Knowing how to spot a fake essential oil is CRUCIAL!
If you are buying, have bought or are just thinking of trying essential oils then you need to read this post!
In this post, as an introduction to essential oils and how to use them, I thought I should start with how to buy them, and more importantly, how to spot a fake essential oil.
I hate knowing that there are so many nasty fake essential oils available in Grocery stores, chemists and homewares stores (don’t get me started on the internet) that deliver more harm than good.
Filled with chemicals, fragrance, and preservatives, many use these fake oils, which are bought to inhale and add scent to rooms through diffusers, apply them to the skin and even ingesting, these oils can cause inflammation in the body, and as these oils are rarely regulated, a dodgy essential oil can have who knows what in it.
INTRODUCTION TO ESSENTIAL OILS
Now, if you think I am going to recommend some super pricey brand name oil then let me reassure you now, I do not sell essential oils, and I do not wholly subscribe to the most popular oil brands, (MLM brand oils such as Doterra and young living) which can sometimes cost double what you can pay for essential oil of the same quality of a lesser-known brand.
- It comes down to being able to read an essential oil label.
- To knowing what are essential oil buzzwords.
- To understanding how the oils are regulated.
- Knowing how to test an oil at home.
Essential oil meaningless buzzwords
If you are just starting with essential oils, and you are aware of potentially buying fakes, then like me, you may begin at the big brands.
My first essential oil was doTerra, and while they were great for me as a starter, and I still use some of the oils I first bought from them (waste not want not) I was thoroughly sucked in by the term, “therapeutic grade” and paid through the nose for my first set of oils.
doTERRA claims to have therapeutic grade essential oils, this means absolute purity, they claim this on their website.
They do their own testing, all their bottles are stamped with CP/TG certified pure, therapeutic grade.
NOTE! Therapeutic grade oils with the doTerra, CPTG logo on the label and oil marked for therapeutic use by the TGA (GRADE A) is not the same thing! read on to learn the difference.
The problem with this claim is it’s their’s (doTERRA’s) there is no national or worldwide therapeutic grade oil that is regulated, they simply came up with it the term, “therapeutic grade” patented the term so no other company can claim the same thing, and now use it as their own personal branding/ranking of quality.
You should know that many other oils go through vigorous testing with the GC/MS logo stamped on their labels, this testing is thorough and conclusive, and essential oil with this stamp is 100% pure.
(I do own some doTerra oils, I enjoy using their blends, but since starting with essential oils I have found a good Australian company if you like doTerra go for it! just know there are many other brands cheaper and just as good don’t fall for the buzzwords)
QUALITY IS IN THE FAQ
When buying your oils online, try and look for the FAQ on the website( located at the bottom of the main or every website page) and here you should find, what they intend the essential oil for use on if it is not on their labelling, for example, a cosmetic grade essential oil is not bad, but it means that here in Australia they are not regulated by the TGA (therapeutic goods administration) if the oils are labelled for therapeutic use then they are regulated by the TGA.
- Therapeutic or grade A oil is an oil that is used to alter your wellbeing, in any way, from emotional to physical.
- Cosmetic essential oil or GRADE A or B is also monitored as the claim for a cosmetic oil is to change/improve your appearance in some way, it is more the labelling standard that is monitored and not the oil, so learning to read the label is crucial.
Here are just one of the guidelines that the TGA (therapeutic goods administration) will apply when monitoring a GRADE A essential oil.
- The ingredients are chemically, pharmacologically and therapeutically compatible and are inappropriate, effective dosages.
IF the oil is sold from overseas, then it is not regulated by the TGA.
This doesn’t mean it is any worse or better, you need to do some research about that oil brand and the country it originates from and see if they have their own regulatory system in place and read the FAQ on the website.
YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS!
Essentially, there are not many rules when it comes to essential oil. They are currently sitting in between a medicinal/pharmaceutical product and a cosmetic/fragrance product it depends on the company and how they choose to label their products on how they are regulated.
This means some countries have some regulations for GRADE A OR B essential oils, others, none, and even then the regulations can not alter the product at all, or they can alter the product away from being 100% pure oil even as GRADE A.
I have read on other essential oil blogs and websites, that the TGA which complies with the British Pharmacopoeia monograph (BP) will force the adulteration of 100% pure oil, but when I did some research I instead found an article (Australian standards also use the British Pharmacopoeia monograph when the TGA is regulating the oil as grade A oil.) and it concluded that 100% pure oils were sold as exactly that, pure.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN BUYING AN ESSENTIAL OIL
- Check the FAQ section of the website, almost always located at the bottom of every page, along with a some kind of contact details. If there is no FAQ at all and they are selling essential oils then this is a red flag.
- From where is the oil sold?
- Where is the oil made?
- Is the plant the oils is sourced from grown organically?
- What labelling is the company using? the same company can sell different grades of essential oils, from fragrance, cosmetic, to food grade(B) and therapeutic grade(A).
- An ingestible food-grade oil (grade C) may come with additives for flavour and preserving be sure to read the ingredients
- What do they use as carrier oils if they do use carrier oils in some products?
- Are the carrier oils organic? you don’t want to be spending money on good essential oils only to have them skimp on cheap carrier oils (a cosmetic or fragrance blend will most likely contain a carrier oil)
- does the label contain testing stamps? GC/MS
- Does the display the Latin name of the plant?
- How much is the oil, if it is suspiciously cheap I would avoid
Which grade of essential oil is best?
Grade A or (therapEutic grade) essential oil.
*therapeutic is a ‘term’, not a real regulation, look for 100% pure oils, often calling themselves for therapeutic use!
- This is the best you can get, IT IS ONLY POSSIBLE WITH 100% PURE ESSENTIAL OIL. It is made solely for the chemical makeup of the oil, all the steps taken to remove the oil and chemical compounds from the plant are done in a way that maintains the molecular structure of the chemicals and integrity of the oil.
- It is not made for the smell or taste. You will enjoy the smell, but unlike a mere cosmetic or fragrance oil it will be pure, and even taken from a special part of the plant unlike fragrance oils which are made as cheap as possible.
- Almost if not ALL therapeutic grade oils are to be diluted before use and you must always do some research before ingestion or applying to the skin.
- All GRADE A will be tested with the GC/SM protocol.
Many of these GRADE A oils are sold for cosmetic purposes. ANd will not be labelled TherApuetic or 100% pure, they are still good quality oils!
Under the mandatory standard, cosmetic products are substances or preparations intended for placement in contact with any external part of the body, including the mouth and teeth, for the purpose of:
- altering the odours of the body
- changing the appearance of the body (oils for the face for redness, acne, cleansing and so on.)
- cleansing the body
- maintaining the body in good condition Oils for longevity and wellbeing.
- perfuming the body
- protecting the body. (many oils are sold for protection, think blends for cold and flu, for skin irritations, infections, cleaning, sterilising.
GRADE B OR FOOD GRADE ESSENTIAL OILS
- This oil is almost always adulterated with carrier oils, and if your intention is to use them in food then this is okay, just be sure to still ask the questions listed above and you can still find yourself a good quailty essential oil for cooking with an organic carrier.
- Many B grade oils are diluted to increase profit.
- You can make it easy however by buying a therapeutic grade and mixing it with your own carrier oil.
- At worst B grade essential oils will be adulterated with toxic chemicals and flavours to enhance the flavours, so be sure to check the ingredients before you buy.
C GRADE ESSENTIAL OILS OR FRAGRANCE GRADE
- These oils are always adulterated with carrier oils and other perfumes and even alcohol. NEVER INGEST THESE OILS!
- I would avoid these oils, even if you plan on just using as perfume, the chemical they are diluted with you don’t want to be inhaling or using on your skin.
- You can usually spot a fragrance grade oil by looking at the directions for use, It will say use the “fragrant oil” you won’t find this term on an oil purposed for placing on the skin or ingesting.
A GOOD ESSENTIAL OIL LABEL VS A BAD ESSENTIAL OIL LABEL
To be able to spot a fake essential oil, you need to know that labelling for essential oils is hazy.
WE have talked about buzzwords, the current grades of oils, and what those grades usually contain when it comes to ingredients according to the TGA and The BP
But in order to know if the oil is even regulated you need to know the purpose of the oil, remember the oil is only regulated if it is sold as being able to alter your wellbeing in any way so a GRADE A OIL for medicinal (therapeutic) or cosmetic use.
A GOOD Essential oil LABEL must include these elements if it has been regulated by the FDA or the TGA
- The name of the plant in Latin and the common name. This is one of the best ways to know you are most likely buying a good quality essential oil
- The ingredients. If you are buying an oil blend, The labelling standard is to list the ingredients in order of mass or volume, the 1st ingredient is in the highest amount, and then the 2nd and 3rd and so on until you reach the least amount.
- the directions for use.
- A hazard warning
- The use by date. stamped into the glass in the bottom of the bottle.
- Any testing done to the oil.
- The batch number, this is key for a good essential oil company to be able to track the oil, the farmer who grew the plant, to how the oil was processed and when, if you can find a batch number then you know the company is taking the time to understand their sources.
WHAT WILL A FAKE/CHEAPER OIL LABEL LOOK LIKE?
- The Latin name of the plant will not be displayed
- The source of the plant will often not be displayed.
- how the plant was grown is not displayed (organically or sustainably)
- The oil may not be stored in dark amber or blue bottle but rather is clear glass or plastic (this is a huge red flag a pure essential oil can not be stored in clear glass!)
- IF the directions name the oils as fragrant oil, the oil is most likely adulterated with chemical additives for preserving and enhancing the smell
- the price is often an indication of a fake oil, this oil is $3.50, far to cheap for a pure essential oil.
- Cheap oils sold for fragrance purposes tend to smell delicious because of adadtives to enhance the smell, they don’t burn your nose, and some like the orange I am testing smells like candy, pure essential oil is not made for the smell, and will not smell this way.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LABEL’S PURPOSE ON A FAKE LABEL!
The label will directly or indirectly give you the purpose of the oil.
Either on the very front of the label or in the directions.
IF the oil does not indicate any purpose then you can do some research of the brand online, but I would hesitate to buy this oil.
THIS Kmart essential oil LABEL SAYS ” FRAGRANT OIL” there is no other mention of the purpose of the oil on the front labelling.
When reading the directions, the term fragrant oil is used, this gives the purpose and this term is ranked as GRADE C, this oil I would avoid.
There is no reason to think it is adulterated per se, but It was $3.50, the price alone makes me sure it is not genuine, it is made in India, where there are no regulations, and there is no way to track how it is made, where the plant was grown or how it was grown.
Always ask the questions when buying an oil if you can’t answer any of them by reading the label don’t buy the oil,
Essential oils not labelled cosmetic\therapeutic can be good oils, just choose your purpose
This is an Australian brand of lemon oil below.
it smells like lemon oil, and when tested on paper, it dried leaving no mark.
This essential lemon oil is well priced, comes in bulk and is most likely a good quality oil, I wouldn’t want to ingest it or use it on my skin, but for cleaning it is a good alternative to spending big money on a large MLM company oil.
This company does not offer testing results as it does not go through the MSGS testing, nor does it claim organically grown plants for its oil.
which is why I use it for cleaning and not on my skin.
HOW TO READ TESTING STAMPS ON AN ESSENTIAL OIL LABEL
The obvious points of the label are above, and if your label does not have these (Latin name, ingredients, directions or where it is made) then these are some red flags, but you can do a little more digging
If your labels have all these things but you want to compare oils then here is what everything on the label means.
This you will find only on doTERRA bottles, it is Certified Pure, Therapeutic Grade. It is a good label, but remember it is a mere buzzword, it is a patented term that doTerra use. I do not say it is not good, I think they put a lot of effort into their oils, but if you are trying to find another oil with a ctpg on the label and think no other oil is as good, it is not the case, they just can’t use this term for patent reasons.
If you are looking for good oil and you find a brand that uses this testing to prove their oils then you have found yourself a good quality oil.
If you want to learn in-depth about GC/MS testing, how it works and what it can and can’t find in an essential oil click here.
What is GC/MS analysis?
GC/MS analysis is an analytical testing method that combines features of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a liquid or volatile sample.
Gas chromatography is the first step of GC/MS analysis.
GC or GLC (Gas-liquid chromatography)
Gas chromatography can be conducted as a stand-alone test in order to determine the purity of essential oil (or any substance) in can also separate different components of a mixture.
It is done by placing the sample in a test tube.
Heating the tube until the contents evaporate.
As they evaporate they pass through a sensor and that sensor determines how much time it took to evaporate, and the percentage of each constituent within the oil is determined.
Mass spectrometry can also be conducted as a stand-alone technique to measure mass-to-charge ratios.
As the compounds in the test tube evaporate during the GC test this test can tell if the ingredients contain any adulterations, by creating a charge, measuring the mass to charge ratio of the ingredients and then measuring the molecular weights of the ingredient, these findings are charted.
So if there is something wrong or something added to an ingredient/s these tests will find them.
WHICH OILS GO THROUGH GC/MS TESTING?
If the bottle is stamped with the logo then you know it has been tested.
The essential oil paper test (Not fool proof)
If you have bought oil and you want to know if it is pure or not you can do a rudimentary test at home.
a simple drop of the essential oil on a piece of paper.
it may take up to two hours to dry.
Once it is dry check to see if there is a greasy ring around the dry drop, if so your oil has been adulterated, or if the spot does not dry away altogether and you can still see the place where the oil was, the oil has been mixed with something else, other than essential oil.
THIS METHOD IS DEBATED!
Here are my findings.
I tested doTerra, piping rock, Australian wholesale oils and one cheap K mart oil.
Of the oils tested, one doTerra oil left a mark and the cheap orange k mart oil also left an oily residue.
so…I am not sure what to make of this, is the tea tree oil from doTerra adulterated? or does is have a chemical make-up that has it leave a residue?
Another thing to be sure of is your oils use by date stamped on the bottom of the bottle, if the oil is old it will begin to break down and this can change the results, perhaps this tea tree oil needs replacing.
The orange oil has an almost candy-like smell, which a good orange oil should not have, that and the mention of fragrance oil on the label and the fact it cost $3.50 I was sure it wasn’t pure.