Determining quality essential oils

quality essential oils

The more I learn about the essential oil industry, and what determines quality essential oils, the more I have found it parallel’s the herbal extract and supplement industry. Like most industries, you will find a wide range of qualities: the amazing, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In most cases, the biggest and wealthiest companies, with the most marketing, do not fall into the amazing category.

Although this post is using terms directly related to the essential oil industry, the same basic messages hold true when we are talking about herb and super food companies.


Usually the best distillers are small, and have been family owned for decades. They specialize in certain plants and they don’t succumb to volume pressures, big money, and would never cut corners to ensure mass production.

Testing and labeling

Independent lab tests that utilize all techniques available to test for purity and quality should be used. Two important tests should always be run. Gas Chromatography or Gas Liquid Chromatography (GC or GLC) is a measurement tool that is able to vaporize each molecule of the essential oil and quantify the percentage of the constituent present. Mass Spectrometry (MS) determines the molecular mass of each molecule, identifying each constituent of the essential oil. GC/GLC & MS testing will determine if the essential oil is free of pesticides, synthetics, and are unadulterated. It will also determine if the essential oil’s chemical constituents are in the range necessary to be effective for the intended use.

The following information listed on the label also indicates attention to detail:
• Common name
• Botanical name
• Chemotype

You should also be able to contact the essential oil company and easily obtain the details regarding the extraction process, part of the plant used, and the country of origin.

Exaggerated claims

Let’s say there are 100 essential oil brand names the US and one claims to have the best and only frankincense (for example) in the world, but frankincense only comes from 2 places in the world. What frankincense are they using that is different than all of the other brands? Furthermore, you cannot claim your oil is the best unless you send all of the competing brands you state your claims against to independent labs for testing on a regular basis. Yours has to be the best of the other 100 essential oils brands, and you have to compare lemons to lemons. The reality is, it is not cost prohibitive to accomplish this on a regular basis to support these claims. And remember, many of the raw materials that are the best quality are coming from growers and distillers that specialize in that plant(s).

Internal experts make up “claims”, “certificates”, “grades”, and “seals of approval”, but these are not national or international certifications.

Cutting corners

In order to obtain the best quality, every plant and part of the plant, has to be harvested at a different time of year, day, and moon cycle. In addition, some plants need quick transport to distilling, some need to dry, and some need heat exposure. It is complicated and there are many areas where corners can be cut.

Medical grade

In Europe, many medical doctors are trained to compound essential oils for internal use, and essential oils are part of the health care industry. The USA is way behind in the medicinal use of essential oils. What good companies CAN do here in the US is provide quality essential oils that have European documentation (each bottle would have a traceable lot #) that would show that their oils are made from independent growers and distillers that grow and distill medical grade essential oils for European use.

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