How do you know if your essential oil is the best or junk?

There is a growing body of research from laboratory and clinical studies that points to the remarkable healing properties of therapeutic essential oils. While most essential oils are safe and free of adverse side effects when used properly, it is important for you to pay attention to dosage, purity, administration, and possible interactions with other medications you might be taking. You should also look for quality products, as there can be big differences between what a professional aromatherapist would use and what is sold in retail stores. This is why I only use the Young Living Essential Oils, I know they’re the highest quality.

Young Living Lavender Field

Young Living Lavender Field

What’s the difference between “aromatherapy” and “essential oil therapy”?

Basically, these terms mean the same thing. However, the term “aromatherapy” is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that all essential oils smell nice. On the contrary, there are many essential oils that do not have a pleasant scent. Smell can be very subjective, German chamomile is an example of an essential oil that may not smell good to many people. The name “aromatherapy” implies that smelling, or inhaling, essential oils is the only way to get therapeutic benefit – the reality is there are a number of ways to use therapeutic essential oils. What is an essential oil?

An essential oil is a natural product extracted from a single plant species. Do you know when you peel an orange how sometimes you can see a fine mist going into the air and you can smell that fresh orange scent… that’s the essential oil from an orange (the essential oil in this case comes from the “peel” and not the inside fleshy part we juice or eat).

Not all plants produce essential oils

In the plants that do, the essential oil may be found in the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or peels. 

It is important to note that essential oils do not feel oily; they are called “oils” because they contain the oil-soluble chemicals in the plant (usually 100 to 200 chemicals per essential oil). This complex chemistry gives essential oils their therapeutic properties and explains why different essential oils may have overlapping effects.

Be an educated consumer

If you see a bottle of Gardenia or Lilac essential oil for example let me assure you it is not an essential oil – it is 100% synthetic. There is no one in the whole world distilling either one. Not all plants and flowers that smell nice, or that are healing, can be distilled.

How do you know the difference?

Start by reading the label.

A high quality aromatherapy essential oil label

A high quality essential oil used for therapeutic benefits will have of the following on the label:

• the latin name

• meets “EC AFNOR standard”

• “100% therapeutic grade”

• if the particular plant is edible and can be used in cooking or internally there will be a “Supplements Facts” box and instructions for internal use.

Any essential oil that does not have any of the above ‘combination’ clearly featured on the label is just not a quality essential oil and you do NOT want to use it the same way you would use a Young Living essential oil.

An inferior aromatherapy essential oil label

These are sure-fire clues that tell you that the essential oil contained in the bottle is inferior and may not actually be an true essential oil at all. If the label states things such as:

• do not take internally (when you know the plant is an herb used in cooking (like oregano, lemon, orange, thyme, cinnamon, etc)

• no latin name (means it is 100% synthetic, chemical mixtures do not have botanical latin names)

• nothing that indicates the oil has bee tested (i.e., therapeutic grade, AFNOR, GC indicate each batch was tested and passed high standards)

• “pure” – the world means nothing, it used to but it’s been abused and no longer has any value in regards to quality or even purity for that matter

• if the essential oil feels greasy – it’s been cut with a fatty oil (fatty oils are not essential oils and do not have therapeutic benefits)

Smell it

You don’t have to be an expert, your sense of smell will tell you when you have a high quality essential oil or an inferior oil. Of course, you will actually have to have a real high quality essential oil in your hands to know and smell the huge difference. A high quality oil will smell right, even if it doesn’t smell pretty.

It will also have different notes. Meaning that when you open the cap, hold it down low near your navel and smell, slowly move the opened bottle slowly up the front of your chest, every couple of inches you ‘should’ smell something different.

For example, at one stage it might smell earthy, at another stage it will floral, at another earthy and so forth. These are the notes, you’re smelling the different constituents. If the scent of an aromatherapy essential oil does not change when you do this you know you’ve got a 100% synthetic oil in your hands. A synthetic and/or cheap quality oil will smell exactly the same no matter what. 

What’s the shelf life?

A high quality aromatherapy essential oil will have an indefinite shelf life. Meaning if you keep it out of sunlight and away from heat and cold extremes it will out live you. Seriously, put your essential oils in your Will so your heirs won’t fight over them. 

An inferior aromatherapy oil will have a shelf life of about 6-8 months. At which point it starts to smell funky and maybe the consistency will change and the oil will become thick and/or sticky – YUCK! 

Before I started using Young Living Essential Oils I was using the best quality I could find. Even though those essential oils were cheaper than Young Living oils, I had to throw them out once or twice a year and replace them. This wasteful practice cost more than buying a high quality oil from Young Living.

I have saved so much money by switching over to YLEO that I feel bad for those who are still going to the health food store or a box store and see them waste their money on something that can be harmful to their physical body on a product that has an extremely limited shelf life. Some of my YLEO’s are 6 years old and they are as good as the day I bought them… and I know if I never finish a bottle that it will still be as good when someone opens the bottle long after I’m gone… now that’s a true value. 

Get Young Living Essential Oils

5 thoughts on “How do you know if your essential oil is the best or junk?

  1. Hi,

    Great post, thanks! I have a couple questions that I’m hoping you may have an answer to: I bought some Essential Oils a couple weeks ago from the store. Since I already had the same oils already open, I figured I’d put these oils in the refrigerator to hopefully preserve them, since I won’t be using them for awhile. After reading more about EO’s, it seems extreme temperatures, whether it be hot or cold, can destroy some of the EO’s chemicals. Do you think that these essential oils I’ve refrigerated have now gone bad from being in the cold?

    Question 2: I was at a pretty “high quality” health food store which carried a large variety of different kinds and brands of Essential Oils. They had a brand which sold there oils at really high prices. This brand was ‘XYZ” (cannot show the brand name here). Before I think about buying these, I was wondering if you have ever heard of this brand, and if they were a reputable company or not. I would just hate to spend that much money on low quality oils.

    Thanks for your help in advance!


    Thank you!

    My response to your question ended up being too long for the comment section so it can be read here…

  2. I am curious about absolutes and how to find them, and on whether or not they are better than regular essential oils.

    • Hi Nick,
      I’m wondering why you would want absolutes because they are extracted by using chemicals. There are just a handful of oils that are absolutes because they yield so little essential oil if distillation is used. Those would be Jasmine and sometimes Rose (otto). I say sometimes Rose because Young Living Rose is an essential oil and not an absolute.

      Absolutes contain essential oil compounds which differ from distilled essential oils. An absolute is a refinement of a concrete, which is a thick, fragrant material extracted from the plant using a hydrocarbon solvent. The concrete contains essential oils, fatty acids and waxes. Absolutes are extracted from concretes with pure alcohol, if the manufacturer is somewhat concerned with quality. The alcohol dissolves and absorbs the fragrant material from the concrete. Waxes, fats and other non-aromatic contents precipitate out and are removed by filtering. The alcohol is removed through evaporation. What’s left behind is the pure, fragrant absolute; a concentration of aromatic compounds including essential oil constituents.

      Those who are mindful of superior quality prefer to use only therapeutic essential oils because the chemical solvents used in the extraction of an absolute have a negative affect on the properties of the essential oil.
      An absolute cannot be taken internally as a supplement due. Whereas a therapeutic-grade essential oil distilled from an edible plant can be. You might be interested in reading a post I wrote on how to determine if an essential oil can be ingested
      Thanks for your question. ~ Evelyn

      • Thank you very much, This is exactly what I was looking for in an answer, I am a student massage therapist and i am also working on starting my own apothecary and I wanted to make sure I am only using products that are safe for people to use. Thank you again.

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