I get asked a lot what my opinion is about various essential oil companies. We have only 3rd party tested a few companies, and based on those tests there are some brands I do and do not recommend (I posted this list in our facebook group here.)
There are so many brands out there, and new ones cropping up every month it seems. Many of them are capitalizing on the popularity of essential oils, and most of them are businessmen/women who have no educational background in aromatherapy. These companies are to be avoided in favor of companies who are either trained aromatherapists themselves, or have trained aromatherapists on staff.
This post will show you ways to see through the marketing and zero in on the safety information (or lack thereof) so you can tell if the company has safe information about essential oils, and not just interested in making a profit. If they care enough to offer safe information, they probably also care about what goes in the bottle as well. Bonus points to companies who 3rd party test their essential oils – but more on that later.
Why does it matter?
Some may be asking why it matters if the information provided is safe, as they don't have to follow the unsafe usage recommendations. While this is true, and you can certainly use any brand of essential oil safely, a company which proves unsafe usage recommendations points to something greater – lack of education about aromatherapy that can spill out in to areas that can affect the product itself.
For example, without proper training a company may not realize essential oils have a shelf life and need to be stored properly (read: Shelf Life of Essential Oils). I have come across more than one company who believes essential oils do not expire, and I choose not to do business with them, as I don't want to end up with oxidized oils. Other companies may not store their essential oils in a cool place before shipping your product to you, which can also shorten shelf life.
If you want to know how to tell if an essential oil company is worth purchasing from, here are some ways you can find out just by checking their website.
Safety Information & Usage Recommendations
Some websites don't list usage recommendations on the product page itself, but have this information on a FAQ page. Look carefully to see where this information is given. Integral companies will have this information displayed clearly on the product page, and may offer some of this information on the label itself.
Here is a list of what I consider to be “red flags.” If you see this kind of information (or lack thereof), you probably don't want to support the company:
- they mention topical use without safe dilution guidelines (read Diluting Essential Oils Safely for dilution guidelines for all ages)
- they mention internal use without suggesting you see a trained professional
- they claim essential oils last forever and do not expire (read Shelf Life of Essential Oils)
- they don't caution you which essential oils are phototoxic (read Phototoxic Essential Oils)
- they don't caution you which essential oils may inhibit blood clotting (read Essential Oils Which May Inhibit Blood Clotting)
- they include for sale essential oils which should not be used at all (read Essential Oils to Avoid Using Internally and Externally)
- they offer for sale essential oils that are potentially carcinogenic without any warning about how to use safely (read Essential Oils and Cancer – potentially carcinogenic and anti-carcinogenic essential oils)
- they don't mention that essential oils need to be diluted, and how, and with what (read Choosing Carriers for Essential Oils)
- they encourage using essential oils on pets and children without any safety cautions (read Essential Oils and Children)
- they don't have warnings on essential oils that should not be used if pregnant or breastfeeding (read Essential Oils and Pregnancy/Breastfeeding)
- they don't provide the Latin name of the essential oil
- they don't mention the chemotype of the essential oil, if applicable
- they don't mention the extraction method of the essential oil, which can mean the difference between an essential oil being phototoxic or not
- they don't mention the plant part used, which sometimes matters, such as with Cinnamon Bark and Cinnamon Leaf, as they have different dilution guidelines
- they don't mention the country of origin, which can make a difference due to climate and soil conditions. Geranium, for example, can come from more than one country, but has the same Latin name. The only way to know which one you are getting (Bourbon or Egyptian?) is to have the country indicated (or you can check the GC/MS report).
Now for the flip side, here are some (can I call them this?) “green flags.” If you see this information, they are probably a company worth purchasing from:
- they mention safe topical use dilution guidelines
- if internal/oral use is mentioned, it is not recommended, or if it is, it is recommended only with professional guidance
- they acknowledge the shelf life of essential oils and even tell you how long the essential oil is expected to last. Bonus points for companies who have a distillation date or expiration date on their website or the bottle itself
- they indicate on the product page when an essential oil is phototoxic by recommending safe dilution, or telling you to avoid the sun for 24-48 hours after applying to the skin
- they indicate when an essential oil may inhibit blood clotting
- they do not sell essential oils which should not be used, or if they do, it is with strong warnings
- they tell you to dilute heavily an essential oil which may have carcinogenic potential, although they may not mention it is carcinogenic, cautions for using carefully should are advised
- there are safe dilution guidelines and usage recommendations given on each product page
- they indicate on the product page when an essential oil should not be used on children, or at what age they are safe for children
- they indicate on the product page when an essential oil should be avoided on pregnant and/or lactating women
- Latin names are clearly indicated on the product page so you know what you are getting
- Chemotypes are mentioned, if applicable
- Extraction method is mentioned on the product page
- Plant part used is indicated on the product page
- Country of origin is indicated on the product page
Specific Information to Look for on Product Pages
When I check out a website for someone, in addition to the above information, I like to go to the product pages for some essential oils to see what the safety information is like for specific essential oils. Here are the essential oils I like to take a peek at, and what I look for:
- Anise Pimpinella anisum – You want to see them telling you not to use on kids under 5 (not even diffusing). There should be a warning to avoid if pregnant and/or breastfeeding (the herb is good for increasing milk production, but you do want to avoid the essential oil). This is also potentially carcinogenic and should have a warning that if you use topically, use in a very low dilution.
- Bergamot Citrus bergamia, Citrus aurantium – You want to see the warning of phototoxicity with this essential oil. To use safely, no more than a 0.4% topical dilution is recommended before sun exposure. Sometimes companies offer a bergapten-free/furanocoumarin-free option, which is not phototoxic.
- Cinnamon Bark/Leaf Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum – You want to see a distinction between Cinnamon Bark and Cinnamon Leaf. There is a difference when it comes to proper dilution, as Cinnamon Bark should be diluted to 0.07% and Cinnamon Leaf 0.6%. You want to see suggestions for diluting well if used topically due to sensitization risk, as well as a warning that these can inhibit blood clotting.
- Clove Bud/Leaf/Stem Syzygium aromaticum, Eugenia caryophyllata – You don't want to see this suggested for teething babies, as it is a moderate mucous membrane irritant and sensitizer which should not be used on kids under age 2. Clove is also an essential oil which can inhibit blood clotting.
- Eucalyptus Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus maidenii, Eucalyptus plenissima, Eucalyptus kochii, Eucalyptus polybractea, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus Autraliana,Eucalyptus phellandra, Eucalyptus smithii – You want to see warnings for avoiding using around children under the age of 10 – yes, even E. radiata, as it can cause slowed respiration.
- Fennel (Bitter, Sweet) Foeniculum vulgare subsp. Capillaceum, Foeniculum vulgare – You want to see warnings for not using on children, pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, and to dilute well if using topically on anyone else due to them being potentially carcinogenic. You don't want to see this suggested for use on lactating women to boost milk production.
- Lemon Citrus x limon, Citrus limonum – You want to see warnings for diluting well before applying topically, due to its phototoxicity. Lemon should be diluted to 2% if used topically before going out in the sun. You don't want to see suggestions for adding to your drinking water.
- Peppermint Mentha x Piperita – You want to see warnings for not using on children under age 6 due to the possibility of slowed respiration.
- Wintergreen Gaultheria fragrantissima, Gaultheria procumbens – you want to see warnings for avoiding on children, and recommendations for diluting heavily.
GC/MS Reports & 3rd Party Testing
It is a good sign when a company sends out samples of their supplier's essential oil batches for testing to verify purity before selling to customers. A 3rd party chemist is a wise choice, rather than in-house testing, to prevent bias.
Keep in mind that just because a company tests an essential oil, does not mean the essential oils have passed. Ideally, a company will provide these GC/MS reports on their website so you can see the reports for yourself. You can compare the reports to the essential oil profiles in Essential Oil Safety so you know what to look for.
A Word on Price
You really can't make a decision on price alone. There are a few affordable essential oil brands out there that are also high quality. Likewise, you can pay a lot for essential oils and not get a better product. If a company is using consultants to sell their products, they need to add commissions to the cost of the product, which can inflate the price 40% or more. Our first round of 3rd party testing showed a $15 bottle of Myrrh was better than the $69 and $85 bottles.
A comment from a reader that “therapeutic grade” should be addressed prompted the editing of this post to include this note: if a company is claiming to have special “therapeutic grade” essential oils that are superior to all other brands, consider this a huge red flag. All essential oils are, by definition, therapeutic. There are no “grades” of oil. Read more here: Name Games.