The quality of essential oils can vary widely. Unfortunately, standards for quality control of essential oils do not currently exist in the United States. Therefore, it is important to find reputable sources that sell good quality essential oils that are safe for you and your family. Regardless of whether you buy essential oils in a store, from an individual, or online, do your research first. Be sure to read any information provided on the label or website, or ask questions about quality.
What to look for:
- Is the Latin name of the plant provided so that you are sure you are getting the right essential oil? There are several species of the plants used in essential oils and each species is different. For example, there are many species of lavender plants, each having a different chemical composition.
- Is the name of the country in which the plants were grown provided? A consumer would not be expected to differentiate oils from different countries, but this information is important to aroma therapists because crop quality, soil conditions, weather, etc. can vary by country. Displaying this information is a good indication that the company is selling their essential oils to knowledgeable parties as well as general consumers.
- Is there a statement about purity? You should be informed if it is not 100% essential oil (meaning, it has been adulterated or mixed with something else). Essential oils that have been adulterated can cause harmful side effects or at best provide only minimal therapeutic benefits.
- Is the cost comparable with other brands of the same essential oil? Some oils are very expensive to produce. For example, it takes 20 pounds of lavender flowers to create just one 10ml bottle of lavender essential oil. So if the price you see for the bottle is really cheap, it probably isn’t the real thing.
- Does it smell as you expect it to smell? Do you smell any alcohol or chemicals?
- Is the oil packaged in the United States? Many overseas companies sell inexpensive essential oils in prepackaged sets of small bottles to unsuspecting consumers in the United States. These bottles are adulterated with fragrances or cheap filler oils to keep their costs low.
- Is there information about organic growing or wild crafting (gathering wild plants)? Most essential oils sold in the U.S. are not certified as to their organic status, but some European brands are.
- Is the oil packed in a colored glass bottle? Essential oils can dissolve plastics and metals and so these oils will deteriorate more rapidly unless they are transferred to glass.
Several corporations sell their essential oils via multi-level marketing. It is understandable that you want to blindly trust your friend or relative about the oils he/she is excitedly trying to sell you as a distributor, however, do you homework first. Essential oils do offer many impressive benefits. But if the claims you are hearing sound too good to be true, then they probably are.
Essential Oils and the FDA
Until recently, the US Food and Drug Administration didn’t pay much attention to essential oils. However, on September 22, 2014, the FDA sent warning letters to two large essential oil companies that are selling their oils through multi-level distributors. You can read about the details of these warning letters here. This is great news for consumers as it is an indication that the FDA will now monitor companies selling essential oils more closely and require that they comply with certain guidelines. As a consumer, it is important that you read the FDA guidelines for essential oils and aromatherapy products and decide if you are comfortable buying from companies that may have not yet been able to fully comply.
So how do you decide on an essential oil supplier?
According to The East-West School For Herbal and Aromatic Studies, some of the qualities that you want to look for in an essential oil supplier are:
- the supplier is on the small size and not a large corporation.
- the supplier is owned by an aromatherapy practitioner or essential oil specialist
- the supplier has relations with his/her distillers, if possible
- a supplier who can readily supply a Certificate of Analysis report on each essential oil it sells
- a supplier who is readily able to provide material safety data sheets (MSDS) as needed
- a supplier who has a strong unquestioned noncontroversial reputation in the field