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How to Choose True Essential Oils

by Wendy Mackay MIAAMA


If you go into any new age or health food store or any candle or homewares shop, the chances are you will see some sort of little bottles of fragrant oil.

How to Choose True Essential Oils

Anyone who has had any experience of aromatherapy knows how powerful these volatile oils can be and the wonderful effects they can have. But all oils are not the same. How do you know what you are buying? 

There are an enormous number of synthetic oils on the market, but true aromatherapy uses only the best pure plant extracts. These are true "essential oils" and are, in my opinion, the only ones to purchase.

To help you make sure you are getting "the real thing", here are my top things to look for when buying essential oils -

  1. Look for the words "pure essential oil" on the label.
    If the bottle says "fragrance oil", "fragrant oil", "perfume oil", or even "aromatherapy oil" the chances are this is a synthetic product. Remember there is no legal definition of "aromatherapy" so anyone can use the term.
  2. Look for the words "100% essential oil".
    Many more precious oils are diluted at 3-5% in a base oil such as jojoba, to make the price more attractive. But such oils are useless in a vaporiser as they are simply not strong enough to have any appreciable effect.
    Of course these dilutions do have their uses, (being diluted they are great to use as perfumes) but the fact they are diluted should be clearly stated. Some producers list these diluted oils along with other pure essential oils, so you can only know the difference if you look very closely at the label.
    If you are unsure if an oil contains any vegetable oil, then an easy way to test for yourself is to place a drop of the oil on absorbent paper. A pure essential oil should evaporate leaving little or no mark on the paper. (The exception is some of the deeply coloured oils, which can leave some colour behind.) A diluted oil will leave a greasy oil mark that will not evaporate.
  3. The essential oil bottle should be dark, preferably amber, glass.
    Oils will react with plastic, so any fragrance sold in plastic will not be a pure essential oil. Clear glass will cause the oil to deteriorate due to exposure to light, so is not recommended. For the same reason, essential oils should be kept in a cool dark place to preserve them. ( cupboard, drawer or wooden storage box are ideal)
  4. Purchase essential oils in bottles with a dripolator plug in the top.
    These are vastly superior to bottles with eyedroppers. A dripolator will regulate the flow of essential oil and prevent spillage of the whole bottle even if the cap is off. However once an eyedropper cap is removed the top of the bottle is open and can easily spill. It is also more dangerous around children, should they ever get their hands on them. Another consideration that I discovered myself, is that some essential oils will react with the rubber on the eyedropper, causing it to deteriorate and contaminate your oil.
  5. Look for a botanical name on the bottle.
    This is the latin name given to each species. For example, true lavender is lavandula angustifolia, mandarin is citrus reticulata and grapefruit is citrus paradisi. While common names can sometimes be unclear, the botanical name will always be more precise. Several species may be given the same common name and there can be safety issues with some oils which are only clear when the correct botanical name is used.  There are numerous examples of oils where the common name used does not at all relate to the oil's actual botanical classification. And common names can even vary depending on the country you are in!
  6. Lastly know your supplier. Try to buy from reputable companies and from sources that give the above information or are prepared to answer your questions.  (And if the company has a qualified aromatherapist on staff to help out, so much the better!)
    If purchasing online, check what information is provided about each oil in its listing - does it include information about the country of origin, cautions relating to the particular oil, usage guidelines etc.  Are there contact details to ask questions?  Or a physical address you can visit?
    If buying from a retail store do they have qualified staff on hand or access to a professional aromatherapist to provide advice and guidance.
    And if in doubt always consult a qualified aromatherapist yourself for advice.


(This information is meant as general advice.  Please consult your health practitioner or a qualified aromatherapist for advice on your specific situation.)

Wendy Mackay is a qualified Aromatherapist and a member of the International Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine Association (IAAMA). Wendy along with her husband David is the Founder and Director of Essence of Wellbeing. Essence of Wellbeing is dedicated to the best in Aromatherapy and Pure Natural Skin Care and is located in Mornington on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

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