Not all essential oils are made equal. Some are readily available and fairly inexpensive (e.g. lavender and tea tree oils), while others are rare and costly (e.g. rose otto and sandalwood oils). Understanding how essential oils are sourced and supplied will help you to make better choices about the quality of what you buy.

Adulterated Essential Oils

Be wary of essential oils that all carry the same, or similar, price tags. When it comes to cost, essential oils such as rosemary, thyme, lemon and grapefruit are at the opposite end of the spectrum to oils such as neroli, jasmine and frankincense. Therefore, if you find neroli for sale at the same price as lemon, it is likely that these “essential oils” are not 100% essential oils. They are diluted in a carrier oil, blended with other fragrant components or are synthetic perfume oils.

Essential oils vary widely in price and this reflect the broad range of costs involved in the manufacture of different oils. For example, it takes 4,000kg of rose petals to yield just 1kg of rose essential oil, and labour is intensive because flowers must be hand-picked between 5-10 am, when the oil content is at its peak. Harvesting jasmine flowers to produce jasmine oil also involves a high amount of labour; flowers must be picked at dusk, the time of day that they release their fragrance.

Understanding What’s On The Label

So when you buy your essential oils, remember, you get what you pay for. As well as checking the price tag, check the label before you buy for ingredients listed in addition to the essential oil. For example, if the essential oil has been diluted in a carrier oil the label will cite an additional Latin name such as Prunis dulcis (sweet almond oil) or Vitera vinera (grapeseed oil), or additional chemical names may indicate that nature-identical or synthetic fragrances have been blended with the essential oil.

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However, extra ingredients listed other than the essential oil do not always mean that the oil has been adulterated. Sometimes the main chemical groups that are naturally occurring in the essential oil are listed separately on the label. Too avoid confusion or misunderstanding, a reputable aromatherapy supplier will be happy to explain to you any other ingredients listed with the essential oil and help you make an informed choice about what you buy.

Essential Oils And Absolutes

Strictly speaking, essential oils are plant essences that are extracted by steam or water distillation. Oil produced by other methods of extraction are not categorised as “essential” oils in aromatherapy. For example, manufacturing methods like solvent extraction or enfleurage produce “absolutes” (e.g. rose or jasmine absolutes), and methods like expression release pure plant “essences” (e.g. the citrus oils).

Solvent extraction is a manufacturing method that uses chemical-based solvents to extract the volatile oils from plant material. It is a more practical and economical method of extraction for yielding oils such as rose or jasmine, because of the vast amount of plant material needed to produce just a small amount of oil. The end products are called absolutes, e.g. rose absolute or jasmine absolute.

Some aromatherapists prefer not to use absolutes because chemicals are involved in their manufacture, but the quantity of chemical residue left over in the absolute is so minimal that it is unlikely to have any adverse effect. Rose and jasmine absolutes are used widely in cosmetics and beauty blends for their beneficial properties for skin and hair.