by Suzanne Wentley
This article contains affiliate links.
Burn yourself? Don’t worry, I carry lavender essential oil with me at all times.
Have a zit? I got you: Tee tree oil is also in my pack.
Need to stay awake? No problem, peppermint oil to the rescue!
My first aid kit may be considered alternative, but those essential oils get used more frequently than some might think. And these oils are certainly more environmentally conscious than if I were to use chemical burn creams, facial products with unpronounceable ingredients, or even copious amounts of caffeine.
The question is -
Am I really making the most sustainable choices with the brands I’m buying?
Essential oils, highly concentrated plant extracts, are extremely popular for a wide variety of uses. Along with their therapeutic abilities, they can be used for cleaning surfaces and added to recipes. But of course, their aromatic qualities — I’ve got my favorite patchouli in my pack too! — are the most obvious. I love how just a dab in yoga class does wonders to calm and relax.
If you’re into collecting these small glass jars of goodness, you’re not alone. The market value of essential oils is estimated to be around $27 billion worldwide.
But, like all industries, not every company is practicing sustainability. By choosing to spend our dollars mindfully, we can support the best essential oil brands and help the Earth, too.
What Makes an Essential Oil Brand Sustainable?
First of all, it may go without saying … but the cheap essential oil brands you can buy at the grocery store almost are never good for the environment. Like almost everything, when it comes to being environmentally conscious, you almost always get what you pay for.
There are a few questions to consider when choosing the best essential oil brands:
1. How are the ingredients grown and harvested?
The plants that are harvested to create essential oils are grown one of two ways: They’re either harvested from the wild or they are grown on farms. Neither option is inherently better.
Overall, a responsible harvest of wild plants is the best — so look for companies that claim to harvest no more than 10% of the crop each season. Also, be aware that some plants shouldn’t be harvested at all. For example, rosewood, atlas cedarwood, and Indian sandalwood are all on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. These scents are often illegally harvested and should not be purchased, no matter how lovely they smell.
Farmland crops can also be grown and harvested responsibly. Look for organic options, which avoid the use of pesticides and work to reduce long-term impacts on soil quality often caused by monoculture growing methods.
2. How are essential oils produced?
The process of getting the plants from harvest into those little bottles and shipped to you is the next consideration when choosing an essential oil brand. After all, it’s not magic that gets that concentrated goodness in there — even though it might seem like it!
Most oils are created through the steam distillation process, during which essential oils are extracted along with another product known as hydrosols. Hydrosols are aromatic waters, and they have similar benefits to essential oils but require a lot less water per ounce to create.
Another process that’s sometimes used is extraction using solvents. With this method, manufacturers use chemicals like carbon dioxide to get out the plant essence goodness. This is the most sustainable method, as it produces the most oil per plant.
Next, along with asking how it’s produced, ask where the production is taking place. If an essential oil brand is produced on the other side of the globe from you, you’ll be responsible for the emissions expelled to transport that little bottle into your hands. Local products will always be the best choice.
3. How much plant material is used in our favorite scents?
It takes a lot of plant material to make a bottle of oil. For example, one 5ml bottle of rose essential oil requires 252,000 individual petals, or about 8,000 rose flowers. It takes 45 lemons to create one bottle of 15ml lemon essential oil. Is that truly a sustainable product?
Unless you are planning to produce essential oils yourself — and I imagine it would be a fun project to grow aromatherapy plants from seed — be aware that some oils are always going to be less sustainable than others. That’s when those hydrosols come in handy. Rose water, for example, can be just as wonderful as rose essential oil, but without so much waste.
Which Brands of Essential Oils are Best? How to Choose a High-Quality, Sustainable Brand
There are so many different essential oil brands in the world, and it can be tricky to cut through the marketing to find one that’s sustainable. Look for brands that are transparent with their production practices. See if they publish Material Safety Data Sheets, which offer a chemical breakdown of each of their oils. Also, look for organic brands, as they will always be better for the environment.
Here are some essential oil brands we like:
Mountain Rose Herbs
Remember how much better hydrosols are? This brand has a wonderful line of hydrosols, such as rose water, eucalyptus hydrosol, lime hydrosol, and more. They also sell certified organic essential oils, including a wonderful lavender from blossoms picked in Bulgaria.
Their Powerful Skin Compound is made in small batches and chock-full of sage, mugwort, tea tree, black walnut leaves, chaparral, and other goodness. These products are good not just for humans, but also for pets.
Popular with many of my friends looking for a side hustle, the Young Living essential oils offer an impressive “Seed to Seal” guarantee of quality. They list their farms and distilleries from around the globe, so you’ll know exactly where your oils came from. The Kona Sandalwood Reforestation Project on the Big Island of Hawaii is especially interesting, as it shows the company’s commitment to sustainability.
I find it interesting how the same scent can smell different from one brand to the next. One reason for this is the use of synthetic ingredients, despite the word “pure” on the bottle. DōTerra promises never to use contaminants and fillers, and the quality is tested by a third party. The company also promises sustainable and responsible plant sourcing, making this a great brand. It’s often available in yoga studios and from those hustling friends.
If you’re over on the other side of the pond, check out Star Child essential oils. Based in the UK, this organic company sells more than just oils. You can pick up botanical infusions, herbal teas, beautifully scented candles, and their Tree Wisdom Perfumes, which are formulated in accordance with ancient Celtic tree lore. That’s basically essential oil blends mixed with magic.
Sustainability Tips for Using Essential Oils
Once you find an essential oil brand to support, look for ways to integrate these natural products into your everyday life. For maximum sustainability, it’s important to take care of your oils so that they’re good to the last drop. The shelf life of most essential oils is between one and six years, and they’re best if you keep them in cool, dark places.
Although it seems easy to just shake the oils straight on your skin, it’s recommended to dilute oils. My favorite carrier oil, by far, is fractionated coconut oil, because it feels so good whenever I apply it to my endlessly dry skin. Sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, and jojoba oil work well too.
Finally, see where you can substitute essential oils for toxic cleaners. Use citrus essential oil to remove sticky residue from windshields. Mix white vinegar with your favorite essential oil in a spray bottle as a multi-purpose cleaner. Use tea tree oil to clean your make-up brushes. Remember, a little goes a long way!
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