers. This means… sharing their constituent reports sets the company up to conveniently alter the oil batches in a lab to make sure they match what they post in their MS/GC.

I would rather they be transparent about how, when, who, where details about their oils… complete with the ability to visit the farms and see for ourselves.

Warning: DO NOT purchase your oils through Amazon or similar websites!

Any website that allows anyone to sell on, such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart… etc… are terrible places to purchase essential oils. While you may get a “good deal,” knowing who you’re purchasing from is difficult. There are many counterfeit essential oils being sold that are causing health ailments, major skin reactions, and a lot of misery. These are NOT high quality essential oils. They are fakes being sold purely for profit.

I also do NOT recommend purchasing from grocery stores, Walmart, Target, department stores, or drug stores. Many of the brands found at those stores have been proven to not actually contain any essential oil (which is perfectly legal to do).

I STRONGLY suggest you know the company that makes your oils, how the plants are cared for, what they do for distilling, how and how many times each batch is tested (and when), and their bottling processes. Many companies throw out fancy language for marketing purposes, but actually have no clue how their oils are made because the oils come from a broker (which are almost always diluted in solvents). Transparency is key.

How do you know which oil brand is for you?

Often… you don’t until you try it out. This is often very personal because each of our bodies is different. What works for me may or may not work for you. The only way you’ll know is by trying it for yourself, and feeling the difference within your body as you smell and apply the oils. This is why I advocate for people to try more than just what the bloggers recommend or what is available in local stores (especially chain stores).

What brand do you use?

I’ve bounced between several different brands over the past 25+ years (yes! I started using oils when I was 6 years old!!), and spent over a year comparing oils from various different companies looking for a brand that worked the most efficiently for me.

My favorites have been Oshadhi and Young Living.

After reading an eye-crossing amount of information and comparing several brands bought both in local stores and online, I found Young Living’s oils to be the best for me based on how they smell, how I feel during and after smelling them, and their quality guarantee and obvious passion for doing the right thing.

Young Living offers a Seed to Seal Guarantee that no other brand offers.

Young Living quite literally has full control over harvesting the seeds, planting the plants, harvesting the plants, distilling, bottling, and sealing the products, to providing the product for sale online.

They distill their products on site at the farms to make sure the highest quality through distilling almost immediately after harvesting. Testing is also conducted throughout the entire process to make sure their products meet their quality standards. They own  farms, and openly invite and encourage their distributors to tour the facilities and assist! They even use their own oils for pest control, taking them a step above organic!!! When using these oils, there is no need to worry about whether pesticides or herbicides (whether they be standard or allowed to use in organic products) were used or if those chemical residues are still in the oils after distilling!

With so many brands of essential oils on the market being diluted with synthetic additives, I fully trust the Young Living brand and their dedication to producing high quality oils that are completely safe to use.

Have you applied the questions above to the essential oils you use?

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If you’re looking for an essential oil brand, I’d love to talk with you and see if what we have to offer would be a good fit. We even have a few tips and tricks to help you save money while not sacrificing quality that I would love to talk with you about.

Nicole Graber, team leader, author, and editor to EssentialOils.Life and blog websites.

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