Essential oils can be an excellent way to help supplement your health and well-being, both on a physical and an emotional level. You can use them for aromatherapy, craft DIY essential oil blends, and much more.
Unfortunately, because there are so many different essential oils out there, many people find them too intimidating to start using. Chiji wants you to be able to have all of the information that you need to make the best decisions for your own body. Part of that decision-making process is knowing the difference between the different grades of essential oils and how to find the best ones.
How Are Essential Oils Made?
Essential oils are natural products that are created by extracting the “essence” of a single plant species. That essence can come from anywhere on the plant, including roots, stems, fruits, flowers, or leaves, from lemongrass to wintergreen. However, not every plant is able to have an essential oil extracted from it, which means that not every plant is available for sourcing. There are roughly 90 different essential oils out there that have been identified as of this writing, including tea tree, eucalyptus, sandalwood, and many more.
The way that those essential oils are made plays a major part in the grade that they are able to claim. There are three different types of extraction methods that are commonly used, and which one is chosen can really change the effectiveness and basic makeup of the final essential oil product. Make sure you do a little research into how the specific essential oil you’re investing in was made.
With a steam distillation extraction, steam is moved through the plant material. As it touches some of the less dense chemicals that are located inside the plant, it vaporizes them. Once the steam distillation is complete, the steam is stopped and allowed to condensed as it undergoes a cooling process. At the end, two different products are created - the oil-soluble essential oil and a water-soluble product known as hydrolat (or hydrosol). Those water-soluble products are just as sought after in some cases. A great example of this is rose water. Other examples of essential oils that are made using a steam distillation process are chamomile, bergamot, and peppermint oil.
An expression process is used most frequently to create citrus-based essential oils. Instead of using steam, the citrus is subjected to a physical process where the peel is either grated or scraped to release its oils. Think about how it smells when you zest a lemon, the way that the scent is just immediately released into the air. That is because there are small sacs (also known as vesicles) located inside the peel. To keep the oils intact, no heat is used because it may alter the scent and the final product’s chemistry.
Supercritical CO2 Extraction
The final type of commonly used extraction process for essential oils is known as “supercritical” CO2 (carbon dioxide) extraction. In this type of process, the carbon dioxide works as a solvent (a product that is used to dissolve other substances). It is added to the plant material and then removed, creating a high-quality extract that is as close to the natural composition of the plant as possible.
Essential oils that are created from supercritical CO2 extraction processes also contain a much wider range of the chemicals that are naturally found in the plant. If you compare an essential oil created from a steam distillation process to one created from a supercritical CO2 extraction process, you’ll see how different they are on a chemical level. This can also alter their therapeutic properties. Lavender oil is a good example that can be extracted with steam distillation but benefits more from a supercritical CO2 extraction process. These are often certified organic oils, but not always.
”Grades” of Essential Oils
To understand the labeling and grades of essential oils, it is first important to understand that there is a lot of uncertainty that surrounds it. Not every essential oil is regulated, and there are plenty of different labels that you may see. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government organization that works to protect public health by monitoring the sale and manufacturing of things meant for human consumption, the regulation of essential oils really comes down to how they are intended to be used.
In general, essential oils are usually broken down into two different categories - cosmetics or “drugs.”
An essential oil is considered a cosmetic if it was designed and marketed as something that will make you look more attractive or cleanse your body. These are essential oils that are mostly used in aromatherapy, things like sprays or oils meant to be used in diffusers. Sometimes people use them in skincare, as well, and these should always be diluted with a carrier oil. These oils are not regulated in most cases, because they aren’t claiming to “do” anything.
However, essential oils that are considered “drugs” are regulated. These oils are marketed to help with affecting the way that the body functions, like reducing pain. At this time, most of that labeling is up to the FDA’s discretion, so you shouldn’t count on that to help you identify a quality pure essential oil. It isn’t standard, and it doesn’t happen across the board either. Many aromatherapy-based essential oils fall into this category.
What that means for you, if you're looking to use essential oils, is that you have to really do your research if you're looking to fulfill your aromatherapist dreams. You can’t really count on a few words on a label to help you find safe essential oils, so you really should trust the essential oil brand that you’re purchasing for. That’s part of why we believe so strongly in transparency here at Chiji. You deserve to know what you’re buying and, most of all, what you’re putting on or even near your body, especially when it comes to wellness. It should absolutely be of the highest quality.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils and What To Look For
If you see this label on a bottle of essential oils, take it with a grain of salt. With essential oils and their irregular regulation, being “therapeutic’ can mean a lot or nothing at all when it comes to therapeutic benefits. In fact, therapeutic and certified labels are often just a part of the branding process for some essential oil companies. It’s important to remember that therapeutic does not always mean good, and it’s up to you to learn enough about how to find the good ones.
Start by looking into the company that you’re purchasing your essential oils from. Are they transparent? Are they established? Do they have a way for you to contact them and ask questions? You should make sure that you really can trust the company. If they seem like they’re hiding something, run in the other direction.
The bottle that the essential oil is sold in can make a big difference in the quality of that oil. Quality essential oils are sold in darkened or amber bottles because sunlight may actually denature them (make them less effective or not effective at all). A good company knows that, and takes as many steps as possible to keep that oil as effective as possible for as long as possible. They value your money.
Next up, look at the label on that bottle. While it isn’t always a solid indicator of how good the oil is, more often than not a quality oil has not only the common names of the ingredients on the label, but also their scientific (Latin) names. There are many different species of the same type of plant, so you really need to know what you’re getting. Not all of them may work the same or do what you’re looking for them to do. You should also check to see if it says where those plants were grown. It often doesn’t make a big difference, but that level of transparency says a lot about the company as a whole.
While you’re looking at the label, you always want to see if they’ve made any statements on the purity of that essential oil. Even if it doesn’t say that on their specifically, checking the ingredients for any extra, added, unnecessary additives or chemicals can help you see with your own eyes that their claims are valid. If there are products and fillers that you can’t pronounce, you may want to look elsewhere for your plant therapy.
And finally, unfortunately, the price point can also tell you a lot. The cost of the product doesn’t guarantee that it is real or quality, but if an oil seems like it may be super low priced or a great deal, you may want to look into it further. It can cost a lot of money to manufacture a pure, good quality essential oil. If something looks like it is too good to be true, in most cases, it probably is. Once you've found an essential oil that you can trust, you should also still patch test it and watch out for side effects—you want to make sure that nothing is going to go wrong.
We believe that essential oils are named appropriately. When you know how to use them, and you know what to look for in a quality oil, they really can become essential to your self-care. Chiji wants to be part of your journey towards developing a deeper love and understanding for yourself and of yourself. We developed our essential oils to help you on your journey, no matter where your path may lead. We just want you to be prepared as you walk down it.