Are Quality Oils Really Worth the Money?

The question should be: Are cheaper oils really worth what they cost you?

Stone cabin in lavender field, shielded with treesYour friend tells you about aromatherapy, and how much better it has made him feel.  (I’m not being sexist here; it’s just that aromatherapy is for men, too.)  In his enthusiasm, he gives you a CD or DVD on the oils, and encourages you to listen to it.

Wow!  You never imagined that aromatherapy had so much potential!

So you rush right over to your health food store and buy a bottle of lavender and another of frankincense.  You got them both at a very good price (quite a lot less than what your friend paid).  You’re happy and all excited about getting started using the oils.

Scenario uno: You try your oils and it’s a big “So what?”  You can’t quite figure what you friend was so excited about.

Scenario dos: You show your newly-purchased oils to your friend, he takes one look at them, and his eyes roll back in his head.  He is not pleased.  (I know your friends wouldn’t actually do that.  This is a hypothetical story.)

And, as he tries to explain that there are different qualities of oils, with different results stemming from their use, your mind can’t get past the question: Why should I spend $28.00 for a bottle of lavender oil, when I can get the same amount at my health food store for $6.95?  Can there really be that much difference between oils?

A rose by any other name …

While Shakespeare may have been right that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, when it comes to effective aromatherapy, calling something “rose oil” doesn’t make it so.  It takes 5,000 pounds of rose petals to produce one pound of rose oil; and to completely extract the oil, and have it retain its full fragrance, chemistry and frequency intact, requires a careful, two part distillation process.  This makes a quality rose oil very expensive — and very hard to find.  If you can buy a 15 mL bottle for $50.00, you can be sure that it’s not very good.

What you smell may not be what you get

Here is the problem: Aromatherapy has become quite a fad, and an ever-growing number of marketers, seeing its money-making potential, have jumped on the essential oils bandwagon, looking for an easy way to make a lot of money.  They’re finding innovative ways to sell anything they can call aromatherapy.

Mostly, what you find are cheap imitations: some sort of oil base to which they’ve added synthetic chemicals to create a fragrance.  Glade® PlugIns® Scented Oil would fall into this category.  I can guarantee you: their Lavender Meadow® has never seen a lavender meadow.

To give you an idea of how ridiculous this is, statistics show that one company — Procter & Gamble — uses two times the amount of essential oils than are actually produced in the entire world.  It makes you wonder: Just what are they calling essential oils?

Some companies market essential oils that have been cut with synthetic chemicals or blended with cheaper hybrids.  This is quite common with lavender.  For example, according to the Lavender Growers Association, 100 times more “lavender oil” was exported from France than is actually grown there. 

Just where did all that lavender come from?

I’ve recently sampled some lavender oil from a big name American company.  The oil was imported from France and certified as organic.  It smelled nice; but, when I compared it to dōTERRA‘s lavender oil, its aroma was very weak and lacked the deep, complexity characteristic of a quality oil.  Then, I applied some to my forearm.  Not good.  Instead of the energy lift I get from dōTERRA‘s lavender oil, I actually felt a drop in energy.  And, instead of being very soothing like it should be, it irritated my skin.

A vast difference in essential oil quality and effectiveness

As you can see, there are vast differences in the quality of oils on the market today.  This is only partly reflected in the vast differences in prices for these oils.  Some brands of lavender oil, for example, are selling for a small fraction of what others cost.  (On the other hand, other companies inflate their prices, buying very cheap, poor-quality oils, and selling them as therapeutic-grade at whatever price the market will bear.  However, that’s another story ….)

Please note: If you buy a cheaper oil, chances are you’re not even getting even what you pay for.  You must remember that aromatherapy is about more than just the smell.  That $5.00 to $10.00 bottle of frankincense you get at the health food store might smell fine to you; but, there’s no way it will provide you with the therapeutic benefits of dōTERRA’s frankincense oil.  When you look at what you get for your money, $93.00 is a very good price.

Aromatherapy is far more than just the smell

While some of these so-called aromatherapy products present a pleasing fragrance (at least to a chemically-oriented nose), can cover unpleasant odors, and may have some limited value in relaxation, they have no real value for true aromatherapy.  In some cases, these so-called aromatherapy products can create serious problems, from allergic reactions to irritations to chemical burns.

The quality of the oil makes all the difference

There are at least 200 different companies marketing essential oils in North America.  However, in terms of supporting your health and wellness goals, the results you can achieve with these oils can be very disappointing.  It is important to understand that there are many grades of essential oils; and, most essential oils available in the United States are of the lowest grade and quality.

Using pure, therapeutic-grade oils can make all the difference in the world.

It’s a very fundamental fact: Effective aromatherapy begins with therapeutic-grade essential oils.  And today, dōTERRA® offers you the very best, certified pure, therapeutic-grade® essential oils, complete with all the chemical constituents needed for effective aromatherapy intact.

With essential oils, pure is just not enough

It’s not enough that an essential oil marketer claims that its essential oils are “pure”, “organic” and/or “Grade A”.

  • To many marketers, purity means only that the oil doesn’t contain a base oil or some other essential oil — that is: that it’s not cut or diluted.  The question of whether or not the essential oil is adulterated with chemicals or solvents is not even considered.
  • Likewise, that an essential oil is marketed as organic is little indication of its quality.  Organic oils certainly can be better than others, but many oils that are produced from organically-grown plant sources are still contaminated with chemicals during processing, or extracted in a way that produces poor quality oils.
  • Even Grade A oils may lack many of the properties of a truly therapeutic-grade essential oil, even though they may be sold as such.

Why is the quality of so many essential oils so bad?

Producing a quality oil, suitable for aromatherapy, requires a lot of skill, patience and expense.  Quite frankly, most producers don’t find it worth their trouble to do it right.


Because about 98% of all essential oils are not produced for therapeutic purposes, but for the perfume or cosmetic industries.  Much of the remaining 2% is used for food flavoring (although any of these might be sold for aromatherapy).  These industries are only interested in the oils’ aromatic qualities (that is: that they smell good); and so, techniques are adopted to produce greater quantities of these oils at a faster rate, without any concern for their potential therapeutic benefits.

This has a major impact on the quality of the oils.

Few people appreciate how chemically complex essential oils are.  The average essential oil may contain anywhere from 80 to 200 chemical constituents.  However, these aromatic molecules are very fragile and not easily extracted from the plant material.  Taking shortcuts in the production process will render the oil therapeutically void.  Therefore, it’s possible that, even though an oil is considered pure or Grade A, it may still contain only a fraction of its possible complex chemistry and therapeutic value.

In aromatherapy, cosmetic, perfume and therapeutic-grade are not the same.

To most people, these oils smell exquisite; but they lack any true therapeutic properties.  It’s all in how they’re produced.  Many of the important chemical constituents necessary to produce therapeutic results are either flashed off with the high heat of quick production methods, or are never released from the plant material, due to shortened distillation times.

Less than two percent of the oils on the market today are produced for therapeutic applications.  However, many of the oils produced for the cosmetic or perfume industry are being sold in the United States as therapeutic-grade.  (A rose by any other name may still be a rose; but, a marigold is still a marigold, even if you call it a rose.)

Shortcuts in distillation of essential oils by commercial distillers.

The traditional method of distillation, used for centuries in Europe, is to steam-distill essential oils in small batches, for extended periods of time, using low pressure and low heat.  This method of distillation is critical — absolutely vital — in preserving the fragile aromatic molecules in the oil.  Oils that are subjected to high heat and pressure during processing will have a distinctly simpler and inferior profile of chemical constituents, since excessive heat and pressure will fracture and break down many of the delicate aromatic compounds within the oil — some of which are responsible for its therapeutic action.

For example, the distilling process for lavender should not exceed three pounds of pressure, and the temperature should not exceed 245° Fahrenheit.  The distillation time is about an hour and a half, one batch producing about a pound of essential oil.  But in France, because of the costs involved with proper distillation of the essential oils, the traditional method of distillation is being abandoned in favor of high-volume pressure cookers, designed to operate at over 400° Fahrenheit, and over 50 pounds of pressure.  The lavender that is produced commercially (and sold to the United States as therapeutic-grade) is often distilled for only 15 minutes, with a steam temperature of 350° Fahrenheit, and 155 pounds of pressure.  Although the oil is easily marketed and sold, it is of very poor quality.

Another example is cypress oil.  It requires 24 hours of distillation, at 245° Fahrenheit, and five pounds of pressure, to extract all of its active ingredients.  If distillation is shortened by only two hours, 18 to 20 of the oil’s chemical constituents will be missing.  But, to cut costs, most operations today increased the pressure and heat, and cut distillation times to only one hour and 15 minutes.

The result of this is not only oils that are lacking many of the aromatic molecules essential for therapeutic applications, they also create oils that are inert — lifeless.

Nutritionists and health experts agree that a key element in determining the effectiveness of a wellness product is how “alive” it is, or how much organic energy remains after the natural substance has been processed into product form.  The high heat and pressure used in the distillation of most essential oils effectively kills them.  Consequently, they can have little positive effect on the person using them.

Other quality-compromising extraction practices.

Essential oil producers also use other methods to increase the quantity of oil extracted, which also have dramatic effects on their chemical and medicinal action.  These include:

  • Re-distillation: In this method, the plant material is repeatedly distilled, to maximize the volume of oil, by using second, third, and fourth stages of steam distillation.  With this method, each round of distillation generates a successively weaker and less potent essential oil.

Oils distilled in this manner are also degraded, due to prolonged exposure to water used in the re-distillation.  This water can hydrolyze or oxidize the oil, and begin to break down the chemical constituents responsible for its aroma and therapeutic properties.

  • Solvent extraction: This method yields an extremely poor quality oil, but one that is high in toxic substances.  Yet, there are many solvent-extracted oils sold in the United States as therapeutic-grade.
  • CO2 extraction: In this method, CO2 is forced through the plant material at very high pressure.  It yields an oil with a distinctively strong fragrance that, to the untrained nose, might seem truly wonderful.  However, its chemistry is out-of-balance, and the high pressure used to extract the oil fractures some of the fragile chemical constituents, altering their unique properties.  I’ve tried some of these oils, and I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone.  They have a definite artificial quality to them, and simply don’t have anything like the therapeutic benefits of a quality oil.

Essential oils and chemical adulterations

Essential oil producers have come up with other ways to cut costs.  These include:

  • The use of solvents in the boiler water: This increases oil production by as much as 18%.  However, when you put a chemical into the water and force it, with steam, into the plant, it causes a fracturing of the molecular structure of the oil, altering its fragrance and constituents.  It is also impossible to separate out the chemicals from the oil after they come through the condenser.  It should be noted, as well, that the chemical contamination resulting from this will totally wipe out the energentic benefits of the oil.
  • The adulteration of essential oils with synthetic chemicals or “extenders”:  This is even a greater concern.

In France, the production of true lavender oil dropped from 87 tons in 1967 to only 12 tons in 1998.  During the same period, the demand for lavender oil grew over 100%.  And, according to the Lavender Growers Association, 100 times more “lavender oil” was exported from France than is actually grown there.

This raises the question: Where did this extra oil come from?  Where did essential oil marketers obtain enough lavender to meet the demand?

The answer: They probably used a combination of synthetic and adulterated oils.

It is a little-known fact that most of the lavender oil sold in America today is actually a hybrid called lavandin, not lavender.  It’s grown and distilled in China, Russia and Tasmania, and brought into France, where it is heated to evaporate (flash off) the camphor, cut with synthetic linolyl acetate to improve the fragrance, added to propylene glycol or SD 40, DEP, and DOT (solvents that increase the volume), and then sold in the United States as lavender oil.  Consumers don’t know the difference, and are happy to buy the “lavender” for $ 7.00 to $10.00 per half ounce.

Frankincense is another example of a commonly adulterated oil.  The frankincense resin that’s sold in Somalia costs between $30,000 and $35,000 per ton.  A great deal of time — 12 hours or more — is required to properly steam-distill this essential oil from the resin, which makes it very expensive.

The frankincense oil that sells for $25 per ounce — or less — is invariably distilled with gum resins, alcohol or other solvents, which, while cheaper to process, leaves the essential oil laden with harmful chemicals.  This frankincense is then extended by the addition of colorless, odorless solvents, such as diethylphthalate or dipropylene glycol.  This yields a very low-quality essential oil — if it can even be called that anymore.  Yet, the only way to distinguish the authentic from the adulterated is to subject it to rigorous analytical testing, using state-of-the-art chromatography, mass spectroscopy and other advanced testing methods.

Aromatherapy and synthetic fragrances.

Beyond the problem of adulterated oils, there is also the practice of skipping nature altogether, and manufacturing so-called essential oils in the laboratory.

There are huge chemical companies on the east coast of the United States that specialize in the duplication of every essential oil that exists.  For every kilogram of pure essential oil that is produced in the world, it is estimated that there are between 10 and 100 kilograms of synthetic oil created.

And, while chemists have successfully re-created the main constituents and fragrances of some essential oils in the laboratory, these synthetic oils lack any therapeutic benefits, and may even carry serious risks.


Because real essential oils contain hundreds of different chemical compounds, which, in combination, lend important therapeutic properties to the oil, and balance the therapeutic actions of other essential oil constituents.  (See the article on essential oil chemistry.)  Also, many essential oils contain molecules and isomers that are impossible to manufacture in the laboratory, leaving the synthetic oils incomplete.  And, just as importantly, no one has been able to solve the problem of manufacturing life.  You must never underestimate the importance of kinetic energy in the oils as a therapeutic agent.

A final word: the importance of the real deal

Adulterated oils present real dangers for consumers.  Anyone venturing into the world of aromatherapy must use the purest quality oils available.  Inferior quality, adulterated oils most likely will not produce therapeutic results, and they can be very detrimental.  There’s the basic issue of toxicity; but also, petrochemical solvents, such is propylene glycol and diethylphthalate, can all cause allergic reactions.

Adulteration of essential oils will become more and more common as the supply of top-quality essential oils dwindles and demand explodes.  These adulterated essential oils will jeopardize the integrity of aromatherapy in the United States, and may put many people at risk.

And then, there is the issue of mislabeled oils.  The lavender oil you purchase might actually be lavandin, a hybrid lavender that is chemically very different from true Lavandula angustifoliaLavandin contains high levels of camphor (12 to 18 percent), and can burn the skin.  In contrast, true lavender contains virtually no camphor.

dōTERRA®: Guaranteed quality for safe and effective aromatherapy.

With dōTERRA®, you can be assured that the oils you purchase are of the very highest quality.  Every oil is carefully — and thoroughly — tested, to guarantee that it contains the full chemical profile necessary to be used effectively in aromatherapy.  dōTERRA® does not stop with the standards set up for the food flavoring or perfume/cosmetic industry; but looks at the chemical profile that is needed to support your health and wellness goals.

Unlike other essential oil companies today, dōTERRA® goes to extraordinary lengths to bring you only the finest quality oils available anywhere.