Element 3. List requirements of a therapeutic essential oil

What to look for when buying an essential oil.

As aromatherapy is such a small consumer of essential oils, the oils suitable for this purpose are not so readily available as the oils used by the main purchasers. The food and flavour industry and perfumery. Unlike aromatherapy, they do not require therapeutic quality oils. These industries only requirement is, that the oils smell, and that the smell is consistent, this unfortunately for aromatherapist, results in the oils being mixed with other oils, other harvests and synthetics. This is perfect for industry but generally bears no relation to the natural pure product that aromatherapists, herbalists and other natural therapist need to use to promote health and wellbeing. Below are some points to always check when purchasing essential oils.

Essential oils should always state the following: 

  • 100% Pure and Natural – As consumers we must be aware of misinformation, if your label doesn’t state that it is 100% pure and natural then how do you know how much of it is? By law, any product containing at least 3% pure ingredients can quite legally be called pure; so check your label.
  • Common Name – i.e. Lavender
  • Botanical / Latin Name – i.e. Lavendula angustifolia
  • Country of origin – i.e. France, Bulgaria etc. This is important as a really good quality oil it must come from a specific country. For example, in general, it is agreed that France, Bulgaria and Tasmania are considered the best quality lavender oil.
  • Use by date Essential oils do expire. Citrus oils & oils high in monoterpenes/top note oils* generally have a shelf life of up to 2 years, floral/herbaceous middle note oils such as lavender, geranium etc. have a shelf life of 3-4 years. Some root and bark oils, base note oils such as vetiver and sandalwood oils have a shelf of 5 + years, whereas vetiver improves with age, dependent on good storage conditions.

* This will be discussed later in the course

So, the above is the minimum amount of information required on an essential oil label.

Lavender is a useful example as there are a few varieties of lavender and each is quite different in its uses. Lavender Angustifolia is wonderful for headaches, cuts and bruises etc. and is gentle enough to be applied neat on to the skin and used on small children, Spike Lavender (Lavandula Latifolia) is a far harsher oil that is great for sore muscles and rheumatic pains but is not suitable to be applied neat, particularly to open wounds.

If the oil you are buying simply states lavender oil how do you know which one you are buying? It’s a bit late when you have applied it to an open wound and you are screaming in agony. If it doesn’t say its 100% pure and natural the chances are it’s not, if it doesn’t state that it is Lavandula Officinalis/Angustifolia, chances are it is the far cheaper Spike Lavender. If your oil supplier does not provide this minimum of information on the labels, then maybe they should not be selling oils to the aromatherapy market and I would suggest you look for a new supplier.