I saw an ad promoting a sale on Nature Identical Essential Oils and I got curious.  To me the concept of nature identicals makes no sense but clearly there’s a market for them and I got to wondering why.

A nature identical essential oil is a blend of essential oil and various extracted aromatic compounds.  A nature identical oil may also be a rectified blend of components that mimic the chemical structure of the original oil.  These ingredients are technically natural (although sometimes they are not) but they’re not in their natural state.  It’s comparable to getting your nutritional needs met through supplements rather than food.  You can buy a supplement that has the nutritional components of broccoli like vitamin A, C and calcium.  But the supplement doesn’t have flavor, color or fiber because it’s not broccoli, it simply contains some of the same components.

Nature identical essential oils are used for fragrance purposes as they are  less expensive and tend to be more fragrant than essential oils in their pure form.  Using nature identicals can solve a common problem for product formulators who don’t want to use synthetic fragrance.  A generally safe percentage of essential oil in products that stay on the skin is 1%-2%.  Unfortunately in this tiny ratio essential oils often can’t deliver the heavy burst of fragrance that consumers raised on synthetics tend to like and expect.  Using nature identicals helps product formulators achieve that intense fragrance but in a way that is safer, cheaper, and can technically still be considered natural (except of course when synthetic components are used).

If you’re a label reader then it’s likely you’ve seen the names of common essential oil constituents in beauty product ingredient lists.  Limonene, citral, geranial, linalool, menthol, and eucalyptol are used widely in personal care products.  In this form, the constituents are referred to as isolates.  Isolates are natural in that they are extracted from essential oils but again, they are not the same as an essential oil.  An isolate is simply one constituent out of the many that make up a whole essential oil.

Are nature identicals bad?  I don’t think nature identicals themselves are bad.  As usual with Aromatherapy it all depends on how something is used and labeled.  I do think the acceptance of nature identicals in the marketplace adds another layer of confusion for consumers to wade through before they can make an informed purchase.  I should make clear that nature identicals are NOT considered appropriate for any kind of clinical aromatherapy.  Conventional wisdom says that if your goal is to create something of therapeutic value then you should never use anything but pure essential oils.  Personally I agree with the conventional wisdom but not for the reason you may think.

One reason nature identicals don’t get used in Aromatherapy is that they aren’t considered to be as therapeutically reliable as a holistically derived essential oil.  I think there’s a gray area here.  Look at a product like Vicks VapoRub and you see on the ingredient label that it contains Camphor, Menthol, and Eucaplytus Oil.  Camphor and Menthol are certainly isolates and the product works very well.  Methyl salicylate is a topical pain reliever that works whether you get it from an Icy Hot patch or from Birch and Wintergreen essential oils.  I don’t think it’s quite correct to say that these components on their own can’t be therapeutic.

Another reason, and probably the most important one, that nature identical essential oils aren’t used in Aromatherapy has to do with something science cannot yet measure.  An essential oil is called so because it contains the ‘essence’ of the source plant.  This essence is considered to be the life force, the spirit, or the soul of the plant.  Most Aromatherapists consider this to be just as important as the constituents that make up an oil.  From this perspective, a Lavender oil that is constructed rather extracted is missing it’s life energy and this life energy is crucial to the healing process.  The chi, the spirit, is the defining element, not the measurable components.   In my opinion a nature identical is the equivalent of a cloned person.  Your clone may have your DNA but it’s not you.

So I suppose that whether or not someone uses nature identicals or even individual isolates all comes down to how they feel about leveraging the life force of a plant.  I’m not interested in essential oils without the ‘essence’.  If one must make a point of calling something identical then it is inherently not the same as the thing being compared. If it were truly the same it would just be, no further labeling required.

Are you a product formulator who uses nature identicals or isolates?   How do you decide, and how do you label your products?

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