The Ultimate Guide to Buying Essential Oils
10 Things Health Food Stores Don’t Tell You
Written by Katelyn Sadée
In this ultimate guide, I will walk you through the things you need to know before buying essential oils, that health food stores either don’t know themselves or don’t tell you.
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#1 Pure Essential Oils Are Often Not Actually Pure
Most essential oils sold on the market are not 100% pure. This is possible because the essential oil industry is unregulated. This means there are no regulations with regards to their ingredients, their purity, their labels or their practices.
When done right essential oils have amazing healthful properties. However, a company can describe their essential oils as pure but are often altered, otherwise known as adulteration. This is sometimes done to enhance the smell or extend their shelf life.
This is done through adding alcohol, synthetic aromas or synthetic chemicals. Another common way is to add lower quality versions of an oil to drive the cost down.
This happens a lot with lavender and there are many reports of fraudulent practices in the essential oil industry. What is sad is that this is often denied and none of it can be found on the label…
#2 Essential Oils Don’t Last Forever!
They only last forever when certain additives like preservatives are used to extend the shelf life. The oils might technically still exist but you have to consider at what cost.
I prefer to choose products that don’t carry harmful ingredients AND deteriorate naturally. When people claim that their purely natural oils last forever it is clear to me that they have been misled.
Oxidation of essential oils
The truth is that while the oil may last in a sense that it just “exists” for a long time, most oils pure or otherwise will eventually go bad due to oxidation. This is unavoidable unless you could somehow store them in an oxygen-free atmosphere, which is basically impossible.
Do yourself a favor. Stay away from people who claim these sort of things AND check the expiration date on the bottles.
#3 Therapeutic Grade Means Nothing
There is no independent industry-wide certification of essential oils. This means any company can claim that its essential oils are therapeutic grade, clinical grade or whatever they decide to put on their bottles.
The Food and Drug Administration has criteria for aromatherapy but the only thing that is truly regulated are the advertising claims by the Federal Trade Commission.
Some companies do have fantastic essential oils that live up to high standards. However, unless a company is completely transparent and can back up their claims like this one, they may not necessarily be true. The way to gain confidence is when a company uses third-party testing and does extensive testing of their oil batches using the following tests:
- Mass Spectrometry
- Gas Chromatography
- Organoleptic testing
- Microbial testing
- Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy
- Chirality testing
- Isotopic analysis
- Heavy metal testing
#4 Source Matters Greatly
The quality of the plant material is determined by location, climate, altitude, times of harvest, and many more factors. In order to get the highest quality essential oil, it is necessary that the crops grow where they naturally thrive.
This is not easy because companies need expertise in sustainable and correct growing and distilling methods. They, therefore, need to rely on the local growers and distillers that are experts in their field.
So when you are looking for the best essential oils, one of the things to look for is to see whether the company harvests their oils globally.
This is NOT the same as outsourcing to farmers and distillers who may not share the company’s quality demands, which is why full transparency is so important.
The essential oil company I work with works closely together with farmers and distillers in over 40 countries, which is incredible!
#5 Organic Is Not Most Important
I often hear people say “well I only buy organic, so I’m sure it’s one of the best.” I believed this to be true at first also. However, I’ve come to discover this is ineffective for concluding whether an essential oil is free of pesticides and other impurities.
Here is an example for when you are purchasing organically grown oils. If the organic farm is next to a heavily polluted area, the plants from your farm will likely be polluted too.
I also discovered that the largest essential oil company in the world doesn’t even carry an organic label. One of its founders Emily Wright explains why they have made this choice.
“Many of doTERRA’s essential oils are certified organic, others are ECOCERT, and some do not have any certification. The reason for this is because we source from so many developing countries. The certification requirements and availability differ from country to country. Some countries don’t even have a certification offering.
For example, it costs $2,500 for a grower to receive organic certification in Madagascar. This certification lasts 2 years. Most of the time, an inspector never even visits the farm to verify that they are, in fact, growing organically. The fee is what matters here. However, most of the growers in this impoverished country cannot afford the certification, although they are growing by the same standards. Pesticides and herbicides are not used.
The reason doTERRA has chosen to not print certified organic or even ECOCERT on our labels is because each lot has different certifications. Some of our Ylang Ylang may come in with organic certification and another lot may not have the certification. These two lots meet the very same quality standards. They go through the same battery of tests and are both certified not to contain pesticides, herbicides, fillers, synthetics, or added natural compounds. There is no difference in quality or purity. Once the producer simply paid a fee to be certified organic and another did not.
When we say that our oils are better than organic, it is because we have the ability to see even the smallest component in each lot of oil. If there is anything contained in the essential oil that was not naturally produced by nature in the plant with nothing added, it is rejected. That’s what I love about our Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade process. We work with the best analytical scientists in the world — nothing gets past them!” – Emily Wright
So having an organic label is not all it’s cracked up to be!
#6 Equal Prices For Different Oils = Major Red Flag
When looking at the plant as a whole, they are composed of only a small amount of essential oil—on average, just 1–5 percent of a plant’s total composition. Acquiring even just one bottle of essential oil requires an incredibly large amount of plant material.
Each plant is different and because of that essential oils are sold for a range of prices.
These prices depend on:
- The availability of the plant
- The essential oil yield of the plant material
- Cultivation methods
- Methods for deriving the oil (require different amounts of time, effort, cost)
Extraction Processes Vary
If you are using essential oils to support your health needs, then you will want and need the best quality essential oils.
Quantity should never trump quality in the essential oil industry, but it often does.
I’ve seen different types of essential oils in health food stores that were of very similar prices and often super cheap. This is often a telling sign that you are not looking at high quality pure essential oils, and here is why.
Lavender essential oil is relatively a more affordable purchase because it is a very available plant and requires three pounds of lavender flowers to produce 15mL of essential oil.
This is contrary to rose oil which requires about 242,000 rose petals (or 105 pounds) to produce one 5ml bottle of rose oil. Crazy!
It makes no sense to be able to buy a pure lavender essential oil for the same price as a pure rose essential oil. Nor does it make sense to get products that are 100% pure essential oil, and therefore very labor intensive, for extra low prices.
#7 Sustainability Matters Greatly
With the rise in popularity of essential oils, companies are harvesting more plants, trees, fruits, and flowers than ever. Harvesting on such a massive scale not only endangers the plants but their growing environments and the animals that survive off those plants too.
You may not be aware of it but Frankincense is a highly desired essential oil and is put in all sorts of skin care and other beauty products.
In 2016, an article by the Associated Press warned that Frankincense trees were being over-harvested and were under major threat. This has serious consequences for the local communities involved and the beauty & wellness industry and is requiring responsible companies to take the lead in caring for these trees.
Sustainable Harvesting Best Practices
There are a number of things essential oil companies should do to sustainably harvest.
- At-risk plants/trees should be assessed to prevent over-harvesting or tapping, and ensure harvesting seasons never exceed a specific time period to allow for the plants to recover and grow naturally.
- Companies should work directly or at the very least provide fair wages to the harvesters, like how this company is doing it. This ensures that harvesters don’t over-harvest because they have a reliable income.
- Companies do not violate the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act.
We love sustainable practices!
#8 Using Oils Neat Is Better Than Diluting
Some companies sell neat oils as well as blended oils. Neat means that the oils aren’t diluted with a carrier oil, like coconut oil.
This is important to know because essential oils are very potent and should always be used in a safe manner, which often means diluting when using on the skin. Especially with those that are considered “hot oils” like oregano, cinnamon, and clove essential oil, because undiluted they can cause damage to the skin.
Some people prefer to buy the oils pre-blended to save time or when they are applying them to sensitive skin or children. Depending on which oils I am using and for which goal I will either use them neat but most often I’ll dilute when using on the skin. It’s cheaper this way and just as effective!
On your skin isn’t the only way to use essential oils! If you want to learn about what other types of uses there are, head on over to our essential oils for beginners guide.
#9 An Adverse Reaction Caused By An Essential Oil Is NOT Your Body Detoxing.
Oh man, I’ve heard this one so many times. It is hard to believe that there are people out there who are actually accepting this as the truth.
There is no positive explanation for any adverse reaction that natural products might cause us.
In fact, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is good for us. There are plenty of ways that nature does not treat us kindly.
If you get an adverse reaction that means your skin is IRRITATED.
A rash or burn from an essential oil is basically your skin saying STOP what you are doing, now! This is why when using a new essential oil, we always recommend doing a patch test on a small area of skin to see how it will react.
Some Oil React With The Sun
Also, know that certain citrus essential oils react with the sun. This is called phototoxicity and is nothing to fear and perfectly normal. Make sure you don’t use citrus essential oils for at least 24 hours on the areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun (bergamot is 48h).
Essential oils are fat-soluble and for that reason, you won’t be able to wash them off with water. If you do end up getting a skin reaction or get some in your eyes, don’t use water but grab any plant-based oil like coconut oil, and use that to rub off the excess oil.
Remember, essential oils are very concentrated and potent. Let’s be mindful of that. Rather be safe than sorry!
#10 Start With Basic Oils
I say this because I see people have a good experience with a specific oil and then buying one or two random oils, that don’t have many functionalities. They end up not knowing what to use them for and only using them a few times a month during bathtime. Sound familiar?
Assuming they are of good quality, this is such a waste of money.
If you want to make the most out of essential oils I would recommend starting with the basics. That means learning how to effectively use a small number of basic essential oils.
I would suggest starting with Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, Frankincense, Melaleuca, and Oregano. The company I use also offers a few blends that I find extremely helpful for beginner’s because you don’t have to buy expensive oils separately. These blends have tremendous benefits such as digestive, respiratory, immune, and muscle/joint support.
Use your basic essential oils to
- Clean low/no tox
- Reduce stress & anxiety
- Supporting day to day ailments like tummy upset, scrapes, cuts, congestion, colds, seasonal discomfort, muscle aches, trouble sleeping, bug bites, small burns, you name it all the way
- Managing mood
- Supporting a healthy work environment
- Supporting exercise and yoga
- Great for kids.
- Oh and of course for sniffing them and bathtime too!
Yep, essential oils can do all of this and more. Sounds pretty good, right?
We offer support on all of these topics in case you want to learn more.
There are multiple companies in the world that produce pure essential oils. Finding those companies, however, is not always so easy.
Another problem is that there are a lot of companies out there selling essential oils, but most of them do not have the ability (or sometimes even the desire) to do the necessary quality control before passing their oils on to their customers.
The essential oil industry is massive and there is a lot of money to be made in it, both for retailers and direct marketing representatives like myself. I don’t see a problem in this as long as the companies are run ethically, sustainably, treat and educate their workers and customers REALLY well, and provide pure high-quality essential oils.
The Best Essential Oil Checklist
1. The company must have experience
2. The oils must be pure
3. Plants must be grown in indigenous locations
4. Organic practices
5. Most plants are grown in remote locations where no pesticides, herbicides, or harmful chemicals are used
6. They use each oil’s Latin Name. Without the Latin name, you can easily mistake one plant or essential oil for another.
7. No solvents used
8. No artificial oils (or “scents”) sold
9. No adulterating
10. Fairtrade and beyond.
11. The company provides education about oils – no “over-recommending” of essential oil use and takes essential oil safety very seriously.
12. Reasonable pricing
As you can see, there is a LOT to keep in mind when shopping for essential oils.
Trust Your Own Instincts
In the end, I think it all comes down to who YOU trust. I will always strongly advice you to do your research and not just take my word for it. In case you’re curious which oil brand I trust and use after having done my own research then I’ve included that for you. This is my favorite essential oil company.
Katelyn has a Masters degree in Nutrition & Health Sciences. She helps people find easy ways to live a healthy life. She loves everything related to nutrition, health, nature, travel, and personal development. She is also Carol’s right hand at Soul Essentials.