Essential oils are the volatile oils containing odoriferous elements of the plant, produced by steam or hydro-distillation of aromatic vegetable plant matter.
Whenever customer goes after buying essential oils, there are number of doubts they have in mind relating the quality and authenticity of oils. Purity of an essential oil is primary concern for customers as it is often a complex process to determine the purity of essential oils available in market.
What Factors Impact the Quality of Essential Oils?
Due to globalization and increase in competition from several oil producing countries, it has become imperative to look into the processing and quality aspects of the oils.
Climate & Geographical Conditions:
There are several factors that can impact the quality of essential oils such as climate and geographical conditions of cultivation.
For how long the oils have been stored and under which circumstances also impact the quality of natural oils.
Besides climate and storage related factors; the quality of essential oils may also vary depending on types of distillation. For example essential oils produced using hydro distillation may have slightly different characteristics than oil produced by steam distillation, hydro diffusion or CO2 Solvent extraction.
What are the Parameters to Measure the Quality of Essential Oil?
Refractive Index testing is the quick method to test the quality of essential oils and it requires very little sample, i.e. 2 to 4 drops of oil.
However, Refractive index testing is good only for qualitative test of purity of essential oils and it does not help you obtain the percentage of purity. There are more parameters that can help to determine the quality of essential oils which include:
- Refractive Index
- Optical Rotation
- Specific Gravity
- Melting or Congealing Point
- Chromatography Techniques
- Gas Chromatography (GC)
- Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC)
- Chemical analysis
- Organoleptic Evaluation
- Olfactory v/s Instrumental
- Odour evaluation
How are essential oils regulated?
While FDA regulates labeling for cosmetics and drugs, advertising claims are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. FDA also takes into consideration how essential oils are marketed.
Regulations on essential oil products are applied based on the category under which the product falls. Typically these are categorized either under “Cosmetics” or “Drugs”.
As mentioned on FDA website, “If a product is intended only to cleanse the body or to make a person more attractive, it’s a cosmetic. And if a product is intended for a therapeutic use, such as treating or preventing disease, it will be categorized as a drug.”
For example – if an essential oil claims to give you better sleep, it will fall in “drugs” category.
If certain essential oil product comes under both cosmetics and drugs, it must meet the requirements of both.
The US law doesn’t require cosmetics to have FDA approval before. However, drugs must meet requirements such as FDA approval for safety and effectiveness before they are launched for sell.
Authorities that Monitor and Control Global Essential Oil Market:
There are certain non-profit organizations and regulatory authorities who have been contributing in effectively controlling the essential oil market. Some of these authorities are:
- World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)
- International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Some Important Point to Consider When Buying Essential Oils
Check Botanical Name:
Please verify the botanical name of the plant is provided to ensure that you are buying the right essential oil? For example, Jasmine plant has several species i.e. Jasmine Sambac, Jasmine Gradifloroum etc.
Please verify origin country details:
Based on the country of origin, essential oils may behave differently. This is important to dig into details about the origin source of raw material that is used in distillation method.
Check the Extraction Method:
Based on their distillation method, essential oil usage and characteristics change. Thus it is important to double check the method using which the oils have been produced.
However, today most of the certifications are not too reliable. Yet, if a company has valid organic certifications like HALAL or USDA Organic certifications, there are more chances that you’ll get authentic oils.
Compare the pricing carefully:
Pure grade or therapeutic grade essential oils are typically costly. However, some essential oils brands available in the market are way more over-priced. So, you need to assess properly the costing of essential oils.
Odour of Essential oil:
If you have used it earlier, its smell will ensure that you’re buying the right oil.
Cultivation of raw material:
Essential oils can be distilled from raw material that is either wildcraft or farm-gown. Check with your essential oil supplier and then decide based on your requirements.