What are Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils? Debunking the Hype.
Understanding the Difference Between Marketing Terms and Industry Definitions
Here at Source Vitál Apothecary, we’re practitioners and fans of the amazing therapeutic benefits provided by these aromatic wonders. Our team at Source Vitál has spent decades developing contacts to source the highest-quality essential oils from across the world. We take pride in sharing essential oils that are pure, undiluted, and grown under the best conditions. We believe this attention to detail ensures that each and every bottle of essential oil we sell or add into our formulations is going to positively impact your skin, body and soul.
Given this commitment to excellence, Source Vitál places a very high value upon how people talk about essential oils – especially when it comes to the terms our peers and competitors use when selling these products. We believe in what these products can do for people, which means that we take care to use clear language so as not to confuse our potential and current customers as to what essential oils can really and truly do.
So, when we learned that phrases like “therapeutic grade” and “aromatherapy grade” are being used by some companies as a way to describe and market their products, we knew we needed to address the situation by educating the public as directly as possible.
What are Essential Oils?
Our answer to that question typically runs as follows:
“Essential oils are the concentrated liquid or oil obtained by distilling the seeds, leaves, branches, wood, bark, berries, flower, sap, needles, and peels from plant botanicals.”
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy provides us this high-level definition of essential oils:
“The term ‘essential oil’ is a contradiction of the original ‘quintessential oil.’ This stems from the Aristotelian idea that matter is composed of four elements, namely, file, air, earth, and water. The fifth element, or quintessence, was then considered to be the spirit or life force. Distillation and evaporation were thought to be the process of removing the spirit from the plant … Nowadays, of course we know that, far from being spirit, essential oils are physical in nature and composed of complex mixtures of chemicals.”
In practice, essential oils enhance the appearance of our skin, body, and hair, while also promoting the relaxation and emotional support needed to reinforce the body’s own regenerative forces. They achieve this by focusing on the following properties:
- Kick-starting the body’s natural abilities to remove toxins
- Allowing our cells to be better receive life-giving Oxygen
- Purifying and cleansing the body from germs
- Providing Immune Support
You receive the benefits of essential oils through application (almost always using a carrier oil) on the skin or through inhalation. Since each oil offers different therapeutic properties, there is a wide a range of options available to you when shopping, so you can choose which oils are right to care for your individual needs.
Why Does Confusing Terminology Exist?
Unfortunately, a single set of definitions doesn’t exist that standardizes the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. Groups like International Organization of Standardization might have a succinct definition of what an essential oil is, but they don’t set standards for what they do, their qualities, or what differentiates one refining process from another.
Because of this lack of clarity at the global level for the creation, marketing, and distribution of essential oils and their attributes, the aromatherapy industry is frequently beset by fresh batches of definitions and descriptors that companies use to sell their products. The problem arises when these terms sound fancy and official, but don’t actually mean anything – which first misleads the customer and then casts a negative shadow on our industry.
Through it all, there are two terms that have proven to cause the most confusion on a regular basis, even though experts have sought to discredit them for decades: “Therapeutic grade” and “Aromatherapy grade.”
What Do Those Terms Mean?
Nothing. Between leading aromatherapy organizations, national boards of health (like the Federal Drug Administration in the United States), or an international governing body, no recognized definition for “Therapeutic grade” or “Aromatherapy grade” exist. And this means that companies selling essential oils and other aromatherapy products don’t have to be transparent about their marketing language, much less what goes into the actual products.
Any pure, undiluted, unadulterated essential oil, is naturally therapeutic or aromatherapy-grade – that’s the whole point of using them. There isn’t anything special done to the oil or in the way that it is extracted that makes it more-so. One can evaluate oils based on some factors, such as where it is grown. For example, Tea Tree from Australia or Lavender from Provance is always superior because these are the regions where the plants originate. However, in today’s consumer society there are concerns about over farming of natural resources. Some oils are so popular that deforestation has made them endangered resources. To fill the need, more sustainable alternatives, that offer similar aromas and therapeutic benefits, are now available.
These tactics are typically adopted by multilevel marketers. Admittedly, we are painting with a broad brush when making such a claim, but such companies are frequently more interested in pushing money up and down the various levels of the sales triangle, not in the quality of the product. These organizations have a vast network of salespeople that are very far removed from the sourcing and process of essential oils, and unlike certified aromatherapists, they lack the education to truly understand how essential oils work with the body.
Unfortunately, because of that aforementioned industry-wide lack of a uniform definition, there isn’t much that companies like Source Vitál can do about the marketing tactics used by some companies – except to inform people about such matters so they can make the best possible decisions for themselves.
What Should You Look for When Shopping for Essential Oils?
Let’s be perfectly clear – we are biased toward our own essential oils here at Source Vitál. All of our products are 100% pure, undiluted, and will never contain any fillers or synthetic additives. We pride ourselves on offering one of the most comprehensive essential oil collections on the market. We want you to shop with us.
But we also believe in educating the consumer, So, when it comes to examining the different claims in the market about what’s in an essential oil and what it can do, we recommend using the following parameters:
- Ingredients – Look for authentic, unadulterated essential oils, products that only contain the plant of origin specified on the bottle label, without any other ingredients or fillers.
- Packaging – True essential oils will be packaged in glass bottles, typically brown or dark blue in color, so as to protect the oil from UV radiation.
- Information – Per the NAHA, you should easily be able to locate the common name, Latin name (exact genus and species), country of origin, part of plant processed, type of extraction (distillation or expression), how it was grown (organic, wild-crafted, traditional), and chemotype (when relevant)
- Corporate Transparency – Any worthwhile purveyor of essential oils will happily share documents like “material safety data sheets” and “gas chromatograph / mass spectrometry reports” with customers because they should have nothing to hide.
What Should I Do When I See “Therapeutic Grade” and “Aromatherapy Grade” Used to Describe Essential Oils?
The short answer? Be on your guard about promises and claims that the company cannot accurately verify. Anyone using such terms is either over-hyping the claims for its products under the naïve assumption that those fancy-sounding words help them sell more products, or they are actively taking deliberate advantage of the lack of a unified definition so as to confuse customers.
Right now, the lack of an independent, 3rd party governing body who can define terminology, regulate who can use it, and combat false claims about a product provides space for unethical and misleading business practices. In order to receive the true benefits of aromatherapy from essential oils, you as the consumer must be as vigilant as possible about what you purchase and apply to your body.