Essential oils are a natural alternative to chemical cleaners, remedies and air fresheners, but it’s important to seek out organic and ethically harvested products
As most of the western world looks for natural alternatives to home cleaners, remedies and gorgeous scents for their homes, essential oils are in high demand. Similar to food and clothing production, growing plants for these oils has become an exploitative process as farmers need to harvest huge amounts of the plant to extract the oil. Not to mention, some of the oils are a bit more difficult to extract because the oil is stored in tiny cavities or ducts within the plant.
Just like anything grown in abundance, picking too much without planting more in return has created an unstable environment, all for the sake of humans consuming essential oils. The more popular essential oil companies source their raw material from corporate farms that turn out large quantities of plants, and inevitably have to use pesticides and other unsustainable growing practices.
Not only are many essential oil plants improperly farmed, more and more plants are ending up on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including rosewood, cedarwood and sandalwood, because there are no rules and regulations put into place on overharvesting. There are also no measures for the disposal of these oils. Even though they’re “natural”, because they are such a highly concentrated product, they can cause environmental imbalance and further harm to our planet when dumped improperly.
So should you still use essential oils?
Absolutely! They’re still a natural alternative to chemical cleaners, but it’s important to use them sporadically with just a few drops in cleaners or diffusers. It's also critical to seek out organic or ethically harvested oils and then dispose of them safely.
How do you find organic oils?
Do your research into the company behind the oil. Do they state clearly on their pages that the oils are certified “organic” or are harvesting according to ethical guidelines? A brand that has nothing to hide, won’t. A brand that does, will disguise their wording to protect their legacy. It’s becoming harder to tell which brand is authentic versus which brand has greenwashed their product, so you need to dig deep.
Essential oil “checklist”
Don’t buy essential oils that are packaged in a plastic bottle. The chemicals will eat away at the plastic or mix into the plastic, and no authentic oils are in a plastic bottle. Buy oils that are in an amber glass vile (dark glass such as amber helps to keep out deteriorating sunlight).
- The bottle or packaging should list the common and Latin name of the plant used to make the oil, what part of the plant was used, how it was extracted (distillation or expression), how it was grown (wild, traditional, organic) and should say 100 percent pure essential oil. If it says “essence oil” then it’s blended with a base oil or other synthetic oils.
- Avoid “fragrance." Fragrance is a blanket term for any scent, and there are no regulations around what fragrance is made of.
- Price doesn’t always match the product. Of course it’s important to be wary of a dangerously cheap product, but go deeper and see what the company's transparency regulations are on their webpage. Be careful of clever marketing here.
How do you dispose of essential oils?
Treat essential oil bottles and any leftover oil as hazardous waste. A drop or two down the drain won’t do much harm, but more than that will cause damage to animals, the water supply and environment. Depending on your region, there will be specific ways to dispose of hazardous waste, but most of them include going to the dump and disposing of these oils the way you would paint and other toxins.
Why does this all of this matter?
You may love a specific brand that doesn’t check these boxes, and you may be wondering why you should make a different choice. Aside from detrimental environmental impact, inauthentic oils don’t work the way authentic ones do, so you’re just diffusing a beautiful scent rather than receiving any alleged benefits from oils. A 2019 study says that yes, essential oils work, but these studies were also conducted in Eastern countries where the compounds and harvesting were done traditionally and with value.
A few trusted essential oil brands*
*Not all of the oils are grown or made organically in each brand.
Blends to get you through winter
- 2 drops orange
- 2 drops peppermint
- 2 drops eucalyptus
- 2 drops four thieves
- 1 drop frankincense
- 1 oregano
- 2 drops peppermint
- 2 drops rosemary
- 2 drops lemon
- 1 drop peppermint
- 3 drops balsam fir
- 2 drops pine
- 2 drops blue spruce
- 2 drops patchouli
- 2 drops ylang-ylang
- 2 drops bergamot