What Are Nature Identical Essential Oils?

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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7 comments

    • If you’re just buying oils then they should be clearly labeled as ‘nature identical’. It becomes more complicated when you’re buying ‘Aromatherapy’ products that may contain these oils but on the ingredient label there’s no distinction made between the nature identical and the real thing.

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  1. Thank you for an interesting article. I make both aromatherapeutic and fragrant mixes for myself. I see no problem with using nature identicals in perfumes (meant to be used purely for olfactory pleasure) but to me they do not belong into healing category at all.

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    • I agree entirely. But for me the whole fascination with essential oils is also their energy so I’m not even sure I’d use ‘identicals’ or rectified oils for perfume.
      Thanks for reading and your comment.

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  2. I just purchased some nature identical oils from new directions to compare them to real essential oils and I am really impressed, maybe even shocked at how close their scent is tot he real thing, especially the neroli! I just had to know. Although I would never use these for a clinical situation, I was wondering what it would be like to make a scent with them for people who just need a little more convincing to step into plant oils for their scent rather than totally synthetic fragrance oils. I have had people say, “I really loved it (eo body spray), but it just doesn’t last”, even though I told them they may become nose blind to the scent,just like they did for their synthetic fragrances. I often tell people essential oil perfumes are much easier for sensitive people to handle and they “don’t take over a room” which is polite (I find perfume obnoxious and lacking empathy). I have concerns that NI oils will persist too much, making sensitive people ill.
    Anyway, I am going to use these to get people who are stubborn about their strong fragrances to try them, make incense, rug powders and maybe some candles with them, and see where we go from there. I may just use them up and never use them again. At least they are better than fragrance oils and perfumes in these types of products I mentioned.

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