Today, you’ll find essential oils in everything from home fragrances and cleaning products to makeup and even certain foods. But despite their trendiness, essential oils have been used for centuries by cultures across the world for all sorts of different purposes, from bolstering immunity to self-care rituals like therapeutic baths and massages.
There are so many reasons to invest in a collection of essential oils, but before you spend your hard-earned cash on a trunk load of pretty bottles, consult this guide to make sure you’re zeroing in on top-notch quality products.
Why Essential Oils Are So Special
In their simplest form, essential oils are concentrated extracts derived from herbs and plants. “Biochemically active, essential oils contain sometimes hundreds of chemical constituents that contribute to their aromatic profile, as well as their physiological benefits,” explains Adora Winquist, renowned alchemist and co-author of Detox. Nourish. Activate: Plant & Vibrational Medicine for Energy, Mood & Love.
Amazing scents aside, essential oils also offer a slew of health benefits when applied topically, diffused, and more. “When inhaled, certain essential oils, such as rosemary, can support cognition and memory, while others, like lavender, can be calming to the nervous system and support sleep,” says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D.
Not All Essential Oil Products Are Created Equal
While essential oils are natural and can offer a ton of benefits, it is important to note that the products you see on store shelves and online are not all necessarily created equal.
“Some companies use strong chemicals to extract and/or cut the oils in order to keep costs down,” warns naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D. “There are also companies that do not source their plants responsibly and either use plants that are heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides or farm the plants to the point of extinction.”
The essential oil industry lacks a unified certification process that all companies operate under, which can make it challenging to determine the quality of essential oil-containing products that you buy.
How to Find A Quality Essential Oil
Before buying an essential oil product, experts recommend considering these factors to get a clearer sense of its quality.
1. Is The botanical name Somewhere on the Label?
It might sound simple—and it is—but one of the quickest ways to tell if an essential oil is of decent caliber is by checking the label for its Latin or botanical name, which is how it’s referred to in clinical aromatherapy practices, suggests Rose. This indicates that it is of good quality. A lavender essential oil, for example, often goes by the name Lavandula angustifolia, which translates to “true lavender.”
2. Is It 100 percent pure?
When purchasing an essential oil, it’s important that it is composed of just that oil—no fillers or additives. In a good quality essential oil, the label will clearly indicate that the oil is, in fact, 100 percent essential oil, often by actually using the term “100 percent pure.” “If this is the case, then you know that it is actually high quality and hasn’t been processed or mixed with other substances or chemicals,” says Connors.
3. What Color Is the bottle?
If you’ve shopped for essential oils before, you may have noticed that they often come in a dark brown or amber bottle that is tightly sealed. This is for good reason, according to Rose, as it minimizes the oil’s exposure to light as well as oxygen, both of which cause oxidation and can speed up the degradation of the oils bioactive components.
(FYI: When storing your essential oils, it’s a good idea to keep them out of direct sunlight—even though they are in a brown bottle—as light and heat can cause them to spoil faster.)
4. Is There Evidence Of third-party testing?
Whenever possible, Rose recommends checking essential oil bottles (or the company’s website) to make sure that they had a third-party lab test conducted to verify their quality. (This means that the company sent their products out to an unaffiliated lab for purity testing.) “This isn’t always obvious, but it is a good way to know if the oils are good quality,” Rose notes.
Other Important Advice For Using Essential Oils
Even after confirming the quality of an essential oil, test it on a small area of your skin to gauge any potential allergies, suggests naturopathic doctor Stephanie Seitz, N.D., of the Natural Kid Doc in Scottsdale, Arizona. “If you are prone to contact dermatitis, dilute pure essential oils in a carrier oil,” she says. (Coconut oil and jojoba oil are two popular options.) “By simply diluting the pure essential oil in a carrier oil, you can reduce your chances of developing the itchy, red rash that is common in an allergic reaction.”