In my first article on the use and safety of essential oils, I went over the difference between synthetic fragrances and essential oils, external uses of oils, some general cautions about adulteration and some suggestions for purchasing high quality oils. In this follow up article, I will discuss common dilutions, carrier oils, essential oil adulteration, testing for impurities and the best practices to keep your essential oils fresh.
When we think about diluting essential oils by the drop, we need to think about their viscosity, or how thick the oil is. Thicker oils, like resins, make larger drops and thinner oils make smaller drops. That is one reason we have dosage ranges when we talk about dilutions. Here are some basic dilutions:
Also called fixed oils, carrier oils are typically natural, non-volatile oils derived from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. They help moisturize, lubricate and protect the skin. Whenever possible, use cold pressed, unrefined oils as they are more nourishing to the skin. Some of my favorite carrier oils are hazelnut, almond, apricot kernel, macadamia nut, olive and sesame. If I am using a precious essential oil (think rare and expensive), I like to use jojoba oil. Jojoba oil has an especially long shelf life. One of my favorite oils for the skin, it is chemically very similar to sebum, the oil our skin produces. I recommend staying away from oils that are petroleum based such as mineral oil.
Like a fine wine, each harvest of plants is unique. That is one of the beautiful things about essential oils. It is also one of the things that make them hard to work with if you are a big business and want a consistent smell/product year after year. I prefer artisanal products. Is there a particular reason your lotion or perfume needs to smell exactly the same each batch? In nature, things are always changing. Instead, lets have an adventure every time!
It is absolutely true that cost often reflects quality and authenticity of essential oils. For instance, pure rose otto steam distilled essential oil that is sold for less than $150 for a dram (3.75 milliliters) is most probably adulterated and of questionable quality.
If we are using essential oils for a healing, or therapeutic purpose, quality is very important. Most essential oils have between 20 – 50 easily identifiable chemical markers, some up to 200. As I said in my first article on essential oils, I look for oils that are tested by gas chromatography. Gas chromatography authenticates the chemical composition of an essential oil, like a “fingerprint” unique to that botanical species only.
Unfortunately, in the United States, purchasing high quality oils can be a risky process. There are several forms of adulteration.
How do we know if an essential oil is pure? The honest truth is that sometimes we don’t. But there are some simple home tests that can help suss out most adulterants!
You can test your essential oils to see which ones are adulterated. Use adulterated oils for making soap, potpourri or cleaning supplies.
There are several things you can do to prolong the shelf life of your essential oils. Although each type of oil has a unique shelf life, when stored properly, most oils last for many years. As essential oils degrade, their therapeutic properties diminish. Their smell will usually change before the oils become unsuitable for use.
Not all essential oils sold on the market today are pure appropriate for therapeutic use. I hope this article offers some useful guidelines to help you make sure your oils are unadulterated, fresh, and used in the safest way possible.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2016
About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, MT, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. An artist and writer, Elaine has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons.