If you buy lavender oil for home use, I’m sure that you would want to buy a pure, natural lavender oil – the pure steam distilled extract from the lavender flowers. However I have no doubt that in some of those small bottles on the high-street or E-bay this is not what you are going to get.
The driving force for the production of essential oils is the fragrance industry that uses by far the majority of the world tonnage produced. The fact is that the fragrance industry doesn’t particularly care about naturalness. What it cares about is price, constancy of the fragrance (and price) year to year and the quality of fragrance (for the price). In order to achieve this, synthetic aroma-chemicals are frequently blended in by essential oil traders to the natural oils: in the case of lavender, usually linalyl acetate and linalool, but other synthetic aroma-chemicals as well, all of which occur naturally in the lavender oil anyway. Through this process the price of the natural oil comes down (the synthetic aroma-chemicals are cheap), and any variations in crop year to year can be evened out.
The general result of this policy is that a perfumer has access to a range of qualities of lavender smelling ingredients at different prices – from the expensive, natural, high-altitude oil, to a cheaper blended oil, as described above, and even to a lavender-smelling oil that has never seen a plant in it’s life (it is entirely made up of synthetic aroma-chemicals). Depending on what the perfumer is trying to achieve, this will lead them to use a particular quality of oil – select the right tool for the perfumery job.
(As an addendum here: you sometimes come across “lavender 40:42″. This is a good quality perfume grade of lavender oil, but is not suitable for aromatherapy. It has synthetic aroma-chemicals added so that the %s of two key ingredients come up to 40 and 42 %. It is a perfumery “standardised” oil. If an aromatherapy website mentions this, don’t buy anything from them – they don’t know what they are talking about).
To my mind none of this is wrong when such blended oils are being used as an ingredient in a complicated perfume that is ending up in a shower gel, or cheap soap. Where it IS definitely wrong (and I’m sure you’ll agree) is if it ends up in a little bottle labelled “lavender oil”. How does this happen? I suppose like many things through a combination of ignorance or “sharp practise” on the part of the seller or buyer of the oil.
So what does all this mean for people buying lavender oil to use at home? Well it means that many may be buying the wrong quality of oil. So, my top tips for buying the right quality of lavender oil are:
1. Yes, if it is cheap, it probably is a cheap, blended oil. I’m always staggered at how low the prices are on E-bay!
2. Always look for a botanical name on the bottle. If it just says, “essential oil of lavender”, or “oil of lavender” do not buy it. Look for something like “Lavandula angustifolia” on the bottle. This tells you that the company marketing the oil at least knows that there are different qualities of oil from different species of lavender. It also means that you are less likely to get a blend of different types of natural lavender oils – if you open any aromatherapy book it is the Lavandula angustifolia that you’ll read so much about, so this is the one that you will likely want to buy.
3. Ask questions. If the seller won’t or can’t tell you where the oil came then from don’t buy it. You want to buy from sellers who know their merchandise, not some disinterested large company only focusing on taking your money.
4. Buy directly from an actual grower/distiller. With lavender this isn’t difficult as there are now lots of smaller lavender farms growing and producing their own oil. Their products may not be on your high street, but search the internet and you’ll find passionate lavender farmers who will be only too happy to tell you about their oils, and many have a mail order service. This approach also cuts out the “middlemen” who are all taking their slice.
5. Use your own instincts. We are all blessed with a vital piece of equipment – our noses. Hopefully we also have some commonsense as well! Use them both and if it doesn’t seem right then buy elsewhere.