What Should I Look for on an Essential Oil Company Website?
What Information Should I Have Before Purchasing Essential Oils?
The Rules of the Game
First, let’s get one thing straight: It is absolutely possible that there are companies out there producing great oils, but whose websites and informational literature do not meet the standards below. These standards were chosen based on the needs of someone using oils as medicine and wanting to do so with great care. Tradition and technology can be slow to mix, and some good companies haven’t made the switch to putting information online or to actually publishing test results. However, especially if you are new to essential oils, most of this information will be vital to your safe and effective use of your new purchases.
Also, some companies do not provide the information directly on their site, but will provide it via e-mail if requested. However you obtain it, see that you are able before making a purchase.
Here’s What an Essential Oil Company Website Should Provide:
Single Batch Testing and Labeling
I look for batch testing because plants vary. I use oils medicinally, which means I count on them having the chemicals they’re expected to have. Because plants will contain different compounds in differing amounts as they grow, it’s important that I be able to check what’s really in my bottle. While GC/MS testing doesn’t tell the entire story about an oil, it does tell me the percentage of thujone in my bottle of sage so that I can avoid toxicity. Maybe you don’t get so specific, but it’s good to know that there’s enough of what’s supposed to be there to get the job done.
Some companies test their oils, but don’t label the bottles with batch numbers or publish the results. I much prefer those that do. I’ve seen companies that posted test results, but didn’t indicate a date of testing or what batch was tested. If the test result can’t be matched to my bottle, it doesn’t matter. It’s like looking at a report card that contains no name or date. It might as well say “some oil, at some time, contained these compounds”. This is not helpful.
Proper Plant Identification
Before you even consider purchasing a bottle of oils, you should know exactly what plant is involved. Let’s say your friend likes frankincense for meditation. You go to their house, and love it. You order frankincense from somewhere, and it smells nothing like what your friend had. Might be because you got a scented oil or because your friend had something adulterated. Or it could be because you and your friend just have great oils from completely different trees. And each of those oils has different compounds, so they don’t just smell different, they work differently with your body. There are four popular oils called “frankincense”, and many others that are seen less frequently. And no, frankincense isn’t the only plant. In fact, most plants have many varieties, or “cultivars”, and unless you know which specific one you have, you might not be getting what you need.
It’s also important to have those Latin names because some plants are called different things in different places, while others carry the same name but are different plants. The name “Pennyroyal” is used in several areas of the world to refer to at least three different plants, two of which are poison and one not. Care to just guess which one your “Pennyroyal” really is? I didn’t think so.
Without specific botanical names, the ones in Latin, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. And sometimes, it really, really matters. I will not buy from any seller who cannot give me that information.
Plant Growth Locale
Again with the frankincense, but it makes such a good example! Two of the four most common types of frankincense, boswellia carterii and boswellia serrata, actually come from the same seed, but are distinctly different plants. Seriously, that happens. The difference between the two is in where the trees are grown, including soil conditions and environmental factors.
Another consideration is that some plants just grow better where they are “native”. There’s a reason no one advertises “Fantastic Canadian Oranges”. From what I know, Canada is a pretty nice place, but oranges grow better in far more southern areas. So while “Grown in My Country” might be something that makes you feel good, it won’t always mean you’re getting the highest quality oil.
Begamot essential oil, like many others, can be made in several ways. The two most common are “cold-pressed” and “steam-distilled”. Bergamot is also known to be “phototoxic”, meaning it has the potential to cause problems if used topically in sunlight. Steam-distilled bergamot generally contains fewer of the potentially-harmful components than cold-pressed variety, because those components are highly volatile and destroyed by heat. So why doesn’t every company just make their bergamot with a “safer” heat method? Because there are some folks like me who know and understand the risks, but want the cold-pressed because it is more “whole” and seems to work better for non-topical methods of use. OK, that’s really just me – I prefer it a whole lot for diffusing and scent-making.
Bergamot is not the only plant where distillation method will make a difference. In fact, most of the time it will alter the final components in the oil you purchase. No one method is always better, and some plants aren’t eligible for all kinds of distillation. You cannot really “cold press” wood, after all, at least not for the purpose of getting its oils.
Seriously, you can do great harm to your body by using oils improperly. If you’re unsure, check this information on the ingestion of essential oils. Citrus oils should be labeled as phototoxic or identified as having those compounds removed. “Hot” oils like cinnamon or clove should be labeled as such, with an explanation of what it means. (It means they can be highly irritating to skin and mucous membranes and should be used topically with caution.) While it is your responsibility to know about the oils you use, it’s a whole lot of helpful if the company believes in helping you do that!
You might choose to use oils in a way not “approved” or suggested by the website, and we’re OK with that. But these guidelines exist to help you use oils effectively without putting yourself in danger. Dilution charts should not be the same for every oil, because not all oils require the same dilution. Some oils can be used “neat”, though we recommend that not be a regular habit. Other oils, like wintergreen, need to be used in really small amounts to avoid damage to other organs.
Yes, you can learn these guidelines from other sources. Again, it’s just really helpful if the company is responsible enough to help you use their products. It not only points to responsibility overall, it brings you back as a customer since your oils work properly for what you need. If this info isn’t there, I always feel like they’re just trying to sell me something to make a quick buck, not build a long-standing relationship based on quality and trust. Even if I’m only planning to buy once, I’d rather buy from the responsible folks.
There are good reasons to check that your plants were grown organically, or harvested from a place where certification is not warranted, as in small-batch wildcrafted oils. As we’ve explained here, it’s not always necessary that companies have organic certification, but you should look for some kind of statement on the subject. Remember, if it’s on the plant, it could be in the oil.
Definitions of Terms
“Therapeutic Grade”, “Pure”, “SAAFE” and “Natural” are words without meaning in the essential oils world. Some companies stamp those labels on their bottles and that’s the end of it. Other companies tell you what they mean when they say it. So, check that their standards and definitions are actually somewhere on the site. What do they mean when they say those things? If they don’t tell you, they’re hoping you are sold because of the words. The words with no meanings. Don’t fall for that.
It’s important to read reviews properly, and to sort good information from simple opinion. Reviews might be helpful or not so much. But I look to see that they exist. For me, a company should be willing to let people share opinions and ideas with one another so that we can be informed. It is also important that there be negative reviews as well as positives. I want to see if and how the company responds to reviews and complaints. Read what people like and do not like about an oil, keeping in mind that your negative experience might be just what I’m looking for. I never consider reviews that spout the benefits of another brand, though. This business is rough right now, and loyalties die hard. (See these helpful hints on how to read essential oil reviews!)
Do they list e-mail, phone, and a physical address? Even if they sell on a third-party site like Amazon, can you contact someone at the actual company if you have a question? Is there a discussion page, blog, or other forum for discussion? You might not need everything I list, but it gives you a feel for how invested a company is in building a relationship and a lasting business, rather than being a flash-in-the-pan.
What About YOU?
These are the things I look for as I evaluate whether I will purchase an essential oil. I have certainly purchased from sellers with far less information than I’ve listed, but when I need an oil for health and wellness, I look for companies who check off most or all of these “boxes”. What about you? Have I forgotten something you look for? Let me know in the comments below!
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