Essential Oil Labels Often Lie. There I said it.
What is written on essential oil labels can mean both nothing AND everything at the same time. How is that possible?
The Labels Can Mean Nothing
First, what means nothing is claims like 100% pure, or therapeutic grade, or Certified Pure. Because they are not standardized or closely regulated, there is nothing to stop a company from implying a wide range of things that are not completely true about their oils. All it takes is a skilled graphic designer and some good marketing text to create a beautiful bottle. All that claims of purity and naturalness count for, is a marketing tool trying to convince the essential oil consumer that they should buy that brand’s product.
And honestly, I’ve seen some companies just ditch the graphic design and go straight for saying that they’re cheaper than or the same as another well respected company. Or smear another company. Or lie about another company. Just goes to show that there are a lot of very clever ways that companies try and get a piece of your wallet.
100% Pure and Natural
Did you know that an essential oil can be labeled as 100% pure even if the bottle contains things other than essential oils? It doesn’t even guarantee that there is any natural plant compounds in the bottle at all. The things can be added to the bottle include synthetic chemical compounds, additives, cheap stretcher oils, or essential oils that are not listed on the bottle. That’s completely acceptable with the current rules on product labeling.
The “100% pure” claim does not in any way guarantee that:
- the oil in the bottle is 100% the species listed on the bottle
- it also doesn’t guarantee that the oil is properly distilled for the benefits you desire
- nor does it guarantee that the oil is free of detrimental artifacts created by improper distilling
- It also doesn’t guarantee that there isn’t trace residues of solvents that may have been used during the extraction process.
Even the “therapeutic grade” label is not standardized (no matter what you hear from any essential oil company, it has no objective meaning). I took a look at one website that sells certified organic/therapeutic grade essential oils. Unfortunately, these oils all contained a link to a page FULL of warnings. Some of the warnings went completely against the recommendations of the French Therapeutic school. For example, they warn not to ingest their oils, they warn not to use their oils on children or babies, and they warn that if you spill the oils you should treat it as a hazmat containment matter to clean it.
With all of those warnings, how can that brand actually be worthy of a therapeutic label? If the French school of aromatherapy embraces the ingestion of certain essential oils and doesn’t warn against the usage of essential oils on children, babies, and pets then how in the world can this particular brand of oils be considered appropriate for such purposes?
“Certified” essential oils is a popular marketing technique of some essential oil re-bottlers. It sounds really official, but the implication of these trademarked slogans is that a governing body of some sort (most people I’ve asked assume that they mean the FDA) gave their seal of approval of the quality and effectiveness of those oils.
But did you know that if any OTHER essential oil brand met or even exceeded all of the criteria used to define this “certification” they would not be able to put that same term on their products? “Certifying” your own products and then saying that you are the only one with products that meet that certification is actually pretty silly. It is nothing more than marketing.
I mean, if we’re doing this, can I be the Certified Best Mom in the World? Yeah, I’m going to be that. See, I said it! I’m certified. Maybe I should trademark that.
The Labels Can Mean Everything
The labels mean nothing because the terms used to imply high quality are not regulated. The labels also mean everything for a totally different reason. The oil may represent itself as one thing on the front of the label, but on the back of the label, it can tell a completely different story.
You know, like a mullet…business on the front, party in the back? Either way you’re not really sure what you’re getting.
How the label reveals the true nature of the oil:
For instance, if you are looking to purchase an authentic essential oil and use it in the French manner of aromatherapy, then you would want to determine whether an oil was suitable in this way:
- Select a representative oil, such as lavender or peppermint from the brand you are evaluating. Both oils, if properly distilled, should be accepted to use internally according to the French method. So if your oil warns you that you shouldn’t take their peppermint or their lavender internally, then you don’t have an oil that would be good to use therapeutically, since ingestion sometimes suggested for certain oils. (A good indication that your brand observes much higher quality standards can be indicated by the presence of ingestion directions on the label of an oil like lavender or peppermint. While not a guarantee by itself, it is a good sign that you are headed in the right direction.) In other words, if your brand warns you not to ingest their lavender or peppermint essential oils, I personally would move on and investigate a new option for my oils. I chose Young Living essential oils, and they have a distinctive line of oils called Vitality Oils that have all been vetted for their suitableness for use as supplements or food flavorings.
- Examine a lavender bottle for the brand being evaluated and see if they caution that you must dilute the oil. Warnings of dilution necessary or even that the oil shouldn’t be applied to the skin at all is a giveaway that that type of oil is not OK for body work.
- If you get a chance, examine that brand’s orange or lemon oil. Many lesser quality brands tell you that they are not safe to use on the skin, but an oil suitable for the French method would not contain that caution. It may contain a disclaimer not to apply to an area that will get direct sunlight, but that is due to an effect that is present in many citrus oils that make the skin more sensitive to sunlight after being used. That would be a typical caution even on a therapeutic citrus oil.
Do they believe in their product?
The reason that I suggest that you examine a lavender, a citrus, and a peppermint oil from each of the options you are considering is because those are good representative samples of the way a company views their oils. Do they view them as so pure that they can safely be used in the full French therapeutic manner and say so? Or do they protect themselves with a variety of warnings and disclaimers?
There are some essential oil marketers who like to sidestep some of the French aromatherapy concerns by saying that they don’t officially recommend ingesting their oils, but that some of their customers do, and are happy with the results. That may be so, but if they won’t come out and say that their oils are safe to use in that way, it isn’t necessarily because they are just trying to protect themselves from frivolous legal blowback. There are several major oil companies who put internal usage suggestions directly on their labels, so THEY clearly believe their oils to be safe to use that way and are willing to stand behind that claim.
Based on this information, you should be able to quickly sift through the scores of possibilities to narrow down your search to two or three possible brands that could be helpful in a home use setting. I share how to further narrow those choices in Part FIVE.
New to this series? Check out Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
Also, please check out our Disclosures.