Essential Oils Buying Guide


There are more than 3,000 essential oils, of which approximately 300 are used in aromatherapy. Of those, there are 101 major essential oils traded on the global market. Only the professional aromatherapist or seasoned amateur would use all 101, rarely. The average arsenal of essential oils contains approximately one or two dozen individual oils and five to seven blends.

A good number for the layman or novice is ten. But which ten? Every manufacturer, merchant, author and practitioner has a ‘Top 10’ list of essential oils, and no two lists are the same. There are commonalities, naturally, but every list is different. There’s the ‘Top 10 Essential Oils Ever,’ (again, no two lists alike), ‘Top 10 Best Selling,’ ‘Top 10 Recommended,’ ‘Top 10 for Colds,’ and ‘Top 10 Florals,’ to name a few. The best way to begin selecting essential oils is by making your own list: ‘My Top 10 Essential Oils.’


Essential oils are categorized myriad ways – alphabetically, botanically, aromatically, chemically, according to ailment, physical body systems, or chakras, among others. Health, well-being and beauty are about balance, and ill-health and discomfort are about imbalance, or opposing forces. In the most primary sense, energy is both positive and negative and these two forces balance each other. Heat balances cold, dark balances light and opposites attract. One way to categorize essential oils is how they bring balance and return equilibrium.

Physical, mental and emotional problems, viewed as either positive or negative states, need an antidote. Treating illnesses collectively as a duality, essential oils can be categorized as either ‘negative’ (relaxing, calming, tension-relieving, sedating) or ‘positive’ (stimulating, rejuvenating, invigorating, awakening). This is the method used in Chapter 6 and 7. These 24 basic essential oils are a compilation of several lists by various authors, aromatherapists, retailers and manufacturers. They are by no means all inclusive, but rather a good reference point. If you find this system useful, you can add other essential oils to the lists based on your experience and additional research.

From the list of ’12 Essential Oil Relaxants,’ pick five intended to treat a specific problem or situation you want to correct, some imbalance in your life that needs work. Choose another five essential oils from the list of ’12 Essential Oil Stimulants.’

Next, with your list, visit a perfumery, health food store or drugstore where essential oils can be sniffed and see which aromas appeal to you. If you smell anything you don’t like, immediately reject that oil. If the oil is not pleasing to you or if you find it offensive on any level, it will cause a negative reaction, even if only subliminally. If you’ve gone through your list and found only one or two oils pleasing to you, that’s fine. As you continue to work with aromatherapy, you will instinctively choose additional oils as the need arises or your smell changes.


Before purchasing essential oils, it helps to know how to read labels and advertising unique to this industry. Manufacturers are not deliberately deceptive but understanding labeling of essential oils is tricky. You don’t need a post-doctoral degree in chemistry, pharmacology, or general medicine, but there are a few catch phrases that can help you identify products.

Straight-Forward Labeling:

  • 100% Pure Essential Oil
  • Therapeutic Essential Oil
  • No additives, no pesticides
  • First distillation
  • Undiluted & pure
  • Maximum therapeutic benefit

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the subtleties of essential oil labeling. For instance, ‘100% pure essential oil’ does not necessarily mean ‘undiluted.’ A product can have 3 drops of lavender oil in 8 ounces of jojoba oil and still qualify as 100% pure.

First distillations are the strongest and highest quality of an essential oil. Subsequent distillations are progressively weaker.

Dubious Labeling:

  • Vitamin-enriched oil
  • Rich in essential oil
  • Blend containing pure essential oil
  • Plant-based oil
  • Extracted from whole plant

Notice if labeling or advertising specifies which part of a plant was used to obtain a specific oil. If research says the best essential oil of a plant comes from its petals, for example, be careful not to choose a product that contains ‘leaf extract.’ Essential oil of orange blossom flower and essential oil of orange rind are two totally different oils with different properties and therapeutic benefits.

It’s advisable to purchase single essential oils, rather than blends or pre-mixed remedies, whenever feasible. This allows you to 1) control the amount of dilution that suits you best, 2) regulate the intensity and nature of the aroma, and 3) extend the shelf-life of oils because they last longer in undiluted states.


Take time to shop around and do the math. Essential oils can be purchased at a health food store, organic grocery store, New Age gift shop, mainstream drugstore, bookstore, perfumery, or natural cosmetics store. There are quite literally hundreds of retailers, distributors and manufacturers worldwide who offer Internet shopping or auctions. It’s a good idea to study websites thoroughly to be able to determine and choose a reputable dealer with whom you want to do business.

Compare pricing which can vary dramatically. Excellent rose otto can vary from $300 to $700 per 1/2-ounce (15 ml) depending on the seller. If you are willing to pay the higher price, make sure it’s justified and that you ‘get what you pay for.’ Similarly, prices vary drastically according to country of origin. The most desirable essential oil of sandalwood comes from India and costs $150 per ounce (30 ml); sandalwood oil from Australia sells for $80 per ounce. When shopping online, compare shipping costs; a few large distributors offer free shipping with every order.

Finally, purchase essential oils only if they come in dark bottles, either blue or brown glass. Light and heat reduce the effectiveness of essential oils and shorten shelf-life. Oxygen in the air inside a bottle can cause color deterioration and rancid odor. Large quantities of oil are best recanted into smaller containers to reduce the amount of oxygen in the headspace of a bottle. If stored in fully topped-off, tightly sealed, dark-glass containers in a cool area, 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 20 degrees Celsius), essential oils last 6 to 24 months.

Ask your retailer for the life-span of a particular oil at time of purchase. At any point, if you detect a foul, or uncharacteristic odor, the essential oil has become rancid and is no longer therapeutic; in fact, it even might be detrimental to health and cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.

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