We've been delving into the world of essential oils over last 3 posts and the three main concerns that many people have about the FDA, the scientific basis for medicinal claims about essential oils, and finally, the issue of quality.
If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here.
The final step in my researching was to try to figure out why some oil companies are so much more expensive than other companies. Why should I pay more than $20 for a 15 ml bottle of lavender oil when I could go to my local health food store and pay $8 for a bottle twice as big? EOs are EOs, right?
Wrong. It turns out that there are no rules for how companies can label and market their oils. I’ll use lavender oil as an example.
In order to label a bottle of lavender oil, “100% Pure, Organic Lavender Oil,” the bottle must contain at least 5% pure, organic lavender oil. So, that 15ML bottle of “100% Pure, Organic, Lavender Oil may contain—with no legal obligation to inform you--the following.
- Up to 95% non-organic, filler oil, so that 15 ML bottle of oil can legally contain just 15 drops of real, pure, essential oil.
- Lavendin, a cheaper lavender-type oil that does not have the same chemical make-up as lavender oil, and thus, cannot be expected to provide any real benefit to the body.
- Multiple man-made chemicals used to shorten distillation process, lowering distillation costs.
What is therapeutic grade? “Therapeutic grade oil” is in fact a term first coined by Young Living Founder, Gary Young. He spent more than a decade studying and working in countries like Egypt and France, learning about essential oils and why they work. He learned that when harvested at the proper time and distilled correctly, Essential Oils have a very specific chemical make-up. It is these chemicals that give the oils their great benefit.
(In fact, many pharmaceutical drugs were invented by figuring out which chemicals had what effect on the body and how to replicate that chemical in a lab. Aspirin is a great example of this).
Essential Oils whose chemical make-up fall within the optimum ranges set by the French researchers who discovered the optimum chemical levels in each essential oil, are considered, “Therapeutic Grade,” because they contain the proper amounts of each chemical, and remember, it’s the chemicals that have a therapeutic effect on the body.
So, going back to our Lavender example. In order to have the proper ratios of chemicals in its oil, Lavender must be harvested a specific point in the plants life cycle and must be distilled at a low temperature for 24 hours. Distilling too long, or too short reduces the amounts of and even which chemicals are released into the oil. Most lavender essential oil is distilled quickly--under 12 hours—causing the resulting oil to be lacking in certain chemicals.
The chemical make-up of essential oils can vary from farm location to location and even from batch to batch, requiring companies who wish to ensure true therapeutic grade oils to send samples from every batch of every essential oil to testing labs to check that the chemical constituency is correct.
In the little bit of researching I did via good old Google, I was unable to find out definitively which common brands of essential oils dilute their oils, use chemicals in or shorten their distillation process, or have been tested for chemical make-up.
However, one company in my research, Young Living, did claim to have full control over the planting, growing, harvesting, distilling, and packaging of their oils. They use organic, sustainable farming practices. This same company sends samples from every batch of oil to a French Essential Oil Testing Lab to ensure quality, selling off any batch that doesn’t meet their strict requirements for “Therapeutic Grade Oil” to fragrance companies.
I had to ask myself, why would a company spend so much extra money following strict production guidelines that other companies don’t bother following, and testing every single batch of oil to ensure its quality if they didn’t truly believe that quality made a difference.
So does quality matter? I guess that depends on what you plan on using the oils for.
To add fragrance to homemade cleaning product? Probably not.
To add antibacterial properties to a homemade cleaning product? Probably.
To add fragrance to a homemade body care product? Probably, if you are worried about added chemicals.
For health and healing? Absolutely!
For ingesting oils? Absolutely!
On a final note, a higher price tag does not necessarily mean higher quality. There are only a handful of distilleries in the world. Most essential oil companies simply buy the already ditilled oils from those distilleries. They have no control over growing and harvesting conditions or the distillation process. They simply package, label and market the oil.
If you are wanting to use essential oils therapeutically, it's important to research the company you are considering buying from. A reputable company should be open about where their oils come from and their distillation process. Look for a company that regularly tests their oils to ensure their quality. You will have to do a little more digging to learn about the therapeutic effects of the different oils. Ultimately, It's up to you to make sure you know what you are getting and be sure that you feel comfortable and safe with what you are using.