Because essential oils are so concentrated, any dangerous ingredients they may contain can be more concentrated, too. That's one reason organic natural oils are becoming more popular. Organic production also has environmental benefits. It takes a lot of rose petals, lavender blossoms or lemon verbena leaves to make an ounce of essential oil. When flower farms use fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers, fewer hazardous waste products make their way into nearby ecosystems and waterways. In the United States, product manufacturers using the USDA's Certified Organic seal are also held to a higher standard in their production and packaging methods. That goes for imported products carrying the seal, too.
Not all natural oils marketed as "organic" carry the USDA's seal, though. Terms like "all natural," "healthy," "wholesome" and "organic" are more marketing slogans than reliable indicators of a product's quality. USDA Certified Organic products will carry a green seal on the packaging.
Expect to pay more for organic natural oils regardless of their origin. Organic yields are usually lower than plant yields produced using powerful pesticides. That's why large growers love bug sprays. Less pesticide means more pests -- and more pest damage. Buying organic scents produced without chemical fertilizers may have an impact on the quality of the fragrance, too. Fragrances are chemical compounds, and the more wholesome the process, the purer the results -- maybe. At least consider the possibility and compare the essential oil products you buy for scent quality and staying power. You may be surprised at how deep, rich, appealing -- and worry free -- organic oils can be.
Ensuring that the essential oils you buy are organic and completely safe to use is the first step, but there are a few other considerations, too:
- Choose oils sold in colored bottles. Blue and brown essential oil bottles are dark in color to protect the contents from damage caused by light exposure.
- To make sure you get the oil variety you really want, look for the Latin (scientific) name on the product labeling. Reputable essential oils will list the common name as well as the scientific name of the plant from which the oil has been extracted.
- Buy from a reputable source. If you find a great bargain on a marked-down essential oil, think before you buy. If the retailer is unloading a shelf worn product that may have been stored improperly, you could be paying for damaged goods -- even though the price looks like a bargain.
- Always store essential oils in a dark location.
- Avoid oils in plastic bottles or with rubber squeeze lids. Both plastic and rubber can react with the oil, changing the nature of the fragrance. Rubber gaskets can also degrade over time, allowing vapor to escape.
- To test the purity of an essential oil, pour a drop on a sheet of paper. It should evaporate in a few minutes. If it leaves an oily residue behind, it's probably a blended product and not 100 percent pure.
- Read the directions before using any essential oil you buy. It may sound like fun to make your own relaxing jasmine hand lotion, but using too much of a pure essential oil, getting it on your unprotected skin or working with it in an unventilated location can make you, your children and even your pets sick. Essential oils are fun to use, but they are also potent ingredients. Handle them with care.