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Some essential oils in aromatherapy are difficult or expensive to produce.  Aromatherapy oils such as rose, melissa and jasmine are often added to or substituted in some way.

Extraction of Essential Oils

A true essential oil is extracted from a plant, tree or flower, either from its fruit, flowers, leaves, roots or bark; because of the extraction of essential oils from different plants in different climates, no two essential are exactly identical, even from the same species.  Extraction from some plants may be a long and difficult process, resulting in a cost of time and money, and consequently a  more expensive retail price.  This has lead to a mass market of adulterated essential oils, particularly in the fragrance industry, where branding takes priority over authenticity.

The adulteration of an essential oil is relatively easy; an essential oil may be adulterated with the introduction of an alcohol, the production of synthetic products or a substitution with different and cheaper oils to pass them off as pure oils.  In addition,  adulteration radically changes or reduces the therapeutic properties of an essential oil.  When used in aromatherapy, unpleasant side effects, such as skin irritations and nausea, may occur.  An adulterated oil does not hold the same therapeutic value (if any) as a pure essential oil.

Adulteration of Rose and Melissa Oils

Perhaps the most expensive of all essential oils to produce is rose (Rosa damascena).  It takes approximately 60,000 rose petals to produce just one ounce of oil.  It is estimated that there are over 300 constituents which make up rose essential oil, making it relatively easy to substitute one or more of its chemical components.  Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini) are two of the most common substitutes for rose oil, although they both have independent therapeutic values too.

Melissa (Melissa officinalis) essential oil is also frequently adulterated.  Melissa oil is also known as lemon balm, which is a reference to its fresh lemony fragrance.  Commercially produced melissa, and therefore  not a true essential oil, often contains lemon (Citrus limon), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), or Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus).  The reason for the prohibitive cost of melissa oil, and thus adulteration, is that the plant has very little actual 'oil' and is mainly made up of water, requiring a large quantity for little oil.

Adulteration of Jasmine Oil

Another essential oil open to adulteration is jasmine (jasminum officinale).  A popular and highly fragrant flower, many may not realize that a steam distilled oil does not, in fact, exist and it is jasmine absolute which is frequently abused.  Absolutes are slightly impure by their method of extraction; they retain some of the solvents used in production and, although they are used in some form of aromatherapy, they are more popular in the fragrance industry. 

Jasmine is unique in that it is obtained by the old method of enfleurage.  This is a traditional method of extraction which is both labor and cost intensive.  Jasmine flowers are collected after dark when the flowers are most fragrant.  The flowers, once gathered, have to be left for a few days to release the essential oil.  This opens the system up to abuse because many are unwilling to wait this length of time.   Some producers introduce chemicals to kill the flower, which makes the resulting oil of no therapeutic value in aromatherapy.  

Adulteration of Essential Oils

Although adulteration of essential oils is a common and accepted practice in the world of perfumery,  and in some industries such as household products, it has no value in aromatherapy.  Interfering with the natural properties of an oil created by nature lessens or removes its healing power; only unadulterated essential oils are of use in therapeutic aromatherapy.

References:

Davis, Patricia 2005 Aromatherapy An A Z  London: Vermilion
Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils London: Element

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as The Adulteration of Essential Oils

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.


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