You may have stumbled upon this article while on a hunt to find quality essential oils. Maybe you even googled “pure essential oils.” The word “pure” has something about it that denotes the “cleanest of the clean,” “freshest of the fresh,” and “the king of quality.” 

We want pure water, pure love, pure friendship, and pure essential oils because they sound real and genuine. 

So how did you end up here? Are you on a hunt for the best of the best essential oils? I’m glad you found this article. Because “pure” in the case of “pure essential oils” doesn’t necessarily mean the “best of the best.” 

If you’re looking to buy pure essential oils, it’s utterly confusing trying to decipher all the jargon in the online space. Everyone is claiming to have “pure oils” and that they are “the best essential oil company.” What does “pure oils” even mean? How can you even be sure of what the best essential oil companies are? This is tough to uncover (without bias) online. But that’s the goal of this blog- to teach you how to find pure essential oils. But first, let’s talk about the ones that claim to be pure, but aren’t.

Why “Pure” Essential Oils May Not Be What They Seem

If an essential oil company claims they supply pure essential oils (and let’s be honest – they ALL claim this!) that may mean they are just greenwashing. According to Investopedia.com Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. In the case of essential oils it’s giving a false impression that a company’s oils are more pure or better quality than they actually are. This method of marketing has become commonplace in the essential oils industry and it can be super frustrating for buyers.

Just because a company says their oils are pure, doesn’t necessarily mean that the oils are of fantastic quality. A so-called “pure” essential oil can be obtained from a variety of inferior plant species or distilled incorrectly. These “pure” essential oils can also contain contaminants, solvents, herbicides, pesticides, unlabeled species or plant sources, and synthetic compounds. And after distillation, these unwanted components are only magnified. 

The word pure can mean something different for everyone. But in the essential oil world, true purity means that an oil is 100% derived from the botanical (plant) species. Th oil is 100% unadulterated is in its most magical, powerful, and potent form. For the sake of this article, I’m going to tell you how to find pure essential oils- not the cheap ones with junky fillers- but the best of the best, all in their natural glory. 

The unfortunate reality is that most of the essential oils in the market today are adulterated. The results of a recent report by Consumers Advocate reviewed 10 of the top essential oil companies in the industry. 7 of the 10 companies reviewed tested positive for adulteration. This is BIG brands like Eden’s Garden, Plant Therapy, Mountain Rose Herbs and Rocky Mountain Oils to name a few. Every one of these companies claims to have “pure essential oils.” It just goes to show that you cannot always trust the marketing. Consider this quote from The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils:

 “Most essential oils used for aromatherapy in the U.S. are fabrications and not genuinely and exclusively from a single plant source. As a matter of fact, the most glaring failure of the various aromatherapy organizations in the U.S. and the UK may be their inability to address the authenticity issue (1).”

Another quote from essential oil researcher Tony Burfield says this:

“…essential oil customers frequently demand oils below the market price will still wanting to be told they are authentic (2).” 

So, the companies don’t get all the blame. They’re just giving people what they want. And you may be wondering, “Well, does it really matter if the oils are adulterated?”

Do Oils Have to Be 100%  Pure to Work?

This is a really good question. Personally, I am a bit of purist in most areas of my life. My family eats organic 95% of the time, we are intentional about the products we purchase and keeping toxins out of the home. We live and breathe health and wellness to the nth degree. But if you don’t, that’s okay. I still think that this is a really important question. 

Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt in his book The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils covers this topic pretty well. Basically, it’s not a cut and dry answer. We couldn’t say with certainty that you won’t get any results unless it’s 100% pure essential oil. Maybe you will and you’ll be happy. Maybe you’ll get results that are 50% the way there but you could’ve had that extra 50% with a pure oil. Or maybe you don’t get the results you want at all. It depends on a lot of factors, like what you’re using the oils for and how much they were adulterated. It’s just tough to give a cut and dry answer. 

Here’s what Dr. Schnaubelt did say: 

“Adulterated oils are never tolerated as well as their authentic counterparts. A less balanced fragrance and a tendency to irritate will generally make these oils less pleasant and inhibit us from using them as liberally as we can use authentic oils.” 

Additionally, Robert Tisserand, a well respected essential oil safety guru names several different concerns of adulteration in his book Essential Oil Safety. He sums up the adulteration section of his book with these words:

“Adulteration could feasibly increase toxicity, especially in the area of skin reactions. The co-presence of both contaminants and adulterants is also of concern (3).”

Bottom Line: Yes, you may still get results with adulterated essential oils, but you may also be exposing yourself to very harmful contaminants (such as carcinogens) and hormone disruptors. This is why I advocate for unadulterated, pure essential oils whenever possible – especially for use with children and babies. 

How To Tell if Your Essential Oils Are Pure  

Purity and quality matter. Pure essential oils, in the true sense of the word, all boil down to sourcing, supplier, authenticity, quality, and process. From start to finish, we’re going to look at the entire process of creating a potent essential oil. 

Sourcing 

Let’s start at the top. First thing’s first, sourcing. When it comes to sourcing pure essential oils, the terrain and soil of origin are crucial. If a field of lavender is sprayed with toxic chemicals or chemicals are mixed into the soils, the chemistry of the plants will be affected ultimately altering the purity of the essential oils. In the case of pure essential oils, sourcing from a farm that obeys natural chemistry of oils and the legitimate expression of nature and science, purity will follow.

One other thing to note is that oils are best when they are sourced from the native region. The oil is more authentic when this is the case. It’s like the difference between having a pizza from Italy and one from Pizza Hut. Or having a pineapple from Hawaii and one from your run of the mill grocery store in a suburban city. There’s no contest. It’s obvious which one is going to taste better and it’s the one that is grown or made in the native region.

It’s the same with essential oils. Plants have particular environments where they thrive (which is why we don’t see any palm tress growing in New York). When you place a plant in the right environment it thrives. Since we can’t replicate things like weather patterns and soil pH from one region to another it’s obvious why it’s important to source essential oils from their native region. It produces a more authentic oil.

Another thing to look out for is to find a company that works with trusted growers and distillers. This is necessary to get essential oils that have the therapeutic benefits you are searching for.

Tip #1 Find companies that source oils from the native (also called indigenous) regions. 

Authenticity 

Searching for a company that has an authentic passion, self-regulates quality, and cares about customers is a must when it comes to finding pure essential oils. The term therapeutic grade doesn’t mean anything- to certain companies. Some companies take pride in that their essential oils are actually therapeutic grade. Meaning they source from clean farms and trusted supplies creating pure essential oils with therapeutic benefits. While some other companies slap that label on their essential oils when really, synthetic additives are components. 

Holistic healing from pure essential oils requires unprocessed oils, sourced directly from nature with no junk added. A good sign that you found a pure essential oil is a higher price tag. An essential oil that is authentic, potent, and superior grade will hit your wallet a little harder- but it’s worth it. Purchasing a cheap essential oil won’t get the results you want, so that is actually a bigger hit on your bank (and your health). 

Essential oils are having a moment right now. So be wary of companies that are trying to edge into this space without a real commitment to health and wellness. I tend to purchase my natural living products from companies that are genuinely focused in this area.

Tip #2 Look for companies that do essential oils and/or natural health really well. Avoid those that are trying to cash in on this area without a commitment to wellness. They most likely won’t have high quality oils. 

Quality 

Understanding the testing process of essential oils is critical in looking for pure essential oils. To be genuinely therapeutic, the essential oil must be authentic, genuine, potent, and pure. According to doTerra (one of my favorite and most trusted brands), this is what these terms mean:  

Authentic 
  • Composition of oil is equal to the plant specified on the bottle
  • Oil is not a mixture of plant species 
  • Oil is not a product of a mixture of plants or weeds surrounding and growing next to species 
  • The oil is comprised of and distilled from only the plant species identified 
Genuine 
  • AKA unadulterated 
  • Oil is 100 percent natural and contains no agents, diluents, additives, or synthetics 
  • Oil is 100 percent pure and contains a similar hybrid 
  • Oil is 100 percent complete and has been fully distilled (ylang ylang is an exception) 
Pure 
  • Oil contains no similar essential oil or hybrid of plant species added to the supply 
Potent 
  • Climate and soil of plant species came from natural habitat without any chemical constituents that would affect potency 

These are really high standards (which is why I love doTERRA). The only way for a company to produce a quality oil is to run a battery of tests on every batch of essential oil. It’s ideally if there’s third party testing as well.

Tip #3 Look for companies that run a wide variety of tests on their essential oils. Bonus points if they provide batch numbers for each bottle where you can look up essential oil chemistry. 

Process 

Plants harvested for essential oils must be done by knowledgeable, patient farmers who only gather one species when proper maturation time has been reached. After gathering, the distillation process must happen gently, slowly, and skillfully. A pure essential oil will be distilled under low-pressure and temperature, avoiding oxidation or annihilation by excessive heat. 

Once the distillation process is finished, the essential oils are moved to the middlemen or distribution companies. The bad part here is that most companies don’t care to verify testing or prove if an essential oil is pure. And unfortunately, a lot of companies falsely claim their essential oils as pure but use synthetic fragrances, and chemical substitutes to dilute or replace more expensive essential oil extracts. 

Tip #4 Look for companies that disclose their process of bringing oils to market. 

Non-Organic Vs. Organic Essential Oils 

Let’s take a minute to discuss organic essential oils. You may be thinking if an essential oil is organic then it must automatically be pure, but that’s not always the case. This is why we don’t purchase as soon as we see that organic label. 

What’s more important than organic certification is the chemical composition of the oil. Organic oils are free of pesticides (which is great!). But a well tested essential oil is going to be free of pesticides as well as any other contaminants AND the chemical composition (or oil chemistry) is going to be 100% in integrity. This is not always the case for oils that are certified organic. The other thing to note is that when oils are sourced indigenously (from the native region) it’s very hard to obtain USDA organic certification. 

A very high quality essential oil is going to be free of pesticides just like an organic oil, but if it’s sourced from the native region it may not have the organic certification. For any oils that are organic, please be sure to do your research to make sure that the oils are tested for purity and chemical composition. It’s just not a given.

Organic Essential Oils Vs. Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils 

Organic oils are those that have the USDA Organic seal. Therapeutic grade is more or less a marketing term. There is no regulating body or certification for “Therapeutic Grade.” 

The main difference between therapeutic grade and organic is that one has the USDA seal and the other doesn’t. The meaning of “therapeutic grade” is subjective and depends on the company.

Certified Organic 

So what does it mean for a company to say that it has certified organic essential oils? Here’s what I found on the USDA website:

“USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible (emphasis added).

Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (emphasis added). In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment.”

Essentially, organic essential oils have been harvested from plants that have not been sprayed with chemical biocides (pesticides and herbicides). It’s easy to understand the surface value of an organic essential oil. The Herbal Academy states that pesticides and “pollutants on the plants can be more concentrated in the essential oil.” Many people avoid conventional produce (we do) and shop organic whenever possible. It seems sensical to do the same with essential oils.

But there are other considerations to keep in mind. When it comes to essential oils there’s value in running scientific tests. Testing can tell more about the chemical constituents of an essential oil and detect other contaminants. Robert Tisserand, in his book Essential Oil Safety, states that gas chromatography (GC), a type of essential oil test is useful for uncovering chemical constituents of oils and identifying compounds (such as contaminants) that should not be there. The USDA doesn’t run GC testing or any other essential oil analytics.

So, while there is value in certified organic essential oils, if it’s not paired with quality testing the oils may not be as “pure” as the company is claiming.

Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils 

Ah, therapeutic grade – this is another term that is widely used in the essential oils market. And again, there is not a regulating body for the use of the words “therapeutic grade.” So, if you want a hard and fast definition on what that term means, well there isn’t one.

Typically companies use the term “therapeutic grade essential oils” when they want to convince you, the buyer, that the oils are pure and of high quality. Whether or not that claim can be substantiated comes down to more than just marketing phrases, though. It has to do with the companies’ practices.

Are the essential oils they produce adulterated? What kind of testing do they do to ensure purity of the oils? These are just a few things that I think about when I hear the term therapeutic  grade. Additionally, according to Merriam-Webster the term therapeutic by definition means:

  1. Of, or relating to the treatment of disease or disorders by remedial agents or methods 
  2. Having a beneficial effect on the body or mind
  3. Producing a useful or favorable result or effect

As you can see, the term therapeutic can be very broad. Here’s how I personally think of the term therapeutic in relation to essential oils:

Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils is a term used to describe the quality of essential oils that you need when you’re looking to get a specific, physiological or emotional result.

I would use therapeutic grade essential oils if I wanted to boost my energy, get better sleep or help ease discomfort associated with a chronic condition. I wouldn’t worry so much about using therapeutic grade essential oils if I’m using them to make my laundry smell nice. It’s just not as important. 

Pure Essential Oil Brands 

So as you can see there can be a lot of confusion around the labeling of essential oils. All of those fancy words above like certified organic and therapeutic grade sound nice, but it’s always important to deep dive into a company before deciding to purchase. 

I created an essential oils buying guide where I reviewed and rated popular essential oil brands on a scale of A+-F  based on quality, selection, and price.

Sources

Schnaubelt, K. (2011). The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy

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