High-quality essential oils on a shelf

How To Select High-Quality Essential Oils And Spot The Fakes

High-quality essential oils are well packaged and come in small dark-colored glass bottles. Unfortunately, the low quality, synthetic and fake oils are also sold in this way, which can make spotting the fakes extremely hard in an oversaturated market.

However, all is not lost.

Reputable essential oil companies provide helpful resources to enable you to distinguish their high-end product above all others. You just need to know what to look for and be prepared to do a little research.

Don’t worry; I have done some of that for you. This short article will reveal to you the most telling indicators of high-quality oils versus the fakes.

It will also arm you with a couple of simple tests that you can easily perform and give you the knowledge to challenge the sellers.

With a global market size value estimated to be worth 18.62 Billion USD in 2020, growing to 33.26 Billion USD by 2027, the temptation to create fakes is overwhelming. This is why this knowledge is soo important and why you really need to read the article to the end.

So without further ado, let’s dive right in learn how to defeat the fakes!  

Ignore The Hype

100% pure essential oils have only one ingredient so beware if the ingredients list says otherwise. Sadly, some of the bottles on the shelves are stuffed with fillers, extenders, and synthetics hidden by misleading descriptions and advertising. 

So the first piece of advice I have for you is to take nothing at face value, ignore the fancy packaging and hype, and do a little research. Loud colors, bold statements, and fancy sales reps are not part of the product.

Therefore step one is to follow the steps below and concentrate fully on the product, not the noise. Remember, a pure 100% essential oil has but one ingredient.

Bottle type

4 essential oil bottles on white table

Essential oils of high quality will always be sold in tightly sealed dark-colored glass bottles. (brown, blue, amber) 

Under the cap, you will find an orifice reducer that will enable you to measure out the oil into single droplets. The reducer will also limit the exposure of the oil to oxygen, reducing oxidation and prolonging the oil’s shelf life.

High-quality essential oils will oxidize immediately, so a bottle without a seal must be rejected.

Sometimes the seal will resemble an eyedropper but beware if this dropper is made from thin plastic. 

Plastic and essential oils are a poor combination as essential oils are highly volatile, chemically complex, and react with plastics.

If your essential oils are being offered with thin plastic bottles or droppers, walk away immediately. They are not the real deal, and if the plastic has contaminated the essential oil, it may now be toxic.

Only ridged HDPE plastic droppers should be used as this type of plastic can resist the power of the oil. 

Storage location

U/V light, heat, rapid temperature variations, and exposure to oxygen will damage essential oil. Therefore never buy your oil from a storage location that could involve any or all of those factors.

Examples would include oils being sold from shop windows, near radiators, or frequently opened for customers to test the aroma. High-quality essential oils are light and very delicate and do not react well to harsh treatment.

This is the reason why responsible companies spend so much on comprehensive packaging. It is also why storage should be a determining factor in your decision to purchase.

Price

money in jars

Essential oils should never be cheap; the costs from seed to bottle are just too high. Cheap oil is a massive red flag. Therefore, the price can be an indicator of quality, but beware, the price quoted can also be too high!

Like any brand name on the market, you can end up paying for the name as well as the product. Please don’t fall for the marketing hype. All the information is on the bottle; you just need to recognize it.

Always know that you don’t need to use high prices as your primary indicator to get high-quality essential oils.

Arrogantly some of those prices are deliberately inflated to give credibility to a brand name and exploit your ignorance of the subject.

To effectively use price as a guide, know that each oil is different, and so should be the prices. If you find essential oils of the same bottle size and all are similarly priced, no matter the variety of genus, walk away!

Genuine 100% pure essential oils are never priced in that way. Therefore it almost guarantees that the oils are fake or have been adulterated in some way.

Prices can also fluctuate for many reasons, such as low crop yields, government taxation, and market conditions. A wise buyer will never expect prices to be constant from year to year or bottle to bottle.  

So use price to your advantage and compare your variable prices against other significant stockists.

If your oils’ value is similar to what your supplier is quoting, it’s a good indicator that your oil is genuine.

To spot the fake remember that, if the price seems too good to be true, then sadly, it probably is.

Latin name (botanical information)

All high-quality essential oils should display both the common and Latin name of the plant used to make the oil. 

It should also be clear which genus of the plant is being used, as Eucalyptus globulus is very different from Eucalyptus Radiata.

In fact, the genus of Eucalyptus spans more than 660 species of shrubs and tall trees. Each genus creates its own unique oil; therefore, a simple eucalyptus description is inadequate and indicates a fake essential oil.

Labeling

high-quality-essential-oil- bottle -labels

If it is a pure essential oil, then the label should specify 100% pure essential oil and have only one ingredient.

It is NOT an essential oil if it doesn’t specify the word essential. 

For example, if it says essence oil, then it is a blend of essential oil(s) and a carrier oil such as jojoba.

This could still be a high-quality essential oil but not the high-quality pure essential oil you are looking for.

Another example is “fragrance oil,” which is a synthetic compound created purely for the aroma. These oils have no beneficial natural compounds and can be diluted with other substances and be toxic to pets.  

In addition to displaying the plant’s common and Latin names, the label must also state what part of the plant it was derived from. For example, “Plant part leaf and twig, or, distilled from the herb.” 

Other information will include;

  • The extraction method (distillation or expression) 
  • How it was grown, i.e., organic, wild-crafted, traditional.
  • Net contents. (including metric measurements)
  • Name and address of manufacturer or distributor.
  • All ingredients. (100% pure essential oils only have one ingredient)
  • Country of origin.
  • Batch or Lot number.
  • Directions of use.

High-Quality Essential Oil Grading System

Multilevel marketing (MLM) essential oil market leaders have introduced the standard of therapeutic grade in relation to the grading of essential oils. 

Please note that this is purely a trademarked term and not a term that identifies purity. 

The term is used as a marketing ploy to suggest to the general public that these oils are of very high quality. In fact, it infers a higher-quality than that of their competitors who do not use the term.

It also indicates that it is acceptable to ingest these oils or use them neat upon the skin. Although, I would never advocate using essential oils in either of these two ways unless advised by a medical practitioner.

Essential oils are highly volatile potent substances and are dangerous and possibly toxic if misused. 

However, there is no industry-accepted standard that defines essential oils as having a therapeutic grading. Nor is there an organization that screens or monitors oils in the United States for purity levels.

In truth, all 100% pure essential oils could theoretically be graded as therapeutic grade; or even grade A, B, C, D, etc.

Therefore grading should not be seen as the accepted quality measure that defines all high-quality essential oils.

It is purely a marketing ploy dreamt up by the marketing department to differentiate its company from its competition. And not wishing to be seen as inferior, the competition took up the term and ran with it. 

High-Quality Essential Oils The Smell Test

high-quality-essential-oil-bottles-producing-scents

Testing the aromas of essential oils is an indicator of quality, but it can only be a minor indicator for the general public. Only an experienced aromatherapist or dedicated herbalist may be able to accurately spot a fake from its aroma.

Furthermore, like fine wines, essential oils often smell very different from batch to batch based upon individual growing conditions and distillation processes. Further complicating the process.

However, if it says lemon but smells of roses, then something is distinctly odd. Turn away; it’s a good bet that it’s a fake, or worse, toxic.

High-Quality Essential Oils The feel test

To do this test, simply place a drop of vegetable or nut oil on the pad of your index finger. Next, place a drop of essential oil on the pad of your other index finger.

Now rub the oils with your thumbs and feel the difference between the two.

Genuine essential oils feel light to the touch, have a little slip, but do not feel greasy. 

However, there are exceptions as Patchouli, German chamomile, Sandalwood, Vetiver are by their nature thick, heavy, and richly colored oils.

High-Quality Essential Oils The Blotter Test

Essential oils are not true oils at all, and, unlike oil, when they dry out, they do not leave a ring of oily residue. 

It is this little quirk that we can exploit to expose the fake oils from the genuine.

However, this test will only ring true in most cases, as there are a few exceptions. So please be aware that this test is not 100% accurate.

To perform a blotter test, you will need a perfume test strip, recommended, or piece of white paper.

Simply dispense a drop of your pure essential oil on your test paper and leave it to dry. 

The exact drying time will depend upon many varying factors, so don’t expect immediate results.

If a visible ring of oily residue is left behind, then the oil is probably not 100% pure essential oil.

The exceptions to this are the essential oils that are heavier in consistency and deeper in color. These oils are typically Patchouli, German chamomile, Sandalwood, and Vetiver. 

Another exception is when a pure essential oil has been extended with a less expensive pure essential oil. (not a synthetic oil)

Here the blend has been created with two pure, high-quality essential oils; therefore, this blend will not leave an oily stain. 

However, the oil will be of high-quality but not the pure single oil type you are paying for. Extending oils in this way enables companies to make higher profits by cheaper oils to the expensive ones. 

 It is these two quirks that make the blotter test less than 100% accurate.

That being said, the blotter test is still a reasonably accurate test for spotting the purity of high-quality essential oils.

High- Quality Essential Oils The Water Test

high-quality-oil-in-water-test

High-quality essential oils may be extended by adding surfactants and emulsifiers to them. This form of adulteration is done in an attempt to save costs and boost profits. However, there is a very simple trick to expose this adulteration. 

Pure essential oils do not mix with water and will gently float along, whereas emulsified mixtures do not.

Therefore, to conduct the water test, simply place a drop of oil into a bowl of water and wait for a moment.

Any emulsifiers present will eventually seep out of the oil and leave a milky or opaque solution in the water.

History

Researching an essential oil brand’s history can tell you a lot about its trustworthiness, transparency, and quality of the product.

So ask yourself the following questions when looking for high-quality essential oils.

  • How long has the brand existed? 
  • Do they have a long history in the aromatherapy industry, with a professional reputation?
  •  Is the brand featured in related magazine articles?
  • Has the brand failed third-party testing, and if so, how did they handle it? 
  • Does the company have any recent online reviews or accredited awards? 
  • Does the brand display or is recognized for its strong standards and ethical beliefs.

Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) tests

These tests may be quoted on the bottle, packaging, website, or articles about the brand to evidence the purity of the product.

Gas Chromatography (GC) separates the volatile compounds in essential oils into individual components. A linear graph is then produced to visually chart these components.

Mass Spectrometry (MS) identifies each of these components and the percentages involved. This process identifies any adulteration, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers within the essential oils tested.

Some companies display that their oils have been GC-MS tested and use this as a proof of purity.

However, these tests are not infallible and can miss many adulterations in the essential oils subjected to testing. 

My advice is to take the test results only as an indicator of quality but not as a guaranteed purity test.

Fake oils would be unlikely to offer themselves up to GC/MS testing.  

Place of purchase

Don’t be fooled by rave reviews on high traffic websites where people search for the cheapest product.

Many reviews are just as fake as the goods that they are supposedly reviewing. Some reviews are paid for, others sponsored, and more are written before the product has even been opened. 

And Derick from Sandpoint should not be able to ship that many high-quality essential oils from his small apartment, should he?

Similarly, is your local truck stop or drug store the best place to find the highest quality oils on the market?

Remember, the place you choose to buy your essential oils from is important. An oil with suspicious origins and contents may not only prove to be fake, but it could also be toxic. 

Brand 

lavender-high-quality-essential-oil-farm

Although a good brand name is a fair indicator of quality, it should not be considered a defining one. 

Many reputable companies buy directly from farms that log and test everything then simply rebottle the product. If you buy directly from these same unbranded suppliers, it will save you money. 

The production, distillation, testing, and purity controls are the same and are verified on the labeling. This is where good research comes into play, and many high-quality essential oil suppliers can be discovered.

Free yourself from all the selling hype offered by the multilevel marketing companies and sales reps. In short, don’t believe the hype, don’t fixate on a brand name but look for a good supplier.

When looking for a reputable supplier over a brand name, I would consider the following points.

Qualities to look for in a high -quality supplier:
  • Size is not an indication of quality. (big brands do not rule)
  • Are the big brands buying from this supplier?
  • Does the supplier have a long, transparent, and uncontroversial history admired by other essential oil specialists? (qualified aromatherapy practitioners)     
  • Is the oil supplier used by qualified aromatherapists or other essential oil specialists?
  • Does the supplier have contacts with the distillers?
  • Can the supplier provide small batch-specific MS/GC testing on each essential oil that it sells?
  • Does the supplier have a strong and recognized reputation and ethical code?

If you can find a supplier who fulfills some or even all of the above points, then you can avoid most, if not all, of the fakes. 

High-Quality Essential Oils And Third-Party Testing

A company that does all of its testings in-house may not be completely honest about its results. However, a company that freely subjects its oils to be tested by a third-party has no such conflict of interest.

Third-party testing is done without payment or favor, and the host company has no control over the results. Therefore, a company wishing to place consumer confidence in their high-quality essential oils will favor third-party testing.

Third-party testing, therefore, can be seen as a fair indicator of company and product quality. But once again, I advise you to not make it your only indicator. Third-parties testing may only include  Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry testing, and these are not infallible.

Unsafe advice Given on the packaging

single-dose-essential-oil-finger food

Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) will appear on the packaging of some essential oils. However, this does NOT make it safe to ingest whole drops daily, and I class this as unsafe advice.

Now there are plenty of people who disagree with that statement, but I stand by it. Essential oils do have therapeutic and holistic value but do not conflate these with the term GRAS.  

GRAS standards apply to parts per million in commercial food and drink products, NOT whole drops in food or water. 

Moreover, individual chemicals can be recognized as GRAS, and this means by default that adulterated and synthetic essential oils also can.

Essential oils that have GRAS status, therefore, do not need to be pure, and they don’t even need to be organically grown.

In truth, they don’t even need to have come from a plant!

Therefore, for me, any recommendation to ingest or use neat upon the skin raises my suspicions.

As I stated earlier, essential oils are highly volatile and extremely potent complex chemical compounds. Compounds that can easily disorientate the brain, burn the skin, or poison the body if not used properly. 

Furthermore, essential oils that are not 100% pure can be adulterated with anything to make them go further. So who knows what you are ingesting when you take them.

So beware of advice to put them in or onto your body to aid your good health!

Why Do Essential Oils Cost So Much For So Little?

Essential oils come in small bottles and cost a lot of money because of the massive production costs involved. Believe me, it takes a lot of time, effort, and plant material to make an essential oil! 

One popular figure quoted is that a farm must organically grow and harvest a single plant genus for an entire season. Think of the running costs involved in labor, water, feed, bug repellants, equipment, and harvesting.

The plant material (let’s say lavender) must then be separated into flowers, stems, leaves, and roots before being steam-distilled. Thus incurring further costs. 

The result of all of this effort would be about one pound of lavender oil per one hundred pounds of plant part. Now we have to add the extra expense of bottles, labor, labels, packaging, transport, advertising, selling, and shipping!

It’s little wonder that a small bottle of high-quality essential oil can command such a high price.

IN CONCLUSION

So there you have it.

There is no one hard and fast test that you can use to determine if your high-quality essential oils are pure or fake. However, there are many small tests and indictors that are at your disposal to help guide you through the minefield.

You don’t need to buy from sizeable multilevel marketing companies who charge you more than you need to pay. Learn to look at price as not the best indicator of quality but rather as only one of them.

 Small independent companies can provide you with high-quality essential oils, so don’t be afraid of them. Remember, it may be those same small farms and independent companies that are supplying the big boys! 

Qualified aromatherapists and essential oil specialists use brands that they trust, so ask them their opinions. These are the real experts at spotting the fakes and giving good advice; use them.

Don’t be drawn in by grading or the term therapeutic when selecting your essential oils. However, if you’re putting essential oils on your skin or hoping for a therapeutic effect, you need to be using a dilution of 100% pure essential oils.

 And next time you spot some “pure rose oil” over a radiator at a drug store… smile politely and keep on walking!

Overall, my advice is cheap means fake, and when in doubt, trust your senses and don’t buy it.

sustainability dad

Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, an amateur actor, and a green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019. 

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He now has an army of like-hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action. For a little inspiration on this, check out the articles and videos referencing sustainability quotes that can be found on the site. Enjoy

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