I don’t know about you, but I have a child whose hair, in its natural state looks like THIS ^^.
Oh yeah. It is a tangled mess. And every little baby fine strand gets completely mussed up MANY times a day. So, it’s either a lot of screaming with a comb, or we use the spray detangler. But have you ever priced that stuff? When you’re using it ALL THE TIME, to keep from cutting large knots out of your child’s hair, it can get pricey! Not to mention, you sort of wonder what is in it?
It is a dirty little secret in the natural health industry, but essential oil adulteration is a widespread practice.
Adulteration can mean many things, but basically, it is adding anything to an essential oil that is not intrinsically part of it without disclosing the addition. It doesn’t matter whether the item being added is another natural compound or harmless chemical, if it isn’t disclosed then it is adulterated.
How common is adulterating? You will be shocked, but it is RAMPANT in essential oils imported to the United States. According to Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD. in his textbook “Aromatherapy Course, Third Edition” from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy (page I-29):
Blending, stretching, diluting and extending essential oils before shipment is known in the industry as preparing the “sauce”. From producer to consumer most essential oils go through so many intermediaries that the assumption of a fair amount of adulteration is quite realistic. The big American importers of essential oils are well aware of this kind of ‘sauce’ and are accustomed to it.
It can be very tempting to become indignant and blame the essential oil companies for being greedy or not caring about public health, but the sad fact is (and I have BEEN this person) that “essential oil customers frequently demand oils below the market price while still wanting to be told they are authentic” (Burfield, Tony, “The Adulteration of Essential Oils–and the Consequences to Aromatherapy and Natural Perfumery Practice”, 2007).
But my oils are GC/MS Tested!
GC/MS testing is a valuable tool for analyzing the essential oil’s quality and composition, but it is NOT enough. In fact if your essential oil is only GC/MS tested (or if that is the only disclosed test) then you need to be aware that there are things that GC/MS cannot always reliably find.
There are invisible adulterants that can stretch an essential oil that do NOT show up on GC/MS testing. An example would be a small amount of a vegetable or mineral oil. In small enough amounts it would not change the smell in any appreciable way, and if it didn’t show up on the GC/MS many companies wouldn’t even know it was there. But the consumer would NOT have a pure essential oil.
There are other ways to adulterate essential oils, for example, with compounds that SHOULD be visible on GC/MS testing, but they are still not always detected. For example, Burfield explains that these “visible” adulterants don’t sometimes even show up until VERY late on a GC test, and when they do, the peaks are so small that an inexperienced technician could easily overlook them as just a regular fluctuation.
Add to this difficulty that many essential oil companies never run their own GC/MS testing. Many of them rely on a GC/MS test from their supplier and MAY do an outside spot check with an outside agency.
But to truly have quality control, you can see why you’d want to test EVERY single batch yourself before you release it for sale.
But My Oils Don’t Smell Adulterated!
One of the tests that is performed on essential oils is the smell test (the fancy term for this is organoleptic testing). I’ve written about its limitations before, and if you want to dig a little deeper, check out the article here. Burfield explains in the article I referenced above, that an essential oil sample could be adulterated with between 10-14% of an adulterant and that “such a material may pass un-noticed if the material is evaluated against a retained standard [another sample] solely on an odor basis–even by an expert nose”. In other words, even an EXPERT NOSE can be fooled into believing an oil is genuine when it is potentially adulterated.
Not all adulterants affect smell negatively, or even at all. In fact as you will see below, smell can in fact be ENHANCED in some circumstances by adulteration.
Other Methods of Adulteration
There are more methods of adulterating oils than I can cover in a short article like this, but I want to cover a few more methods.
Another way of “modifying” an essential oil is to add components to it. Often a lower quality oil can be made to mimic the signature of a higher quality oil by adding other essential oils, or portions of essential oils to it.
For example in the past bergamot oil has been adulterated by adding lemon oil, and other oils to help give it the proper scent and chemical profile. More commonly still, Clove Bud oil can contain oils from other parts of the clove plant, and cinnamon bark oil sometimes has added cinnamon leaf oil.
In fact, in 2013 a high-profile essential oil company was alleged to have added undisclosed essential oils to some of their single oils. Whether the oils were added to improve scent profiles or to correct component levels, it is unclear, but it unlikely that this is an isolated incident based on the history of the industry.
Additionally, an essential oil can be “corrected” by adding individual chemical components to boost the levels in the oil to more closely resemble an oil that could fetch a higher price. Unfortunately, these compounds would show up as an acceptable level on a GC/MS testing, because GC/MS is unable to detect whether a chemical component is naturally occurring or synthetic. Additional testing (typically optical rotation) is necessary to determine if the component is natural or synthetic.
So, how in the world do you know if your oils are genuine?
In reality, the burden is on the consumer. If you are wanting to use essential oils for more than just recreational scenting, then you MUST ask hard questions of your essential oil source. If you are looking at a company, they almost all have customer service lines, email addresses, and some way to ask them questions.
Questions I would ask would include:
*What testing do you personally do on your essential oils and how often? Do you test every batch, spot test, or do you rely on the testing of the supplier?
*If you perform internal testing, what testing do you do, and is it done in-house or at a partner lab? Is it GC/MS alone, or do you do other testing? If so, which tests?
*If you perform internal testing, do you also send oils out to independent third parties to do spot checking on your oils?
*If an oil fails any of your quality checks, what happens to it?
*At what point do you have physical custody of your essential oils? Do you gain custody before planting, after harvest, at distillation, or after distillation, or some point in between?
Those are just some examples of questions that can help give you a better idea of the objective quality of your essential oils. I was able to discover the answer to a great many of these questions by doing research about Young Living’s essential oils. You can see the results of that research here.
How about you? What questions would YOU ask? Have you ever experienced differences between brands of essential oils?
This post is brought to you by my two-year old daughter’s decision to spontaneously decide to potty train! I know, I know, I should thank my lucky stars that I didn’t have to drag her kicking and screaming to it, but it is a very non-glamorous story that involves spontaneous diaper removals and a lot of rug cleaning.
Ok, one of my husband’s major pet peeves is when stuff is just left where it last fell. I can usually deal with that ok, but NOT in the bathroom. There is just something about our little bathroom that makes me twitch when I see things covering the floor, or any possible flat surface. The potty seat particularly drove me mad. There was just no reasonable way to put it away.
Then, a stroke of inspiration.
We live in a rental now and were specifically asked not to use any hooks or screws on the walls in the house. So, enter the Command Hook! (Don’t know what a command hook is? Check it out!)
Let’s be honest, there is no way to keep those little potty seats from just getting left on the floor. But, if you hang a Command Hook where the toddler can reach, you can train him or her to hang the potty seat up when they finish.
Check out what we did:
How about you? Do you have any household organization hacks you’d like to share?
This Post is linked up at Mama Moments Monday!