Quality vs Purity of essential oils: Where lies the difference?


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Essential oils ought to be pure to be therapeutic and beneficial for medicinal or healing purposes. But most of the oils that are projected to be pure are not actually pure. Holistic aromatherapy measures an oil by its purity, the ratio of natural constituents present in it. Some oils can be pure and yet be of poor quality. How can this happen? This can happen if pure essential oils are tampered with other natural or synthetic constituents to make them serve a particular purpose, therapeutic or otherwise. This article will help you analyze in depth about the purity and quality of essential oils and how they can influence the therapeutic quality of their usage.

Purity of essential oils: Do not imagine that all the essential oils you come in contact with are pristine. Most of the oils are adulterated during various kinds of processes – extraction, distillation and packaging.  Essential oils’ purity is measured by the optimum ratio of natural constituents present in them. Since oils are distilled for various other purposes like home fragrancing, cosmetics, personal healing and other things, most of them are tampered with many other constituents. This is because manufacturers want what are called standardized oils. Any oil, extracted directly from plant substances, carries natural constituents in different ratios. No two extracted oils of the same plant species, from the same region, are the same. Each plant yields oil that is different in some way or the other from its neighbor. Since uniformity is required in the manufacture of food or perfume products, companies use only essential oils that are standardized and do not vary from shipment to shipment.

Standardization of essential oils: Standardized oils are not pure oils. Sellers standardize oils only to suit the needs of buyers and hence, have several constituents removed/added to pure oils. Peppermint oil is used in the manufacture of chewing gums, ice creams and candies. The oil is used as a flavoring by food and candy manufacturers. Since companies should produce Peppermint-flavored products that have a consistent aroma, intensity or taste, manufacturers buy only standardized Peppermint oils.

Standardization process is not suitable for use in therapeutic aromatherapy. Addition or removal of constituents may make oils impure, adulterated and un-therapeutic. Some manufacturers may adulterate oils to cheat buyers and find profits. Japanese Yuzu essential oil seems to be a combination of Grapefruit and Mandarin. Sellers may use this trait of Yuzu and blend Grapefruit and Mandarin essential oils, and sell it as the costly Yuzu oil. Similarly, Patchouli oil can be extended with the addition of Cedarwood and Lavender oil can be tampered with linalyl acetate.

Quality of essential oils: The aroma and exact percentage of essential oils of each natural constituent contribute to the quality of the oil. Several other factors which contribute to an oil’s quality are – quality of soil in which the plant is grown, temperature of the region, weather/climatic changes/annual amount of rainfall  in which plant is grown, altitude of plant life, distilled part of plant, distillation process, time gap between harvest of plant and its distillation, storage of oil after extraction, type of distillation equipment used etc.
Some of the ways in which essential oils can be adulterated and which can in turn, affect their quality: blending pure oils with less expensive oils; adding synthetics to increase or maintain a particular aroma; extending oils by mixing bad carrier oils; blending an oil of higher quality with one of lower quality and so on. To ensure that you use only oils of good quality, check with your buyer on the soil, region and distillation process of the plants from which the oils are extracted and on the optimum ratio of the natural constituents of the oil.