De Hekserij sells various types of essential oils, see our webshop for the range.
The article below is intended as additional information about essential oils.
What is an essential oil
Essential oils are plant extracts that evaporate quite easily. Most are liquid and many have a strong odour. In almost all cases, the oil is made by means of steam or hydrodistillation. Hot steam or water vapour is herein passed through fragrant plant parts, or these plant parts are cooked, whereby vapour escapes. The essential oil joins the steam or water vapour and is released again when it cools. There are two other methods of making essential oil, namely:
- pressing of citrus peels
- dry distillation of resin or wood, whereby the vapours are released
Other names that are used for essential oil are: volatile oils, ethereal oils, aetheroleum, which basically means the same as “essential oil”.
Many people only know of essential oils from books, from websites and through aromatherapy courses. Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine that uses essential oils. Whether you think that is nonsense or not: aromatherapy has ensured that essential oils are easily available to everyone in small quantities. In addition, the books often also contain relevant information for other uses of essential oil.
However, many of these books are far from complete. Some have a view on safety that differs from what the legislation says about this. This article hopes to close this gap in knowledge.
Because the trade in essential oils is rather fragmented, it is difficult to get good information about this. There are many small producers, many small wholesalers and many small retailers who often sell essential oils on the side. De Hekserij has always considered product knowledge and quality very important. For that reason, we have put a lot of time and effort into obtaining the correct and complete knowledge about essential oils. Because we learn every day, the following is not complete. We cannot rule out that it contains inaccuracies. Therefore, be and remain critical.
Use of essential oil
Essential oil is mainly used as a flavouring agent in foods (soft drinks, sweets, soups and sauces) and, in addition, as a fragrance compound in, for example, perfume, soap, detergent, cosmetics or shoe polish.
A number of essential oils are suitable for making food, provided they are processed correctly and dosed in a safe way. However, you should not assume that all the essential oil you buy is suitable for food preparation. Essential oils may only be sold for food preparation if a number of legal requirements are met. For example, there are requirements in the field of safety and purity. The company that packs them must be under the control of the relevant government authorities (NvWA in the Netherlands). Many essential oil wholesalers are not aware of this and sell any essential oil as suitable for ingestion. Although usually harmless, we do not recommend using any essential oil in food for this reason. Essential oil can be harmful to health if used incorrectly.
The essential oils of De Hekserij (and this applies to any other product from De Hekserij) is not intended for use in food.
We sell essential oil as a fragrance compound. You can use these to make perfumes and to perfume other types of cosmetics, cleansers and fragrance products to make a room smell nice.
Use in aromatherapy: no problem, provided it is external, for example in a skin oil or by letting the scent evaporate.
Tempering with essential oils
The definition of an essential oil, given by us earlier in this article, is a common one. In slightly different words, this same definition is described in the international standard ISO 9235. Many other sources also provide such a definition. However, the term “essential oil” is not protected by law. Any product, including a synthetic fragrance compound, may therefore in principle be sold as “essential oil”. In addition, there are no general, customary or legal quality requirements for essential oil. As a result, a product called “essential oil” can be anything. It can be a true essential oil made in a manner as described above.
It may have been tampered with in some way. This can be done in various ways, to name a few:
- Another, cheaper essential oil has been added, for example Atlas cedar to Virginia cedar or palmarosa to geranium
- Ingredients from another oil may have been added, such as orange terpenes to mandarin oil
- Synthetic fragrances have been added, for example linalool to rosewood, or geraniol to rose
- Odourless substances may be added, for example a vegetable oil or DPG
There are several reasons for tampering. Firstly, there is the lack of a legal framework; it is not prohibited in principle. Second, there is the relatively high price of essential oil. Tampering can lower the price. Thirdly, it is not always easy to determine that quality, certainly not without experts and a laboratory.
Every now and then we get samples of non-real essential oil that smell excellent. These oils are often very suitable to be used as a fragrance compound. Practice shows that this oil is apparently also suitable for many aromatherapists; We can safely assume that there is at least as much essential oil on the market that has been tampered with as essential oil that has not been tampered with. As a result, almost every aromatherapist will have used counterfeit oil without realizing it.
Nothing wrong then? We think it is a matter of principle: if we pay for a pure, natural oil, then we also want a pure, natural oil. Naturally, this also applies to our customers: if they pay for an oil that has not been tampered with, then they must also receive an oil that has not been tampered with.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy for us to determine whether an oil is pure or not. We are not alone in this problem, this article gives a good example of this. In it, Pia Long describes her experiences as a perfumer at Lush and about the problems that Lush, as a medium-sized cosmetics company, is experiencing in purchasing unprocessed natural fragrances. It’s great that people dare to be so candid about this, you don’t see that much in the cosmetics world.
How do you know if an essential oil is real or not
Sometimes a manufacturer disguises the fact that an oil is not real, for example by calling an oil ‘nature identical’. Nature identical should mean that the chemical composition is identical to the natural product. In other words: nature identical means: synthetic, but chemically equivalent to the natural product. With essential oils, it usually means that it is a synthetic product that is similar in smell to the natural product. That is not the same. This is sometimes only indicated by an abbreviation such as NI.
Some types of essential oil do not exist because they cannot be made. There are no apple blossom, lily of the valley or jasmine essential oils. Do you come across it: jasmine can be an absolute (another type of natural extract), but not an essential oil. It can always be a perfume oil, but not an essential oil. You must, of course, delve into the matter before you know which types of essential oil do and which do not exist.
The price can be an indication. To give an example: a kilogram of essential rose oil from Bulgaria of reasonable to good quality costs at least 3,500 euros, usually (much) more. If you come across a 10 ml bottle that costs less than 35 euros, it can’t be right. You can rest assured that it is not an essential oil. Due to margin, VAT and other surcharges, 70 euros is already a very nice minimum price and you will usually have to pay more for it. Unfortunately, it does not work the other way around: there are undoubtedly traders who sell a perfume oil rose for 100 euros per 10 ml as an essential oil, while it is completely synthetic.
Even more difficult is to learn by smelling whether the oil is real or not. A single highly trained scent specialist can in many cases distinguish real from fake, these are rare and well-paid talents.
Every now and then we come across a great counterfeit oil, such as an Indian bergamot oil that was offered for 35 euros per kg and smelled exactly as you would expect. How did we know the oil was not real? Some clues:
- 35 euros is far too low a price for the quantity offered
- Bergamot oil usually comes from Italy, there are a few other countries it can come from, but India is very unusual
- India has a reputation for messing with oil (and absolute)
- we already had some doubts about the company that offered it to us (that’s knowledge we build over time)
- the stated shelf life was much longer than can be expected from real bergamot oil
Natural fragrance variation
Sometimes you have a less fragrant oil that is real. Although it is a real essential oil, such an oil is not very useful for perfumes. Such an oil usually does not enter our webshop, but we sell it in a different way for a different application. The scent of essential oil can be slightly different every delivery. A warm or cold growing season, a different region of origin or a different manufacturer (with different production methods) can provide a different scent. Nice, good smells, but sometimes noticeably different.
The latter is also a reason for tampering. A number of essential oil manufacturers / wholesalers simply do what the market demands: essential oil that is cheaper and that always smells about the same. The latter is important for many customers: the detergent that contains lavender oil should not suddenly start to smell different because the lavender oil smells different. We sometimes have questions from customers about an oil that smells different from what they are used to. If you want real oil you will have to live with the fact that the smell, price and quality can vary. If you want a consistently low price, constant fragrance and constant quality, you will have to take processed oil, or better: switch to a synthetic product.
Analysis, gas chromatograms, certificates of authenticity, assurance that the oils are absolutely 100% pure natural, mention of the botanical name on the label; None of these can assure you of the authenticity of the oil.
Even if you have a reliable supplier: they often have their own supplier, and it is therefore difficult to trace the manufacturer. There could be a bungler somewhere in the supply chain, who adjusted the analysis or the gas chromatogram and the only way you can find out is when you do the analysis again. But then again: aging can also change the outcome of the analysis over time.
The bungler can make an analysis after his tampering and determine whether he can get away with it or not. It is almost an arms race: if the customer can make a better analysis, then you have to deliver real oil, otherwise you deliver oil that has been spilled.
A certificate of authenticity is easy to make. Looking up the botanical name too.
The good reputation of a supplier can possibly help, but this only works with a select group of large manufacturers. They cannot afford to put the wrong oil on the market even once. Unfortunately, there are not many of them. Even then it is necessary to read the documentation carefully. Sure, a larger company that messes up will lose some of the larger customers who value authenticity, but the smaller customers or those who value price over authenticity remain.
De Hekserij is only a relatively small supplier. We cannot have all essential oils thoroughly examined, that would make the oil unpayable. That is why we have done a lot of research so that we can ask our suppliers the right questions and at least stop some of the oil that has been tampered with from reaching our shelves. We know what to look out for and only do business with essential oil suppliers who are reliable.
However, this does not guarantee that all the oil we supply is 100% natural and of the stated botanical and possibly geographical origin. We cannot rule out the possibility that we or our suppliers or their suppliers will occasionally get oil that has been tampered with in their hands. We would therefore consider it unfair to give a 100% authenticity guarantee.
We do not process the essential oil ourselves, with one exception: highly oxidation-sensitive essential oil (especially citrus oil) is supplied by us with an antioxidant, namely 0.1% BHT. This is because we like to supply oil that is good, safe and usable for a long time. Moreover, it is usually necessary for the customers who use the product in cosmetics, such as soaps or perfumes. In that case, the oil must usually meet the requirements of the IFRA . Where necessary, we filter the essential oil, but we rarely do so. We do not add anything to or remove anything from the oil. We indicate factory operations in the description of the oil, as far as we know about this operation.
Safe handling of essential oil
Most essential oils fall under the European REACH and CLP regulation, legislation that specifies, among other things, how hazardous substances must be packaged and labeled. They are covered by this legislation because, if used incorrectly, they can pose a hazard to the user and their environment. We occasionally get the impression that some of our customers consider the hazard of natural products such as essential oil to be lower than that of synthetic products. That is unwise: natural products can be just as dangerous as synthetic products and essential oil is a good example of this.
Legislation requires the use of certain labels and packaging. We meet these requirements. Unfortunately, we occasionally notice that there is oil on the market that is not properly labeled. Obviously, this does not make the oil safer, in fact, because you do not know how to deal with it, there is more risk of unsafe situations.
Much essential oil is flammable, which means that the oil catches fire relatively easily. An oil that is well packed in a bottle will really not burn spontaneously, the risk arises especially when using the oil. For example, suppose you spill the oil, soak it up with a tissue and throw this tissue away in a rubbish bin in the blazing sun: it is not inconceivable that the contents of the rubbish bin will burn.
Store the essential oil well, in a bottle with the cap on, dark and not too warm. If you need to clean up leftovers, it is best to rinse used tissues and the like with water before throwing them away.
On the skin
With a few exceptions, pure essential oil is a skin irritant or even corrosive. This means that using pure essential oil or oil that is not sufficiently diluted can cause a burning sensation on the skin, red spots and in extreme cases even burns. Therefore, never use essential oil undiluted. This also applies to lavender oil, an oil recommended for use undiluted in some aromatherapy circles: it contains irritants and thus can cause skin irritation.
Perhaps even nastier is the allergenic effect of many essential oils. Many essential oils naturally contain allergens – chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction on the skin. Some essential oils consist almost exclusively of such allergy-causing substances. The common thing is that such a reaction does not occur in everyone and sometimes only occurs after years. An allergic reaction usually manifests itself as irritation, but often already at a low dose. Unfortunately, an allergic reaction can never be ruled out, but sensible handling of essential oil limits the risks.
Safe use in this case means:
– Only use essential oil diluted enough, as a rule of thumb, a maximum of 3-5% in rinse-off cosmetics such as soap and shampoo and a maximum of 0.5-0.8% in cosmetics that remain on the body’s skin, such as creams and massage oil. Face and hand creams should not contain more than 0.2-0.4% essential oil. Do not use more oil than necessary.
– Limit the use of perfumed cosmetics. Many cosmetics are fine without fragrance, you can use a perfume if you want to smell good.
– If possible: use a perfume on your clothes (think about possible stains!).
– Especially if you work a lot with essential oil, it is advisable to wear (nitrile) gloves and perhaps safety goggles.
Even more serious dangers
If you have children or pets, it is extra wise to pay attention to a third aspect. Many essential oils can cause chemical pneumonia if swallowed. This entails essential oil in the respiratory tract and can cause an inflammatory reaction due to the viscousness, a single drop can be enough. This can be very serious, and you must seek medical attention from a doctor or a hospital emergency room!
Some essential oils are poisonous or harmful if swallowed. If it is no more than a drop, it will not do much harm, but less than a bottle can be fatal to a child with some types of oil.
In addition, some essential oils contain substances that can possibly or probably cause harmful effects in the long term. This includes causing cancer, infertility, damage to genetic material and the unborn child. Essential oils with the substance safrole are notorious. Although the actual effect is probably nil, this is difficult to estimate and it is wise to avoid this group of oils as much as possible. This group includes oils such as cinnamon leaf, sassafras, mace and nutmeg.
Finally, there is the environment. Many types of essential oil are labeled as environmentally hazardous because they do not break down well in the environment. With normal use in small quantities, only small quantities enter the environment, which the environment can tolerate. However, do not dispose of large quantities of essential oil in the sewer, and certainly not in a system with a septic tank or any other form of biodegradation. A good way to keep the impact on the environment to a minimum is to buy no more essential oil than you need, so that you rarely have to throw anything away. That also saves money. If something has to be removed, you can hand it in as a private individual to the environmental department of your municipality, as a company you will usually have to conclude a contract with a processing company.
Other environmental pollution from essential oil is minimal. Sure, all fragrances, including natural ones, contribute a little to air pollution, but compared to other sources, it’s hardly worth mentioning.
There are even more environmental aspects. On the plus side, we have stated that essential oil is renewable: it is made from plants that produce a new crop every year. You do not use up raw materials, such as when using petroleum. On the negative side, to begin with, is the use of space. One hectare of land is needed for a liter of rose oil. In ‘normal’ agriculture, hundreds of kilograms of fertilizer and a few kilograms of pesticides are added. In addition, tractor kilometers are also added in organic farming, the roses have to be picked and processed, it takes a lot of energy to make the oil. Difficult as it is to compare, many types of essential oils are less environmentally friendly than synthetic counterparts, because they take significantly more energy and chemicals to make.
Aromatherapy and other therapeutic uses
We are often asked whether our essential oil is suitable for aromatherapy. Our answer: yes, but . In itself, our oil is perfectly suited for aromatherapy, because – within the stated limitations that we have, see above – it is pure essential oils and we know and indicate the botanical origin. But a professional aromatherapist sometimes has extra requirements and wishes that we cannot always meet. As a rule, these extra requirements do not apply for the small-scale use of aromatherapy at home. In addition, there are various amateur and professional aromatherapists who have been using our oil for years and for whom our oil has proven to be excellent.