Erika Bragdon is a Certified Essential Oil Coach from the Essential Oil Institute.
One of the most common questions people ask when getting started with essential oils or beginning to use them more extensively is “What do I look for when buying essential oils?” It can be confusing to find the answer that’s right for you, because these days, it seems that everyone has an opinion on essential oils.
Ideally, you’ll look for essential oils that are pure, high quality with beneficial properties and affordable. Yes, it is possible to find essential oils that fit that description and I’ll show you how in this article today.
First, let me be clear: buying essential oils shouldn’t be about a specific brand; instead it should be about educating yourself so you can choose what’s right for you and your family. I want you to be able to confidently choose essential oils for your family without worrying about the “noise” from everyone promoting their essential oil brand.
If you’re like me, you want essential oils that work without paying a premium price. But there is a balance because you don’t want the dirt cheap oils that contain filler ingredients either.
There are three main things you’ll want to consider as you choose essential oils for your family:
- Quality – there are several factors when looking at essential oil quality
- Cost – if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is! But the most expensive isn’t automatically the very best.
- Brand – it’s a good idea to research the brand of an essential oil before you buy, but the brand itself is not everything.
Essential Oil Quality:
There are several factors and levels of quality with essential oils.
Synthetic and modified essential oils:
Did you know that many cheap essential oils contain adulterated (inferior) &/or synthetic ingredients?
These “fake” ingredients can cause side effects that are often blamed on the oil itself. If you’ve ever experienced a headache after smelling an oil, there’s a good chance (not always but often) that oil was not 100% pure.
These “essential oils” are usually the cheapest oils and do not have the beneficial properties pure essential oils have, meaning at best, you’ll probably see very little benefit and they could even cause issues.
How do you know when an essential oil is synthetic or modified?
- They are usually very cheaply priced and often found at the grocery store, Walmart, Amazon for an incredible lighting deal etc.
- No organic labels
- Usually no Latin name of the plant on the bottle or packaging
- May smell fake or synthetic
Pros: very cheap
Cons: often contains chemicals or fake ingredients
My recommendation: Avoid – not worth it.
100% pure or natural essential oils
These are the most common essential oils and assumed to be of high quality, but can contain less-than-pure ingredients.
Did you know that a bottle of essential oil labeled “100% pure” is only required to contain 5% actual pure essential oil? (I found that both disturbing and misleading too.)
Basically the term “100% pure” doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Another common tactic companies take to decrease the price (and therefore quality) of their oils is by combining a small amount of pure beneficial essential oil with a cheaper oil. For example, a bottle of “100% pure lavender oil” may contain mostly Lavandin (a cheaper version of the lavender plant Lavandula Intermedia) and only a small amount of the lavender oil you really want, like Lavandula Angustifolia.
Why does this matter? Because different species of plants have different benefits.
Lavandin can have a stimulating effect on some people whereas Lavender (L. Angustifolia) is calming and relaxing. This is a frequent reason why some people report that lavender doesn’t work for them or their kids. But most people don’t even realize that they were using Lavandin vs the Lavender (L. Angustifolia) they really wanted.
This is also why it’s important to check out the Latin names of the essential oils you use too! (More on that below.)
Cons: may not be truly pure and can be difficult to know for sure what you are getting
My opinion: use cautiously and only after researching the brand itself.
Therapeutic-grade essential oils
“Therapeutic-grade” is a term frequently used by high-end essential oil brands. While it usually does indicate high quality, the term is unregulated so virtually any supplier can use this word on their essential oils, regardless of what’s actually in the bottle.
That being said, “therapeutic-grade” oils are typically considered a safe choice as they are usually pure and unadulterated (no synthetic ingredients added.) Because of this, therapeutic-grade essential oils can be (not always) a little more expensive.
Pros: usually a safer choice and more likely to be pure, unadulterated
Cons: can be more expensive
My opinion: therapeutic-grade essential oils are good to use, particularly after you’ve researched the brand.
Organic essential oils OR from indigenous sources
Certified essential oils are typically the top of the line in quality. However, as is often the case with organic, the price can be more expensive.
Another great option to look for is an essential oil brand that gets their oils from indigenous (native) sources. This is because many essential oils are best grown around the world in locations where it’s not possible to certify them fully organic. They can be natively sourced from farms that practice chemical-free, no-pesticide growing practices or are from the wild.
Often these oils are labeled “therapeutic-grade” as well.
Pros: the highest quality essential oil with the best possible beneficial compounds
Cons: can be more expensive
My opinion: this is the grade/version of essential oils I personally prefer and look for.
Essential Oil Cost:
Essential oils can vary a lot in cost and it is true that you get what you pay for with essential oils. This is because it takes a lot of plant material to make each bottle of essential oils and that can cost a lot.
27 square feet of lavender plants are used to make one 15ml bottle of lavender oil.
75 lemons are used to make one 15ml bottle of lemon essential oil.
256 pounds of peppermint leaves are used to make one pound of peppermint oil.
This is why a 1 oz bottle of frankincense for $10 is NOT pure Frankincense oil, regardless of what the bottle says because it would be impossible to harvest that much pure frankincense and sell it so cheaply.
But this doesn’t mean that the most expensive essential oil is always the best. (More on that below.)
Essential Oil Brands
As I’ve said before, the essential oil brand isn’t everything.
I personally use four different essential oil brands with my family with great results. I have different favorites depending on the individual oil. For example, I love Frankincense from one brand and prefer Lavender from another.
It’s a good idea to do some research on an essential oil brand before you buy. This doesn’t mean you need to sit down and extensively look over every detail on their website, but taking a few minutes to read about their quality standards, whether they offer GC/MS testing or not, where they source their oils, etc. can tell you a lot about the company.
Now that you’re familiar with essential oil quality, pricing, and what to look for in an essential oil brand, let’s get down to business with a few specific things to look for when buying essential oils.
What to Look for When Buying Essential Oils
1. Look for GC/MS testing.
While essential oil standards are not regulated, there are recognized quality standards throughout the world that reputable companies follow. This includes GC/MS testing.
GC/MS testing (Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry) reveals important details about the essential oil quality, including:
- specifically what’s in the oil, including different types of oils (ie: lavender vs lavandin)
- whether there are any additives or adulterations
- the beneficial compounds and percentages of each one
- and more.
If you’re interested in the chemistry of essential oils, there are websites that list the recommended percentages of the different natural compounds in each essential oil and you can compare those to the oils you’ve purchased or are considering buying. (I find it quite fascinating myself…when I have the time, which unfortunately isn’t very often!)
As you can see, GC/MS testing is also about accountability on the part of the essential oil company.
Usually, the companies that offer GC/MS testing are established and you can find that information on their website.
You don’t have to check the GC/MS results of each and every essential oil (though you can if you want to be super diligent or are simply interested in finding out) but the fact that a company offers this testing shows you that quality and transparency is a priority.
But just because a company doesn’t offer GC/MS testing doesn’t mean their oils are poor quality. It’s expensive for a company to offer this kind of testing and often start-up companies don’t have that kind of resources.
2. Check the Latin names.
Each plant has a Latin name and this should be identified on the essential oil bottle. This is the long, hard-to-pronounce name.
If you do not see a Latin name, this can be a red flag that it may not be a good quality oil. The exception to this is for essential oil blends with multiple oils – some quality oils may not have all the Latin names listed because the bottle is simply not big enough or the print would have to be too tiny to fit all those long names!
There are different variations to plants and therefore essential oils, so it also helps to know the Latin names so you can be sure you’re getting the essential oil you wanted because there are variations. (Again, think about Lavender vs Lavandin).
Don’t worry – you don’t have to memorize any Latin or even the spelling (I copy and paste when needed.) It’s simply for your reference and is easy and even fun once you check it out!
Here’s an example of how the Latin names can be helpful: Let’s say you smell your friend’s lavender oil and want to purchase your own, but what if you end up with a different smelling lavender oil? This is probably because your friend had a different species of lavender essential or it was grown in a different location, which can also result in subtle differences. Next time, check her essential oil’s Latin name and match it up. (Tip: snap a photo on your phone.)
Yes, there are two commonly used species of lavender oil – Lavandula angustifolia (the most common) and Lavandula latifolia.
3. Consider the price.
Most quality essential oils have some similarity in their pricing.
For example, Helichrysum is one of the most expensive oils and can cost upwards of $100 for a small bottle. Knowing this, if you were to see a bottle of Helichrysum sold online for a mere $10, this should raise your suspicions that it’s almost certainly not therapeutic-grade quality or truly 100% pure.
Higher quality oils do cost more. But this doesn’t mean you have to pay the most expensive price every time.
I did an experiment at one time that illustrated this point: I took two bottles of lavender oil (both Lavandula Angustifolia) from two different established, high-quality essential oil companies and looked up the GC/MS testing for both.
I was intrigued to discover that the highest priced essential oil bottle (from a top MLM – Multi-Level-Marking – essential oil company) actually had a slightly lower percentage of a therapeutic compound compared to the less expensive non-MLM essential oil company.
4. Consider the brand’s reputation.
Just like anything when it comes to opinions, you should always take this with a grain of salt. However, if you continually hear good things about a particular essential oil company, it may be worth doing checking the company out using the tips in this post.
5. How does it smell?
This one is super basic, but if you’re given the opportunity, smell the essential oil first. (This may not always be possible, especially since most of us order oils online now, but if your friend has essential oils, check hers out!)
Does it smell good to you? If it smells fake or oddly different from other brands offering that same oil, it may be a red flag that it’s not a good one or you may simply just prefer a different brand and you should save your money.
Remember; you don’t have to stick with ONE essential oil brand. It’s okay to mix and match and try new oils too! Have an open mind and have fun!
Note: I am not against MLM brands. In fact, I use one MLM company’s oils, though not as much as other brands due to higher cost. Overall, I’ve found a couple non-MLM brands that work just as well for my family at a lower cost. (See below.)
My Favorite Essential Oil Companies:
I am affiliated with these companies and will earn a small percentage should you click through one of the links below and make a purchase at no extra cost to you.
Rocky Mountain Oils
This essential oil company sells 100% pure, natural, and authentic essential oils, guaranteed through third-party GC/MS testing. You won’t find any adulterants, contaminants, diluents or synthetics with Rocky Mountain Oils.
You can read more about their quality here: Rocky Mountain Oils Quality
Why I Like this brand: RMO has consistently offered high-quality essential oils and I see GREAT results with their oils. I love their GC/MS reporting system – it’s super easy to look up any essential oil I have and check on the individual batch results. Their prices are less expensive than some of the MLM brands and I appreciate that. It’s also easy to buy with free shipping on any order and no sign-ups or any strings attached. They also
Their Immune blend is one of our favorites!
Buy Rocky Mountain Oils here directly through their website (no multi-level marketing!) and sign up for their newsletter because they frequently run great sales and discounts!
Tip: Rocky Mountain Oil sells many of the same oils you’ll find with MLM companies at reduced prices with the same high quality (Note: RMO sold the lavender oil that tested higher-quality than the MLM company!)
Eden’s Garden offers unadulterated, free of synthetics, 100% pure essential oils directly from nature. They choose sustainable practices and source their products from organic growers/distillers whenever possible and also do third-party GC/MS testing to ensure high standards and quality. You can ask for a certificate of analysis, specifications, and MSDS if you’d like.
Read more about Eden’s Garden standards of quality here: Eden’s Garden About Us
Why I Like this brand: Eden’s Garden has much more affordable essential oils than other brands; they are often cheaper than RMO too. Quality is still excellent and they now offer a way to look up GC/MS test results. They are not as comprehensive in terms of being able to look up a specific batch number like you can with RMO so that’s something I’m hoping they will improve on soon. EG also offers a larger variety of essential oils, including some specialty oils and higher cost oils at more affordable prices. For example: Helichrysum italicum for $39.95 for 5 ml compared to RMO at 15ml for $159.95. You can also get free shipping on orders with EG.
Eden’s Garden sells many of the same blends offered by MLM companies like YoungLiving at more affordable prices. Check out their handy comparison chart here: Comparison Chart
Ancient Apothecary by Dr Axe
This brand offers many organic essential oils and while they do not offer GC/MS testing yet, I have heard they are working toward it. I have confidently used these oils over and over for myself and my family with wonderful results.
Why I Like this brand: I began using Dr Axe’s essential oils more recently and I’ve been impressed with the quality and reasonable prices. The Frankincense Trinty blend is my favorite!
You can purchase from Dr Axe online (I’m not affiliated with their site) or from Amazon.
There you have it! I hope this beginner’s guide to choosing and buying essential oils for you and your family has helped you!