Guide – How to Choose the Right Essential Oil “Type”
By Caryn Gehlmann, Clinical Aromatherapist
There are so many different essential oils available today. I’m not referring to the multitude of brands but to the actual abundance of essential oils available. We used to be limited to a few like Lavender, Peppermint, and Tea Tree. Now there is an abundance of unique oils, all with different properties. Within each plant genus or family, many different species or types are used to make essential oils. At times, this might seem a little overwhelming! How do you choose? I wrote this blog as a helpful guide to know how to choose the right essential oil for you.
Let’s use Lavender essential oil as an example. Many people want Lavender essential oil because it’s such a versatile and easy-to-use oil with a variety of benefits. But which Lavender essential oil should you choose?
We like the number 3! To make things easy here’s our 3-step process for knowing how to choose the right essential oil for you:
- Is It Essential Oil or just Scented Oil?
- Is It the Plant Species You Want?
- Does It Smell Good & Have Therapeutic Properties?
Let’s walk through this process with Lavender essential oil. e3 carries three different types of Lavender essential oil so we can easily compare them.
#1 Lavender Oil vs Lavender Essential Oil
First, you want to find out if it’s essential oil or just scented oil. For example, just because it’s called Lavender Oil, doesn’t mean it’s Lavender essential oil.
Tip: Find out how it’s made.
Lavender essential oil is all-natural as it is distilled from a large quantity of plant material. (We always share the distillation method on the product page for each of the essential oils we carry.) This distillation process is what gives Lavender essential oils its powerful scent profile and unique therapeutic properties.
Don’t confuse this with lavender-infused oils that are made by steeping dried lavender flowers in a carrier oil. There is nothing inherently wrong with these infused-oil products, but just know they are milder and contain fewer therapeutic properties than pure essential oil.
You also definitely need to be aware that there are “oils” made with synthetics. For example, if you want a completely natural lavender, avoid Lavender 40/42, since it most likely contains synthetics. Be aware of products that are “nature identical”. This is a different way of saying it’s synthetic. It’s a chemical composition created in a lab to mimic the original “natural” component. It’s always good to carefully read the ingredients on the label! Plus, we give you a few more tips below.
All three lavenders we carry are 100% pure essential oils with no synthetics or additives of any kind!
#2 Decide Between Different Essential Oil Plant Species
There are hundreds of varieties of Lavender with different scents and therapeutic properties. This is true of many essential oils. But you may wonder, how can I figure out which plant species was used to make a particular essential oil?
Tip: Look at the Latin name.
Each plant has a Latin or botanical name. The first part of the Latin name is the genus — a group of closely related plants. The second part of the name is the species — the particular plant group. This helps classify plants and, in turn, essential oils. Latin names make it easier to identify exactly what you’re looking for because it specifies the exact plant.
For example, here are two Lavenders I recommend for their aroma and therapeutic properties:
Latin name: Lavandula angustifolia
Lavandula angustifolia has a fresh, sweet, soft, herbaceous, floral aroma. It’s a versatile Lavender for skin care and the nervous system. Its properties include: Analgesic, anti-depressant, antibacterial, sedative, deodorant, and antiphlogistic.
Latin name: Lavandula latifolia
Also known as Lavender Spike, this plant is distinct for its fresh, sharp, camphoraceous aroma. This makes it ideal for respiratory issues as well as muscle conditions and immune support. Its properties include: Antiseptic, analgesic, decongestant, and antidepressant.
You’re probably starting to see how these two lavenders are similar, yet different. So looking at Latin names will help you compare “apples to apples” instead of “apples to oranges” when you’re choosing the essential oil you want. (Speaking of food, e3 also has another variety of culinary lavender buds for sale that can be used for cooking and baking.)
#3 — Make Sure It Smells Good and Has the Right Therapeutic Properties
Even the exact same species of lavender will have biochemical component proportions that vary from crop to crop and harvest to harvest. And that means they will all smell slightly different too!
Tip: Look at the country of origin.
Here at e3, we carry two kinds of Lavandula angustifolia from different countries of origin — Lavender (E. Europe) from Bulgaria, and Lavender (France) from, of course, France. They are the same species of Lavender but they smell different. Why? Lavender French is grown at a higher altitude. This causes it to have a slightly more intense floral note with balsamic undertones, unlike Lavender (E. Europe) which has a rich yet mellow floral, fruity scent. The higher altitude also creates a higher ester content which can increase the calming effect most of us think about when we think of Lavender.
If you’re using an essential oil due to its therapeutic properties, you can also take a look at the main biochemical components contained in a particular essential oil. Let’s take a look at our examples again:
- Lavender (E. Europe): Main biochemical components: Linalyl acetate, linalol, (Z)-beta-ocimene
- Lavender (France): Main biochemical components*: Linalyl acetate, linalol, (E)-anethole
- Lavender Spike: Main biochemical components*: Linalol, 1,8 cineole, camphor
One that I don’t recommend for most people is Lavandula stoechas, often called Spanish lavender. This lavender is actually very low in linalool with no linalyl acetate. It has a very different profile from most other lavender species so it’s best used if recommended by a trained clinical aromatherapist in specific settings.
If you’re into science and want to learn more about the testing for these biochemical components, take a look at e3’s Quality Testing page.
One of the most important factors in your decision should be the scent. Do you like how it smells? When we smell something our limbic system interprets the emotional significance of an aroma. Certain smells have been proven to lower stress levels and improve mood.
But which scents are comforting? Well, remember, each of us is special and unique so there is not a one-size-fits-all essential oil or blend. Listen to your body in the moment. You’re looking for an essential oil or blend that brings a nice deep “Ahhhhh” — this is the physical and emotional response you’re looking for.
And if it turns out you’re not a fan of Lavender, that’s okay! Find alternatives in my article, Substitute for Lavender or Other EOs You Dislike. Take a look at e3’s sample policy if you want to experiment and find the most comforting scent for you. Sometimes it takes a little time and effort to find the perfect one, but it’s worth it!
The principles we’ve reviewed on Lavender apply to any essential oil. (We encourage you to bookmark this Guide — How to Choose the Right Essential Oil Type for easy reference.)
We’re seeing that with essential oils, there is no one-size-fits-all! You have to do your homework and “listen to your nose” so you learn what works for you. Would you like to learn more about how aromatherapy and your sense of smell work? Grab a copy of our downloadable free ebook, Listen to Your Nose – An Introduction to Aromatherapy, you’ll get a 20% off coupon you can use on any essential oil or blend of your choice.