Have you tried shopping for essential oils online? Tried comparing prices and wondering why they vary so much? Or are you struggling to know whether what you are looking at are genuine essential oils or not?
Navigating the online world of essential oils can be a very confusing exercise.
After all you can’t pick up the bottles or smell the essential oil to help you make a judgement.
Why are some essential oils so much cheaper? Why are some so expensive?
How do you know whether you are even getting a real essential oil?
When you are shopping for essential oils online, often you are left with just the information in the online listing to decide whether this is the right essential oil for you. And let’s face it the amount and quality of the information provided can vary enormously!
So what do you look for? How to you make sure you get the essential oil you want and at a fair price?
If you are comparing different essential oils from different suppliers, you need to make sure that you are comparing like with like. And you need to know the signs that indicate whether you are looking at a true essential oil, or something else.
That can be hard for anyone, but if you are new, or relatively new to essential oils, it can be even harder to know where to start.
So I am going to share just a few simple things to look for. Plus a few warnings of things to beware of!
1. Botanical Name
Essential oil listings should always include the botanical name of the essential oil. This is the latin name which distinguishes that particular essential oil from other similar (or not so similar!) essential oils. Common names can vary wildly in different places, and with different companies or product ranges. Whereas the botanical name is more precise.
Cedarwood may be Cedrus atlantica, also known as atlas cedarwood (or cedarwood atlas) or it may be other species that are also sometimes sold as just “cedarwood” such as Texas cedarwood, Juniperus mexicana or Virginian Cedarwood Juniperus virginiana. From the botanical name you can see that these are not even the same genus as Cedarwood atlas (which is the one referred to in most books that refer to “Cedarwood”) They all have different properties, and different safety profiles. Most books when referring to “cedarwood” mean Cedrus atlantica, so you want to make sure you are getting the right oil.
Another pair of similar sounding oils with very different properties, cautions and uses are Sage or Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) and Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea).
- Country of Origin
Where an oil comes from is an important factor in determining whether your essential oil is real and of a good quality. Some cheaper oils are mixtures of oils from different sources. But also essential oils even from the same species can vary depending on where they are grown. (A bit like wine!) It can also affect the price of the essential oil, due to quality, availability and other similar factors.
At Essence of Wellbeing we stock 2 different Lavender Essential Oils. Our Lavender Essential Oil is produced in Bulgaria. Our French Alpine Essential oil is grown in France, but its other difference is that it is grown at a higher altitude, which changes the chemical makeup of the oil even though the species is the same. For an oil like Lavender, this difference is not always important, as they do share a lot of the same properties. So for many purposes it is more of a personal preference as they do have different aromas. But there are some situations when one may be preferred over the other. For example, I prefer the French Alpine Lavender for use in skin care and use it in all Essence of Wellbeing Skincare Products when Lavender is required.
The absence of a single country of origin being stated can also mean that you are looking at a blend of oils from different sources, or even a synthetic oil, rather than a pure essential oil from one single source.
- Method of Extraction
How an essential oil is produced is also an important consideration. The vast majority of essential oils are produced via steam distillation, which uses only water in the form of steam to extract the essential oils. No chemicals are used in this process.
The other main way that essential oils are produced is expression, which is reserved for essential oils extracted from the peel of various citrus oils such as lemon or orange. Again no chemicals are used – all the essential oil comes from the fruit.
There are other methods of extraction of aromatic oils or extracts, and these may involve chemicals, eg solvent extracted oils, usually known as absolutes. There is a big difference between an essential oil produced via distillation and an absolute produced from the same plant via solvent extraction. To confuse matters, absolutes are often sold with or even called, essential oils. So knowing the extraction method helps to determine if you are looking at a genuine essential oil.
Knowing the extraction method can also highlight if the oil you are looking at is a true essential oil or a combination of different oils, perhaps including synthetic or fragrance oils.
If you are comparing essential oils between different ranges, websites, online stores etc, particularly on price, you need to make sure you are comparing like with like. And the absence of any of these pieces of information makes that impossible to do.
I should say that some websites may not include all of that information in their actual website listings, but are happy to provide this information on request – so don’t be afraid to ask! (You will find these pieces of information on all Essence of Wellbeing essential oil listings. But we are still happy to answer additional questions!)
If a supplier can’t provide this information, then that would be a cause for concern.
Now a few things that may be cause for concern – or “red flags”
- The essential oils in a range are all the same price or very similar pricing.
Essential oils vary greatly in the cost of production, so the final prices would normally be expected to reflect this. Essential oils can vary from a few dollars a bottle to hundreds of dollars a bottle. Fragrance oils will often be the same price across a range, so similar pricing could be considered a red flag.
- Essential oils prices that are very cheap or very expensive.
This is a tough one, as prices very a lot anyway! But finding oils that are a lot cheaper than comparable ranges (or conversely a lot more expensive) could be a cause for concern. Again see if there is a reason – look at the information provided. If an oil is very cheap there is a definite possibility that it is not genuine. But likewise, spending more does not necessarily mean a better oil – there can be other reasons for essential oils to attract a higher price, such as the business model of the essential oil seller.
- Claims of essential oils being organic without details of certification.
Organic essential oils can attract a premium where price is concerned. However if you are looking for organic essential oils, make sure to look for an actual certification such as ACO (Australian Certified Organic) or USDA Organic.. An essential oil called “Organic” without details of certification is no guarantee that you have an actual organic essential oil. Some essential oils are wildcrafted, which cannot be certified organic as they are not cultivated products. Likewise many producers, often the smaller ones, whilst adhering to organic principles, are unable to afford the certification process. So you can get very good essential oils that are not certified organic. But again, they should not be making claims of organic status without the certification to back that up.
Where Essence of Wellbeing is concerned, whilst we do obtain many ingredients from organic sources, we have not gone down the road to gain our own organic certification. Therefore we do not include any organic claims in our products listings to avoid any confusion in this regard.
- The use of terms such as nature identical, blended natural, commercial grade etc can indicate that you are looking at a synthetic or partially synthetic oil or perhaps a combination of different essential oils designed to imitate a particular oil (a technique often used to replicate a more expensive essential oil by combining other cheaper essential oils) These products are often popular for ingredients where consistent fragrance rather than therapeutic quality is more important.. But they are not used for aromatherapy as they do not have the therapeutic properties of a pure essential oils from a single source.
And they certainly shouldn’t be sold as genuine essential oils.
- Some suppliers offer a range of products including both essential oils and synthetic fragrance oils, so look carefully at each individual listing as the information may vary even across the same website. You may even find different amounts of detail across different products on the same website.
Finally I would stress again that if a listing ever does not give you the above information, or if any of the red flags appear, never be afraid to ask the supplier. Reputable suppliers will be happy to give you additional information to “fill the gaps” and to help you understand what you are purchasing.
At Essence of Wellbeing, we try to give you all the relevant information in our online listings, but we are always happy to answer questions – so always feel free to ask!