QUALITY is a word that gets thrown around a lot within the essential oil community. Perhaps even to the point where it has lost it’s impact. That’s not to say quality is not important. In fact, it is the single most important factor when choosing an essential oil. This is because the purity, therapeutic properties, fragrance profile and potency of an essential oil are all impacted by quality.
With so many brands claiming to have the best quality essential oils, we know it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let’s take a further look at what can impact the quality of an essential oil.
As much as we’d all love an international standard in grading essential oils, it simply doesn’t exist. However, something that is universally accepted are the categories of essential oils. It’s important to remember that essential oil are used in many products such as fine fragrance, skin care, personal care, food flavouring etc. The type of essential oil should be chosen based on the intended use of the product. For example, in aromatherapy, we prefer to use essential oils in their purest form so we can take advantage of their therapeutic benefits. We explore essential oil categories and uses below.
If you’re looking to harness the therapeutic value of a plant this is it! It essentially means that the essence has been extracted from the exact plant (e.g. Lavender) and plant part (e.g. Flower) in it's most natural form.
What makes essential oils so special is that they are naturally very complex and have many chemical constituents. That’s why one oil can have multiple therapeutic benefits. These constituents can be fractionated out of an essential oil and used to mimic its fragrance at a fraction of the cost. It still means that the oil is 100% natural but it won’t have the same therapeutic properties as a pure essential oil. You can find natural essential oils in your natural skin care which we think is an ideal way to use it! Look out for Linalool which is a constituent found in over 200 essential oils and has a sweet, floral scent.
As the name suggests, the purpose of nature identical oils is to mimic the fragrance of the real deal. But are they natural? Well, sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not. Without getting to deep into chemistry, they are basically an essential oil blended with a natural or synthetic component which have the same chemical structure as a natural essential oil. While it’s used mostly in perfumery, cosmetics and skin care to scent a formulation, it’s best to steer clear if you’re after therapeutic benefits.
Now if you’re anything like us, you’ve probably tried to eliminate or at least reduce the number of products you use featuring synthetic ingredients. Synthetic essential oils are completely lab- made with little resemblance to the chemical structure of a natural oil. This makes them fairly easy to sniff out by a trained professional and a tell- tale sign for the rest of us is a sickly perfume. They are the cheapest to produce of the lot which is why you’ll find it listed as a ‘fragrance’ in mass produced candles, soaps, and even some perfumes.
We’ve all got that one friend who loves to cook with essential oils. But if you’ve held off reaching for that pure essential oil peppermint flavoured protein ball because it just didn’t seem right- we’re here to tell you that it was a good idea to go with your gut instinct! Yes essential oils are often used in commercial cooking to flavour food (in the tiniest amounts) BUT it doesn’t mean it’s the same essential oil you’re adding to your diffuser. Some chemical constituents need to be fractionated out to be safe. Other essential oils are simply toxic. Follow this golden rule and you’ll be in good hands: In Australia the only essential oils that can be sold for ingestion are the ones that are labelled as food flavours. If it hasn’t passed Australian food standards, don’t use it as a flavouring!
The great ‘noses’ (aka. perfumers) have the most remarkable ability to determine the quality of an essential oil simply by assessing its fragrance profile. The complex aroma of a pure essential oil can be shaped by the conditions in which the plant was grown, such as the region, soil composition, and climate. Because of this, the aromatic profile of an essential oil can even differ from field to field! Perfumers will sniff out the best essential oils each season which are then used high-end perfumery where a specific aromatic profile is the be-all and end-all. Being the cream of the crop according to a fragrance profile means a hefty price tag gets attached. So what does that mean for us untrained noses out there? While our best assessment on a fragrance profile may be based on our personal preference – this is nothing to be sneezed! If you’re not particular about the fragrance profile of your lavender, then you can probably save some dosh. Our advice? Get your nose on! Try out a few different brands of the same essential oil and go with what you’re drawn to. The quality determined by the ‘noses’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s therapeutic value or purity is any less!
- Extraction Method
Ever wondered how the essence is actually extracted from the plant part? Well, it’s both a science and an art! An experienced and skilled distiller knows that every essential oil has it’s intricacies in how it needs to be extracted. There are many factors involved in ensuring that the essential oil maintains its quality throughout the extraction process. Some methods employ the use of chemicals, called solvents, to extract the essential oil. But fear not, the range of essential oils we stock at Oil in Kind are sourced from experienced distillers, only using clean extraction methods.
- Growing Conditions
A common misconception is that the quality of an essential oil is equal to it’s purity. We’re here to bust that myth! And here is why… the conditions in which a plant is grown and harvested can dramatically affect the constituents (or naturally occurring chemical make-up) of an essential oil. The level of certain constituents present in an essential oil can impact both it’s therapeutic effect and fragrance profile. This means growers need to take into account many factors such as temperature, rainfall, soil quality, length of day, what time of day the plant is harvested, and the list goes on…. If it seems like we’ve just lifted the lid on pandora’s box don’t fret, there’s an easy way to ensure you’re getting a good quality essential oil. Firstly, experienced growers understand all of these variables and know how to work with them to ensure they are getting the best harvest possible. However, sometimes unexpected weather conditions can have an impact on the harvest. This is where the GC MS Testing (Gas Chromatography - Mass Spectrometry) comes in. Basically it’s an instrument which can separate and identify the constituents of essential oils at a molecular level. These tests are conducted throughout the selling and buying process to help value the price of a batch and keep everyone honest along the way. Moral of the story: if you’re buying essential oils from a trusted and experienced brand, they will have all the checks in place to evaluate the GC MS reports of each batch.
- Certified Organic
Now if you’re a purist, then organic essential oils are a great way to ensure you’re getting the cream of the crop, so to speak. Organic essential oils are often regarded as being superior quality. Considering an essential oil is up to 100x more concentrated than the plant part it came from, it’s obvious why you would want to avoid any traces of pesticides. By choosing an organic essential oil it means that the soil, farming process and production process has not been contaminated by a specific list of chemicals outlined by the body that has provided the certification (Insider tip- this means some chemicals still may be able to be used so it’s a good idea to check their certification requirements). It’s also important to remember that not all organic essential oils can be certified organic- but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be discounted, as certification isn’t always possible. Navigating the stringent process of gaining organic certification throughout a complex network of growers, distillers and manufactures can be a taxing and expensive process. And ultimately you, the consumer ends up paying a higher price tag for a certified organic product. Our verdict? If it’s super important to you and you’re happy to pay a little extra go for it! Another idea is to choose organic essential oils if you plan to use them topically, knowing that they will enter the blood stream. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
- Storage & transportation
Essential oils are volatile liquids and prone to oxidation which pretty much means that change their molecules react with oxygen and they easily evaporate much like alcohol. So even if the oils have been grown, harvested, extracted and tested to ensure absolute quality they can easily become compromised if exposed to sunlight or heat. That’s why you mind find that there is less in the bottle or some reside around the bottle after hot weather! Generally speaking well-known brands will take care to ensure that their products are stored and transported in conditions that are suitable to ensure you get the best experience with their oils. Which means it all boils down to the way you store your oils. Here are our hot tips for storage:
- Always make sure the essential oils you are buying come in a dark glass bottle (some even come in a violet biphotonic glass which acts like a natural filter)
- Store your oils away from sunlight. Some already come in a cardboard box- don’t throw these out- instead use it to protect your precious bottle of essential oil from sunlight!
- Aim to keep your oils in an environment that’s between 0 and 30 degrees celsius (room temperature). If you’re in location that’s prone to high temperatures it might be a good idea to store them in the fridge when the heat wave hits!
So, as you can see, purity is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to choosing a good quality essential oil. Quality might start with the germ of a seed but can be compromised at any point throughout it’s lifecycle. That might mean that quality is hard to decipher, but buying from a trusted and experienced brand can make all the difference. We’ve taken the hard work out and brought these brands together at Oil in Kind. Shop them here. Then it’s over to you to make sure you’re doing your bit when you take them home.
Machiani, M.A, Javanmard, A, Morshedloo. M.R, Maggi , F., 2014, ‘Evaluation of yield, essential oil content and compositions of peppermint (Mentha piperita L.) intercropped with faba bean (Vicia faba L.)’, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol 171
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Hassiotis, C., Ntana, F., Lazari, D., and Poulios, S., 2014 ‘Environmental and developmental factors affect essential oil production and quality of Lavandula angustifolia during flowering period’, Industrial Crops and Products, Vol 62, pp. 359-366
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