Our assumptions about natural products can sometimes lead us to waste money, harm the planet, and risk our health, so it’s important for brands and consumers to confront the myths. When it comes to essential oils, it’s easy to think of them as simple, natural things. But, in reality, they are powerful and complex. There are many of misconceptions about aromatherapy oils and we’re going dispel some of the biggest ones.
Fact: Undiluted Oils Are Not Always "Pure"
One of the greatest misconceptions is that being 100% pure and undiluted automatically means the essential oil is high quality. As natural products and plant oils become more popular, it’s crucial for us all to consider “purity” on a much deeper level and measure it across every part of the production process.
Here are some questions to consider when gauging purity:
- Is the plant cultivated using pesticides?
- Does it grow natively in the region or does growing it require additional energy and resources?
- Does the grower provide fair working conditions for their employees?
- Is the plant at-risk or endangered?
- Are the suppliers over-harvesting the plant? (This can disrupt the ecological balance in the region as well as increase the risk of poverty for local communities.)
- Does the plant exploit certain communities or cultures?
Social and climate justice are entwined in essential oils, and if we want a better future we have to be conscious consumers and dig beyond what we see on a label.
Fact: High Price Does Not Mean High Quality
The price of an oil also does not always indicate its quality. For example, we found two different retailers selling 15ml bottles of Clary Sage essential oil. One brand sells their Clary Sage for $48 and the other sells it for $19. The lower priced oil is USDA Certified Organic and has important quality and safety documentation (Certificate of Analysis and Safety Data Sheet) readily available on the product page. The higher price oil is not certified organic and does not have any documentation. So, which one would you rather put in your essential oil diffuser? We’d choose the oil with the transparent safety information and organic status.
Regardless of price, it’s best to research the oil and the brand before purchasing. And, remember: The best essential oil brands are upfront about their processes, ingredients, and sourcing.
Fact: Not All Organic Oils Have Organic Certification
We just highlighted an oil that is certified organic in the example above. But, it’s important to know that not all organic oils are certified by the USDA. This is because not all cultivators who practice organic farming can get certification. There are many legitimate reasons why, but perhaps the biggest one is the high cost. Between the application fee, inspections, assessments, and the annual renewal costs, many growers (especially the small ones) simply can’t afford it.
The main thing, here, is to make sure the plant was grown without pesticides, which not only harm ecosystems but can also survive the extraction process and contaminate the essential oil.
Fact: The Extraction Method Matters
Essential oils are liquids that have been extracted from plant matter. There are many extraction methods, including steam distillation, solvent extraction, supercritical CO2 extraction, and cold pressing.
Distillation and solvent extraction use high levels of heat and pressure, which often damage key constituents of the plant. We recommend purchasing essential oils that have been cold pressed or CO2 extracted, which avoid high temperatures, problematic solvents (like hexane) and retain the natural components of the plant.
Fact: Just Because It's "Natural" Doesn't Mean It's Safe
We’re going to say this louder for the people in the back: Just because something is “natural” does not mean it’s safe! This goes for all natural products, from food and detergents to the oils you use in your aromatherapy diffuser. Some individuals will react differently than others to certain essential oils, just as they would with medications. If a rash or burn develops after being in contact with an oil, stop using it and do not fall for the ol’ “Your body is detoxifying” routine - it’s not a thing.
Fact: Essential Oils Expire
They have a shelf life, like anything else (besides maybe Twinkies). Quality oils should be kept in light-resistant bottles that protect the substance from light and heat. Before opting to use an oil that’s been sitting on the shelf for months - or even years - consider smelling it. An oil can smell off, which is a clear indication that it is no longer viable for use.
Now that you’re armed with more knowledge about aromatherapy, you can make smarter decisions about the types of products you use in your home, your travels, and on your body.