I’ve had the privilege to train in aromatherapy with my friend Jimm Harrison, a leading expert who has 30+ years of experience in the essential oil industry.
As an uncompromising connoisseur, Jimm is renowned worldwide his essential oil expertise. He travels throughout the world to source directly from small, independently-owned, artisanal essential oil producers.
Jimm created and teaches the Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Certification at Bastyr University and is the author of Aromatherapy: Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils for Esthetics.
The following de-bunked essential oils myths are what I learned in Jimm’s aromatherapy classes.
1. “X Brand” is the best brand of oil
A best brand does not exist, because determining the best oil is subjective. An oil can be pure but, due to industrial processing, it is a “flat” oil, comparable to a flat wine. As with almost any artisanal good, producing it in mass amounts diminishes its artisanal qualities.
But the preference of artistry over quantity is also a subjective opinion, which is why there isn’t one best brand.
If you are looking for an essential oil fragrance every item in your house, from your dryer balls to your homemade bath bombs, you’re likely looking for affordability… not layered notes of fragrance from a wildcrafted oil hand-distilled by a small group of monastics in Greece. But some people want the layered fragrance and energetic qualities of hand-distilled oils.
2. The label “Therapeutic Grade” is important
The founder of Young Living created the marketing term Therapeutic Grade to differentiate his oils from other oils on the market. This led to enduring confusion that oils labeled Therapeutic Grade are superior or the only oils “safe enough to use internally” (a topic I will discuss in Essential Oil Myths, Part 2).
“Therapeutic grade” is an unregulated marketing term which ensures neither purity nor quality. A company can use this term to describe their essential oils, without legal risk, even if those oils are adulterated. Case in point: according to a deposition of essential oil expert (and non-affiliated) Dr. Robert Pappas, Young Living has indeed sold adulterated oils.
3. “X Oil” is an essential oil
The term “essential oil” is used to broadly but inaccurately describe both true essential oils and absolutes. By definition, an essential oil must be either distilled or, in the case of citrus rinds, mechanically pressed in a process called expression.
Floral oils are often to delicate to distill, so a solvent is used to separate the oil from the plant material. This results in an absolute. A jasmine essential oil does not exist, it is actually a jasmine absolute.
Absolutes share properties of essential oils, as both products contain the volatile organic compounds of the plant. Absolutes additionally contain trace materials of plant waxes and other constituents that are left behind in distillation.
4. “X Brand” doesn’t use solvents in extracting their oils
If “X Brand” offers a jasmine or ylang ylang oil, they use solvents. Solvents must be used in the extraction of these absolutes.
The solvents include hexane, a petrochemical, which is mixed with plant material to create a salve-like substance. Next, ethyl alcohol separates the absolute from the plant wax and hexane. Finally, the alcohol is evaporated.
Although solvents are used in processing, the finished absolute contains virtually no trace of the solvents.
5. Essential oils are destroyed by heat
Some people hesitate in using essential oils in a heat-based diffuser. Essential oils can handle heat because they are made by heat. The distillation process of essential oils involves heating plant material with either water or steam. This wet heat breaks down the plant material until the volatile compounds evaporate. Those evaporated compounds, when cooled, condense into an essential oil.
Very few essential oils can be made by cold-pressed (without heat) extraction, but that doesn’t mean these oils are usually made by cold-pressing. This includes citrus oils.
When storing your oils, however, choose a cool, dark storage place to prolong the lifespan. Light does degrade essential oils overtime. Look for oils stored in Miron glass. It looks black, but is actually a dark violet. This deep violet glass blocks visible light rays from degrading the oils.
6. Choose raw essential oils
I have seen a few brands of essential oils touting the claim, “Pure Raw Essential Oil.” This marketing claim is due to either ignorance or, perhaps, intended obfuscation by the company.
The companies which use this term do not identify their definition of raw, but “raw” is widely understood as unheated or processed below 104 degrees.
By definition, essential oils are processed using expression or steam distillation. In the expression method, oil is pressed from the rid of citrus fruits. Expressed oils of orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc. could technically be raw. However, oils like lavender and tea tree are produced via steam distillation. This requires temperatures high enough to evaporate the chemical components in the essential oil. There is no such thing as a raw lavender oil, or other essential oil produced via steam distillation.
7. GC/MS is important to determine quality
Gas Chromatography (GC) and Mass Spectrometry (MS) give the illusion of rigorous standards but offer little value in determining a quality oil.
These tests result in a graph of the molecular compounds in the oil. This graph is compared to a databank of many other test results for that specific oil. In this process, the average result is falsely considered superior.
Problems arise because, as Jimm says, “a plant is not a laboratory.” It is a living being and varies it’s molecular make-up based harvest time, location, season, and soil quality. Two of the exact species of lavender oils may vary in chemical compositions. This does not make one better or worse.
Further, oils are often adulterated to resemble the databank average. GC/MS tests are far from bulletproof in detecting added compounds. Finally, very few people are literate in reading these test results. Many essential oil companies can provide you with the GC/MS test, but most cannot articulate what the test results actually mean.
So, if GC/MS testing can’t ensure a pure oil, is there any testing method that does? There’s no testing method, and the surest way is to know the people involved, and purchase small scale. That’s why Meo Energetics sources our oils from the top independent experts, who have long-term, personal relationships with artisanal producers.
8. An essential oil is a high quality if it has a Nutrition Facts section on its label.
A Nutrition Facts section on an essential oil does not mean it is necessarily top quality. It is a marketing designed to lead consumers into the following – and false – line of logic:
“This company is telling me their oil is pure enough to eat, so that must make it more pure than oils without a Nutrition Facts label.”
A Nutrition Facts label does not guarantee an oil meets any element of quality (such as purity or sustainability). The safety and efficacy of using essential oils internally will be discussed later in part two of this series.
9. Standardization is not adulteration
Standardization is mixing an oil with an additional compound, one either synthesized in a lab or derived from a plant. Some people don’t call it adulteration, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…
For example, lavender oil is often standardized by adding isolated compounds of linalol and linalol acetate so these compounds display as, respectively, 40% and 42% on a GC/MS test. Geranium oil is often cut with palmerosa oil, which cheaply increases the geraniol content (a specific plant compound with therapeutic benefits) on a GC/MS test.
A standardized oil is an adulterated oil.
10. Adulterated oils don’t work
Thousands of people use the cheap essential oils, which are often adulturated with synthetic compounds, and they continue to use these oils because they see results. Why?
Because essential oils are extremely potent and often deliver results even when cut with synthetic fillers and isolated compounds. For example, adulterated oils carry potent olfactory effects, directly triggering the limbic centers in the brain to elicit an emotional response. Further, the plant compounds which are present in essential oils – adulterated or not – are shown in scientific studies to create biological reactions.
When approached from the perspectives of sustainability and energetic properties, however, adulterated oils fall short. Adulterating an essential oil distorts the energetic and biological synergy present in any pure plant component.
Coming soon: Essential Oil Myths Part II
Part II of this series will bust the following myths:
- Reductionism can explain how and why an essential oil works
- X oil is anti-carcinogenic
- X oil is shown to have these properties
- “X Brand” is pure enough to take internally
- Essential oils are dangerous to take internally
- Essential oils have an ancient history
- Essential oils may be “relaxing” but don’t create significant emotional effects
- Essential oils cause detox reactions, not allergic reactions
- Use essential oils for ALL the things
- Anyone can become an essential oil expert
- Science is always better than a nose
If you use essential oils in your healing journey, what has been your experience navigating the essential oil world? What questions do you want me to ask Jimm, so I can answer them here?