Yet another big box retailer has jumped on the essential oils bandwagon, and who can blame them? Essential oils, while around for thousands of years, have become a billion-dollar industry over the past several years, thanks to the rise in disposable income and the increase in consumer demand for natural, eco-friendly products, according to IBISWorld.

What started out as a reconnaissance mission, turned out to be a much deeper and welcome learning experience.

Disclosures and Disclaimers

That Smell

There were two brands of essential oils bookending a display of diffusers, one of which was diffusing, but the smell was faint, and I couldn’t tell what was diffusing. One brand appeared to be essential oil blends, while the other brand consisted of single essential oils. I decided to do a smell test on the single essential oils, choosing lavender, lemongrass, lemon and peppermint. I realize I’m biased, and it’s no secret that I’m a Young Living Essential Oils distributor, which I disclose in any post having to do with essential oils. That being said, I took a whiff of the lavender essential oil. The kindest thing I can say is that it didn’t smell like Young Living Essential Oils lavender, though the label said “100% therapeutic essential oil.” Same with the lemongrass, lemon and peppermint.

I had intended to buy at least a bottle of peppermint to have on hand for comparison purposes, but decided I really didn’t want to part with my money. The prices for these essential oils ranged from $9.99 to $19.99 for 15 ml bottles.

Being naturally curious, I wondered why, if these oils were 100% therapeutic, did they not smell like my Young Living Essential Oils? Aside from my own smell test, I decided to do some research.

The first thing I researched was something I have seen numerous times in various social media feeds, that an essential oil, labeled as 100% pure, only has to have 5% pure essential oil in the bottle. I’ve always thought this statement to be a bit odd, because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils. The FDA does regulate any statements regarding essential oils. So, if an essential oil label says 100% pure, it should be 100% pure to avoid false or misleading advertisement. After extensive searching, I could not find the source for this statement.

The flip side of an essential oil labeled as 100% pure and being 100% pure is that it’s not. I do not want to make that assumption. Just as bad is the school of thought that the FDA wouldn’t allow an essential oil company to label their oils as 100% pure if they weren’t. However, I’ve not seen any such testing by the FDA. The only action that I’m aware of with respect to the FDA and essential oils is the letter the FDA sent to both Young Living Essential Oils and doTERRA, asking that their distributors tune back the medicinal claims.

Jade Shutes, an instructor at The School for Aromatic Studies, wrote about The Quality of Essential Oils for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). She says there is no such thing as therapeutic essential oils. The term originated as part of essential oils companies’ marketing. If one cannot be guided in choosing good, quality essential oils by the therapeutic label, how then does one choose? Shutes writes, “It is a given that the vast majority of aromatherapy practitioners and perhaps even lay practitioners (home users) are seeking genuine and authentic, plant derived, preferably organic or wild crafted, unadulterated essential oils.” Shutes lists several criteria for choosing these types of essential oils and advises doing the smell test to compare and contrast different brands of essential oils.

Differences in distillation times can account for differences in the scent and effectiveness of essential oils, according to Jen O’Sullivan in her book, The Essential Oil Truth: The Facts Without The Hype. Most essential oils are steam distilled from plants, and the most potent version of the essential oils are those distilled in the first 1-4 hours (first distill). The longer the distillation, the less potent the essential oils, which can impact the smell and effectiveness of the essential oils. Essential oils used in soaps and fragrances are typically distilled for longer periods of time, 16-22 hours (complete distill). In addition to distilling longer, some essential oils manufacturers use higher temperatures and pressure to process a larger batch of essential oils faster. These practices also enable some essential oils manufacturers to sell their oils cheaper.

Second to that smell, on the back of the big box essential oil label were the words, “For external use only.” Lavender essential oil is listed by the FDA as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) for consumption. So, again, not making assumptions, but an essential oil that is for external use only is a fragrance oil in my book. It could have been an oversight on my part, but I didn’t see any educational materials on display. So what type of external use? Diffusing? Putting it on your body? Which is what propelled me to check out these oils in the first place. A friend of mine told me that she saw a friend of hers apply these oils topically.

What’s the big deal? The label says, “For external use only.” O’Sullivan explains that essential oil molecules are so tiny, they are easily absorb through your skin into your body’s cells. Whether ingested or applied topically, the end result is the same. Would you spray a lavender air freshener on your body? Even if it said, “Made with lavender essential oil”? Neither would I. I’m fine with using what I call fragrance oils as, well, fragrance. I’d like to think they’re somewhat better than totally synthetic air fresheners.

There’s a lot of contradicting and inconclusive information about essential oils out there. There are also scientific studies and reputable schools devoted to essential oils. I’m a huge advocate for essential oil education, and I will be a lifelong learner. I’m just laying  my observations and research out here for you to make your own conclusions and, hopefully, inspire you to do your own research, if you’re interested in essential oils.

Until next week, before you purchase The Rose, make sure it’s not The Great Pretender.

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