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The Need for Quality in Essential Oils

by Kolinka Zinovieff(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 38 - March 1999

Sadly, most aromatherapy essential oils on the market are of low quality: they are often synthetic or 'perfume grade'. This means they have little or no therapeutic effect – in other words they simply do not work. This unfortunately confirms the skeptics view that "aromatherapy has no effect what so ever". In contrast, the reason that pure, high grade organically-grown oils have such strong therapeutic qualities is because they contain a multitudinous variety of natural chemical components which remain pure and intact – whereas the low-quality oils have been adulterated to such an extent that these components are no longer present.

However, most individuals are not aware of the critical importance of the quality of essential oils; they simply go to their health-food shop, chemist or mail-order catalogue and buy whatever is available, paying little attention to the source or quality. They can hardly be blamed for this, since, with the enormous growth in the aromatherapy industry world wide– from millions of dollars turnover only a few years ago to a multi-billion dollar affair today. Many suppliers are jumping on the bandwagon and sell low-quality cheap oils; they rely on the uneducated and undiscerning customer.

Happily, things are changing and there are some shining exceptions amongst the suppliers of essential oils: these few aromatherapy companies have carried out meticulous, painstaking research to find the best sources of high quality essential oils, and have selected only the purest and most potent oils from these specialist growers and suppliers. In this category are Yan Kusmirek of Fragrant Earth and Teddy Fearnhamm at Saffron Oils. Such high quality organic oils are known as 'clinical' or 'pure' grade. In fact, essential oils can roughly be divided into three grades, the highest being this 'clinical' or 'pure' grade, the next being 'normal' or 'perfume' grade, and the third being 'food' or 'industry' grade – the oils in this category are usually adulterated with synthetic oils.

For suppliers to be certain that the oils they have sourced are of the highest organic quality, they need to follow some stringent rules: firstly, they should build up a very close relationship with the source i.e. farm and distillers where the essential oils are produced. Secondly, there should be no adulterants or impurities in the oils and the many individual components should be in the correct proportion expected for that oil; for example 'Clinical' grade lavender oil (lavendular angustifolia) should have at approximately 35-50% linalyl acetate (depending on type). The only way the supplier can be certain of this is to analyse the oils through a method such as Gas Liquid Chromatography (GLC). Thirdly, they must also test for aroma, colour and age of the oils; and finally, where possible, the supplier should ask for certification from a reputable organisation of an organic method of growing.

For individuals who want to buy the best organic, 'clinical-grade' oil, there are several points to be aware of; first of all, they must be discerning in choosing a supplier and only buy from a trustworthy source. Secondly the supplier must be one who has carried out the relevant research and can produce some reliable organic certification if necessary. At the same time they should trust their own sense of smell and the therapeutic effect of the oils they are using. Here it should be added that one of the primary reasons for only buying organic essential oils is that these oils do not contain any pesticides, chemical fertilisers, artificial preservatives, adulterants or – especially now – do not come from genetically altered plants. It is true that such pure oils might cost twice as much as impure oils, but they are at least one hundred times more effective.

The case of Lavender

The pioneering figurehead, Pierre Franchomme, of the Institut des Sciences Phytomédicales in France, has done much research into the exact therapeutic analysis and chemical make-up of many essential oils. For example, he found that pure 'clinical' grade Lavender oil contains over two hundred individual natural chemical components and that each of these has a smaller or greater therapeutic effect. These create infinite healing possibilities.

It is in the enormous range of components (which are listed below in the GLC chart see Figure 1) that lies the clue to the extraordinary variety of therapeutic effects the various types of lavender oil (and other essentials can have). These include helping many conditions from being anti pathogenic to helping insomnia. There are few if any reported side effects and few contra-indications. It is not surprising that Lavender oil is the most widely used essential oil in the world.

Figure 1: Trace Analysis of Lavandula augustiffolia H.E.C.T. (True Lavender) using Gas Liquid Chromatography
Figure 1: Trace Analysis of Lavandula augustiffolia H.E.C.T. (True Lavender) using Gas Liquid Chromatography

It is all the naturally contained components in essential oils that is so vital to ensuring a high grade 'clinical oil'. If the natural balance of the oil is upset only slightly, through additives and adulterants, then not only will the oil's therapeutic properties be weakened, but the oil could be potentially harmful to the individual user.

Obviously it is far more expensive to produce pure organic 'clinical' grade oil, due to the expense of organic farming and a more thorough distillation process. For example during the distillation process of lavender oil, after twenty-five minutes, 75% of the essential oil is extracted; however, it is only after an hour and forty-five minutes that the remaining 25% of the oil is extracted. It is therefore very tempting for the less scrupulous distiller to reduce the time of distillation, saving time and money, but eventually producing an incomplete and low-grade oil.

The graph below illustrated the huge variety of natural chemical components found in lavender oil. There are a large number of trace components as well as the main proportional constituents of listed below. Each peak or ripple on the chart is an individual component; some are in large amounts such as Linalyl Acetate others in trace quantities, for instance, Beta Myrcine.

The numbers referred to on figure 1 correspond to the list of chemical components below.

Chemical Groups in Essential Oils

Eight predominant chemical groups are involved in the composition of essential oils and each group contributes a particular therapeutic quality. Chemical analysis using the method of Gas Liquid Chromatography (GLC) means the purity of the oil can be assessed, and the presence of any foreign ingredients can be spotted – for example, artificial fertilisers or pesticides – in oils claimed to have been organically grown.

To fully understand why it is so important to have as pure essential oils as possible, it is necessary to understand the chemical make-up of each essential oil, and the therapeutic effect of each chemical group.

The eight main chemical groups found in essential oils are Aldehydes, Esters, Ketones, Phenyl Methyl Ethers, Oxides, Phenols, Alcohols and Mono Terpenes.

This list of natural chemical ingredients and their therapeutic effects illustrates just how important all the natural ingredients are in essential oils. The loss of any of these ingredients, through lack of purity results in essential oils with little or no therapeutic effect, in other words as we said in the beginning they simply do not work.

More Information About Organic Oils

Until now, organic essential oils have been very expensive, only available from a few outlets and usually restricted to trained practitioners. The following are highly recommended sources: Fragrant Earth, set up by the pioneering and knowledgeable Yan Kusmirek; and Teddy Fearnhamm at Saffron Oils – both these suppliers sell the highest grade organic essential oils.


Organic essential oils are usually priced at 50% –100% higher than normal high grade essential oils, but there is no rule as yet. The average price one should expect to pay for organic lavender oil is between £4 and £10 per 10ml depending on the type. It is expected that, from 1999 onwards, there is going to be a world shortage of many organic essential oils, especially Lavender.

Certification of Organic Essential Oils

It is important to establish that your oils have been certified organic, as this certification process is a good safeguard against many of the unscrupulous practices that go on in this industry. There are many good certification bodies to choose from both in the U.K. and world-wide, one of the best and well-known being ECOCERT INTERNATIONAL. In the UK the Soil Association is one the better known bodies.

Further Reading and Research Sources

L'Aromatherapie Exactement by Pierre Franchomme ISBN 2878190017
Essential Health by Kolinka Zinovieff ISBN 0952782502
Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless
Lavender Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Rose Oil and Rosemary Oil, all by Julia Lawless
A-Z of Aromatherapy by P. Davies

Aromatherapy Organisation Council (AOC): Tel. 0181 251 7912
ECOCERT International: sülte 20a 37520 Osterode, Germany
The Soil Association:
Fragrant Earth: Yan Kusmirek:
Kolinka Zinovieff: Natural Health Remedies (NHR), organic essential oils:


  1. Linda Schrader said..


    A friend let me try some of her doTerra essential oils and was very impressed by how effective they were for several treatment resistant health issues in my family (migraine, back pain, heartburn... even feline asthma). I’d heard that doTerra is one of the best essential oil companies so I purchased a home kit and signed up to be a “consultant.” Basically this means that I can get discounts, but it also means I can benefit financially if friends buy their doTerra products “under” me.

    I was thinking about having a doTerra gathering and inviting the local doTerra expert come talk. Mostly I want to share this information with friends... And it would be icing on the cake if some tried the oils, were as impressed I have been, and started buying them—and then I’d make make a small amount of money. I don’t have the time or interest to invest in doTerra to try to make a substantial amount of money. I don’t see this as a viable money maker. I’m very happy in my work as a psychologist with a thriving part-time private practice. But if the oils work for people, and they are going to buy them anyway, I’m fine with helping them order the oils and earning some money to help pay for my own oils.

    However, as soon as I thought about inviting my friends over to learn about doTerra, I had to admit to myself that I’d be participating in an MLM company. I don’t feel good about that, and I realized that I felt embarrassed to do something that my friends might feel is exploitive. I started doing research on doTerra, pyramid schemes, MLMs, the production of e.o.’s, labeling claims, and e.o. companies in general. The more I read, the more disillusioned I became—with doTerra and with many of the competing companies. Every company claims to be the best—the one true e.o. company—and many websites seems to spend a lot of energy criticizing other companies. If feels a bit like religious dogma and exclusivity...

    On a more practical note, I saw that Tisserand and Oshanhi oils are much cheaper than doTerra. This, despite the fact that they are considered by some to be much better quality and more ethically sound. It now seems ridiculous to pay $69 for 5ml of doTerra frankincense (WITH my “consultant” discount) when I can get Tisserand or Shardi for $14-25? Especially with all the criticism of doTerra regarding their claims, labeling and MLM scheming.

    So- what essential oil brands do you recommend for quality, customer service, and ethical behavior?

    If the best e.o. brand costs more, I’m okay with that. But if one brand costs more just because everyone in the MLM structure has to get their cut, I am not okay with that. Especially if they are engaging in false advertising.

    Please! Help! I want to use essential oils but don’t want to be scammed.

    Thank you,


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About Kolinka Zinovieff

Kolinka Zinovieff qualified as an aromatherapist at the Institute of Clinical Aromatherapy and studied a postgraduate course in 'Molecular activity and the therapeutics of organic essential oils', based on the work of Pierre Franchomme, at the Institut des Sciences Phytomédicales (Body Treats). He also trained as a craniosacral therapist with the Cranial Osteopathic Association (CrOA) and the Upledger Institute. He set up a company called NHR Organic Oils, the main purpose of which is to sell pure, high quality, organic essential oils at affordable prices and may be contacted on Tel: 0845 310 8066;


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