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Home Page > Aromatherapy Articles & Guides > How to Buy Essential Oils

How to Buy Essential Oils

Within this article, I loosely refer to all the volatile aromatherapy oils including essential oils, absolutes and CO2s collectively as "essential oils."

Shopping for Essential Oils>Essential 
              oils are readily available from many health food and aromatherapy 
              stores, via mail-order, and via companies that have Web sites. Although 
              readily available, the quality of essential oils from one vendor 
              to another can vary drastically whether you buy them locally or 
              not. Additionally, the price charged is not necessarily an indication 
              of the quality of the vendor’s oils. </p>
            <p class=Poor quality oils (oils that have been distilled from poor crops, have been handled improperly, are old, etc.) or adulterated oils (oils that have chemicals or other oils added to them) lack the therapeutic benefit of good quality oils. Additionally essential oils that have been adulterated can cause harmful side effects, or at best provide only minimal therapeutic benefit.

Below are tips that can help you select vendors of pure, high quality essential oils:

  • Watch out for words such as “fragrance oil,” “nature identical oil,” or “perfume oil.” These words indicate that what you see is not a pure, single essential oil. Many vendors label fragrance oils (that can be combinations of essential oils and chemicals or just plain chemicals) and perfume oils as “aromatherapy.” Countless vendors of strictly fragrance oils have written me to ask for advertising of their “aromatherapy oils.” Beginners need to watch out for these vendors who inaccurately use the alternative medicine term aromatherapy for their own sales gain.

  • Be precautious of suppliers that promote their essential oils as being "therapeutic grade" or "aromatherapy grade." There is no governmental regulating body that grades or certifies essential oils as "therapeutic grade" or "aromatherapy grade." (For more information, read the "Therapeutic Grade" and "Aromatherapy Grade" Essential Oils Do Not Exist article.) Not all companies use these terms with deception in mind, but some do. When considering a supplier, ignore their use of the terms and use the other tips in this article to determine whether you want to shop with them. Or even better: point them to AromaWeb's Therapeutic Grade" and "Aromatherapy Grade" Essential Oils Do Not Exist article and encourage them to no longer use this misleading terminology.

  • The term “pure essential oil” is also a term overused in the aromatherapy industry. Pure essential oils can be distilled from poor quality crops, be sitting in someone’s inventory or on a store’s shelves for years, be stored in a way that damages the oils, or be mishandled by vendors so that oils are accidentally mixed during bottling. So, don't get overly impressed by a vendor that labels their oils as "pure."

  • Most vendors selling quality oils at sizes of 4 oz. or smaller sell their oils in dark colored glass. Be leery of vendors that sell oils at these sizes in plastic or clear glass containers.

  • When purchasing oils online, it is not uncommon for larger sizes of essential oils to be shipped in plastic containers to avoid breakage and reduce shipping fees. Essential oils, however, can dissolve plastic bottles and the quality of the oil can deteriorate more rapidly. When receiving oils shipped in plastic or clear glass, be sure to immediately transfer the essential oils to dark colored glass bottles, unless you plan to use the essential oil up within a few days. You can find bottle suppliers listed within AromaWeb's Global Business Plaza. It's a savvy idea to keep empty bottles on hand. If you purchase from a supplier that ships in plastic, ask them how long the oil has been stored in the plastic bottles prior to shipment. Ideallly, you want to work with suppliers that transfer to plastic just prior to shipment.

  • Some vendors also sell larger quantities of oil in aluminum bottles. Aluminum is said to be acceptable if the inside of the bottle is lined.

  • Avoid buying essential oils that have a rubber eyedropper bulb in the top because the oil can dissolve the rubber dropper and become contaminated.

  • Seek out vendors that promote that they test all their oils, supply samples that you can try before you buy, and that give you confidence in their knowledge (often by providing detailed information on each oil they sell and provide other aromatherapy information that instills confidence).

  • If you are comparing online vendors, send e-mail to them asking questions that you have. If you don't have any, think of something to ask so that you have a reason to write them. Find out how helpful and knowledgeable they seem. My biggest rant about aromatherapy vendors is that very few have good oils as well as good customer service.

  • Watch out for vendors that sell all their oils for the same price. This doesn’t mean the oils are not pure or of good quality, but it often does. Neroli, Jasmine and Rose, for instance, should cost a lot more than geranium and ylang ylang. A good quality patchouli usually costs more than eucalyptus. The basic citrus oils including sweet orange oils are some of the least expensive oils.

  • When buying essential oils locally, watch for oils that have dust on the top of the bottles or boxes. This is an indication that the oils have been sitting around. As time passes, many oils lose their therapeutic properties, and their aroma diminishes. The bottles should be sealed so that the oil couldn't be contaminated by other cutomers. Be sure they have tester bottles of the EOs so that you can sample the oils.

  • Try to avoid buying oils from catalogs or Web sites that don’t list the essential oil’s botanical (Latin name), country of origin or method of extraction. I’ve bought good quality oils from companies that don’t bother listing this information, but I often wonder why any truly knowledgeable vendor would not realize the importance of including this information. For instance, there are multiple varieties of Bay, Cedarwood, Chamomile, Eucalyptus, and so on. Each has different therapeutic properties. The country of origin for oils is also important because the climate and soil conditions can affect the resulting properties of the oil. Is that rose oil steam distilled or is it an absolute? Any good aromatherapy vendor should realize the necessity for providing this information, so I can only assume vendors that don’t bother to include it are lazy, unknowledgeable about the importance of supplying this information or buy their oils from different distributors and don’t want to have to update their catalogs/web sites anytime they find a different source.

  • Organic oils are typically superior to non-organic oils. Read the Organic Essential Oils article for more information.

  • Be careful when buying essential oils from companies that primarily sell to the food & beverage or perfumery industries. Some vendors that primarily sell to these industries may have different goals in the purchase and sale of their essential oils than the goals of vendors that sell oils specifically for aromatherapy use. The restaurant and perfumery industries desire essential oils that have a standardized (consistent) aroma or flavor. The oils sold by these sources may be redistilled to remove or add specific constituents (natural chemicals found in the oils). These re-distillations or adulterations may harm the therapeutic use of the oils. If desiring to buy from such a vendor, inquire first to ask about their methods.

  • Most of us need to watch how much we spend. It’s very tempting to buy essential oils from the companies that sell them for the lowest price. Price alone isn’t an indication of quality, but it can be. Knowledgeable vendors that spend countless hours locating quality oils, pay the expensive fees to test their oils and provide free samples upon request should rightfully be charging more for their oils than retailers that stock oils that they’ve sourced from the cheapest sources.

  • When choosing to try a particular vendor, place a small first order and ask for additional samples (don't ask for a sample of everything, honestly ask for 2-4 samples of oils that you are sincerely interested in purchasing). The goal is to find out if this is a vendor that you are pleased with without wasting your money on large orders that you might not be happy with.

  • It is costly and time consuming for vendors to provide samples and some vendors receive an overwhelming number of requests for free samples. Some vendors do need to charge a small fee for providing samples, and this should not reflect poorly on the vendor.

  • Be cautious about purchasing oils from vendors at street fairs, craft shows, festivals or other limited-time events. Many of these vendors are selling products as a hobby, and unfortunately some vendors at these events may know their customers have no recourse against them after the event is over. This is not to say that there are not highly reputable sellers at such events, but this is a caution for beginners who are not able to reliably judge quality at first.

  • As you begin shopping for essential oils, make it your priority to support the companies that support AromaWeb. AromaWeb's advertisers support AromaWeb's mission to be an invaluable online informational resource that provides in-depth aromatherapy information. Visit the Web sites of AromaWeb's banner advertisers and the advertisers within AromaWeb’s Global Business Plaza and Local Business Plaza. Although AromaWeb cannot make any endorsement for these companies and there is no implied guarantee of the quality of the products they sell, AromaWeb will never knowingly accept advertising from any company that is suspected of being unethical.

For more information, read the following articles:

Verifying Essential Oil Quality:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Why Is the Quality/Purity of an Essential Oil Important?
Part 3: Aren't Most Essential Oils Pure?
Part 4: Constituents - What do Essential Oils Consist Of?
Part 5: Quality vs. Purity - Aren't They the Same Thing?
Part 6: Quantifiable Testing of Essential Oils
Part 7: GC-MS Test Results - How Can They Be Used?
Part 8: Other Quantifiable Tests for Testing the Quality and Purity of Essential Oils
Part 9: Essential Oil Quality and Purity Conclusion: Final Questions/Answers

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