Lifestyle

How to Sustainably Source Essential Oils

By Sophie Parsons
12.01.20

Enlivening, rejuvenating or relaxing, the right essential oil can help to improve your mood and wellbeing. But what are the most sustainable options? Sophie Parsons looks into the origins and effects of some of the most common scents.

 

Whether you’re on a mission to eliminate chemicals from your cleaning products or finding ways to introduce more natural ingredients into your skincare regime, essential oils are a natural and inexpensive way to fragrance your homemade remedies. Each plant oil is believed to encourage improved wellness, balance, and better health in its own unique way. 

While these oils can aid our efforts to introduce more sustainable practices to our habitual lives, understanding the sustainability of the oils themselves is crucial in aiding biodiversity and plant health on our already threatened planet. 

Over-harvesting

According to aromatherapy company doTERRA, an average of 1-5% of a plant’s total composition is made up of essential oils, meaning large quantities of the plant are required to produce highly concentrated essential oils. This can pose problems if resources are not properly cared for, with overharvesting having resulted in both sandalwood and frankincense trees facing endangerment as a result of the essential oil industry in the past. With this in mind, transparent information about ingredient sourcing, soil health and a focus on organic can help to understand the sustainability of each essential oil.

Workers rights

As with all farmed products, ensuring that workers rights are protected and respected is crucial for creating a more socially just and sustainable world. Certifications such as Fairtrade, Co-Impact Sourcing and Fair For Life offer a simple and straight-forward solution for consumers to only support brands which have been proven to assure fair working conditions. This is especially important with regard to the country of origin, with much of the farming required to produce essential oils occurring in less developed countries in which working standards are not necessarily well regulated. 

A few of our favourites

Lavender, for better sleep

A common ingredient in better sleep products, lavender’s scent can induce feelings of calm that in turn make for a comfortable night’s rest. According to doTERRA’s ‘plant perspective’, approximately three pounds of lavender flowers are required to produce just 15ml of lavender essential oil. 

How to use: Lavender is essential for encouraging peacefulness. Just a few drops added to bath water or applied to temples (mixed with a carrier oil) helps to reduce stress.

Citrus, for energy

The rinds or peel of lemons is cold pressed or distilled to produce a pure lemon essential oil. According to doTERRA, a lemon tree has the potential to produce between 500 and 600 pounds of lemons in one year, and it typically takes 50-75 lemons to make one 15ml bottle of lemon essential oil.

How to use: Perhaps the most diverse essential oil in the market, lemon oil can be used in citrusy recipes, to purify air or to create positive energy when diffused.

Chamomile, for relaxation

Whether in tea or fragrances, chamomile promotes relaxation of both body and mind. Historically, chamomile has been nicknamed the ‘plant’s physician’ as the plant itself encourages better growth and health for other plants growing around it. 

How to use: For better sleep and relaxation, apply an oil-infused balm to the body before bedtime.

Sandalwood, for a calm mind

A slow growing tree that comes to maturity at 80 years old, harvesting sandalwood for essential oils requires uprooting the entire tree at just 30 years old in order to obtain the extract. Popular in both naturopathic medicine and the perfume industry, sandalwood trees have faced endangerment in the past. Prioritising a transparent supply chain when sourcing your sandalwood oil is therefore crucial.

How to use: Sandalwood’s earthy scent is often used to encourage grounding and a calm mind within meditation and yoga practices. 

Geranium, for glowing skin

Geranium has historically been used for clear skin and healthy hair, and is a staple scent within the perfume industry. The geranium plant itself requires little space to grow, as it can flourish between other crops and vegetation, and is a natural pesticide for other plants too.

How to use: Homemade skincare is one of our favourite ways to implement #sundayselfcare, with geranium’s natural properties making it the perfect component for anything from deep hair conditioning to moisture-rich masks.

Eucalyptus, for cold relief

Most commonly used for bouquet foliage and home decor, eucalyptus is a renewable resource that is quick to grow and harvest. When harvesting, only the new growth is required to create the oil, meaning that the century old roots can remain in the ground before being ready to re-harvest in two years time.

How to use: Applying eucalyptus to your temples or facial area can help to relieve any congestion issues when mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut. Alternatively, add to hot water, be it a bowl, bath or shower for a steam-room effect.

Frankincense, for grounding

A robust and hardy tree, frankincense is often grown in obscure and hard to reach locations. In order to obtain the oil, the tree’s bark is damaged and the essence oozes out as sap before being distilled. Though this procedure limits deforestation concerns, the trees can become weaker over time and result in premature death.

How it is used: Frankincense is often used to encourage balance and relaxation, making it a popular essential oil within meditation and religious practices.

To note: Neal’s Yard have launched ‘project frankincense’, ensuring sustainable frankincense production in Oman where there has been previous concerns of extinction.

 

Read Sjaniël's guide for where to start with ethical beauty and her favourite facial serums and oils.

Learn about natural fragrance and some of the best natural perfumes.

How to Sustainably Source Essential Oils