Essential Oil Quality Grades

Not all essential oils are created equal.

Quality is one of the most important factors in how safe and effective an essential oil is.

But there's a lot of conflicting and confusing information about essential oil quality. Essential oil products aren't regulated by the FDA or any other regulatory group, leaving the question of quality up to individual suppliers and sellers. Some companies create subjective quality grades based on their particular manufacturing process. Other suppliers mix oils from different plant varieties that increase volume but dilute the effectiveness and medical properties of the plant biochemicals. Some vendors may sell essential oils that have 50% pure essential oil, but are extended with other synthetic or non-natural ingredients. Even distinctions like "pure" or "therapeutic" can vary widely from product to product.

High-quality essential oils are more potent and more effective because they are more easily absorbed by the human body. High-quality essential oils are the safest to use because they don't contain toxic ingredients. They are also the most environmentally friendly and store longer than lower-quality essential oils. High-quality essential oils consider the selection of specific plant species, how the plant is cultivated, and how the essential oil is distilled and stored.

Low-quality fragrance oils or essential oils contain synthetic chemicals, additives, or extenders that can be toxic to the human body and irritating to lungs, skin, and mucous membranes. Because of these additives, low-quality essential oils often separate and deteriorate faster than higher-quality essential oils. Ultimately, low quality fragrance oils or essential oils may only have small amounts of the plant biochemicals that make essential oils effective.

Understanding the difference between high-quality and low-quality essential oils helps you choose essential oil products that are more effective and safer for you and your family.

Research shows that there are roughly 4 general categories of essential oil quality: synthetic fragrance oil, commercial-grade essential oil, pure-grade essential oil, and certified organic essential oil.

Lowest quality: Synthetic fragrance oils

Fragrance oils are oil-like fluids made up of synthetic ingredients created primarily for their aroma or flavor. Corporate labs use a wide variety of synthetic chemicals to create inexpensive artificial scents used in everything from perfumes to candles to laundry detergent. But because fragrance oils are synthetic, they contain chemicals that can be toxic to the human body and can induce allergic reactions when inhaled, applied topically, or ingested.

Fragrance oils may smell like the real essential oil or plant, but because they're made up of synthetic ingredients, they provide no real therapeutic benefit--and they may even cause an adverse physical reaction. Some vendors market fragrance oils as low-cost essential oils--but they aren't natural or effective.

Low quality: Commercial-grade essential oils

Commercial-grade essential oils have some essential oil as their primary ingredient, but their main purpose is still to create only an aroma or flavor. To lower costs, manufacturers dilute, blend, or add synthetic compounds to the essential oil to create more volume, blend scents, or boost aroma or flavoring.

For these reasons, experts do not recommend using commercial-grade essential oils for inhalation, topical application, massage, or other therapeutic uses. While commercial-grade oils have a more natural scent or flavor than synthetic fragrance oils, they are often doctored with artificial additives that make them less expensive than 100% pure essential oils.

High quality: Pure-grade essential oils

Pure-grade essential oils are distilled directly from the plant with no artificial ingredients added. Pure-grade essential oils are better than commercial-grade or synthetic fragrance oils for aromatherapy, but they are still distilled from plants that are cultivated with chemical sprays and fertilizers, and these chemicals are distilled into the resulting essential oil.

Because essential oil quality is not regulated by the FDA, the term "pure" can mean a lot of different things. Some suppliers label their essential oils as "100% pure," but they contain less than 50% essential oil, claiming that the non-natural extenders they've added to the essential oil are also "pure." Other essential oils may be labeled as "pure" but contain oils from multiple plant species, which can dilute the natural plant biochemicals and make them less effective.

Highest quality: Certified organic essential oils

Certified organic oils are distilled from plants that are grown organically, meaning without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Certified organic oils have a cleaner, purer aroma and are more potent and effective because the natural plant biochemicals are intact and unadulterated.

The highest quality oils are distilled from the right plant species. For example, some vendors might label their essential oil "peppermint" when it's actually distilled from Mentha arvensis, or corn mint (also known wild mint or field mint), which is cheaper to produce and doesn't contain the biochemicals of real peppermint. Aroma Shield certified organic peppermint essential oil is distilled from Mentha piperita, which is the true peppermint plant species.

Growers who grow organically are more likely to sell to distillers who will ensure that the resulting essential oils are distilled properly, stored properly, and kept free of additives or extenders. Poor distillation or storage practices--not just plant quality--can also impact essential quality.

Because essential oil quality can be altered between grower, distiller, and retailer, and because essential oil quality standards are not legally regulated, having an independent third-party certify that your essential oils are organic is the best way to ensure the highest oil quality. Because we know that the highest quality essential oils are the most effective, organic Aroma Shield essential oils are independently evaluated as certified organic by our suppliers.