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Are All Natural Oils Equal?

Health Tips
Last Updated Sep 02, 2020

Although it is one of the world's oldest natural therapies, aromatherapy has only recently been re-discovered by modern cultures. Most of the credit for its renewed popularity has to be given to professional aromatherapists, who select and use only the best essential oils for treatment. Although no statistics are available, it is likely that in many cases, those who say they received no benefits from natural oils used impure, poorly processed or out-of-date oils. All natural oils are not equal. As with anything else in life, quality counts.

Watch for Misleading Labels

In Australia, all herbal preparations for medicinal or therapeutic purposes must comply with the Guide to Good Manufacturing Practice for Medicinal Products. This code was put in place in 2009 in order to ensure that increasingly popular herbal remedies were safe to use. However, safe or "low risk" does not necessarily mean it has been tested for its therapeutic value.

As herbal remedies and essential oils became more popular, many companies took advantage of the regulations in their marketing campaigns. Because of this, you can't be entirely sure that what you read on a label reflects the actual quality of the natural oil. These are some common misleading claims to watch for:

  • Aromatherapy: Because a product claims to be for "aromatherapy" doesn't necessarily mean it is a product a reputable aromatherapist would use or recommend.
  • Pure: The word "pure" in a product description does indicate that the essential oil used in a product is not an artificial substitute, but does not guarantee that it contains a natural oil that has retained its therapeutic value. The oil may be overly diluted with another "pure" oil that has no therapeutic value or it may have lost its therapeutic qualities for a variety of reasons.
  • Natural: As with "pure," the word "natural" can be misleading. A cosmetics company, for example may boast that their products contain "all natural ingredients," one or more of which may be a well-known essential oil; but is there enough of it in the product to make a therapeutic difference? Are its therapeutic properties still active or have they been destroyed by processing or improper storage?

How to Choose Quality Natural Oils

Attending an aromatherapy school and receiving an accredited certificate is the surest way to learn all you need to know about essential oils. Short of that, there are some things you can look for that will indicate the natural oils you buy will be of the highest quality. These are some of the hallmarks of quality natural oils:

  • In order to preserve their therapeutic properties, essential oils must be distilled at low temperatures over a long period of time. In order to speed up production, less reputable companies distill at high temperatures in the shortest possible period of time.
  • Once a plant material is cut down for processing, it begins to decompose and can lose its medicinal properties as it does so. A reputable distiller will use fresh materials and distill them while their therapeutic properties are still active.
  • Light, heat and air can destroy many of the beneficial ingredients in essential oils. Quality natural oils will be packaged in air-tight containers that protect them from UV rays; stored at low temperatures; and include an accurate "use by" date.
  • The label will include the botanical name of the plant. This is very important, because their are hundreds of species of eucalyptus, for example, but some species are more appropriate for treatment of specific disorders than others.

Because the process of extracting quality natural oils is time consuming and requires consistent and conscientious monitoring, in many ways, they can be compared to fine wines: they cost more because they are better. Cost alone doesn't guarantee you are getting the best, but it is an indication of quality. If anything is missing from the label or the documentation inside the packaging, don't be afraid to ask for answers. A company that sells high grade natural oils will want to boast about them and an essential oil distributor who has established a reputation for quality will be eager to answer your questions.

Originally published on Jun 11, 2013

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