There is a growing and unfortunate trend of fake essential oils being sold online and offline. In this article, we will explore the ways vendors are getting away with passing off synthetic fragrance oils as essential oils and what is being done about it.
In my previous blog article “Why You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For With Essential Oils,” I explained why cost doesn’t always correlate with quality when it comes to essential oils. Today we’ll learn that bargain basement prices can be a red flag, what to look out for, and how to become a more savvy aromatherapy consumer.
Dr. Robert Pappas, the founder of Essential Oil University, is a well-known and respected Ph.D.-level scientist who studies the composition of essential oils. In fact, he was under contract with doTERRA for a number of years, tasked with analyzing the company’s essential oils and producing GC/MS reports.
Recently, Dr. Pappas has been going after retailers who have been selling fake essential oils both online and offline. In his video series on Facebook and YouTube called “Scamazon,” he talks about certain vendors who claim to sell pure essential oils, but upon reviewing the GC/MS printouts, these oils turn out to be cheap synthetic fragrance oils.
One example is a 4-ounce bottle of lavender essential oil sold for $12.95 by the company Radha Beauty. If you have been purchasing essential oils for a length of time, you start seeing price patterns. Typically, essential oils are sold in sizes such as 10-ml, 15-ml and 30-ml. Four ounces is 120 ml. To put things in perspective, a 3.3-ounce (100-ml) bottle of lavender essential oil from Plant Therapy retails for $38.95. Edens Garden sells their 100-ml bottle of lavender for $56.95. Now you can obviously see the price disparity. A 120-ml bottle of lavender from an MLM company would cost even more; certainly not $12.95.
Here’s a tip: if you’re thinking about purchasing essential oils from a new supplier, use the prices quoted by reputable vendors as a baseline. If there is a significant variance between what you’re used to paying and the prices being charged by the new company you’re considering, ask yourself why.
Cost alone does not dictate quality; we need more information. This is where GC/MS reports come in. In one of his videos, Dr. Pappas shows one of his printouts of a GC/MS tests he ran on a sample of a lavender essential oil sold through Amazon.
For those who don’t have a chemistry background, GC/MS stands for Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry. Basically, the GC equipment turns an essential oil sample into vapor (gaseous form), and the Mass Spectrometer separates the vapor molecules according to their mass and electrical charge. I won’t get more technical than this; if you want to know more about GC/MS, this Wikipedia page goes into more detail.
A GC/MS report lists the exact chemical constituents of a sample of essential oil, in addition to their concentrations in percent. In the Scamazon video, Dr. Pappas reveals the presence of chemicals that are not typically found in natural lavender, which indicates that the essential oil has in fact been “cut” or adulterated, usually to lower the cost. This is likely why the Radha Beauty bottle of lavender was priced at only $12.95 for four ounces.
Not only are online retailers selling cheap synthetic oils disguised as essential oils, pharmacies and department stores are getting into the act. In the first of a four-part Facebook video series, Dr. Pappas recently visited a Walgreens pharmacy and obtained a bottle of Frankincense essential oil. He bought a bottle of Boswellia serrata for $6.99 for a 15ml bottle; two bottles (one ounce) were priced at $12. Plant Therapy sells its Boswellia serrata for $17.95 per ounce, which is about 50 percent more than the Walgreens version.
In the fourth video of his pharmacy series, he shows the GC/MS test results of the Frankincense he bought at Walgreens. The chemical components revealed by the test showed that this sample was also adulterated. Even without the GC/MS test, he noted that the Walgreens oil was much more viscous than true Frankincense oil. He dipped a paper test strip into the bottle of the “Frankincense” oil he bought from Walgreens, and unlike true Frankincense, the Walgreens oil did not seem to evaporate. He also noted that there was nearly no scent to the oil, unlike true Frankincense, which has a characteristic spicy, resinous smell. So, even without scientific equipment, you can use your sense of vision and smell to discern whether the essential oil you purchased is genuine.
If you’re doubtful about a particular essential oil, put a few drops of the oil on a sheet of paper. The oil, if it’s a true low-viscosity essential oil, like lavender, citrus, floral, etc., should start evaporating. If the oil does not evaporate and behaves more like grease, then it’s likely a carrier oil, or an essential oil diluted with carrier oil. A true essential oil, unless it’s patchouli, vetiver, or another high-viscosity species, will evaporate into the air and not leave a grease stain behind. The best thing is that this test is completely free.
Other Things to Watch Out For
Both Dr. Pappas and my colleague from across the pond say you should avoid purchasing essential oils from places like Amazon or in department stores, because it’s hard to tell who the original supplier might be. It’s better to buy directly from the vendor’s website or from a representative of the company. Look closely at the vendor’s website; it should be professionally designed and provide all the information you need about an essential oil before you hand over your money. It goes without saying that you should only make a purchase from an SSL-encrypted website. Also, using a credit card provides certain protections. The same is true for debit cards as long as they carry the Visa or Mastercard logo.
Look at the bottle of an essential oil you purchased or are considering buying. It should list the oil’s botanical name, that is, the genus and species. For example, Peppermint essential oil would have the botanical name Mentha x piperita on the bottle. Lemon essential oil is Citrus limon. Additionally, there are over 300 species of Eucalyptus in existence. Just listing the words “Eucalyptus oil” on the bottle is not sufficient.
Do not buy essential oils that are packaged in plastic bottles; this is because essential oils degrade plastic. Oils should always be stored in amber or dark colored glass bottles; this extends the shelf life of the oil by preventing degradation by sunlight exposure.
Finally, the bottle of essential oil should not only list the botanical (Latin) name, but include the country of origin, lot number, expiration date, etc., or in the alternative, this information should be obtainable from the company’s website or by a phone call. As I stated in another article, reputable essential oil companies should have no problem providing GC/MS reports for a batch of oil.
It is very concerning that a number of unscrupulous people and companies are trying to cash in on the essential oil craze. I’m afraid that things will get worse before they get better. The aromatherapy community is fortunate that individuals like Dr. Pappas are working hard to expose fraudulent essential oils being sold online and off. Consumers deserve to know the truth about what they’re diffusing and/or applying to their skin.
I’d like to know if you’ve ever purchased essential oils that turned out to be fake. Did you experience any allergic reactions? Did the purported essential oil smell dramatically different from what you’re used to purchasing? Have you ever confronted a retailer who sold you essential oils that turned out to be fake? I’m curious about your experiences. Please feel free to comment in the form below. And to get a FREE copy of my ebook “Essential Oils Made Easy,” visit www.boldaromatherapy.com and subscribe. You will receive the ebook as well as my latest blog articles and occasional email communications from me.
Thank you for your time,