First of all, it is important to understand that there is no governing body, either in America or anywhere else that “certifies” whether an essential oil is pure or therapeutic grade. The FDA does not set any standards for essential oils to determine whether they do have therapeutic properties or not. So, when you see essential oils offered for sale with labels stating they are “pure”, “organic”, “therapeutic grade”, “certified pure therapeutic grade”, etc., these are statements of the company attesting to the quality of their products. It is still up to the consumer to do their own research on the sources they are obtaining essential oils from and decide for themselves whether a particular oil will meet their needs and the uses for which they intend it. Some questions to ask are:
1)Where does the company source its oils? If they obtain different oils from many suppliers all over the world, does the company have sufficient numbers of experienced personnel who will regularly visit these many different suppliers during their various phases of planting, growth, harvest, and distillation to ensure that purity standards are met? Or do they simply rely on the word and reputation of their suppliers, in turn stating to their customers that the oils are “100% pure and therapeutic”? Ideally, a top company will not just take the word of their suppliers, no matter how trusted, or rely on testing alone, but will make sure the growth, harvest, and distillation of all partners is regularly monitored by trained experts
2)Does the company offer information on the testing and quality standards they conduct? Do they explain what tests are done and by whom? Does the company own and operate any of its own farms, labs, and distilleries? Ideally, a company will have both farms, labs, and distilleries of their own as well as working with trusted source partners to obtain quality oils in different regions of the world.
3)Does the company employ expert botanists and chemists to ensure proper identification of plant species used and that test results are properly interpreted. A quality company should ensure they are capable of providing state of the art testing by expert chemists in their own labs, and also use top-rated third-party labs for independent verification. Once distilled, the oils must be properly sealed and stored in dark glass bottles, away from extremes of heat and light, for optimal protection and maximum shelf-life of their delicate compounds. Once opened, bottles should be re-closed tightly to prevent leakage and oxidation.
While it is true that plants grown in their native regions without chemicals or pesticides or wildcrafted may have superior therapeutic properties, it is possible for plants of the same species grown on the same hillside to have different chemotypes and/or considerable variation in the range of minute chemical components which affect its therapeutic balance. Distilling at low temperatures and pressures is generally good, but different oils have very specific requirements for exact temperature, pressure, and length of cooking time, and this may also be affected by the type and quality of distillation equipment used. An oil which has some therapeutic properties may be truthfully described as “therapeutic grade”, but this does not necessarily mean it has all the therapeutic properties normally expected for that oil, or in the proper degree. Therefore, if you really are looking for a therapeutic grade oil, its important to carefully review the information offered by the company you choose, and understand exactly what they mean when they call their oils therapeutic.
A truly therapeutic grade oil properly grown, harvested, and distilled will have hundreds of trace chemical components, as even in very tiny amounts they affect the balance of the overall oil and how it works. AFNOR (Association Français de Normalisation) was established in France in 1926 to set standards for a variety of European products and services, including some very general standards for a specific group of essential oils. The agency sets minimum standards to validate quality, safety, reliability and performance for French, European Standards. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is a worldwide federation that includes 130 countries and is based in Switzerland. This also sets standards for a variety of products, but its standards for essential oils are the same. However, AFNOR/ISO standards only cover a fraction of the essential oils available, and those they do cover are primarily focused on components important to the food and flavor industries since that is the major market for essential oils. By the same token, the FDA has compiled a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list for a number of essential oils as well as FA designation for many used as food additives. However, these ratings do not address therapeutic properties, and many oils may not be on this list not because they are unsafe but simply because they have not been reviewed for that purpose. Also, in the case of oils which may have been chemically altered or extended by synthetic compounds or additives, these ratings may not even accurately apply. Depending on what tests have been conducted, the presence of many synthetic additives are not always revealed by several common tests, and cannot necessarily be discerned by sight or smell – especially not to the average layperson. It is a complete myth that an average person with no special training or experience with a large memory bank of comparative fragrances can accurately judge the purity of a given oil just by smelling it. Strength or mildness of fragrance are not reliable indicators of purity, or of an oil’s therapeutic properties. Therefore, caution is always advised for anyone wishing to try essential oils for therapeutic purposes, first in being sure oils obtained from a reliable high quality source which conducts extensive testing, and second, since all individuals are different, proceed slowly and allow time to see what works best for you.
There are three different “schools” of application to follow in the use of essential oils, which are the British, German, and French models. The British is the most conservative. This school advocates diluting a very small amount of essential oil in a large amount of vegetable oil for purposes of massage and relaxation. The German model focuses on inhalation and diffusing the oils. This is supported by research which has shown certain fragrances are capable of exerting strong effects on the brain, especially the hypothalamus which governs hormones, and the limbic system which governs emotions. According to Dr. David Stewart, PhD, a highly regarded chemist, a single drop of essential oil may contain as many as 40 million-trillion molecules (think 19 zeroes in this number!). Oils such as Cedarwood, Vetiver, Spikenard, and Sandalwood are particularly high in Sesquiterpenes. The French model calls for “neat” or undiluted application of the oils and/or ingestion of pure oils, for example a drop or two taken with a spoonful of honey or agave nectar, or on a piece of bread.
Generally, depending on the individual and the therapeutic results desired, the type of application may vary, but being open to all three schools of use and combining different methods will offer the most options for a variety of possible benefits. For topical application, it is recommended to first dilute with a carrier oil such as a high quality vegetable, olive, or almond oil, or at least have one close at hand until you learn your own tolerance levels. For most, a 50-50 dilution works well, (ie one drop of essential oil to one drop of vegetable oil). However hot oils such as Clove, Cinnamon bark, Lemongrass, Oregano, and Thyme are especially strong and should be diluted one drop of essential oil to 4 drops vegetable oil. The bottoms of the feet are usually a good place to apply oils if skin sensitivity is a concern, and will be quickly absorbed into the system.
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 pageYoung Living/DoTerra Report.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.