Sunday, June 08, 2014

More on EO companies (specific recommendations)

Okay, I'm back for more of all this fun. Last time I light-heartedly shared some concerns I have with many practices being suggested for essential oil use, and also mentioned some brands/companies that seem to spread those unsafe usage suggestions. But I didn't really mention which brands I DO like, since it's obvious from my last post that I'm not a huge fan of Young Living or doTERRA. (I'm not a supporter of their companies and practices; I made no insult to the quality of their oils. I have not tried doTERRA, but I have been very impressed with the quality of Young Living oils I have used.)

So. . . I've spent way too much time online the past 6 months, researching different essential oil companies, reading about several and also testing out a number of different brands. Trust me. Lots of time. I had no idea there were so many out there. And I've only really looked into a fraction and had to brush past so many others. I was going to make this a ridiculously long post detailing every single company I've investigated, but really, I'm more interested in focusing on the good ones I found than the bad ones :-). And believe me, I have found several I wouldn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, for safety reasons. But instead I'm going to make this a ridiculously long post that focuses on the companies I have liked :-D.

Before I give my top picks, let me mention some things I was looking for in an essential oil company. Some of these are "must-haves," but some were "preferred to haves":

- Someone on staff who has a lot of experience with oils. Not a casual 2-year interest via Pinterest and the occasional reference book, but a really long-standing experience in the industry or a certified aromatherapist, etc. Someone who has a really good feel for what a quality oil should look like, feel like, smell like. Not just for the basic oils, but for a whole array of oils. Someone who has a lot of training, either formal or not, with some of the experienced folks in the aromatherapy industry.

- Wild-crafted oils and/or oils that are grown in their native location (lavender from France or Bulgaria would be a great example, or Sandalwood from India or Australia, or peppermint from the US or UK). Wild-crafted oils are often more potent for a variety of reasons. Plants (wild or cultivated) that are growing in their native habitat on native soil with native air and environment are going to be a different plant than something transplanted to a different continent. U.S. lavender is simply different than French lavender, even if it is the same species. Not bad, but distinctly different. And French lavender is more highly-valued in aromatherapy, in general. Also a wild plant that is not intensively farmed is usually going to have higher therapeutic properties.

- Along with the above, a company that clearly states if the plant was cultivated or wild, the country of origin, and if it was grown organically. A serious aromatherapist is going to care about these details for the very reason that all of these play a role in the end product. I don't purchase organic essential oils exclusively, but I do prefer that option and at least want to know if an oil is organic! As a secondary option I will purchase an oil certified to be tested free of pesticides and fertilizers. Actually, wild-crafted is my favorite option.

- A company that takes testing of oils seriously. As I've investigated companies and read a lot about adulteration of oils, etc., I've realized that a lot of the adulteration and additives that happen in the oil industry happen at the distillery with the supplier, NOT with the company actually selling the oil to the consumer. That's a mistake I made in the past. I thought that a company with integrity would be selling oils that were solid, but the oils are only as good as the supplier. Does the company test every batch to insure quality, or do they do an initial test from the supplier and hope/assume that future batches will be as good? For a fabulous resource, please check out this link on 3rd party testing results for a number of essential oils companies. Some of the results may surprise you. And some of the responses of the companies (when contacted post-testing) may surprise you as well. The proof is in the pudding.

- A company that doesn't use clever marketing terms with little-to-no meaning. Essential oils are not like eggs. There are no standards to grade them. If a company is using the term "therapeutic grade," it has little-to-no meaning. Some companies simply mean they are potent and pure oils that work well. But many companies try to swing "therapeutic grade" as some sort of standard that some oils achieve and others do not. THERE IS NO STANDARD. Every essential oil in the local grocery store could put that on their label. It means nothing. Same thing with "safe for internal use." All that means is that the company is willing to carry a higher liability.

- A company that cares about Latin names! Some of the companies I have purchased from in the past and many whose websites I have browsed in recent months either make it very difficult to find the species on their website, or they simply don't list it. Latin names are important! Species that may have common SOUNDING names (lemon eucalyptus and eucalyptus globulus, for example) can have very different properties and constituents and also very different safety considerations. If they're not taking the Latin names seriously, then the company isn't taking the difference in species seriously either.

- A company that cares about safety. This piggy-backs off my previous post. If it's not the heartbeat of their company and advertising, it's a more minor issue to me, but I still want a company that takes the power of their oils seriously and can be a good resource to me for using their oils appropriately and well. Additionally, a company that has great educational material (articles, blogs, Facebook pages/groups) is invaluable.

- A few miscellaneous bonuses: a company with free shipping, a company whose prices are not "too good to be true" but also are reasonable, a company who offers their oils in multiple sizes (5ml, 15ml, 30ml, for example). A company with great customer service. A company who supplies testing data sheets on request or on their website.

So which companies made the cut? Which would I recommend? (As an amateur, obviously. Please do your own research. I can always be wrong and as I use more oils from more companies, I will continue to refine my recommendations.)

My current top pick is Florihana. This is a French company that distills oils themselves. They own some farm land themselves, as well as utilizing some wild habitats for many wild-crafted oils. Most of their cultivated plants are certified organic.  They have a huge selection on their main site and you can order from them directly, if you don't mind paying exorbitant costs in shipping from France :-P. But for a better option, Tropical Traditions (a US-based company) also sells many of Florihana's oils, so you can order from them :-). To sweeten the deal, Tropical Traditions offers free shipping about once a month, so keep a look-out! One note is that Tropical Traditions, while offering a wide selection of Florihana's oils, does not offer their full line yet. They seem to be adding new oils at a steady rate, though, so this is encouraging.

A few things I love about Florihana: they post a lot of info on their site (and on Tropical Traditions, under each oil listing)! you can look at the chromatography sheets as well as a lot of other paperwork and info on the oils. They also label each bottle with a distill date and a suggested "use by" date. And let's be honest. . . I also think the tins that come with the bottles are super-cute. I have been very impressed with the full-bodied aromas of the Florihana oils I have. Very potent!

A good second option for me is Plant Therapy. Plant Therapy is an up-and-coming company in transition. They currently have 2 certified aromatherapists on staff, which is a plus. They had a "wake-up call" when they were tested for tea tree oil in third-party testing and failed the test. You can read the link and note that companies who failed responded a variety of ways, most simply ignoring or excusing the results. Plant Therapy responded by dumping an entire (expensive!) batch of their oil, sourcing from a new distiller, and asking the third-party testing group to retest them at Plant Therapy's expense. Well, that's pretty cool. But I wondered if that was a one-time response, so I've e-mailed back and forth with Plant Therapy with a number of questions and been very satisfied with their answers. Here are a few excerpts from those conversations, shared with permission. Here is Plant Therapy's owner Chris:
Those test results were a turning point for us. We have always been extremely concerned with product quality but we maybe trusted our suppliers a little too much. Shortly after that we hired one of the top essential oil experts in the world to be our direct consultant. We immediately flew him in to look over our operation and assess our oils. There were a few that we felt needed to be addressed. We have continually sourced new oils since then and have met with growers and visited distilleries. We now send all oils to France to be tested through an independent GC/MS facility. We have made great strides and continue to work with the consultant on a weekly basis. We have rejected many many batches of oils that didn't meet our new, even stricter, standards. This is going to be lifelong process of continually sourcing better and better oils. 
I also asked about the comparative low-cost of their oils compared with some other companies, below are answers:
To address your price concerns, that is easy. We don't have huge profit margins and we aren't an MLM company. So we don't have to pay multiple commissions from every oil sold. We work on selling a large volume of products and continually refine our efficiency process to be able to provide the best possible prices possible.
(Note: basic math comes into play also. When you browse Plant Therapy oils, notice that their "standard" size is 10 ml, unlike the 15 ml that most companies sell. So that is part of why their prices look so much less! I personally love the 10 ml size, as for a lot of oils, it is less likely to oxidize before I get through the bottle.)

I also asked about how their stock rotation worked, since they purchase oils in such large batches. Essential oils don't go rancid, but they do oxidize and degrade in therapeutic benefits, so I don't want to be purchasing old oils! Plant Therapy's aromatherapist Retha addressed this:
First, none of our oils are in our warehouse for more than 6 months, most batches last about 2 months. So even though we buy in bulk, we sell enough oils that we rotate through batches pretty quickly. The second thing that we do is add Nitrogen to the batches when they start to become low. This is absolutely necessary to make sure the oils do not start to oxidize and is something that I would hope most essential oil companies do to ensure the quality of their oils. 
Retha also clarified to me that although only a small selection of their oils are certified organic, they do test every oil for pesticide residues, and furthermore, many of their sources do grow organically, just not certified.

So all in all, I will definitely be purchasing more oils from Plant Therapy. I do give Florihana a preference, because they have been in "solid" business for longer and do have more wild-crafted and organic oils. But Plant Therapy is a company that really has a lot of potential and has great policies in place. I'm excited to see where they go, and have been impressed with the oils I've purchased so far. Finally, Retha recently told me that they are in the process of loading GC/MS test results for their oils batches on their website, so soon a purchaser can view the exact constituent levels for an oil. This is fabulous, and is one of the features I already really like about Florihana :-). I've also really enjoyed interacting with Retha and the other aromatherapist for Plant Therapy, on their FB group "Safe Essential Oil Recipes." Lots of great info on there.

There are other great companies out there, but these are the two I plan on purchasing most from, based on my list of qualities I was looking for in a company. Some others that I really only consider secondary due to higher prices (and or shipping costs) would be: Eden Botanicals (distinct from Eden's Garden), Aromatics International, Stillpoint Aromatics, Nature's Gift, and Wingsets. Feel free to Google them. Some of those have more specialty selections you might want to browse if you're looking for something a bit more unique or hard-to-find. They all are run by well-respected aromatherapists in the field, not up-starts.

To pre-empt the question I know I will get asked otherwise :-D. . . let me explain why Rocky Mountain Oils aka Native American Nutritionals is not in my "top 2 picks" for companies. It's not at the bottom, by any means. I've purchased a handful of oils from them and been impressed with quality. They just don't impress me quite as much as Florihana and Plant Therapy. Let me give some background and what I do like about them, as well as why they don't quite rate with the other two, in my book:

So a bit of background: Rocky Mountain Oils and Native American Nutritionals are two formerly-separate companies that merged a few years ago. Apparently they like confusing people by keeping both company names and websites ;-). But anyway, I have been impressed with the oils I have purchased form this company. I like that they source their oils from locations where the plant naturally grows. The owner is very knowledgeable, and has worked in the essential oil business for many years, starting working for a major company for a while before establishing his own business. His family background (and his) is in Native American medicine. This actually results in a lot of spiritual suggestions for the oils uses, which I find disturbing as a Christian (because of how it's suggested). That's a preference, and I realize a lot of people using their oils are using them strictly medicinally. I enjoyed listening to this podcast of the owner, to get a feel for his passion and his breadth and depth of knowledge in essential oils.

Overall, RMO/NAN seems to be a decent company with quality oils. The owner isn't an up-start, and knows his stuff. It doesn't have a frequent free shipping option (unlike Tropical Traditions/Florihana and Plant Therapy), so it does tend to be a bit more expensive for me to order, so I've tended to choose the other two. But more to the point of why I prefer the other two a little. RMO/NAN is a bit "looser" in usage suggestions then the aromatherapy world in general, though still much more reasonable than the big MLM's :-). It's not part of their marketing strategy or the "heartbeat" of their company, so not a major deal to me. I use their site Essential Health as a reference for oil usage, and while I cross-reference with other info, it still has some good ideas.

But in general, I find I have to be more careful with RMO's info. They use neat and internal usage in a more cavalier manner than the international aromatherapy world in general because "it works." And they are a bit sloppy in some of their labeling. Niaouli is labeled "Melaleuca," for example. Melaleuca quinquinervera is commonly known as niaouli, and melaleuca alternifolia is commonly known as tea tree oil. So technically niaouli IS a form of melaleuca, by latin name. But as standard terminology, if an oil is referred to as melaleuca, it is referring to tea tree oil (more common than niaouli), NOT niaouli. It means their labels have to be read more carefully, and it could easily mis-lead someone to purchase the wrong product by mistake. (I know of at least one person who did so.) So that's just a word of caution :-). When asked to change that labeling to be less confusing, they wouldn't agree, which is too bad and doesn't reflect well on them, in my opinion. Also, they refuse to divulge the % dilutions they use for their "pre-diluted" options, which to me doesn't encourage customers to have all the info they need to use the proper amount of product, especially for children.

So anyway, that's a ridiculously-long look at some of my favorite oil companies. Bottomline: Florihana and Plant Therapy are both great options! Look for Tropical Traditions free shipping deals (approximately monthly) to snag Florihana, or take advantage of Plant Therapy's all-the-time free shipping for the lower 48. Nice!

So what essential oil companies do you purchase from? Why? What companies do you refuse to patronize? Which have you heard of and hope to try?