Ever look at a wellness store shelf or cycle through online options and become overwhelmed at the amount of essential oils there are? It’s tough, because consumers shouldn’t settle for the one they think looks best – labels can be very deceiving. For many confused consumers, figuring out the difference between a “good” essential oil and a “bad” one can only be accomplished with a little knowledge at their side.
So what separates a high-quality essential oil from inferior products? There are several different criteria that should be considered: the plants, the distillation process, and the packaging information.
Essential oils are plant oils, the concentrated aromatic compounds taken from the flowers, leaves, peel, stems, and any other part of the plant. In other words, they are the concentrated oils that give plants their scent, and what plants are used to get these oils is very important.
High-quality essential oils come from plants that have been harvested at the best moment in their life cycle. Different plants have different optimal harvesting times, but when the plant is plucked is a great determinant of how effective the distillation process will be.
It should also be noted that not all plant types are the same, even if they go by a similar-sounding name. Lavender alone comes in multiple subspecies, and each one gives off slightly different aromas. The essential oils should strictly be bottled with oils from the same subspecies, not with other oils that could also be categorized as “lavender”, “lemon”, etc.
The Distillation Process
There are several different ways of extracting essential oils from the plants. Many oils derived using solvent extraction, a process that uses petroleum-based chemicals to release the aromatic compounds. These adulterate and pollute the essential oils, and any essential oil you buy should not have been made with this process.
The cleanest way to extract essential oils is through steam distillation. Steam passes through the botanical material, and the combination of the heat and pressure releases the aromatic compounds from their little sacs. The mixture enters a condenser and cools down, the oil and the water separate, and it’s easy to collect the essence without polluting it or watering it down.
Citrus oils cannot be extracted from steam distillation, but there is still a way to get them without impacting the quality of the oils. By using cold mechanical pressure, the oils can be cleanly pressed out of fruits such as grapefruit, lemon, orange, and bergamot. This process is known as “expression”.
The Packaging Information
Believe it or not, the packaging of the essential oil can tell you a lot about its contents. Crazy, right? Despite how obvious this fact may seem, packaging can be very deceptive, and bright colours and fancy names can be used to hide the real source of your essential oil. Here’s what you should look for on your essential oil bottle:
- First, is the Latin name of the plant on the bottle? This will specify what subspecies the oil has been derived from, so you know that not just any plant from that family has been used.
- Next, does the bottle specify any purity standards? You should always be told whether or not your essential oil is what the bottle says it is.
- What’s the price point? You don’t want to break the bank, but if the oil is very cheap, something’s up.
- What colour is the bottle? Essential oils should be stored in darkened glass, because sunlight can deteriorate the oil’s quality.
All of these should be considered when purchasing your favourite scents. A high-quality essential oil company won’t keep any secrets about what you’re getting and how they made it, so always trust one that is upfront with the consumer!