Essential Oils Adulterations


Robert Pappas, Ph.D., and Prabodh Satyal, Ph.D., said that estimates show that about 80% of the widely available essential oils have been tampered with somehow.

Adam Christensen of Essential Validation Services says that France exports twice as much lavender essential oil, India exports twice as much peppermint essential oil, and China exports ten times as much tea tree essential oil as it makes yearly.

How is it possible that more essential oil is exported than is made?

Because there is a lot of competition and not a lot of good plant material, distillers and makers may be tempted to add other things to essential oils to make them more popular or increase their yield.

I’ll explain adulteration in more detail below, but for now, think of it as a way for distillers and sellers who aren’t honest to trick people into thinking that changed essential oils are pure.

What is Adulteration?

Call it whatever you want: adulteration, cutting, standardizing, stretching, refining, refining. The essential oils have altered in some way since they went to rest, as indicated by these phrases and alterations. These procedures vary in complexity. Some of them demand advanced tools and are incredibly complex.

All these words apply when a producer (or an intermediate further along the supply chain) adds something to essential oil to “stretch” or standardize it.

Numerous combinations are possible when using essential oils. These are the adulterants used: Alcohol (the aroma of which, to novices, does not much different from that of pure oil), isolates created from different essential oils (such as the terpenes found in lemon and orange, whose vast quantities are inexpensive)

Another less expensive essential oil, yet you can still assert that the product is natural with this (and number 2)!

Phenyl ethyl alcohol (PEA), a naturally occurring component of Rose Otto that can be utilized to concentrate this oil, DPG (colorless and odorless di propylene glycol), etc., synthetic substance.

A somewhat comparable replacement that is less expensive as a whole (lavender is sometimes marketed under the name of lavender and increases traders’ earnings by fourfold)

The perfume business generally accepts these techniques.

It is stated that if an essential oil contains 51% of the original substance, it can be regarded as pure. Therefore, some perfumers will call essential oils “soups.”However, in the therapeutic community, this should not be accepted. Therefore, using genuine essential oils that live up to their reputation is crucial.

I’ll refer to the Haarman & Reimer Book of Perfume.

Because “… a poor harvest, political unrest, soil exhaustion, or logistical challenges make it impossible for the perfumer to rely on nature’s raw materials,” synthetic fragrances “appears economically indispensable substitutes for Nature’s original.”

What’s the big deal if an essential oil isn’t pure?

If an essential oil has been tampered with, it may still smell like pure essential oil, but the oil’s makeup has been changed, so it may not have the therapeutic effect you want.

Depending on how an essential oil was tampered with, it could also be dangerous or poisonous. I go into more detail about this later in this piece.

People need to be extra careful when buying essential oils because there are many reasons to make them not what they say they are, and there are no consequences for doing so.

Learning about how essential oils can be tampered with can help you know what to look for when choosing brands and shopping for essential oils. This could save you a lot of money and heartache.

First, let’s take a look at two important words:

What “adulteration” and “contamination” mean

Adulterate means to corrupt, debase, or make impure by adding a foreign or inferior substance or element, especially to make something for sale by changing more valuable ingredients with less valuable or inert ones. [Source: Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word “adulterate.” [Retrieved on: July 23, 2020.]

Contaminate means (1) to the soil, stain, corrupt, or infect through touch or association, (2) to make it inferior or impure through mixing, or (3) to make it unfit for use by adding unclean or unwanted elements.[Source: Contaminate: Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word. [Retrieved on: July 23, 2020.]

In the next part of this guide, I’ll talk about how essential oils can be changed or ruined.

Is it true that all forms of adulteration are bad?

Using the above definition of adulteration, all forms are negative because the act corrupts or degrades the final material. In my opinion, an implied aspect of the definition is that the alterations made to the substance are meant to benefit the adulterator rather than the purchaser of the essential oil.

On the other hand, some purposeful changes to essential oils are designed to directly benefit the purchaser and are explicitly declared by respectable producers and marketers. This modifies the pure essential oil, but it does not corrupt the oil at the expense of the consumer and hence does not completely suit my view of adulteration.

A nice example is cold pressed Bergamot Essential Oil which has been rectified to eliminate the Bergapten.

Bergapten is a furocoumarin found naturally in Bergamot Essential Oil. Bergapten is extremely phototoxic. Tisserand and Young propose a dermal maximum use of 0.4% when using Bergamot Essential Oil that has not had the Bergapten removed. That is less than a half-percentage point.

Otherwise, any leave-on product that contains more than this trace level of Bergamot Oil risks triggering severe phototoxic reactions such as burning, blistering, and changes in skin color.

As a result, it is considerably safer to buy Bergamot Essential Oil that has had the Bergapten removed, also known as furocoumarin-free (FCF) Bergamot. Knowing what sort of Bergamot Essential Oil you use is critical, especially for topical applications.

Types of Adulteration 

Incorrect Plant Species Used in Essential Oil Distillation

It is estimated that there are between 350,000 and 390,000 plant species.3, 4 Consider how many plants seem similar to one another and how easily two species might be mistaken for one another. Some people may purposefully misidentify one species as another.

Some plant species resemble others, yet they have distinct therapeutic characteristics, applications, and safety considerations. They can also have widely disparate market pricing. 

There is a possibility that persons supervising cultivation or wild gathering botanical material will mistake one species for a similar-looking species. The entire crop or harvest may contain the incorrect species, or it may be a mix of several species.

Several varieties of lavender are farmed and distilled for their essential oil, as I’ll cover further down in this book, and the different lavender species can occasionally be confused.

Utilizing Unreported Plant Parts

Unfortunately for consumers, some distillers are incentivized to distill numerous plant parts without disclosing this to them to increase yield.

The precise plant part(s) used in distillation directly affect the aroma, potency, and safety of the produced essential oil. This is why it’s crucial to pay attention to the parts of the plant that were utilized in the distillation in addition to the botanical name of the plant from which essential oil was derived.

For instance, if an essential oil is branded as Neroli (Orange Blossoms), but too many twigs and branches were used in the distillation, this may affect the market price, the composition, and the perfume of the finished oil. Even if the resulting oil is considered a lovely neroli/petitgrain co-distillation, it shouldn’t be referred to as “true neroli oil” and shouldn’t be sold for the same high price.

The essential oil that is steam distilled from the leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree, which also yields neroli oil, is known as petitgrain. It is far less expensive than Neroli oil. I consider petitgrain to be a hidden gem and frequently use it, but a pure Neroli essential oil shouldn’t distill with leaves and twigs. 

Although some twigs and leaves can enter the distillation of Neroli Essential Oil, I have smelled certain Neroli Essential Oils that distinctly smell more like a co-distillation of the blossoms (Neroli) and twigs/leaves (Petitgrain) and are most likely not authentic Neroli essential oils.

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