The quality of essential oils can vary widely. As a consumer (and
even as an aromatherapist), it is difficult to assess quality.
Essential oils come from all over the world, and suppliers or companies
usually obtain oils from farmers or wholesalers whose practices and
integrity they have come to trust over time. The end consumer would not
be aware of (or have the capability to assess) those relationships and
practices. For those interested in learning more about regulating
bodies and certifying organizations, some information and links are
How are essential oils regulated?
Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act ,
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for
regulating foods, food additives, drugs, cosmetics, and dietary
supplements. The legal difference between these categories is
determined by the product's intended use.
The FDA considers
essential oils either cosmetics or drugs, depending on their intended
use. The FDA makes decisions concerning the regulation of essential
oils on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a company claimed that
the aroma of an essential oil promoted attractiveness, the FDA would
most likely regulate the product as a cosmetic. If a company claimed
that an essential oil was effective as an aid for quitting smoking or
in treating or preventing any other condition or disease, the FDA is
more likely to regulate the product as a drug.
Cosmetics or drugs--does it matter?
and drugs are regulated very differently. Although a few researchers
have obtained FDA approval to conduct research on essential oils used
therapeutically (as drugs), most essential oils are not considered
drugs by official agencies. Thus, they are available to anyone without
a prescription and questions of quality are handled as for cosmetics,
foods, and flavoring agents.
Who governs advertising claims?
Claims made in advertising, but not on product labeling, are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission
(although advertising claims can be used to establish a product's
intended use). Room fragrance systems (deodorizers, odor control) are
the responsibility of the Consumer Product Safety Commission .
For more information, see the following FDA web site:
Office of Cosmetics and Colors Fact Sheet, March 13, 2000: Aromatherapy
What about regulations around the world?
Various agencies abroad have been proactive in setting standards for essential oil quality. Examples of these agencies include:
- AFNOR (Association
Francaise de Normalisation) Their "New Approach" provides directives
and standards for members of the European Union states to facilitate
intra-community trade. All companies wishing to exchange goods within
Europe are therefore obliged to comply with their directives. For
essential oils, they provide guidelines and information on various
topics including determination of water content, chromatographic
profiles, determination of acid value, content of phenols, etc.
(International Organization for Standardization) Their mission is to
promote the development of standardization in the areas of
intellectual, scientific, technological, and economic activity. For
essential oils, they provide guidelines for packaging, conditioning,
storage, labeling, sampling, testing, etc. ISO also provides, for a
fee, quality standards for individual essential oils.
What can impact quality?
are a number of ways in which the quality of essential oils can be
compromised-from the growing conditions of the plants to their
harvesting, distillation, manufacture, distribution, and storage.
- Plants: The
quality of essential oils can be negatively impacted by the use of
pesticides and other chemicals, the variability in altitude, soil
conditions and rainfall, and the difficulty of differentiating plant
species and varieties.
- Processing: Because
of the growing popularity of essential oils and aromatherapy, there are
many products on the market that may not be suitable for clinical use.
They can be found nearly everywhere, from health food stores to
discount stores to the Internet. These products may include pure
essential oils, but sometimes they are adulterated or diluted. Such
adulterations are difficult to identify.
- Packaging and handling: Other
considerations include packaging, storage, and handling. Chemical
degradation can occur with exposure to heat, light, or oxygen.
Essential oils from citrus products are especially prone to oxidation
that can quickly alter the chemistry of those essential oils.
- Storage: Essential
oils should be stored in tightly closed, darkened glass containers in a
cool place to ensure lasting quality (Buckle, 2003; Tisserand &
Balacs, 1995). We recommend writing the date on the bottle after
opening it so you can keep track of your own essential oils. Oxidation
rates vary, but most essential oils can be safely used for 1-2 years or
more after opening.
How do I find quality essential oils?
standards for quality control of essential oils do not currently exist
in the United States, it is important to find reputable sources that
sell good quality essential oils if you are planning to use them for
health-related purposes. Whether you buy essential oils in a store,
from an individual, or from the internet, be sure to read any
information provided on the label or website, or ask questions about
Some important considerations
the Latin name of the plant provided so that you are sure you are
getting the right essential oil? For example, there are several species
- Is the name of the country in which the
plants were grown provided? A consumer would not be expected to
differentiate oils from different countries, but this information is
important to aromatherapists because quality can vary by country. This
is an indication that the company is marketing to knowledgeable parties
as well as general consumers.
- Is there a statement
about purity? You should be informed if it is not 100% essential oil
(meaning, it has been altered or mixed with something else).
the cost comparable in comparisons with other brands of the same
essential oil? If it's really cheap, it probably isn't the real thing.
- Does it smell as you expect it to smell?
there information about organic growing or wildcrafting (gathering wild
plants)? Most essential oils sold in the U.S. are not certified as to
their organic status, but some European brands are.
Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical aromatherapy: Essential oils in practice, 2nd Ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Price, S. & Price, L. (2007). Aromatherapy for health professionals, 3rd Ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1995). Essential oil safety: A guide for health professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.