Essential Oils: The Importance of Purity

Essential OilsThere are so many essential oils on the market that it can be challenging to know which to buy and why.  Prices vary, often dramatically so for the same oil, even among those labeled “100% Pure”.  So why the difference and does it really matter?

 

The answers to those questions depend on the reasons you’re using the oil.  If you simply want an oil to diffuse for a nice aroma, then it probably doesn’t matter which you buy.  If I were going to buy an essential oil for that purpose alone, then I would probably go with the cheaper one as long as it was labeled pure.  However, if I were going to be using the oil for therapeutic purposes, meaning that I am looking to effect a bodily change, then along with purity I would also want to know that the various chemical constituents within that oil were in the right balance to be able to effect the change that I am after.  This is definitely what makes knowing which oils to choose much harder.

 

It is important to understand that 90% of the essential oils on the market are for the perfume industry, and that it is not uncommon for the oils to be adulterated with other cheaper plant materials (which would still qualify them as pure), or with synthetic material (which then wouldn’t qualify them as pure).  The reason for this is that depending on the particular oil it can very expensive to produce.  Take Rose for example, one of the most adulterated oils on the market.  It takes approximately 60,000 petals to produce 1 oz of essential oil.  Because of the high expense geranium or palmarosa are often added, as both are rich in geraniol, the main constituent of rose. Sometimes, these additives make up 90% of the “rose” oil.  If all you’re after is the aroma it likely won’t make much of a difference, but if you want the therapeutic benefits that pure essential rose oil can provide, it simply won’t happen with such an oil.

 

Essential oils can be used therapeutically for a wide array of reasons when their chemical constituents are in the appropriate balance to one another.  In any given oil there are between 100-800 chemical constituents, only 200 of which have been identified.  These various chemicals work synergistically to create profound effects within the body.  However, these same chemicals are extremely sensitive and alterations can occur due to a variety of factors such as time of harvest, the area in world in which they are grown, heat, storage, processing, weather and more.  Even oil that is truly 100% pure might still not be therapeutic grade if it was exposed to any of the conditions that could have altered its chemical makeup.

 

So how in the world do we know if the chemical makeup of a given oil is therapeutic?  We test it, and we test every batch.  A good company will do this and won’t be afraid to either give you a written analysis of each oil, or a guarantee of this through their quality control processes.  Some companies will do an initial test of an oil from a given supplier, but won’t continue to do so on every batch they receive, as the testing is expensive and might result in having to go without a given oil if the quality doesn’t stand up.

 

There are two types of tests that need to be done.  One is Gas Chromatography and the other is Mass Spectrometry.  Gas Spectrometry identifies whether the chemical makeup is therapeutically balanced.  Mass spectrometry looks to see whether there are any impurities in the oil.  Most companies do a mass spectrometry so they can label their product as “100% pure”, but don’t do the gas chromatography.

 

So the bottom line when it comes to purchasing essential oils for their therapeutic effects is to find a company who you know and trust, that puts their oils through the testing, and provides a guarantee of their quality.

About Amy Paolinelli

Amy is a mom of 3 lively kiddos, a wife, and an advocate for natural living. Prior to having children, she worked as a Marriage and Family Therapist with high-risk youth. After having her first daughter, she found her passion in pregnancy, childbirth, babies, and natural living. She is now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice, a student of Herbal Medicine for Women, and cofounder of 3Girls Holistic – a truly pure herbal skin care line. She loves getting her hands dirty in the garden and spending time near the water. You can find more of her writings at www.3girlsholistic.com