Touchstone techniques: 4 ways to test the quality of essential oils


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Determining the quality of essential oils is not easy even if you have been an aromatherapist for years. This is because essential oils come from various parts of the world and companies/manufacturers acquire oils from farmers, small-scale essential oil distillers, wholesale aromatic oil suppliers etc. Since essential oils are complex structures with many constituents, it is tough to determine the quality or quantity of chemical substances present in them. There are also several possible adulterants along the way. Essential oils can become impure on account of conditions in every other stage of its development – harvesting, distillation, handling, storage and packaging. Some manufacturers sell oils as “pure” even after diluting or cutting or extending their aromas and chemical properties.

Essential oils quality – what should you know? You should understand certain basic things about essential oils before you opt to buy and use them. Some oils change as they age. While a few oils like Rose, Patchouli, Spikenard, Myrrh and others improve as they age, a few like Citrus oils oxidize and grow toxic as they age. Apart from this, you need to understand why is it important to know if your oils are of high quality or not. If you use synthetic aromas instead of pure essential oils, you may end up experiencing toxic reactions. Impure essential oils also do have any therapeutic effect on you and maybe a waste of money when used. All these factors prove that it is important to know the quality of your “pure” essential oils before applying them in home or domestic use or for healing or aromatic purposes.


Below are a few tips to know the quality of essential oils:

1. Regulation of Essential oils: The FDA regulates essential oils through the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. This Act regulates all food, food additives, cosmetics and dietary supplements. According to this act, the FDA sees essential oils based on their use – for healing or cosmetic purposes. For instance, if a perfume manufacturer, sought a quality essential oil, the FDA would grade the oil based on its specific use in perfumery. In the same way, the FDA would regulate an oil as drug if it is used an aid to quit smoking or for curing or preventing any disease.

Other than the FDA, there are foreign bodies which regulate essential oils. These include, AFNOR or Association of Francaise de Normalisation  and ISO or International Organization for Standardization.

2. Know the Latin names: If you plan to buy an essential oil, you need to inquire the manufacturer a few things: the Latin name of the plant (used to prepare the oil); the farming methods and practices used; check for the name of the country or region in which the plant has been grown etc. Spend time familiarizing yourself with essential oils and learn to identify between pure essential oils and synthetic fragrance oils.

3. Test the scent of oils: You can test the aroma essential oils if you learn to identify the top, middle and end notes of an oil. Put one drop of an oil on a perfume test strip, a cotton swab or a scrap of paper towel. Smell the aroma periodically. An essential oil’s aroma is pretty complex and changes with every stage of evaporation. This is not the case with ordinary fragrances. Also, a pure, undiluted oil will never leave an oily or greasy spot on the strip.

4. Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy (GC/MS): These are two lab tests which can help you determine an essential oil’s constituents and quality. Each oil is passed through the chromatograph, after which, the ionized constituents are amplified and detected by Mass Spectroscopy.  Though a GC/MS is an effective method, it cannot determine the synthetic and natural diluents of the oil. High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) is another method used to analyze the constituents of essential oils.