How to make sure you get a pure, unadulterated essential oil.

Much of the information on this site was provided by three very knowledgeable, skeptical and experienced folks in the essential oil business. You may want to print this page out to study and refer to before you order any oils.  I don't claim this to be the ultimate source of information, just my attempt to help you buy good oils.

Note: AT = aromatherapy and EO= essential oil(s)

False advertising is illegal .. cheating people is illegal.  Not telling
you that they're selling an adulterated product is illegal.  Not testing
oils is a good way to get around the issue of adulteration as the seller
can claim they didn't know - they trusted their source because he was
kind to little kids, old folks and loved Jesus and any other lies
to sell their product. One cannot be assured they have a pure oil
l unless it is tested and the demand is on the seller to prove it.

GC/MS testing will identify blatant or amateur adulteration.  A good and
experienced analyst can detect even more than the GC might show - often,
the absence of or low/high percentage of a trace chemical will alert
them to the fact that an oil has been manipulated.

But testing for purity is not all you need - you have to check out quality
to determine whether you have a commercial grade or aromatherapy grade
EO.  If the percentages of the chemical constituents fall within a range
or footprint that is expected, you have aromatherapy grade - which some
folks erroneously call therapeutic grade.  We should avoid that term as
we are not medical doctors and when we start passing out oils and claim
therapeutic properties, we are  practicing medicine w/o a license.

All natural, unadulterated, unmanipulated EOs
do not have a great odor .. that's why the chemists work on them.  They
want to give them a better odor.  Understand that the production of EOs is
not an industry designed to support aromatherapy - it's designed for the
fragrance industry.  It's the standards drawn up by the fragrance folks
that drives the train.  Pure, natural, unadulterated, unmanipulated EOs
used in aromatherapy account for 3-5% of the usage of EOs - depending
on which EO we're talking about.  Lavender and the mints, for example,
are almost exclusively grown and processed for the fragrance trade.  So
you have to  clearly decide what you want.

If you want to  see false advertising then just go to most of the
AT sites in existence.  Why do I say they have false advertising?  Well,
if you claim that you only deal in high quality, aromatherapy grade,
pure, unadulterated, unmanipulated essential oils - and you don't have a
copy of a GC test that you can give the buyer - how can you know that
all that good stuff is factual?  You can't!  Claiming to
know the supplier so you trust him/her is totally insufficient because
you have to know that that supplier can say the same thing about his/her
supplier - and they normally do because who would routinely deal with a
person they didn't trust?


In response to a supplier who constantly spams and brags on the alt.aromatherapy newsgroup about her great oils, while she casts doubts on other suppliers, I composed a 'recommended supplies' list which I occasionally posted. These were the URLs of suppliers from whom I had purchased oils and was satisfied with, or suppliers that people I respect had recommended.

After several lengthy emails with folks who have higher standards than myself, and being properly chastised,  I would like to quote (from one of them) newer standards that I will hold my purchasing dollars for, and I hope you will, too:

"I CANNOT in all honesty, recommend ANY company that will not PROVE the
quality of their products to a buyer. If a company is willing to give a buyer a copy of the GC or GC/MS analysis of an oil they want, I will HIGHLY RECOMMEND that company.  I've told that to many sellers."

What is a GC/MS? It is a analysis report, and it stands for the techniques/equipment used in the analysis,  gas chromatography and mass spectrophotometer.  Basically, a chemist takes a sample of an oil, and subjects it to these tests, and the report tells the various chemical constituents and percentages of same in the oil.  (I've simplified the explanation because of my limited chemistry knowledge.)  A chemist needs to be very experienced and know what to look for in reading the results of the GC/MS. Adulterants and poor distillation practices can cause an oil to fail the GC/MS test. The chemist, with their credibility and ethics on the line, will then offer a valid GC/MS (or GC) for an oil, and the supplier should buy or reject on that recommendation (saving you the trouble of purchasing a synthetic or doctored oil.)

So, I recommend you request a sample of the oil and the GC from your supplier. If they will not provide them (some may charge for a sample, some a free), especially the GC or GC/MS, keep looking.

Now, on understanding the GC/MS:

Reading a GC or GC/MS is not unlike reading an EKG/EEG or
Polygraph result .. so a good supplier would have their analyst
conclude the analysis with a statement in layperson's terms - like:

"The results comform to the expected composition of natural oil of
Lavandula angustifolia.  No adulteration was detected.  Odor quality
is excellent.  In the opinion of this analyst, it is an excellent oil."

So, gentle readers, lovers of oils and possible fleeced sheep :-), please take all of the above into consideration before placing an order for essential oils. Now, if you really, really, want to be sure, there is....


 GLC means little alone, it is only as good as the
analysts knowledge and depends a lot on who does it.  For example
standard GLC will never detect a lavender adulterated with good quality
linalool or ho leaf.  Only way to do that is to use chiral which few
people can afford.

I get concerned, very concerned  when I see
these suppliers stating "their oils must be genuine because
they have a GLC or GLC-MS", you need at least THREE
other physical tests to do the job properly.

1. Specific gravity (which is around 200 years old) is still a fine test  and should be done on
all oils.  Then you need
2. optical rotation and
3. refractive index.
Miss one of those and the jigsaw pieces may not fit!

Watch out!  MSDS Sheets -- *not* proof of quality

Don't accept an MSDS as proof of quality. It is kind of funny that some suppliers are either so clueless or are trying to pull a con that they will attempt to pass off an MSDS as proof of an oil. To really understand what a MSDS is and how not to be fooled:

... Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are totally useless in determining
purity or quality - they aren't designed to do this.  The purpose of an
MSDS is to fulfill an OSHA requirement - it's for use by transporters
and fire-fighters.  They need to know the specifics of a chemical as it
is transported or if it's stored in a burning building.

MSDS is just a generic portrayal of a classic essential oil - if shows
nothing about any particular oil.   It shows volatile chemicals and data
as following - reference Lavender:

FEMA No...........  2125
CAS No............  8006-78-8
Flammability .....  Will ignite if moderately heated.
Reactivity .......  Stable and not reactive with water.
Flash Point ......  115 F
Extinguishing ....  CO2-Yes  FOAM-Yes  DRY-Yes
Fire Fighting ....  Wear Protective Clothing to Prevent Contact with
Skin and Eyes.  Cool Containers exposed to flame with water.
Color and Odor ...  XXX  So Firemen can identify it ....

And it gives boiling point, melting point, solubility, vapor pressure
and density - safety data for eyes, inhalation, ventilation, OSHA rules
if any, health hazards, emergency first aid, spill/leakage/disposal and
other safety data - and shipping and handling procedures.

In addition to requesting the reports, I recommend that you ask for samples of oils or absolutes before you buy. Some suppliers will charge, some are free. Don't be surprised if the oils don't smell like you expect -- reread the part on how oils are 'doctored' by chemists to make them more acceptable for the fragrance industry. An unadulterated oil may smell 'off', but it is a true oil.

Some skeptical views of the essential oil business:
Martin Watt  -- there are several articles on his site about the quality of oils, and what to look for before purchasing.
An essay on essential oil quality  -- from Positive Health magazine.
Integrity of Essential Oils -- yum, they focus on rose geraniums, my garden and EO favorite.
Please email me if you know of other sites.

I suggest you check out the distillers/suppliers that Martin Watt recommends on his site at on his 'useful links' page.

I will not list suppliers anymore because some of those I trusted have turned out to be not as reliable as hoped or believed. Some sell dangerous oils with no safety warning, or actually tout untested, unproven oils.