Hello friends! Ready for Part 2 of Essential Oil Chemistry? Below I have compiled some fascinating facts & stories that will help bring home the importance of today’s topic: essential oil purity.
Last week we discussed the basic makeup of essential oils, and how they work with your body on a cellular level. Now, let’s actually start digging into how this chemistry impacts the efficacy of essential oils.
A Quick Overview
Here’s a summary of what we’re going to discuss (if you need a refresher of what he discussed last week, hit up this link):
- The key to producing a therapeutic-grade essential oil lies in preserving its constituents <<< Hey! There’s that important word again 😉
- Below are the parts of the essential oil production process that either preserve or destroy the constituents and thus the oil’s therapeutic properties…
- The part(s) of the plant from which the oil is produced,
- soil condition
- harvesting methods
- distillation processes
- 98% of essential oil volume produced today is used in the perfume & cosmetics industry. Only about 2% of the production volume is for therapeutic and medicinal purposes.
Purity & Potency of Essential Oils
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that purity is one of our favorite subjects! 😉 Here’s where chemistry comes up in the purity topic: the constituents of essential oils we talked about earlier actually help determine an oil’s purity. These constituents can be affected by a vast number of variables, including:
- the part(s) of the plant from which the oil is produced
- soil condition
- fertilizer (organic or chemical)
- harvesting methods
- distillation processes.
The key to producing a therapeutic-grade essential oil is to preserve as many of the delicate aromatic components (i.e – the constituents) within the essential oil as possible.
Here’s the low-down of producing therapeutic-grade oils:
Fragile aromatic components (i.e – the oil’s constituents) are easily destroyed by high temperatures & pressures, and contact with reactive metals such as copper or aluminum. All therapeutic-grade essential oils should be distilled in stainless steel cooking chambers at low pressure and low temperature.
The plant material should also be free of herbicides and other agrochemicals. These can actually produce toxic compounds by reacting with the essential oil during distillation. Scary, I know! Even worse, because many pesticides are oil-soluble, they can also mix into the essential oil. At this point, your essential oil is pretty much a toxin, rather than a natural health-support.
The Risks of Manufactured Oils
Here’s something troubling: Chemists have successfully recreated the main constituents and fragrances of some essential oils in the lab. These synthetic oils have absolutely no therapeutic benefits whatsoever, and may even carry risks.
Quick tip: If you look closely on some essential oil company’s websites, you will actually find that they admit to using synthetically engineered fragrances to substitute more expensive oils like Frankincense, Jasmine, or Rose! Do your research.
Like we said before, pure essential oils contain hundreds of different constituents, which create crucial therapeutic properties in the oil when combined. Also, many essential oils contain molecules and isomers that are impossible to manufacture in the lab.
Ready for me to blow your mind? Approx. 300 essential oils are distilled or extracted worldwide. 98% of essential oil volume produced today is used in the perfume & cosmetics industry. Only about 2% of the production volume is for therapeutic and medicinal purposes.
Adulterated Oils and their Dangers
Let’s get our hands a little more dirty and talk about a common example of adulterated essential oils. Today, much of the lavender oil sold in America comes from a hybrid called lavandin, grown and distilled throughout the world. Lavandin is often heated to evaporate the camphor (<< remember, excessive heat destroys therapeutic properties!), mixed with a synthetic acetate to improve the fragrance (<< synthetics mixing with nature? No thanks!), and then sold as “lavender essential oil”.
Ha! Lavender my foot!
Sadly, most consumers (*raises hand prior to Young Living*) don’t know the difference and are happy to buy it for $7-10/.5oz in various stores and on the internet.
Friends, this is just one of the reasons why it is important to know about the integrity of the essential oil company. Adulterated and mislabeled essential oils can present dangers for consumers. Here’s an example…
Lavandin or Lavender?
One woman who had heard of the ability of lavender oil to support skin health used “lavender oil” purchased from a local health store when she spilled boiling water on her arm. But the condition intensified and the skin worsened after application, so she later complained that lavender oil was worthless for supporting skin health. When her “lavender oil” was analyzed, it was found to be that delightful lavandin we just discussed, a hybrid of lavender that is biologically different from Lavandula Angustifolia (the Lavender that Young Living just so happens to sell. 😉 )
Adulterated oils that are mixed with synthetic extenders can be very harmful, causing rashes, burns, and skin irritations. Common additives are propylene glycol, DEP, or DOP (solvents that don’t smell but increase the volume). These can cause allergic reactions, besides being devoid of any therapeutic effects.
In short: do your research & stay away from cheap oils. They aren’t worth the money you spend on them.
Well, now that we’ve ended on that über positive note… 😉 Don’t worry, we’ll set everything to rights next week when we discuss Testing Standards!
If any of this intrigued you or got your wheels turning, I would encourage you to check out Essential Oil Desk Reference by Life Science Publishing. If you want 1-on-1 support in learning about & using oils, you can join our team here!
xo, Charlotte B.
By the Way...
We aren’t doctors or health experts. We just have a passion for wellness, and educating others on how to maintain it through the goodness of essential oils. Please know that any information provided on the B.Well website is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to prescribe, diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor replace current medical treatment or drugs prescribed by your healthcare professional. The statements made have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is your responsibility to educate yourself and address any health or medical needs you may have with your physician. Please seek professional help when needed.