Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils: Buyers Beware
No U.S. governmental agency or generally accepted organization "grades" or "certifies" essential oils as therapeutic grade, medicinal grade or aromatherapy grade in the U.S. There is no formally approved grading standard used consistently throughout the essential oil industry.
In my early days of working with essential oils, I noticed a number of companies that used the term therapeutic grade essential oils. Like many others, I didn't immediately sense any initial concern with the terminology. I, however, became more increasingly concerned with this term as I looked more closely into it and the confusion it causes.
I'm a long time member of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy. Upon renewing my annual membership many years ago, I spotted that their membership application/renewal form, at that time, prohibited membership to those companies that used therapeutic grade essential oils and similar terms to market or describe their essential oils. It was that policy that lead me to then take a fresh look at the terminology. I then realized how confusing these terms can be to consumers. Having said that, I have noticed that NAHA, under different leadership, no longer prohibits membership to companies that use these terms.
I first began studying aromatherapy in the 90s. I did not realize the potential confusion these terms can cause until I had inquired with NAHA's president at the time, Kelly Holland Azzaro.
By the time I first learned about holistic aromatherapy, a number of companies, including those that I otherwise find highly reputable, were using the terms therapeutic grade and/or aromatherapy grade to describe their essential oils. I didn't see anything malicious with these terms and the terms seemed to act as a way to quickly convey to consumers that the seller's essential oils were carefully sourced specifically for use by those seeking oils for holistic aromatherapy use.
Most essential oils are distilled and standardized for use in other industries, so those carefully sourcing and selling essential oils intended for aromatherapy and therapeutic applications understandably do want a way to convey the suitability, purity and quality of their oils for therapeutic uses. Soil conditions, seed quality, climate, altitude, growing conditions, harvesting, the care during distillation, bottling and storage can all play a part in the resulting quality of an essential oils. These are all factors that conscientious suppliers pay close attention to. Using these two-word terms seemed to be a concise way for suppliers to designate that their oils were suitable for use by those seeking oils for use in holistic aromatherapy.
Though I'm a skeptical sort, I didn't originally find anything concerning about companies that used these terms. After much more careful thought back at the time I noticed NAHA's previous stance in prohibiting companies who used the grade type terminology from joining NAHA, I realized how truly meaningless and confusing these terms can be.
Recommendations for Consumers
If you come across a company that uses the term aromatherapy grade or therapeutic grade, look for other key indicators of their essential oil quality and attempt to assess their particular intent is behind their use of the term. Some companies provide details on their site that define their particular usage of the term.
Use the tips within AromaWeb's How to Buy Essential Oils article to guide you on what to look for when considering suppliers. Companies that use the terms "therapeutic grade" and "aromatherapy grade" may simply be trying to quickly convey to you that their oils were carefully chosen and tested for use by those practicing holistic aromatherapy. Some companies still have no idea that these terms are confusing.
Carefully read the below AromaWeb articles for tips that will help you evaluate companies that sell essential oils and help you better understand how to access essential oil quality.
Verifying Essential Oil Quality
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Why Is the Quality/Purity of an Essential Oil Important?
- Part 3: Aren't Most Essential Oils Pure?
- Part 4: Constituents - What do Essential Oils Consist Of?
- Part 5: Quality vs. Purity - Aren't They the Same Thing?
- Part 6: Quantifiable Testing of Essential Oils
- Part 7: GC-MS Test Results - How Can They Be Used?
- Part 8: Organoleptic Testing of Essential Oils
- Part 9: Other Quantifiable Tests for Testing the Quality and Purity of Essential Oils
- Part 10: Essential Oil Quality and Purity Conclusion: Final Questions/Answers
NAHA created an E-Booklet Series and prepared a very helpful 22-page booklet entitled Quality of Essential Oils. This booklet is Volume I in the series and is available to members (I received mine with my NAHA renewal confirmation email).
Recommendations for Essential Oil Suppliers/Retailers:
For those businesses that want to replace their use of the "grade" terms, therapeutic quality helps to convey the intent.
Kelly Holland Azzaro, president of NAHA at the time, shared the following suggestions:
- pure essential oils for therapeutic applications
- pure essential oils (or organic if that is the case) for aroma-therapeutic use
- quality essential oils used in professional aromatherapy
A Note About AromaWeb's Advertisers
I strongly encourage AromaWeb advertisers to refrain from using the "grade" terminology, However, a few AromaWeb advertisers do still use these terms. It can be difficult for some companies to go back and change all the many references they may have used with the word "grade."