Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is one of the most popular of all essential oils, due to its beautiful, classic fragrance which has long been popular for many personal care products, soaps, shampoos, and perfumes. A member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, it has sources in Utah, Idaho, and France among others, and is steam distilled from the flowering tops. Some of the key constituents of properly distilled therapeutic grade Lavender essential oil are Linalyl Acetate (24-45%) and Linalool (25-38%). Caution is advised as these two ingredients in particular are often synthetically manufactured and used to extend Lavender oil, which may still be labeled as pure but is much cheaper to produce resulting in more profits for the manufacturer. Labs have perfected these synthetic substitutes to have a lovely lavender fragrance pleasing to most consumers who are convinced that if it smells nice you are getting a high quality pure product. Unfortunately, this is really not true, but the myth is further perpetuated by some Aromatherapists and companies who try to teach consumers that their own nose will tell them if the oil is high quality or not. However, very few average consumers have any experience or frame of reference to judge this by, and the only thing they really understand is whether a fragrance is pleasing or not. They might be able to describe a fragrance as sweet, flowery, pungent, etc, but they cannot tell accurately whether synthetics are present, and the message being put out leads them to expect that if they are, they would be able to smell some obvious or unpleasant “chemical” quality. In fact, many synthetic additives use to adulterate or extend popular oils such as lavender are odorless and tasteless. So popular is Lavender essential oil that the amounts sold and added to perfumes and personal care products far exceeds the amount of real Lavender grown and distilled for essential oils, which points to the synthetic origins of many of these products.
Many Lavender oils are also often extended by blending with various less expensive hybrid species of Lavandin (Lavendula x hybrida), which is usually high in camphor. However, Tasmanian Lavandin has a chemistry very similar to true Lavender that is low in camphor and high-resolution Gas Chromatography (GC) must be used to show this difference. Yet if synthetic Linalyl Acetate is added, even GC testing can’t tell whether the compound is synthetic or natural, only that it is present. In this case, Chiral Column GC testing, which allows the chemist to identify structural differences of the same compound, is necessary to determine whether the oil is pure or synthetic. Very few essential oils companies will go to this extent to determine purity in their testing. Most simply choose to rely on the word and reputation of their suppliers.
Over the 30 year period 1967-98, the production of true lavender oil in France dropped from 87 tons to only 12 tons, while worldwide demand over the same period grew more than 100 percent. According to the Essential Oils Desk Reference, Fifth Edition, for every kilogram of pure essential oil produced, it is estimated that between 10 and 100 kilograms of synthetic essential oils are created.
Synthetic Linalyl Acetate is very different from the pure and natural form found in true Lavender oil. The synthetic form is mildly toxic to humans and toxic to fish. Synthetic Linalool as it is sometimes called, is also potentially harmful. It can lead to depression, slowed motor activity, and cause respiratory issues among other things, yet it is a common ingredient in many soaps, shampoos, lotions, creams and many other personal care products.
Some labels may refer to an ingredient as “nature identical”. This is a clever marketing ploy that misleads people into thinking they are getting a natural product when in fact, “nature identical” simply means it is a laboratory created synthetic product with a molecular structure which may copy that of the main constituents found in the natural product. However, no such product is truly “nature identical”. A chemist may build these synthetic copies using 5 to 15 of the key components and think he has done a complex thing, but in truth a natural essential oil has literally hundreds of biochemical constituents, in trace amounts, all of which play some role in the overall therapeutic balance, even if the percentage seems to be negligible. There is no way for a laboratory to duplicate this complexity. If you were baking a cake and your recipe called for 2 cups of flour, 1 cup sugar and 2 tsp baking powder, do you think it would be ok to leave out the baking powder because it is a small amount compared to the other ingredients? What would happen to your cake if you did? Well, this is the logic that is followed in trying create synthetic imitations of essential oils in the laboratory. Some of them have gotten clever enough that it takes state of the art testing to tell the difference and thereby many companies and suppliers are able to pass off inferior products on the unsuspecting consumer, all for the purpose of increasing their own profits.
Natural Linalyl Acetate and Linalool as found in true Lavender oil on the other hand, have been studied for their anti-inflammatory properties. Pure therapeutic grade Lavender essential oil may help promote a more relaxed sleep, at the same time supporting strong mental focus and concentration when awake. Young Living’s St. Maries Lavender, grown on their St. Maries farm in the pure clear air of northern Idaho, is especially delightful with a luxurious fragrance and soothing qualities. For these oils it is very important to ensure you have a trusted source of high quality, carefully tested therapeutic grade oils. To learn more about therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well.
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report
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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.