Tag Archives: quality

KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION about essential oils

lemon_pepper_oilOne thing I keep coming across is the ignorance about aromatherapy and essential oils.  On top of this, essential oils are very easy to find and actually not too expensive. Everybody has heard of aromatherapy and essential oils, many are using them in a vague fashion to scent their homes or help with minor problems, which is okay if you know what you are doing, but if you don’t know, you might be creating all kinds of problems.

To start at the top:

  • Essential oils are mainly used by the food- cosmetics- and perfume industry. Therefore they are easily found on the market. There are no limitations or regulations on producing and selling essential oils, since they are so widely used, except for some oils that are obviously hazardous to health and prohibited for all use.
  • Essential oils are also used by the pharmaceutical industry since they are pharmaceutically active agents. (Vicks vaporub & other cold-remedies)

Here starts the first problem: Since essential oils are pharmaceutically active, they should be marked as medicine, and regulated as such (as is the case with all other pharmaceutically active substances), making them unavailable for any other use. This would mean that the food- and perfume-industry (and toiletries and…) could not use essential oils in any way. Since this would lead to political and economical upheaval, it is putting the essential oils in a kind of “nowhere-land” where it is best not to create too much discussion.

So anybody can buy essential oils everywhere. The manufacturers and distributors of essential oils can claim anything they want and give advice on how to use essential oils. (Sometimes the advice is on a clinical level and the essential oil should not be used in this way without extensive knowledge.)

Essential oil components

do you understand above list?

Next problem is this: In England, America, Scandinavia and Australia you can train exclusively to become an aromatherapist. This education is a state-approved professional training. In these countries there is much more information pertaining essential oils and how to use them, since there are professional therapists that can advice you. As a professional therapist you study basic medicine, biology, chemistry and botany to understand essential oils and what they can do (or not do.).

In Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and other countries in Europe you need to be a Heilpraktiker or a doctor before you are allowed to work with essential oils in a pharmaceutical way. If you are a Heilpraktiker, that means adding  a year of aromatherapy and essential oil studies to your existing diploma.  Since very few people want to do this, only doctors are really allowed to use essential oils for medical (healing) purposes. There are some doctors who do this in France. For the rest, aromatherapy is used for beauty or Spa-treatments, and the therapist has no right to claim any healing attributes to the oils.

essential-oil

This means that the overall knowledge about essential oils in much lower in most of mainland Europe creating all kinds of problems. Essential oils and aromatherapy is widely talked about and people use more essential oils here than in informed countries. There are hardly any warnings or advice. For example: Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) became all the rave a few years ago because it was said to be good against acne. People started using it indiscriminately, causing all kinds of skin-problems. In Germany and France the oil was banned for a couple of years. All because of ignorance.

tea-tree

Since I started working with aromatherapy I have worked on spreading information and trying to get past all the red tape around what is allowed to be said or not. Sometimes lack of information is the very source of the problem. At the end of the day the essential oils will continue to be accessible to everybody and the information about these substances need to be up-to-date as with any other available substance.

Essential oils can heal and provide well-being. But they can also cause harm when used wrongly.

As I said before; quality is what differentiates essential oils used for aromatherapy as opposed to industrial uses. Quality is also about re-planting, fair trade and cooperation.

handshake

Advertisements

ESSENTIAL OIL QUALITY – part 3 – classification

campho13-l

camphor

Cinnamomum camphora


Essential oils come from many different plants. They all have a Latin or botanical name.  It is extremely important that this is clearly stated on the label. Common names can be highly deceptive and confusing. Besides, the Latin name is global, so language makes no difference. The plants also belong to different families which have a botanical or Latin name. An example: The botanical name of Eucalyptus is Eucalyptus globulus and it belongs to the family Myrtaceae.

Let’s take cedarwood; there are plenty of different species called cedarwood and they all have different botanical names, they even belong to different families:

  • Cedrus atlantica is the essential oil mostly used for aromatherapy. It is mild and  safe to use. It belongs to the family Pinaceae.
  • Cedrus deodara (Himalayan cedarwood), Cedrus libani (Lebanon cedarwood) both belong to the family Pinaceae.
  • Juniperus virginiana (red cedarwood) belongs to the family Cupressaceae which means it is an entirely different species. Not enough is known about this essential oil so it is safer to use Cedrus atlantica.
  • Thuja occidentalis (cedarleaf) also belongs to the family Cupressaceae. It is toxic and should never be used in aromatherapy.

So you see why the latin botanical specification is so important, only then will you know that you are getting what you are looking for. It is not as complicated as it may seem, all different essential oils are not readily available to the wider public, so it is not necessary to know them all. But if you want to buy an oil; make sure you know the Latin name, and here is the reason why:

I am always on the look-out for new labels/brands of essential oils and 2 days ago I found a brand I haven’t seen before. The oil I bought was wrong in every way possible:

  • The label stated the oil to be Ravintsara (or Ravensara) with the Latin name of: Cinnamomum camphora, and here are the facts:
  1. The latin name of Ravensara is Ravensara aromatica.
  2. Cinnamomum camphora is the latin name of Camphor.
  3. They both belong to the same family; Lauraceae. The properties of the 2 essential oils are very different and cinnamomum camphora should be used with care.
  • The label of the oil I bought stated that it could be used neat; 4 drops directly on the skin. I tried 1 drop and had a red itching patch on my arm. ( And I am not very sensitive)

The morale of this? Train your nose, it will be your best guide. Buy essential oils only from trusted, well-established brands. Make sure that the brand has the distinction of aromatherapy, since the demands for quality are higher in this area. Don’t be afraid to question and demand information.

ESSENTIAL OIL QUALITY – part 2 – pricing

RoseThe price of an essential oil depends on many things: How large the yield is, how easily (or not) harvested a plant is and how much essential oil it yields. Another thing to keep in mind is how the essential oil is stored in a plant: The plant contains “capsules” where the essential oil is stored, when the “capsule” is broken the oil is released into the atmosphere. Essential oils are volatile, that means they fly. This is what happens when you rub, for example, a mint-leaf between your fingers; you break the “capsules”, thereby releasing the essential oil which you can smell on your fingers. When harvesting plants for essential oil you need to be very careful not to crush the plant, since the essential oil is then gone.

Some examples:

Jasmine, jasminum officinale is always harvested at night as the amount of essential oils present are then at its peak. The flowers need to be hand-picked – there is no other way. Since the essential oils are volatile, the oil will readily leave the flowers if they are crushed.  An absolute of jasmine is always expensive, about €25 for 5ml.

Lemon-balm, melissa officinalis has its highest peak of essential oils during 2-4 hours/day and only for a couple of weeks. The scent of the plant is almost overwhelming, yet the essential oil yield is rather low and difficult to access. One grower in France that I met have a small destillator that he brings into the field where he distills the plant-matter as it is harvested. The oil is, of course, magnificent….and expensive;  about €100 for 5ml.

Rose, rosa centifolia/rosa damascena is another flower that needs to be handpicked. Only the petals contain essential oils. It takes around 2 000kg to get 1kg of essential oil. How much does  a rose-petal weigh? The price will reflect this; about €120 for 5ml.

The purer an essential oil is, the more expensive it will be.


What to look for:

  • Price: All essential oils have different prices. If all the essential oils have the same price, or they are very cheap, the oils are rubbish; don’t buy them.
  • Storage: Essential oils should be kept in a cool dark place, preferably in brown bottles – though sometimes you see blue or green as well. If, in the shop, the essential oils are sitting on a warm shelf in full light they will not be so essential anymore. Ask for an oil that has been stored properly, if you can’t get it – don’t buy!
  • Label: The label shall state the common name and the latin name of the plant from which the essential oil comes. Preferably also country of origin.
  • Age: A newly distilled essential oil has a harsh green smell to it that is a far cry from the perfumes we expect. By oxidation the aroma gets rounder and softer. The older the essential oil is, the more the aroma “softens”. To people this is often pleasing – scent-wise. But it also means that the essential oil has lost much of its energy and properties. Oxidation changes the molecular composition of an essential oil. Some oils, such as citrus oils, have a shorter life-span and they tend to become skin-irritants with age. Most oils get a bit more viscous and/or cloudy with age. Don’t buy these.

There are discussions concerning the issue of dating the oils; best before or when bottled. But it doesn’t much matter, since the “life-span” of an essential oil depends on storage, which makes such markings pointless; badly stored essential oils will age faster. Usually the bottles are marked with batch number, this way you can always find out when the oil was distilled. For quality only your nose can guide you.

Always be prepared to pay a higher price for a good quality oil. You will need smaller amounts of the oil to get better results. Remember that an essential oil is a messenger from nature and that it will interact with us on a molecular, cellular level. For this we want only the best. It is better to have only a few great essential oils than a drawerful of rubbish.  “You get what you pay for”

ESSENTIAL OIL QUALITY – part 1 -background


Quality is the most important aspect when using essential oils. All the wonderful effects the oils have will only happen when there is a high quality pure essential oil.
To understand why this is even an issue, you need to understand the world of scents; how they are used and where they come from. The largest users of essential oils are the food-industry and perfume/toiletries industry. These industries need consistency more than quality, the oils need to be the same year after year to fit the “recipe”. Such conformation is not possible since essential oils are natural; it would be like expecting a wine to be exactly the same every year. Living stuff will chemically vary depending on soil, weather conditions, fertilizer and harvesting methods/time. Like with wines, if you harvest the same plant in exactly the same way and the same time every year, you will still get a different yield; both in chemistry and bulk.

Essential oils are complex mixtures of different chemicals. The balance between these chemicals is what gives an oil its specific character. Each essential oil has one or two main chemicals that make up the biggest percentage of the oil, for example; linalol in lavender, menthol in peppermint, cineol in eucalyptus. Aside from these there are many, many other chemicals that make up one oil; In rose there are 3-400 identified chemicals and almost as many that are, to this day, unidentified. No matter how small the amounts of chemicals might be, they are part of the whole and very important for the quality and effects of the essential oils. Each essential oil has its own synergy.
In nature these different chemicals are used as messengers. Each molecule has its own signature and “message”. For a human being we need as little as 8 molecules to react to the “message” of a scent. We need about 30-40 molecules to consciously notice the scent. This is why the essential oils are so powerful; they are communicating with every cell in the body – for which a minute amount of molecules are necessary. To make a comparison:
Pheromones – there are alarm pheromones, food trail pheromones, sex pheromones, and many others that affect behavior or physiology. We have all heard about them, still the term “pheromone” was introduced by Peter Karlson and Martin Lüscher in as late as 1959. (wikipedia)
Essential oils and Pheromones work much in the same way. Actually many pheromones are made up from the same molecules as essential oils.

When you smell a full good quality essential oil it is like magic, the scent is limitless. The way to smell an oil is thus:
Keep the bottle or tissue a few cm from your nose and inhale deeply 2 or 3 times. Essential oils are volatile and will very easily enter your olfactory system. Compare an essential oil to a synthetic oil and feel the difference.