Are Your Oils Phonies? Let’s Find Out!

Thanks to my fantastic Aromatherapy instructor, Jade Shutes (she was a past president of NAHA, ya’ll!), I learned the number of ways to discern the difference between QUALITY and FRAUDULENT essential oils.

There are a few different ways of checking if your oils are 100% pure, and worth your hard-earned money. I’m spreading this knowledge on to you in hopes that you spread the word as well.

You may have noticed, essential oils are sold at every department store, grocery store, drug store and even home improvement stores (!?!). Everybody wants in on the action. Unfortunately not every oil company cares about you and your family’s health – their only goal is to make the Benjamins!

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If you’re an oil newbie, you may be thinking: 1) every oil company is created equal, and 2) the words “pure” and “100% pure” on the packaging must be true, or they wouldn’t be able to sell it, right? WRONG.

I can almost guarantee you that every essential oil at your local stores, and even online stores, sell bottles of oil containing only a portion of actual essential oil (grown and harvested Lord knows where!). It is usually mixed with a less expensive nut or seed oil as a filler. Or, it is a complete fake made with perfumes or fragrances that mimic the aroma.

Why are they able to do this? Because it’s not illegal to lie. Seriously though, they do this in order to extend their product and increase profits. Shady, right?

When I sniffed and tried essential oils for the first time, I had the privilege of using the purest oils currently on the market. They were breathtaking and effective and I wanted ALL of them!

Once you sniff a quality, 100% pure essential oil, and then sniff the fakes, you immediately notice a YUGE difference. It’s like night and day, black and white, oil and water! See what I did there? 😎

Before I dive in to the telltale signs of a fraudulent oil, FUN FACT!:

Essential oils aren’t actually oils at all.

Say whaaaaat?!? Well, they’re not oils in the same sense that you would normally think of an oil, such as olive, sunflower seed, avocado, etc.

So, why are essential oils called “oils” anyway?

Polarity. The compounds in essential oils don’t mix well with water – just like typical nut or seed oils. Water has polar molecules and essential oils have non-polar molecules.

Substances with similar polarities can dissolve within one another. Like dissolves like.

So, how can you determine whether your oil is REAL of if it’s FAKE?

Let’s check out the indicators:

The Paper Test. Place a single drop of your essential oil on white printer paper and let it dry. If an oily ring is left behind, it’s not a pure essential oil.

There are some exceptions: Sandalwood, Vetiver, German Chamomile, and Patchouli. These oils are naturally heavier in consistency and deeper in color, and you may not get an accurate test out of them.

Cost. Be VERY wary of “Frankincense” being sold for $4.99 at your local drug store. I’m going to flat out say it: DON’T BUY IT. I’ve seen this at stores and in a recent Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

Pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils can be expensive, depending on value and availability of the plant it comes from. But, I have to stress that if you get good quality oils, you are making a great investment. Considering that you only use a few drops at a time, you’re only paying pennies per drop.

It takes 250 lbs of lavender to make just 1 pound of lavender essential oil. While there is an abundance of lavender, lemon and rosemary, there are those that are harder to come by, such as rose, melissa, jasmine, helichrysum, and chamomile. The former will be cheaper, and the latter will always be more expensive.

I was at Home Depot the other day and saw a starter pack of “essential oils” for around $10. The kicker was that there was a bottle of “frankincense” in there! Come on folks, when you start buying essential oils from a store that also sells toilets, pine wood 2x4s, ceiling fans and kitchen sinks, you know you have fraudulent and adulterated oils.

Latin Binomial. A quality oil bottle should also contain the plant’s Latin binomial on the label (the genus/species).

For instance, a bottle of lavender should also contain the words “Lavendula Angustifolia,” which is a species of high-quality lavender. If the bottle only contains the common name “Lavender,” you’re most definitely paying for a an oil that’s been cut with something else. It won’t have the same therapeutic properties as Lavendula Angustifolia, and people who try it will think essential oils don’t work because they don’t see any results.

Container. Essentials must always come in glass containers. Pure essential oils are made with chemical compounds that are so strong that they can break down plastic and leech it into your mixture.

You normally will find oils in amber or cobalt blue colored glass bottles. This keeps the oil from oxidization and spoilage.

Texture. All essential oils have different viscosity and texture because they come from different plants with different chemical components.

For instance, vetiver and myrrh oil are so thick that their texture is more like a syrup. They take a long time to pour out of a bottle!

Whereas, lavender or frankincense oils are thin and slippery. They pour out fast.

If you buy a kit of oils from a store, and they all have the exact same texture – RED FLAG! They are more than likely just a filler oil with perfume/fragrance added to it.

Inside the Cap. Essential oil bottles should have an orifice reducer (white plug when you remove the cap).

Orifice reducers not only control how fast the oil comes out when poured, but because oils can oxidize (some quicker than others) and spoil, it helps with the shelf life of the oil.

Be wary of any oils that come with a dropper top. The black squeeze part of the dropper top is made of rubber. The potency of the oil’s chemical components can break down the rubber, letting in unwanted air, and oxidize/spoil the oil. I’ve seen this happen when I put a dropper top in my vetiver oil bottle. Within months, the dropper top lost its shape – it looked as if it puffed out. Thankfully the bottle was almost empty, and so I tossed it and bought a new one.

Disclosure of Sourcing & Testing. A good essential oil company will be forthcoming with where there oils are sourced and harvested, as well as completely transparent about their testing process.

The company I purchase from has a great weblink that shows you, in depth, each country an oil is harvested from.

Research has shown that essential oils grown in their countries of origin have a higher quality and effectiveness. Some try to argue that this is not so, and just a ploy to get more sales, but there is research by unbiased scientists who would tell you the former.

They are tested multiple times in-house and then third-party tested for purity. Third-party testing is very important. It gives you confidence that the oil in your bottles contain exactly what the company says is in them.

As you know, essential oils are not just cheap air-fresheners. Well, maybe the cheap ones at the grocery store are, but real essential oils are a whole different ballgame.

Any time you are putting something on and in your body (only use oils internally if you know how, and if the bottle has a Supplement Facts on it), be sure you have first done your research. The whole purpose of using essential oils is because they are healthier and safer for us, right? If we are using cheap essential oils, then we aren’t being very healthy or safe.

I hope this has been of some help to you. We all need to be cautious and informed consumers.


Karen Kornichuk
Certified Aromatherapist
Member of National Association
for Holistic Aromatherapy

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