The Great “Essential Oil” Lie


I felt inspired to write this because Essential Oils have recently exploded in popularity and there is a LOT of misinformation out there. There are now essential oil home parties, “essential oils” for sale at unreasonably low prices on sites like etsy, amazon and ebay… and there is nothing wrong with that except that some oils are perhaps being sold as “pure” to unknowing buyers, which may not quite live up to the name. Also of note, I’ve seen tons of bath and body products for sale claiming they are made with “Pure Essential Oils!” which simply don’t exist (like Plumeria). In some cases, there may be genuine mistakes being made, instead of flat out lies- I’d like to believe that, but even so- we owe it to our customers to be 100% sure about what we are selling. Allergies, sensitivities to solvents and fragrances, and downright common sense begs you to always be cautious that what you are selling is properly labeled.

Here is a really great list courtesy of Elaines Aromatherapy – first listing false/fake essential oils, commonly faked, and lastly sometimes faked (due to their rarity and expense).

Here is the bad news. There is no regulatory standard governing the use of the term “essential oil”. So how do you know what you are getting is pure and good and real? Research, research, trusting your source, and more research. I buy all of my oils from the same company, and they are incredibly transparent with their sources and manufacturers. If you ask they will provide all documentation of where the oil came from, and what type of oil it is – Steam distilled or Cold pressed. Even so, in their “Essential Oil” category there are a few non-essential oil products listed, so you truly need to be aware of what you are buying. There are other methods people use to make “essential oils” which I will discuss below, but I do not use those oils in my products.

Now, what do those words mean and how do they apply to Essential Oils? 

In the simplest terms possible,  Steam Distilled is where water is added to the combination of organic material being distilled (for example, lavender), and the resulting mixture is heated to the boiling point of water. Steam produced by the boiling water pulls some vapors of the desired chemical with it as it travels out of the distillation container and to a separate location where it condenses. The result is a quantity of the pure compound mixed with water. The lab then removes the water to obtain the desired chemical.

With the proper supplies, you could distill your own essential oils at home! But guess how much organic material (again, lavender) it takes to produce 1 pound of lavender Essential Oil? One Hundred and Fifty Pounds of raw material! Wow, right? So, this puts essential oil prices into perspective as well. 150 pounds of lavender to make one pound of essential oil. That is a lot of effort put into a small reward.

Here is a quick simple video on it.

Cold Pressing is just what it sounds like. The (in most cases, citrus peels) are kept “cold” (cold is relative, they simply aren’t heated- never to, for example, the boiling temperature as we see in steam distillation). In this method the peel of the fruit is penetrated while rolling over a trough. Tiny pouches which contain the essential oil in the peel are pierced. After that the whole fruit is pressed to squeeze the juice & the essential oil from the pulp. Then the essential oil rises to the surface of the juice. The Separation method is a centrifugation process.

Here is the #1 fake I run into:

“Vanilla Essential Oil”. Nope. No. Sorry. Vanilla cannot hold up to the heat required for steam distillation and cannot realistically be cold pressed either. Vanilla  Oleoresins are an option but they are extracted with solvents, are expensive, and not soap stable. They wont produce a lasting vanilla scent in Cold Process soap. It would simply be a waste of money to use in my soaps, so I don’t even bother. There are some great artificial Vanilla scents out there for people who love Vanilla, but I don’t use them. Vanilla Oleoresins can be good for lotions, balms, and certain other products- but again, not for soaps and not an essential oil.

Other “favorite” fakes: Plumeria, Lilac, Raspberry [you can get a wonderful oil from raspberry seeds, but its lightly if scented it all and very precious, wonderful for the skin! NOT an essential oil], Magnolia, Orchid, Lily, Sweet Pea.

While there may be wonderful FRAGRANCE Oils for these scents, they are not pure essential oils by any means.

Other methods used which result in oils, but are not essential oils:

From Spotted Hippo Soap Blog: “CO2 extraction can actually yield a very high quality product. In this method, relatively cool CO2 is pressurized and pumped through the plant. When the pressure is released, the CO2 escapes as a gas, while the plant oils remain behind. There are no residues or solvents in the final product, so this is probably as close to a vanilla “essential oil” as you are going to get. However, if this is what you want, be prepared to pay for it. It is very expensive and downright prohibitive for me at this stage in the game. It will likely be called an absolute, but pay close attention to the extraction method. Absolutes can also be extracted with hydrocarbon solvents (like hexane), which you may not want in your natural products.”

Oleoresins. Oleoresins are commonly used in the food industry to make the extracts many of us cook with. Basically, it is the concentrated liquid form of the spice, herb, flower, seed, root, so on. They are obtained from organic material by extraction with a solvent, followed by removal of the solvent by evaporation and by super critical fluid extraction. Key words there: solvent, removal of solvent. The solvent is (often) removed by evaporation. I’m just not comfortable enough with the process to call this pure. Oleoresins are also often very expensive from good, reputable brands- and have less scent payoff than an essential oil would, which truly makes them impractical for Soaping use. This isnt *ALWAYS* the case but the basic thing here is that it is not an essential oil.

Here are the oils I use most often, and the methods used to extract them:

Amyris Essential Oil

INCI: Amyris Balsamifera Bark OilOnce known as West Indian Sandalwood, it is steam distilled from the wood of Amyris Balsamifera

Cedarwood Virginia Essential Oil

  INCI = Juniperus Virginiana OilSteam distilled.

Citronella Essential Oil

INCI = Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella) OilSteam distilled.

Clove Leaf Essential Oil

  INCI = Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove) Leaf OilSteam distilled

Eucalyptus Citriodora Essential Oil
Lemon Eucalyptus

INCI: Eucalyptus Citriodora OilSteam Distilled

Grapefruit Essential Oil

  INCI = Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel OilCold Pressed

Lavandin Essential Oil,
Super Pure,

INCI: Lavandula Hybrida OilA twist on lavender essential oil, the most requested essential oil of all! Lavandin is a hybrid lavender plant. It is not the same, since Lavandula Angustifolia is theofficinalis.Steam Distilled

Lavender Essential Oil 40-42 Extra

  INCI = Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) OilPlease note: Lavender prices have been very high over the last several years. The crop of 2011 was one of the lowest quantity ever seen.The naming of 40/42 does not indicate this essential oil is blended with synthetic fragrances, the term 40/42 means we blend various crops of essential oil together to get a more standard product. This product is pure essential oil.Steam Distilled

Lemon Essential Oil

  INCI = Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel OilCold Pressed

Lemongrass Essential Oil

  INCI = Cymbopogon Schoenanthus OilSteam Distilled

Lime Essential Oil

  INCI = Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) OilSteam Distilled

Litsea Cubeba Essential Oil

  INCI = Litsea Cubeba Fruit OilSteam Distilled

Orange Essential Oil

  INCI = Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) OilCold Pressed

Rosemary Essential Oil

  INCI = Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) OilSteam Distilled

Spearmint Essential Oil

  INCI = Mentha Viridis (Spearmint) Leaf OilSteam Distilled

Tea Tree Essential Oil

  INCI = Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf OilSteam Distilled

Let me close with this. Essential oils from “work from home” businesses aren’t BAD, as long as you know they are pure. They are often GREAT oils but sometimes as much as 5 times more expensive than you would pay buying from a reputable source online. For home use, I wouldn’t stress it too much- but when you’re using 2oz in a batch of soap, those prices are more than unreasonable, and bulk pricing is the way to go. Do your research, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and know what you are buying, and then passing on to the customer. Use the best, sell the best!


11 responses to “The Great “Essential Oil” Lie

  1. Pingback: Are Essential Oils Worth My Money? | Maximized Mama·

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  4. What essential oil brand do you use? I am finding it all confusing. I am looking at Now, Edens garden and mountain rose herbs.

    • Hi Stephanie, I’m partial to Majestic Mountain Sage (because they are local to me and I can drive and pick up orders,, and I like Mountain Rose Herbs too. I trust Essential Wholesale as well, I’ve had good success ordering their essential oils in the past. Lastly, I have ordered from‎ and had success there as well!

  5. Have you heard of Radha or Pure Body Naturals essential oils? I recently received oils from both of these companies in exchange for my honest review, and I wonder if they are reputable and if their oils are actually 100% pure, therapeutic grade essential oils as they claim they are… Thanks in advance.

  6. First, thank you for the clarity and usefulness of the information. Second, I support your purist attitude towards your work and this field and believe it is genuine in the search for both purity and truth. Thirdly, while you and your customer base may make a dubious face at the term ‘solvent’ as it applies to anything other than H2O or CO2, having a long held taboo status, all solvents are volatile. This property ensures that a total evaporation will take place. The exceptions being remnants trapped within microscopic crystalline structures that can be freed through fine powdering and also not enough time being allowed for thorough evaporation before bottling/packaging. As both a chemist and a naturalist, I am privy to both sides of the argument. I am never going to attempt to change your mind because it would require you to change the minds of those who love your products, a mighty task in itself. I would only encourage a look into the intricacy of all involved with with this most hated of words.
    Third, and a bit off-subject, steam-distillation only brings over those molecules that have a vaporization point at or below that of H2O or that are water-soluble. MANY molecules in plants are fat-soluble only and will generally remain behind.
    Finally, In my estimation, it would appear you have a keen mind and a good heart. A wonderful combination. I wish you the best.

  7. I am using oils for personal aromtherapy got to clean colds, germs etc and cleaning the air the best one can do. So i use eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, lemon, clove, lavender, myrrh, frankincense are some of the more common i picked to use….any thoughts on the cold pressed vs steam distilled ? I usually use the 100 % pure essential if i can but like eucalyptus i also found “100 % pure essential and natural oil” meaning what im not sure. It was a bit cheaper…so i assume the quality is prob less, but enough to make a difference for what i use in in aromatherapy? Would appreciate your thoughts on this.

    • Hi Della, my guess is if it’s saying its a pure essential oil and natural oil but is very cheap, is that it is probably a cut oil… pre diluted with a carrier like jojoba or coconut, which depending on the use isn’t always a bad thing! That’s just a guess though 🙂
      For aromatherapy I personally think it depends on the intended use.. If I am diffusing something or applying to to my skin, and will be breathing it in, I want high quality because those particles are entering my lungs… But if it’s just for dabbing into a potpourri a lower quality oil should be fine 🙂

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