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by Martina McNeill July 12, 2020 6 min read
Customers often ask us, "Which is the best essential oil brand to use?" or, "What is the difference between the varying brands of essential oils?". Descriptions by companies saying their oils are 'the best' can be confusing when they all say that! Price is not an indicator either - the same botanical species of oil can vary in cost from one brand to the next. Essential oil products do not have medical standards to meet and often no oversight. So how do you find your way through this confusion?
Let's say you want to buy Lavender oil. You type Lavender into our search bar and come up with some different options. How do you know which is the best one to get? Start by looking at the information provided for each Lavender oil. We list any of the information we get from the company in the product description on our website.
The botanical name helps to identify which type of plant the oil was sourced from. In our Lavender example, the most common plants are Lavandula angustifolia (true lavender) or Lavandula latifolia (spike lavender). Lavandin is a blend of those two and is Lavandula x intermedia. A true essential oil should always list the botanical name on the bottle.
Was the lavender grown in Spain, France or Australia, for example? Oils grown in different countries can have different profiles (aroma and benefits), due to location, the way the plant is grown and when and how it is harvested. If you have a discerning nose, you may find that you prefer the species from a particular country.
A quality oil company will tell you which part of the plant produced this oil. Each plant part will produce a unique aromatic scent and profile. For example, Cinnamon oil is obtained from the buds, leaves, bark, twigs, or root. The oil obtained from the bark is more likely to cause skin irritation than the oil from the leaves.
To obtain the oil, it must be extracted from the plant. Was it expressed, distilled or extracted? Common methods include steam or water distillation, CO2 extraction, cold pressing, or solvent extraction. The extraction method can determine the makeup of the oil, and have an effect on the benefits and also safety issues for the oil. For example: Citrus oils are often expressed from the peel, but contain components which can cause skin irritation and sensitivity to sunlight. If they are then further distilled, these components can be removed. This is why you will see some oils (such as Bergamot), sometimes listed as 'non-phototoxic'. The toxic components have been removed by the extra distillation.
Some oils are distilled in batches, with each batch sold as a different 'fraction'. For example, a 'regular' Ylang Ylang will only have one batch (out of four or five). Ylang Ylang Complete contains at least three of those batches and gives you a fuller profile of the plant. Not only does that mean it smells different, but it can be better for different applications.
Did you know that there are some essential oils that are toxic and should never be used even when diluted? Do you know which oils you can use safely while pregnant or breastfeeding? If you have a toddler, do you know which oils are safe to inhale or use on their skin? Essential oils are powerful and need to be used carefully and with respect.
Ingestion of oils has been a hot topic for a while. While ingestion of essential oils is not shocking in places like Germany or France, it is done under medical supervision. Medical practitioners who are also experts in clinical aromatherapy will prescribe, administer and supervise the use of oils taken internally. Oils are mostly used in suppositories, or in capsules which are swallowed. If anyone is telling you to put a drop of oil into water and just drink it - don't!
Good oil companies provide information on safety around children, pets and pregnant or nursing mothers. When we list an oil on our website, we will tell you what warnings the manufacturers have for their products. Different companies have different ideas of what is safe, so we recommend you do your own research as well.
For beginners in the essential oil world, there is a lot of information to navigate. A good brand will give you some ideas on what you can use the oil for and how to use it. For example, lavender oil might provide the following information: "Use for calming, headaches and sleep". It might then provide information on diffusing, topical use, compresses and so on.
There's not enough room on any oil bottle or even product page to tell you everything that the oil can do! Some reputed benefits of oils are more folklore than fact, so do your own research if you're wanting help for a particular issue. There are also legal concerns when it comes to making medical claims about oils. For a company to say that their oil can help a health issue, that oil has to be registered with the TGA. That is not a quick or cheap exercise!
Did you know that around 250 tonnes of "fine lavender oil" are exported annually from France, yet growers only distil 20 tonnes?* Adulteration of oils is very common in the industry as it helps to cut down costs.
Adulteration is where a pure essential oil is blended with other oils, fragrances or chemicals. Testing can often help pick this up, but not always. You also need to be aware of the risks of contamination of an oil. This could be by pesticides or herbicides used during the growing or harvesting phase, or solvents during extraction.
A company that believes in its products and their quality, will have every batch of their oil tested. They may provide the test report on their website, or provide it to the buyer on request.
Test reports use many terms to describe an oil's properties and benefits. Constituents (chemical structures) such as limonene, linalool and terpinene for example, affect the smell and benefits of the oil. These constituents are found in most plants, but will vary in 'strength' in different varieties. Think of them as major and minor players in how the oil smells and what it can do.
Plants in the same genus can have different chemotypes. These are chemical compositions that can be different from one plant to the next. Oils like Basil have different compositions depending on the individual plant and where it grew. One type of Basil oil can be helpful, another harmful. Chemotypes can differ due to the location, climate, soil and even harvesting and storage methods. Knowing chemical profiles can help you choose the right chemotype of oil for what you need it for.
As you can see, there's a lot to consider when choosing the company whose essential oil you want to buy. It also depends on how you are using your oil. If it's in your face lotion you might have higher standards than when it's in your floor cleaner!
We encourage you to do your own research on oils and the companies that produce them. Some resources we have found indispensable are:
*The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Third Edition: Vol I: Foundations and Material Medica, by Salvatore Battaglia
The growing list of resources available through the Using Essential Oils Safely Library compiled by Lea Jacobsen - detailed yet easy to follow
If you are wanting to dive deeper into test reports and chemotypes, then you will need to have a copy of Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young on hand.
The Tisserand Institute also have fabulous courses you can do online to really educate yourself.
We are more than happy to answer questions or hear your feedback, so please us a comment below!
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