“Aromatherapy is shamanism for everyone.” Kurt Schinaubelt Medical Aromatherapy, Healing with Essential Oils.
I’m not at this point, comfortable calling myself an herbalist yet... I’m not sure when that will be... Will it be when I have finished classes, when I feel comfortable in a clinical setting when I am recognized by the American Herbalist’s Guild as a Registered Herbalist? The point is, I do not claim, at his point to be an herbal expert, but a student. As a holistic esthetician, I have been using, studying, and teaching about aromatherapy for at least 14 years. I grew up totally smelling like tea tree and lavender all the time, as my mother is a Naturopathic Dr. and essential oils were one of the may plant medicines used in our house on a regular basis. I’ve learned in my herbalism course that as far as herbal medicine goes, essential oils are the big guns. Meaning they work really well, really quickly but aren’t as gentle as say a water infusion or decoction (teas), or an alcohol extraction such as a tincture. This means that essential oils are best used in acute healing rather than chronically, and they should be used with intention. It is best every once in a while to switch up the oil you use regularly, for example, if you use rose day after day- year after year in your skincare, your body gets somewhat overwhelmed by it, and you may consider switching seasonally. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, haste must be taken especially when consuming them internally. Our liver is responsible for breaking these components down and because of the high concentration it can be quite harsh on the liver. Do consider this when your well-meaning but un-trained friend who is selling essential oils recommends drinking grapefruit juice essential oil every day in your water to lose weight. (This was a true story when I went against my own better judgement and actually got really sick)! I am personally wary of companies that do push toward daily internal consumption such as adding to your daily water because I do feel this is marketing toward consumption culture, and not toward the betterment of the health of all. I will leave that point right there for you and not say anything further regarding internal use here. My point here is that just because essential oils come from the earth, it does not mean they are harmless.
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquid plant compounds. They are produced by plants as a means to defend themselves, to attract the correct pollinators, and to send warnings to fellow plants. Clinical and medical use of essential oils began in the early 1900s, of course, the use of aromatic plants has been around for centuries. Essential oils provide clinically proven physiological and psychological benefits. The chemical intelligence of plants speaks directly to our systems, almost like we are all living on this earth synergistically!
Chances are you have tried an essential oil or two, or maybe you have an entire collection! But what should one look for when choosing an essential oil to purchase? Will any oil be fine? The truth is, not all oils are created equally, and there are different qualities of oils. It does not just boil down to “Therapeutic Grade”. Today, essential oils are having a real moment, and there are definitely lots of options. I wanted to put together an easy to follow guide on how to purchase the right essential oils for therapeutic use (meaning to treat or prevent a condition). This is for inhalation, topically, and those rare instances when you may consider internal use. If you are purchasing to make cleaning products, which essential oils are freaking amazing for, the following is not as important.
These items should always be available either on the bottle, on the website, or easily by contacting the vendor.
If these five factors are present, chances are, the vendor you are dealing with is better than most. Finding a vendor you trust is important. Other factors to consider include the environment the plants were grown in, you will most likely not find this listed on the bottle of course, but you may find some education on this from your vendor. Storage of the oil, you want to purchase oils that are in dark, glass bottles. Avoid oils sold in plastic bottles or clear bottles. Essential oils will degrade plastic, and light shining through a clear glass will oxidize the oil. Always avoid fragrance or perfume, these compounds can be endocrine-disrupting, cancer-causing, and aside from that, they have totally hijacked our olfactory system changing our sense of smell! Avoid an “essential oil” labeled as an unnatural scent, like a sugar cookie- there is not a sugar cookie essential oil, unfortunately. I mention this because I have actually seen a “sugar cookie essential oil” on the store shelf! EEEK! Avoid oils that have been adulterated by adding synthetics or blending with additional low-quality oils, mixing with a carrier oil, and not disclosing this information.
Therapeutic Grade, and Pure
The terms “pure” and “Therapeutic Grade” can be confusing… of course if an essential oil is not pure it is not of good quality, it has been adulterated in some way. The confusion comes in because there is no standardization for labeling essential oil as pure. Just because it is labeled pure, does not mean it is high quality. You have to trust the vendor by doing research, and checking for the 5 items in the above list. The same goes for the term “therapeutic grade.” Generally, this is an agreed upon term in the industry that all of the above factors are followed, but not always. Some clinical aromatherapists feel skeptical of companies that use this term. I will leave that up to you to decide but again, do your research, rather than blindly trusting the term. Once you start to use high-quality essential oils regularly your nose will be your biggest asset, just by sniffing a sample or a tester you can start to tell what is good and what is not.
Just like with skincare, be careful of Amazon because you can’t be sure if care has been taken or if they are adulterated. Amazon does not vet their vendors or the products they sell. There is no guarantee that what is in the bottle is what is listed on the label. I carry a small but growing selection of essential oils that I have vetted in both my brick and mortar and my online shop. You can view them here.
Emily Davis is the owner of Stratum Aesthetics and has been a licensed esthetician since 2007. She is a holistic esthetician specializing in cannabis skin care.