Essential oils have been around for thousands of years.
The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans – among many others – used aromatic oils regularly. These oils, extracted from an enormous variety of plants and known today as essential oils, were used in rituals, as perfumes, and of course, for medicinal purposes.
The first documentation of a process to extract essential oils (EOs) dates back to the 10th century. The extraction and production of these oils continued throughout the centuries, and aromatherapy became popular in Germany and other European nations in the 1500s.
It wasn’t until the middle-to-late 20th century, however, that the use of EOs began to skyrocket. That’s because the benefits of essential oils became widely known and publicized, and the practice of aromatherapy became an important element of complementary and alternative medicine.
Today, more than 100 different essential oils are easily available for purchase at health and natural foods stores, directly from naturopaths and aromatherapists, on Amazon – and perhaps the best option – directly from the reputable companies that produce high-quality EOs.
How do you evaluate an essential oil and the manufacturer who’s created it? We’ll get into that question in our comprehensive buying guide, after first checking out the best essential oil brands in today’s market.
Best Essential Oil Brands
Our Top Choice: Public Goods
You’ve probably heard good things about this company, even if you’re new to essential oils. They’re a direct-to-consumer operation that sells sustainable, no-frills, high-quality personal care products, home goods, grocery products and supplements at extremely affordable prices, once you sign up for a low-cost membership.
Public Goods essential oils fit perfectly with the company’s mission. There are six varieties of “therapeutic quality” pure, organic oils in the lineup; you won’t find exotic choices, but the most popular essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree and peppermint are all available – and surprisingly, at prices you’d expect to pay for low-quality, generic essential oil at a cut-rate store.
Don’t look at the low prices and just move on. These are high-end products with all the medicinal benefits you’d want. They’re simply a terrific bargain.
Almost As Good
Rocky Mountain Oils: This non-MLM direct-to-consumer company offers a more varied selection of top-quality pure and USDA-certified organic essential oils, available at reasonable prices (which are, however, a good bit higher than Public Goods). There are half-a-dozen single oils like eucalyptus, lemon and tea tree; perhaps more notable are the company’s essential oil blends that are designed to ease insomnia, boost the immune system, and support overall wellness.
Plant Therapy: If you’re looking for selection and decent pricing, Plant Therapy is a good option. You’ll find an enormous choice of pure single oils, nearly as many essential oil blends (including unusual ones like “Sensual Synergy” and “Munchy Stop”), and lots of starter kits and collections on their website, all at very attractive prices. Be aware, though, that many of their oils are not organic, and a few of their more exotic blends have added natural ingredients (like the sugar cane ethanol in chocolate truffle blend). Some are in kidsafe packaging, but you’ll have to search the website for them.
Aura Cacia: You may be familiar with this essential oil brand because their products are carried in outlets like Whole Foods and Vitamin Shoppe (as well as on Amazon). And there’s a good reason why upscale retailers carry Aura Cacia EOs. Their oils are sourced carefully, produced sustainably and 100% pure and completely organic, providing all the medicinal and wellness benefits you could want from essential oils. The selection (particularly on the company’s website) is huge, and they also carry a great choice of mists, diffusers, bath and body care products at nice prices.
Eden’s Garden: More than 250 single oils (including pre-diluted roll-ons) and synergy blends, 100% pure, rigorously-tested products, a great choice of product sizes, attractive prices – the one thing that’s missing is “organic.” That’s because Eden’s Garden doesn’t believe the extra cost of sourcing organically-grown plants is worth it, for reasons we explain later in our buying guide. Does it really matter? We can see both sides, but here’s what we do know: these are very good essential oils.
Now Foods: If you’re into nutritional supplements, Now Foods is almost certainly a name that you know well. Their essential oils are pretty darned good, too: natural, pure and nicely priced, fully tested at their in-house lab – but like Eden’s Garden, not organic. Some are pre-mixed with carrier oils, so check the ingredients before you choose.
Other Recommended Essential Oil Brands
Mountain Rose Herbs: Offering more than 100 different pure essential oils, Mountain Rose produces very high-quality EOs that are certified organic. They don’t bother with blends, collections or personal care lines, focusing only on single oils that are slightly more expensive than average but worth their price.
Vitruvi: Here’s another brand you’ve probably heard of. They’re well-known for their terrific aromatherapy diffusers, and their essential oils are carried by high-end retailers like Nordstrom. That’s because the oils are 100% pure and many are certified organic; the downsides are that the selection is rather limited, and they charge premium prices for their singles and kits.
dōTERRA: This MLM company is huge, with a huge product line to match. Since individual vendors sell the essential oils, the prices can vary widely and are usually on the high side. dōTERRA sources ingredients from around the world and have outside producers do their extraction, but everything is tested in-house so the quality is quite good.
Young Living: Young Living essential oils controls its own farms and ingredients, but as another MLM operation, their products are expensive and the prices you’ll pay depends on the vendor you choose. The variety is wide, with everything from pure essential singles and blends, to topical roll-ons, starter kits and collections, and infused personal care products like body lotions and moisturizing creams.
Essential Oils – Complete Buying Guide
There are two important things to remember before you begin shopping for essential oils.
- Not all essential oils are good for the same purposes.
- Bergamot and ylang-ylang are particularly effective when you’re looking to improve your mood.
- Peppermint and vetiver are great topical choices for sore muscles.
- Rosemary and eucalyptus can give you a quick energy boost.
- Frankincense and lavender essential oils are known to help relieve stress and anxiety.
- Tea tree oil is beneficial for hair and skin care, and sweet orange essential oil is among the many EOs that provide strong antioxidant benefits for immune system support, overall health and wellness.
Be sure to choose the right type of essential oil for your needs, before you click “buy.”
- Not all essential oil products are the same. Some are very high-quality pure extracts, while others have been carelessly or cheaply manufactured in order to bring in the biggest profit possible.
That’s why the EOs you purchase at a dollar store or a no-name website are unlikely to provide the same benefits as the ones sold by reputable producers.
We’ve highlighted the best essential oil brands at the top of the page, which should give you a good starting point.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the factors to consider when buying essential oils.
Is It Really Essential Oil?
You’ll often come across products labeled “fragrance oil.” They smell good, but they’re not essential oils and they don’t have any of the same medicinal or wellness benefits.
Fragrance oils are synthetically produced, so no plant parts are used in their manufacture – and none of the namesake plant’s components are in the oils. Instead, there are lots of artificial ingredients, fillers and additives to make the product smell like essential oil.
There are some terrific things you can do with fragrance oils: use them as perfume, mix them with water for use as an air freshener spray, add them to a jar of potpourri, or use them as cleaning products to freshen laundry or cover the odor of a litter box.
Just don’t expect fragrance oils (sometimes called “aroma oils”) to provide the health benefits you may be seeking. For that, you need essential oils. And not just any essential oils.
What Is Pure Essential Oil?
It’s just what the name implies. There’s nothing else in the bottle except extracted plant compounds – and that means you’ll be getting the benefits you expect from high-quality essential oils.
Pure essential oils won’t contain any other ingredients, either natural or synthetic. Pure EOs also won’t be mixed with carrier oils, which are usually required for topical applications but not needed for use in an aromatherapy diffuser. If you’re only going to be applying essential oil to your skin, you can mix it with pure carrier oil as a DIY project, or purchase a quality essential oil blended with carrier oil. But the latter should not be labeled “pure.”
How can you be sure if an essential oil is pure? High-end producers will have their product lines analyzed by a third party as part of their quality control process. They may automatically provide (or post online) the results, while some require you to ask for the documentation. The process usually consists of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis (known as GC/MS), and test results will show if the oil is pure – or if it has other ingredients or contaminants in it.
“Pure” isn’t the only thing to look for on the label. Read on.
Judging the Quality of Essential Oils: The Labels
Essential oils may be labeled “therapeutic grade” (or “pure therapeutic grade”), “highest quality,” or some other combination of words the producers have come up with to make their oils sound special.
None of those terms mean anything.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils. The agency can only take action against producers if their products cause harm, or if they’re sold with specific health claims. Other than that, the FDA doesn’t grade essential oils by quality or label them “therapeutic” – and neither does anyone else. That’s just marketing fluff.
The label may tell you a few other things that are important, however.
First of all, organic essential oils will always be labeled as organic and ideally, non-GMO. (It’s possible that a dishonest producer will claim their product is organic when it’s not, but you’re only buying from reputable companies, right?) The label will also tell you if the product is “cruelty-free” (meaning it’s not tested on animals).
It would make to choose organic EOs because they’re free of pesticides and other harmful substances, but not everyone goes that route. Organic products, of course, are always more expensive – and the amount of oil that you’d be using is so small that many consumers and manufacturers don’t think the extra cost is worth it. Plus, water-soluble pesticides are removed during the distillation process and never make it into the oil at all. Organic vs. non-organic is mainly a personal preference, because there’s no discernable difference in performance.
If you do want organic essential oil, don’t worry if the label doesn’t say “USDA certified organic.” That’s an expensive certification to obtain, and most farmers who use organic methods don’t want to pay extra just for the word “certified.” In reality, organic and certified organic oils are the same quality.
There’s one other thing you might to want to look for on the label: the Latin name of the plant the essential oil is sourced from. It’s not a guarantee of quality, of course, but it’s a hint that the producer is aware of what they’re doing. An even better sign: the label lists the plant parts which were used, how the oil was extracted, and the country where the plants were grown.
Judging the Quality of Essential Oils: The Bottle
You certainly don’t want to pay good money for essential oil just to have it go bad quickly. High-quality essential oil will be sold in small, brown glass bottles; brown glass protects the oil against UV rays from sunlight, and glass is preferable because the ingredients in plastic can downgrade the EO’s performance. Also, if there are children in the home, look for bottles with childproof lids. Sweet-smelling liquids can be very enticing – and hazardous – to little ones.
Judging the Quality of Essential Oils: Other Factors
There are two final ways to judge an essential oil. The first is the pricing. A super-cheap bottle of oil is unlikely to come from high-quality plants and be processed with high-end technology. On the other hand, EOs shouldn’t come with an astronomical price, either. If the cost seems out of line, you’re probably paying a huge markup to a multi-level marketing company; there are lots of MLMs operating in the essential oil business, and many make excellent products. Just be sure you’re paying for oil, not MLM operators’ big profits.
The other method for judging essential oils? Use your nose. The oil should smell natural and pleasant, not harsh like cleaning products or alcohol. If you can close your eyes, sniff, and imagine smelling a fragrant plant – you’re probably good to go.
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