How to Purchase Essential Oils

Essential oils seem to be everywhere these days. They have actually been around for hundreds of years, but it seems like in the past several years, they have exploded into mainstream culture. They are available everywhere, and they are marketed with a panacean promise to help with anything and everything you could imagine. “There’s an oil for that!” is chanted like a mantra throughout social media, and everywhere so and so is telling you that their oils are the best, the purest, etc etc can be exhausting.

When you are first entering into the world of essential oils, it is hard to know where to start. The biggest, loudest companies seem like the best option to a beginner...they are there in your face, and they want you to love them. I am here to tell you that you do not have to buy your oils from only one supplier, the loudest aren’t always the best, and there are many options out there. Many Aromatherapists purchase their oils from multiple sources, and if you do some research, and learn what to look for, there are many good companies out there.

When I choose a company to purchase from, there are certain things that I look for. Do they provide batch specific GC/MS reports? Do they provide the country of origin? Do they provide the latin name? Do they provide a distillation or expiration date? All of these are important to know when you are using essential oils in any therapeutic capacity.

GC/MS testing tells an Aromatherapist which constituents are in an oil. Each pure, unadulterated essential oil has a very special and unique chemical composition. They are each made up of hundreds of different chemicals, and each chemical is present in a very specific percentage range, and GC/MS testing lets us know if the essential oil falls within the normal range. If it does not, it usually means the oil is not going to be very powerful, or that it has been adulterated with added components, either scenario being undesirable to an Aromatherapist.

When using essential oils therapeutically, you want the purest oils possible. Many companies sell beautiful, amazing oils, but many do not, and often it is hard to see the difference. There is no oversight in the aromatherapy world. There is no body in charge, testing all the oils, saying that this one is therapeutic quality and this one is not. That is on the distributer and no one else, so when you see taglines like “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade”, or simply just “Therapeutic Grade”, know that this is a certification given by no one but the company you are purchasing from. Anyone can print those words onto a bottle, because there is no Aromatherapy oversight committee. A GC/MS report will give the purchaser some insight into the quality of an oil, and the fact that the company is willing to provide the report in the first place, hopefully before purchasing, speaks to their credibility. Here is a brief description on how to read a GCMS report:

Country of Origin is another important factor to look for when researching companies. Many oils of a specific type originate in specific areas of the world. Frankincense, for example:

If the oil you are purchasing claims to come from a country where that plant does not grow naturally, you should think twice about purchasing from that company. Also, plants grown in their native habitat will be much more potent than plants grown in a strange habitat, like Eucalyptus. It is native to Australia, so an Australian Eucalyptus oil is going to be more therapeutic than a Eucalyptus grown elsewhere.

Another reason to want to know the plant’s origins is because the same plant growing in two different places can have a different chemical makeup. Rosemary, for example, is grown all over the world, and there are three main chemotypes, dependant on growing conditions: Rosmarinus officinalis ct. Verbenone, Rosmarinus officinalis ct. Cineole and Rosmarinus officinalis ct. Camphor, and each one is best for a different situation.  A good company will tell you from the beginning which chemotype you are working with, but if they don’t, knowing the country of origin is a good place to start.

The latin name of the essential oil you are purchasing is perhaps the most important piece of information to have, but not all companies provide it. Some companies list all Rosemary under the blanket term “Rosemary”. This is the same with many oils, such as Lavender, Thyme, and Eucalyptus. There are many different types of these oils, each better suited to a different situation than the other. Eucalyptus is a perfect example of this. There are hundreds of types of Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus citriodora, Eucalyptus polybractea, Eucalyptus globulus, and Eucalyptus dives are just a few examples. It is important to know which Eucalyptus you are working with because many are contraindicated for young children. Most Eucalyptus oils are high in 1-8 cineole, which is unsafe to use with young children as it triggers the cold receptors in their brains and can slow their breathing, but Eucalyptus dives does not contain 1-8 cineole, making it safe for use with children. If you purchase a product that simply says “Eucalyptus”, you won’t know which one you are working with.

Lastly, distillation and/or expiration date. Yes, essential oils go bad, often in as little as a year if not properly stored in a cool dark place, like a refrigerator. They oxidize, slowly over time, and they cannot be used indefinitely. You should not purchase more oils than you would use up in a year, otherwise it is just wasteful, especially given the fact that many of the species we get our oils from are becoming endangered due to increasing demand. Many oils have a shelf life of a year or less, like the citrus oils. Some oils last many years, like Patchouli and Vetiver. Knowing the distillation date and the expected shelf life of an oil can help you calculate an expiration date, or many companies will provide you with one on the bottle. Either way, you need to know how old your oils are and how long they will last. Oxidized oils are unstable and they are more likely to cause adverse reactions, and buying too many oils at once, or too much of one type of oil, is what is fueling the endangerment of so many species. Less is often more when it comes to essential oils.

I hope this has helped give you some starting points in your journey with essential oils. Finding good oils and a good supplier is one of the most important steps of that journey. Do your research, look around. Check out as many as you can. Like I said above, there are many different companies to choose from, not just one, and many of them are quiet.