Jul 13, 2015

Are all essential oils equal?

Dear Oily,

I’m interested in using essential oils, but I’ve noticed that there are so many companies selling essential oils and the prices are all over the place. Why would I spend $20+ on a bottle of Lavender when I can get it at the local store for $7? I don’t want to spend a ton of money if I don’t have to, but I don’t want to be cheap and not get oils that will actually work. Are all oils created equally? Are there different types of essential oils? Please advise!


Quality Bargain Hunter

Dear Hunter,

All oils are not created equally! Trust me, if I could pay $7 a bottle and get the quality I receive when I pay $20+ a bottle? I would! Actually, I’d be insane not to! And I don’t expect you to trust an insane person.

I want you to think about the oily hierarchy like a pyramid, and we’re going to fill this pyramid with oils!

The Tippy Top

At the very tippy top, where I can’t stand because I get vertigo and want to faint, you have what many call therapeutic grade or medicinal grade essential oils. They’re at the top because they are pure! They are the very bestest of the bunch and only make up a small percentage of the essential oil market. Think of them as the 1% in society only everyone doesn't hate them.

These are essential oils that are grown, not made. No, they don’t quite sprout from the ground, but they start out as pure, organic plant material that has not been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. That plant material is used to produce the most potent essential oils possible through methods like distillation, cold press, and tree resin tapping. I’m a bit of an oily snob, so these are the only oils I would ever consider using in my house.

Stuck in the Middle

Are you using cheap or inferior oils | Hot Pink CrunchAs we travel down to the wider part of the pyramid in the middle, we find oils that are made from plant material that is not as carefully grown, which can result in adulteration by pesticides and other chemicals in our environment. They can still sometimes be labeled as “organic” or “wild crafted” but I wonder who is watching the farms these oils are produced at to make sure? Hmm.

In this middle category, the oils are not as pure as the ones at the tippy top. The plant material may be distilled multiple times to produce more essential oil from the same amount of plant matter. Think of it as thinning out your gin in the bathtub during prohibition: you get more oil but it is no longer as potent or pure.

In addition, to generate more product, oils can also be stretched with synthetics or cut with chemicals. The resulting oils will not contain as many (or any) of the beneficial compounds that pure essential oils have.

In the end, I’m not interested in using bathtub oils OR gin!

Down Down Down We Gooooo

When we sliiiiiiide down to the widest part of the pyramid, we’ll land in perfume grade essential oils. I’m not even sure if these oils can be considered “natural” at all! I put them in the same category as perfumes that are manufactured in labs. If you are manufacturing something, it's no longer natural. #truefact

These "oils" are certainly not useful as anything more than a (debatably) nice scent; in fact, they can actually be harmful if a person tries to use them on their bodies! Oils such as these might say things like, “Not for topical use” on the side. If you don't want to put it on your skin, why would you want to breathe it in? They may also contain warnings against ingesting and ask you to call poison control if you do. Yikes!

So there you have it! Your essential oil quality pyramid. Expect to pay more at the top, but you won’t regret it.