Essential Oils: What Should You Be Asking? (Part 1)

beth October 23, 2012

Image by Darwin Bell

Essential oils have a surprisingly rough and divided market.  I”m all for loyalty, but we have noticed some people get downright harsh when people disagree with their brand choice.  This makes it especially hard for new people coming into alternative health to know where to turn.  So, we set out to help. After a ton of research we have just touched the very tip of the iceberg.

I recently contacted quite a few companies to find out more about their practices. These are the questions I asked them with a explanation of why that question is important and what sort of answers you should be looking for (and what you don”t want to hear). Tomorrow you will be able to read their responses.

**You will hear a response from Modern Wellness on doTERRA Thursday.

What To Ask

Are the plants you use in making your oils certified organic/grown without pesticides?

It is important you know where a company gets the plants they”re making your oils out of.  The quality of the oils could suffer by being contaminated by pesticides, fertilizers, or any other unnatural chemicals being placed in the soil. When asking this question you want to find out that they check where their plants come from, know what practices are used in growing them, and can vouch for their natural state.

Some companies use plants they grow themselves so they know very well what farming practices are being used. Many though, especially bigger companies with higher demands, import from overseas. Which is fine as long as they are still keeping a close eye on how the plants are being raised and farmed.  Most plants seem to grow best and produce the best final product by being raised in a specific region — for example, most lavender comes from France.  Most of these imported plants come from European areas with fairly high standards, not China or other suspect areas.

You want to make sure they have had representatives actually visit these places and know what they are buying – and in turn what you are buying.

What tests are done in order to insure the quality of your oils?

This may be one of the most important factors in telling the different between company oils. Many all look, smell, and seem the same until it comes down to what measures are taken for testing. Obviously the bigger companies can afford to do more test – but that doesn”t make their product necessarily superior to the smaller companies. Most oil companies either have their own lab or hire out to a lab for testing.

Let me see if I can break these test down some:

Sensory evaluation – A test of the senses of the color, clarity, and odor of oils which is often done as a first check in order to save the expense of more expensive test on an oil that is obviously suspicious.  Some oils should be a particular color and noting that they aren”t is an easy tip-off that they have been adulterated in some fashion.

Odor Evaluation – This is sometimes a part of a sensory evaluation and sometimes done as a more detailed procedure by those trained to smell oddities in the oils.

Gas Chromatography

In this process a sample of the oil is placed in a heating chamber. The oil is heated to different temperature in a set amount of time until it becomes a vapor. Constituents vaporize a different times and as they do they pass the defector where data is recorded.

Mass Spectrometry

This test is usually done with the one I mentioned above. Together these test help determine if there is any abnormalities or things that shouldn’t be present.  The mass spectrometer ionizes the oil vapors after they come through the gas chromatographer to give more data, allowing them to know if the oils are of an inferior quality.  Many companies say that this test is the only true way to determine an oil”s quality. It is more expensive than simple GC and many companies do not perform it.

**There are other test that are done by some companies however, these are the most common.

How are your oils extracted? 

The method used to extract oils is often overlooked – yet also very important. Many companies can save time and money by using high pressure and high temperature distillation processes – but this often leads to many of the therapeutic compounds being compromised.

Distillation is used to converts the essential oil into a vapor and then condenses the vapor back into the liquid. There are four popular ways to do this:

  • Steam distillation – In this method the material is placed in a still and steam is forced in. The heat of the steam helps to release the oils kept in the plant materials, which then evaporate into the steam. This is then run through a cooling system that condenses the casino online steam into the oils – which can be separated from the water. This method is less preferred due to the high temperatures needed and the raised risk the important nutrients being damaged.
  •  Water distillation – In this method the material is placed in water that is brought to a boil.  Once the material cools the water and oil are separated. The water acts as a barrier to the oils from the heat and helps to protect the medical properties of the oils.
  •  Cold pressing – Cold pressing is used to extract the oils
  •  Solvent extraction – This method adds a hydrocarbon solvent to the plant material to help dissolves the essential oil. The solutions are then filter and the remains are mixed with pure alcohol to extract the oil. When after the alcohol evaporates the oil is what is left.  This is not a good method of extraction because harmful residue can be left behind.  A few oils must be extracted this way, but they cannot be labeled as ” essential oils” legally.  It is usually labeled instead as an “absolute.”  This includes jasmine and neroli.

What sets your oils apart from the rest?

Many companies have “claims” about their oils. You just have to make sure the claims they make are correct. There is no governmental regulating body for essential oils.  The grades such as “therapeutic grade” and “aromatherapy grade” are put on by the company – not by a body that sets these standards. A company putting that term on their bottle has not done anything in particular to “qualify” for it – they set their own standards. Many companies use this term in order to pull buyers in. Some say that because they do their own testing they put that title on their oils because they feel it applies. Either way – don’t let it sway you one way or another when buying oils. With their being no guidelines for companies to be held to – it’s a worthless standard.

Are your oils safe for internal use? Are some safe for children?

This one is a kicker. Some oils are not meant at all for use on the body. They are meant to only be put into a diffuser and used for their aroma properties. Others are safe for use only topically. A select few are considered safe for internal consumption. Make sure you ask and are sure what your oil was made to be used for before you use it.

There are also some oils that are not safe for use on children or breastfeeding mothers.

Is there anything else you would like possible customers to know?

It never hurts to add this question in – the above questions are by no means all you could or should ask. Many people have things that are more important to them than others and by asking this question you give the company a chance to share what means the most to them.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2.

What Questions Do You Ask Before You Buy Essential Oils?

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  1. […] Part 1 we covered what questions to ask and why when your getting ready to buy essential oils for a […]


  2. This timing of this series is , for me, a God thing. I have been delving into EO’s and have gotten very disillusioned and frustrated because all information I’m getting is coming from one brand or another.

    thanks for all of your hard work and research!


  3. […] 1 we discussed what questions should be asked before you purchase essential oils. Then, in Part 2 you heard from some other companies and got their responses. Today you will hear from Modern […]


  4. […] Essential Oils: What Should You Be Asking : Modern Alternative Health […]


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  8. […] MAH – Essential Oils: What Should You Be Asking (Part 1) […]


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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