You’ve probably found the term of “therapeutic grade essential oils” on many sites by now. You might also think you know what the term means. But apparently it doesn’t mean what most of us think it means. So what are therapeutic grade essential oils? Keep on reading to see why you should open your eyes wide when you see it written.
I will try to give pertinent and documented answers to these questions. Of course, there might be others that will arise along the way and I’ll explain those ones as well. There are a few terms in Aromatherapy that might confuse people, especially if they’re beginners. I’ll make sure to clarify them for you.
I will also tell you about the adulteration process. It may help if you also know those essential oils that are most frequently adulterated. Knowing the adulterants used in the adulteration process might come in handy one day. Especially when reading the label of an essential oil and trying to decide whether it’s good or not.
An adulterant is a substance or isolated chemical constituent. It is added into an essential oil to change its properties and structure.
I will finish the article by giving you a few bits of useful information on how to make sure you buy only good quality oils from now on.
What Are Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils? Facts about Grades and Various Terms in Aromatherapy
In a world of ferocious competitiveness, one is always seeking to stand out from the crowd. Naming your essential oils line to appeal to the buyers is called marketing. Long story short, that is how the term “therapeutic grade” was born. It was born out of pure marketing ingenuity.
But what are therapeutic grade essential oils? The term appears on many blogs and online shops that sell essential oils. They refer to essential oils of superior quality and this classification is meant to attract the customers.
Theoretically, these “therapeutic essential oils” should be safe to take internally. But this is a very sensitive matter. It is so, mostly because essential oils can be taken internally, only with the advice of a doctor. Then, the essential oils have to be pure and high-quality.
What’s even more important is that the therapeutic quality of essential oils is not given or overseen by any organization. Not even by organizations like AFNOR.
AFNOR is the French Association for Normalization. It is the country’s representative body at ISO and it doesn’t decide standards without the approval of ISO. ISO is the International Organization for Standardization and its council is made out of more than 100 countries.
Their representative organizations analyze and decide together the standards of trades and goods to be sold and managed. They decide and publish universally accepted standards for essential oils too.
ISO doesn’t have any grades on essential oils. So, once again, whenever you see “therapeutic grade essential oils”, it’s time to question the company.
Essential oils that come from various plants, harvested from various years and mixed together, are not pure. Aromatherapy uses only the finest essential oils. A pure Aromatherapy essential oil needs to be extracted from one single species of plants, and it needs to be done right after the harvest.
It also needs to be grown in optimal conditions, harvested at the right time, and extracted in quality containers. Even the bottling method and recipients may influence the quality of an essential oil. The same goes for vegetable oils.
The term “pure therapeutic grade essential oil” would have to be referred to as pure Aromatherapy essential oil. That is if we want to be correct.
Agencies like cropwatch.org and naha.org (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy) have both expressed their opinions on what, in fact, therapeutic grade essential oils are. They’ve even published they’re actions against some big corporations that sell essential oils and say their products are “therapeutic grade”.
This action, it seems it’s just like an avalanche. Once it’s started, there’s very little one can do to stop it. Many other essential oils suppliers have adopted this trend of stating the grades of their oils. Some do it on purpose, while others just roll with the trend. The latter category might even have pure Aromatherapy essential oils to sell. That’s why a background check is helpful.
What are therapeutic grade essential oils? Because there are no official standards, they can be anything the seller wants them to be. Some prefer to sell high quality essential oils, especially for Aromatherapy use. While others, are looking for more profit and use whatever method is more convenient to increase their venue.
Those companies can adulterate them with cheaper oils or synthetic constituents. That results in changing the oils’ purity and properties. More details on the adulteration of essential oils in the next chapter of this article.
In regards to the other grades, “therapeutic grade essential oils” represent the A grade, of course. That’s also marketing! No company so far, has other grades to sell, except grade A. There are no grades given by any authorized organization and there’s no grading system either.
Another term you’ll often see on most essential oils sold by suppliers is GRAS. It stands for Generally Recognized As Safe. This status is approved and given by the FDA to those substances that are added into the food, and are not yet recognized. Those substances are known as food additives. Aromatherapy essential oils need to be pure and free of any synthetics to work properly.
Keep in mind that a GRAS labeled essential oil is not the same as “pure therapeutic grade essential oil”. GRAS essential oils are not a guarantee that they can be taken internally, without side effects. GRAS essential oils are only safe to be used as food additives. Also, they don’t necessarily have to be pure and organic for that purpose.
Those GRAS essential oils can be adulterated or created in a lab and still be safe as food additives. So, GRAS labeled essential oils would be of no help to our health.
The Adulteration of Essential Oils and Essential Oils that are Frequently Adulterated
Why are essential oils adulterated? There could be a number of reasons here. One would be to meet a client’s needs. I’m talking about essential oils producers that make their products for the perfume and food industry or pharmacies. Various sectors may need all sorts of extracts from the oils.
For example, sausages are made with Sage essential oil that contains a high amount of Thujone. That may require special attention to the making of Sage essential oil to meet the right amount of Thujone, to pass the requirements of the FDA.
Or pharmacies may need a higher amount of 1, 8 – cineole in a certain drug they produce. 1, 8 – cineole is a compound found in Rosemary, which gives it its characteristic smell and strengthens the memory.
Another reason for the adulteration of an essential oil is to make more oil out of less material. Producers may add quantities of other cheaper oils into a certain type of essential oil. That will complete the mixture very well, leaving untraceable differences to the inexperienced eye (or nose). For example: true Lavender mixed with Lavandin.
The adulterants can also be man-made and ultimately added into a pure essential oil for a more powerful scent, for instance. This is a good option for the merchants because they can sell more. But, obviously, those adulterated essential oils would not have the same properties as a pure Aromatherapy essential oil (still known as “pure therapeutic grade essential oil”).
What are the risks of using adulterated essential oils?
- There can be adverse reactions between the adulterants and the oil’s natural chemical compounds.
- They can become more toxic.
- They can have reduced therapeutic properties and cause a certain treatment to fail.
- They can also intoxicate the body with synthetic and harmful toxins.
- They can increase the number of adverse reactions on the skin.
But what is, in fact, an adulterated essential oil? It is an oil with changed properties and effects. In other words, it is no longer authentic. How can the adulteration be done? There are several methods available:
1) The first one would be taking cheaper oils and adding them to more expensive ones. It can be another essential oil or a vegetable oil (like Grapeseed oil). This may happen when the supply of more expensive oils is very low.
The following essential oils are being adulterated with other essential oils that come from various parts of the plant. Or, they come from species of the same plant but grown in different countries.
- Citrus oils (Grapefruit, Tangerines, sweet Orange, and Lemon),
- Fir Needle,
- Clove bud,
- Virginia Cedarwood,
- Cinnamon (both leaf and bark),
- Ylang Ylang,
- And Violet leaf.
2) Another method is to add alcohol, which becomes unnoticeable to an untrained nose.
3) Another preferred method is to isolate certain compounds (like citrus terpenes) and adding them to other essential oils. Citrus terpenes are cheap because they can be found very easily in all the citrus fruits available.
4) And last but not least, the addition of synthetic compounds and substances that don’t have a specific odor or scent. Such an addition is called dipropylene glycol (DPG). It is added quite frequently into the Lavender essential oil.
Another addition is called menthol, and it is added into the Peppermint oil. There is also geraniol, which is added into the Geranium essential oil.
Other synthetic compounds are vanillin, linalool and linalyl acetate, methyl chavicol, benzaldehyde, coumarin, bisabolols and limonene.
Essential oils that go into this category are:
- Caraway seed oil,
- Celery seed oil,
- Bergamot oil,
- Anise oil,
- Exotic Basil oil,
- Bitter Almond oil,
- Roman Chamomile oil,
- Cassia oil,
- Citrus oils,
- Cognac oil,
- Elemi oil,
- Cypress oil,
- Coriander oil,
- Garlic oil,
- Cinnamon bark oil,
- Mustard oil,
- Oregano oil,
- Pine needle oil,
- Rose oil,
- Palmarosa oil,
- Onion oil,
- Thyme oil,
- Rosewood oil,
- And Spearmint oil.
People are ingenious! To find so many ways to adulterate a “pure therapeutic grade essential oil” (Aromatherapy grade oil) seems a bit scary. But don’t worry, the following chapter is meant to help you find safer and purer essential oils.
You’ll no longer have to ask yourself what are therapeutic grade essential oils, because you now know that this term is pure marketing. Instead, ask the company all your questions and see if they’re honest with you. Read on to see what you have to do to get your hands on good quality essential oils (or vegetable oils).
How Can You Tell Which Company and Oil to Choose?
Finding a pure Aromatherapy essential oil (also recognized as “pure therapeutic grade essential oil”) may seem quite difficult. Especially, with all the marketing and selling schemes out there. But it is not.
You only need a bit of background research and to ask some questions when you’re not sure about the quality of those essential oils that you want to buy.
- Make sure the supplier sells its essential oils to Aromatherapy practitioners. If they educate their customers in regards to various aspects of the use of their products is also a good sign.
- It would be even better if the supplier is a well-known and respected Aromatherapist. If he or she has connections with its producers (distillers), all the better.
- Look for non-controversial suppliers. Try to buy from small companies or family business owners, rather than big and controversial corporations. This is where you can do some more research, to check all your facts.
- Ask safety data reports on certain essential oils. A good supplier would not be afraid to share that information with you.
- Learn to train your nose by smelling more essential oils. Try it with products from different suppliers and compare them. That way you’ll be able to make a difference between high quality essential oils and bad, commercial (or food additive) oils. For example, a very strong scent is usually a sign of adulteration.
- Before buying your essential oils, make sure they have their Latin names on. For example: lavandula angustifolia. Also, make sure they have their common name stated too (Lavender essential oil). The type of extraction method is also important, so look for it on the label. The label of an essential oil should also contain the part of the plant used in the making of the oil, the way it was grown (organic, wild etc.) and the country it was harvested from.
- Look only for Aromatherapy essential oils, not for fragrance or perfume oils. Don’t be afraid to ask suppliers what are therapeutic grade essential oils, if you want to hear their side and explanations. That could help you decide whether they use the term on purpose to attract more customers or they’re simply unaware of the implications.
- Essential oils must be bottled in dark colored, glass bottles and not plastic. Only vegetable oils can be stored in plastic bottles.
That being said, I hope my article clarified the matter of “what are therapeutic grade essential oils”. I know for sure that you’ll know, from now on, what to look for when you’re choosing your next Aromatherapy essential oil. If not, I’m here to answer your questions.
On the one hand, the adulteration of essential oils may not be good for our health. But on the other hand such experiments and expertise have helped developing new medicines. They’ve also helped scientists study the plant’s natural compounds and their effect on us. With a little caution and research from our part, I strongly believe we can find ourselves good products.
Were you ever curious about what “therapeutic grade essential oil” meant when you saw it on the label? Did you ever ask a company about it?