Not All Essential Oils Are Created Equal
When you see a $6.99 price tag on a big bottle of essential oil at Target, Amazon, Walmart, or any other vendor, it’s quite natural to feel tempted to purchase it and use it throughout your home. After all, oil is oil, right?
Well, like most things, the story is much more complicated than that.
It’s is perfectly legal for a company to artificially synthesize each constituent of an essential oil, mix them up and throw them in a bottle. It is also completely legal for them to take real lavender oil from the natural source, and then combine it with an artificially synthesized compound to reduce its overall price (this is called adulteration). And get this, they don’t even have to tell you on the label that what’s in the bottle isn’t 100% purely derived from a plant. In fact, they can even start with a plant compound, and then alter it artificially in the lab to produce other compounds, and put on the label that it was “derived from a natural plant source.”
There are virtually no FDA guidelines in this neck of the woods. The chemistry of mimicking the scents of natural sources has been developed extensively by the perfume and scent industry, which is gargantuan. The infrastructure is huge, and the chemistry is well established. Because of this established infrastructure, it’s simply much cheaper to artificially synthesize something than it is to grow the plant and harvest its pure essence. Compound this with the fact that scents and flavors get special exemptions from the FDA, and you have the recipe for disaster when it comes to your health.
To give you an example: In the picture below I show you how they can take turpentine, derived from pine trees, and then chemically convert that to many of the terpenes that are found naturally in essential oils. They can then use these compounds to build an oil completely from scratch; or they can use any one of these artificial constituents to adulterate a natural essential oil to make it cheaper. And they don’t have to tell you that they did any of this.
For the chemistry geeks who want to keep following along, they take resin from pine trees, and steam distill it to extract turpentine. Turpentine is mainly a mixture of alpha and beta pinene. They fractionally distill the beta-pinene and then use this to produce myrcene. To convert pine to myrcene, they use a process called “pyrolysis”, which takes place at very high temperatures (above 700F). Now, when they produce myrcene from pinene, do you think myrcene is the only compound they produce at these high temperatures? Absolutely not. To the right I list out a host of decomposition products that are produced from this high temperature conversion process. On the bottom right, I show the detailed chemical pathways that lead to these decomposition products. They then take myrcene (along with all of the other unwanted byproducts) and produce menthol, citral, citronellal, geraniol, nerol, and linalool, among others. These then find there way into the perfume industry, and yes, you guessed it, into a cheap bottle of oil.
Now some of those decomposition products sound harmless. Pinene, limonene, etc. Well, do you notice three different forms of Xylene on the list? Xylene is a very harsh and toxic organic solvent that’s chemically derived from petroleum. Inhaling xylene vapor leads to depression of the central nervous system, delayed reaction time, nausea, vomiting and headaches. This can occur at very low exposure limits, as low as 100 parts per million. The Xylene component can make up more than 1% of the final myrcene mix after the pyrolysis reaction is completed. How much of that xylene makes it into the final “Essential Oils R Us. ” bottle is anyone’s guess.
This is typical with artificial synthetic chemistry. You always end up with a host of unwanted compounds. And because there are no standards or specifications, every one of those compounds can make it into the final product, and they don’t have to say anything about that on the label.
Please make sure you know EXACTLY how your essential oils are being made.