Hooolyyy cow. This question comes up in nearly every essential oil forum/group I’ve ever been in, and is probably the most widely debated. This topic is probably going to be one of the most controversial topics I ever write about. BUT I am prepared not only for your dissenting (but respectful) comments, but also to answer all of your questions about why I chose the company I currently buy from and give you the tools you need to choose a company for yourself. So in today’s post, I will attempt to answer the ever-pervading question: Which essential oil company is the best?
Factors that Affect How ‘Good’ an Essential Oil Company Is
Before we go and make a decision about which essential oil company is the best, it is imperative that we set the criteria for making this decision and then evaluate each company by the same criteria. Other posts on this topic tend to follow the pros/cons list format, which I feel does not give as accurate of a picture of the comparative quality of each company.
Quality of Oils
The first obvious criteria to judge an essential oil company by is the quality of their oils. I’ll talk wayyy more about that further down, but basically you want to buy from a company that sells pure oils that are properly sourced.
Another important quality of a good essential oil company is their transparency. How much of their process do they share with the public? Do they post quality assessments of their oils? Are they willing to answer customer questions directly about specific products? Any company without this level of transparency leaves me feeling a little skeptical.
In line with the point above, it’s important for a good essential oil company to have good customer service, meaning they are willing to handle complaints immediately and gracefully, and are willing to share any information you ask for in terms of the quality of the oils.
Quality of Information
Many essential oil companies have blogs or resources about essential oils for their customers. Often these sorts of postings include safety information and recommended uses for their products. However I have seen some companies giving out bad or misguided advice as to the use of their essential oils, so an important measure of an essential oil company, for me, is the quality of the information they provide to their customers.
Contrary to our instincts, more expensive does not equal better quality. While there is a correlation, cost alone cannot be used to describe the quality of something. Therefore, simply looking for the most expensive oils does not guarantee the best quality oils, just as the fact that an oil is affordable doesn’t guarantee that it’s not good quality.
You’ll want to look for the company that meets your quality standards while charging a reasonable price (yes, it is possible to find such a company!).
How to Tell if an Oil is Good Quality
One of the first things to look for when assessing the quality of an essential oil is the sourcing of the plants that it is extracted from, i.e. where the plants are grown and harvested. This matters because the climate and cultivation methods where the plants are grown can have an effect on the final composition of the oil extracted from them. This study is a good example of this, showing that the final composition can vary quite drastically depending simply on the soil chemistry where the plant is grown.
In order to make sure your oil will be effective as described by research, look for companies that source their oils from places where the plants natively grow, as this is the most common sourcing for oils used in scientific studies. This will ensure that your oils have not only the most natural composition profile, but also a most similar profile to the oils tested by science.
The next thing to look for is the purity of the oil. You’ll want to make sure that you’re buying 100% pure oils (contrary to what others might say, there is no FDA regulation stating that an oil can be labeled 100% pure and still only contain ~5% of a pure oil).
However, some quality standards used by essential oil companies in the USA are pretty much made up. There is no third party regulator deciding if something is ‘therapeutic grade,’ it’s simply an internal standard made up by the company. That’s not to say it means nothing, because some companies do hold themselves to high standards, but it can be hard to trust without the third party regulation.
Europe has a little bit more regulation on essential oils than the states, but that still adds no credibility to any internal standards a company says they have.
You now may be thinking, well crap, if there’s no regulation how am I ever supposed to figure out the quality of an oil? (I hit this wall too when I was beginning my oil research)
Well, science has an answer, as usual. There is a way of evaluating the composition of essential oils using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy (GC/MS). Chromatography simply means the separation of a mixture by passing it through a medium where the different components travel at different rates (think about the difference between a rock and a feather travelling through the air). Similarly, essential oils can be separated into their components, which can then be measured based on mass.
In order to truly evaluate the quality of an oil, you would need to compare the GC/MS profile of the oil to the standard or expected profile of the oil (most test results automatically do this for you).
Unfortunately, only a few companies will provide this information, and a few provide it under intense request, making it really difficult to know the true quality of the oils you’re buying. The best companies in this category will provide a full GC/MS for each batch of oil, and some even give you the comparisons right on the report.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider the extraction method used by the company when evaluating their oils. There are a few different ways oils can be extracted (steam distillation, expression, enfluerage, solvent extraction, and more). The method of extraction can have a marked effect on the quality of the final oil because there are so many variables involved. In steam distillation alone, a small change in temperature or pressure can significantly affect the final composition of the oil. More concerning, though, are chemical solvent extraction methods, which use things like hexane (widely villanized chemical used for extracting coconut and other food-grade oils). It is known that this method tends to leave a residue, however it is not known for sure how much the low concentration residue affects the humans using the oils.
In general, you’ll want to look for companies that either cold press (usually citrus oils are extracted this way) or use carefully controlled steam distillation.
Which Essential Oil Company is the Best
Alrighty guys, this is the moment of truth.
Since I can’t possibly evaluate every essential oil company in existence, I’ve chosen to look at the ones that I have direct experience with so far (and I’ll be adding to this post as I gain experience with more companies). If you are really devoted to, or curious about a company that’s not here, let me know so I can check them out and add them to the list!
Companies I’ve evaluated so far:
- Young Living
- Plant Therapy
- GEO Essentials
- Rocky Mountain Oils
Just a quick reminder of the list of criteria:
- Quality of Oils
- Customer Service
- Quality of Information
My personal pick: Plant Therapy
-This is one of the few companies that posts third party GC/MS profiles for every batch of oil they sell, so I know right away the quality of the oil I’m getting before I ever buy it. They also offer several oils as organic, which is hard to find. In addition, in the profile of every oil they offer sourcing and distillation information.
-PT seems to be pretty transparent about their practices. In addition to offering third party GC/MS results, PT has an expert chemist with 40yrs experience in essential oils evaluate the qualtiy of the oils before they go for GC/MS testing.
-While I have no personal experience with their customer service, everyone raves about how professional and timely the responses are.
-PT has an extensive blog with information about essential oils and how to use them. While the information seems to be good, I was somewhat disappointed by the quality of the sources cited when making claims about things oils can be used for.
-PT is one of the most cost-effective companies I’ve ever come across, and additionally, they offer free shipping.
Second Choice: Rocky Mountain Oils
-RMO is another company, like PT, that provides access to third party test results for each of the oils they sell. There has been one incidence that I know of where an oil tested did not pass, and that is their German Chamomile, which was listed in the results as ‘misrepresented.’ (more on that here) They do provide the sourcing and distillation information for each oil as well.
-Because RMO provides the GC/MS profiles, as well as their plant source information, I give them a high score for transparency. My one complaint about this though, is that to see the GC/MS profiles you have to enter a lot number on their website, which you can only get from a bottle of oil you already have bought.
-I haven’t personally interacted with their customer service team, but I’ve talked to people who have, and I’ve always heard that they respond appropriately in a timely manner.
-RMO also has a blog, similar to PT, but avoids posting about essential oil uses that might need scientific references. However, the recommendations provided by RMO align with safe practices; I’ve never seen them recommending something I don’t agree with or consider unsafe.
-While these aren’t the cheapest oils you can buy, they are mostly reasonably priced, and they are always shipped for free.
Other companies I’ve evaluated
-YL has a bit of a history with quality complaints (you can read more about that here). They also refuse to post their GC/MS results and instead suggest that you get your oils tested yourself. Some people have gone and done this, and so far it has been found that Cinnamon, Spearmint, and Thieves are not pure oils (overview of test results here). These results are from March and May of 2016, so I can’t say if the quality has improved since then. There are also several oils that have been tested and have been found to be pure (results here), so it’s not all bad.
-An additional mark against YL is their lack of transparency. While they do state where their oils are sourced, the lack of willingness to provide third party test results (or even their own test results for that matter) for their oils is a major negative for me, and somewhat suspicious.
-HOWEVER, I will say that YL is rare in that it is not a re-bottler. Most companies are re-bottlers, meaning they buy oils already distilled and re-bottle them, changing the labels. YL distills its own oils, controlling the process from “seed to seal” as they like to say. They also take care to source the plants for their oils carefully from the native countries, which can have a marked effect on quality as mentioned above.
-In terms of customer service, I’ve seen over and over that YL has not handled the quality complaints very well, either refusing to answer or giving non-committal responses.
-The quality of information that YL provides is also lacking. YL and their reps recommend using several of their oils neat (not diluted), and while that is acceptable short-term, it can cause sensitisation in the long-run. Some people even go so far as to claim it’s simply to get you to use more oil and buy more often.
-Finally, in terms of cost, YL is overpriced, especially if you aren’t getting the wholesale prices (which you can only get by buying a starter kit and becoming a rep).
Some of you may notice that some of my posts contain pictures of YL oils. Yes, those are my oils and my pictures. My first experience with essential oils was with YL, as I am one of those who got drawn into the MLM marketing. While I will still use the oils I have, I won’t be buying from them again.
-doTERRA is similar to YL in terms of quality complaints, but from what I can see most of the quality issues are labelling issues and not purity issues (information about that here). DT has also recently begun offering GC/MS results for their oils. While that’s a step in the right direction, there are two problems I still have with this. The first is that the testing is not third-party and the second is that it has the same issue as RMO in that you must purchase a bottle and enter the lot number to see the results. Lastly, while DT provides distillation information, sourcing information for their oils is not provided on the oil profile.
-Because DT provides at least some form of GC/MS profile for their oils, they are showing a certain level of transparency that YL does not.
-DT’s customer service responded in a timely and appropriate manner to the quality claims mentioned above, and took immediate action to fix the labelling of their oils. I don’t have any other evaluation of their customer service, though, because I have personally never bought from them.
-The quality of information provided by DT tends to be lacking specific guidelines. For example, this post about how to use essential oils mentions using them internally but only when following the “labelling guidelines or a professional recommendation”. I find this sort of statement to be somewhat useless because not only does it not provide any truly helpful information, above that statement they talk about adding essential oils to food and taking them in capsules as supplements, which can easily lead the non-careful reader to simply begin adding them to food in the suggested “small” amounts indicated by those bullet points.
-The cost of DT oils is very similar to YL, and I would say they are equally overpriced.
This is a fairly new company that I found because they contacted me and asked me to review their oils. I did receive free oils from this company, but I did not sign any contract agreeing to review them in return. Nonetheless, I figured I should include them in this post.
-In terms of quality, this company is up to par. They provide the GC/MS results for each lot of oil before you buy (although it’s not quite clear which lot you will be buying from when multiple are listed). They also have several organic oils for sale.
-Additionally, they provide a handy post that shows you how to actually read the GC/MS results, which I’ve found to be very helpful and gives them points toward transparency.
-Their customer service is quite good in my experience. I communicated with them a fair bit with questions about their oils and sourcing and always received a detailed, timely response.
-While they don’t have a blog as some other companies do, they do provide a few informational posts on their site with information about how essential oils are distilled and some safety recommendations. I like that they specifically do not recommend internal usage of their oils, or any oils. This topic is highly controversial and while I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about using oils internally, I realize that recommending them to be used internally could increase sales, so the fact that they choose not to make this recommendation in the face of controversial information that could benefit them makes me trust them a little more.
-In terms of cost, this company is mid-range; more expensive than PT and less expensive than YL and DT.
For your convenience, I’ve made this table of pricing for the companies evaluated. The prices shown are wholesale for the MLM companies, and when a 5mL bottle was not available, the price shown is adjusted as such to show what the price would be for 5mL.
Well there you have it! Plant Therapy is my number one choice right now, but I turn to Rocky Mountain Oils when PT doesn’t have the oil or blend I’m looking for.
Don’t forget to let me know which companies you trust and buy from and why in the comments below! It is my intention to make this post insanely helpful and I’d love to include as much information as possible.