Pure Essential Oils

Purity Myths – Is Your Oil Really Pure?

Myths About Pure Essential OilsThe term ‘pure’ is used heavily in the essential oil industry. In fact, ‘pure essential oil’ and ‘100% pure essential oils’ are such popular marketing terms that they appear on nearly every essential oil label and on every website selling oils. For a term that is thrown around so much, there is widespread misunderstanding about what pure essential oils really are.

The phrase ‘pure essential oil’ is attractive, sounds impressive and implies a high-quality, natural essential oil. But you might be surprised to learn what quality level the term ‘pure’ can actually represent. The term ‘pure’ can represent essential oils with any of the following properties:

  • Pure essential oils can be diluted by up to 49% by law! The claim “100% pure” may appear on the bottle label with as little as 51% essential oil! Therefore, “pure” on the label doesn’t really mean anything.
  • Pure essential oils can have synthetic chemicals added. Even if an oil is ‘pure’ in the sense of not being diluted, it may still be adulterated with artificial chemicals to and fragrances.
  • Pure essential oils can have residual solvents. If harsh chemical solvents, such as hexane, were used to distill the oil, a residual of the solvent will remain in the oil. Residual solvent contents are not listed on labels because they are either not tested for, or they are too low in concentration to be listed (less than 1%). If you are using essential oils therapeutically, you don’t want ANY hexane or other chemical solvents in your oils.
  • Pure essential oils may be diluted with lesser quality oils. Essential oils are often blended with lesser quality oils of the same type to save money. Blending high quality and low quality oils reduces the oil’s therapeutic support, even if the resulting oil is technically undiluted and ‘pure’.
  • Pure essential oils can contain pesticides. Just like residual solvents, other chemicals such as pesticides may be present in otherwise pure essential oils. Organic or wild-crafted oils will have little to no pesticide content.

Artificial Ingredients

Great care must be taken to grow and distill essential oils that have naturally high active ingredient contents, resulting in a naturally potent essential oil. Synthetically produced chemicals are often added to essential oils to artificially raise the level of the active ingredient, saving much time and money. A so-called pure essential oil may be laced with unnatural synthetic ingredients, even if the label says ‘100% pure’.

Isolated Chemical Constituents

Example of an isolated or synthetically made artificial constituent
Example of an isolated or synthetically made artificial constituent

The natural active ingredient of an essential oil may be extracted and isolated from the other natural ingredients or constituents of the oil. The resulting isolated constituent can then be spiked into another batch of oil, artificially raising the potency of the spiked batch.

Spiking essential oils with isolated constituents is not technically ‘unnatural’, because the constituents were not made synthetically in a laboratory. However, spiking in isolated constituents alters the natural balance of the oil and can deter from it’s medicinal quality. Isolated constituents may also contain residual solvents left over from the constituent extraction process.

Measuring Purity of Essential Oils

Spiking artificial ingredients or isolated constituents into essential oils is an unfortunate widespread industry practice. That’s why it’s important to have a way to measure and determine the true purity of an essential oil. Fortunately, there are ways that adulteration can be detected for many essential oils:

  • Constituent levels. The concentration of each natural ingredient (constituent) of an essential oil can be measured by gas chromatography (GC). If the concentration of a constituent is higher than what can naturally occur in nature, this is a clear sign of adulteration.
  • Constituent ratios. For many essential oils, the levels of certain constituents have very consistent ratios from batch to batch. For example, ingredient A and B may always appear naturally in a ratio of exactly 3:1 (3 parts A for 1 part B). When the ratio of two such constituents is off, even if the absolute concentrations are in the normal range, adulteration is likely.
  • Contaminant peaks. Some artificial ingredients contain small amounts of impurities, such as residual solvents, that can be detected by GC analysis if present.
  • Smell. To a trained essential oil formulator, even trace amounts of artificial ingredients can often be detected by an oil’s odor. An oil’s smell can also reveal the overall purity and quality to an experienced formulator.
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