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Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils?

June 18, 2014

Saying things with great authority on the internet doesn’t make them right but it does make them valuable (as in marketing valuable).  The idea of marketing essential oils as ‘Therapeutic Grade’ to make them sound special and better quality than others is one such example of this marketing philosophy. I have been wrestling with whether I think it is right or wrong to do this and to be honest I’m still unsure so I thought I’d brain dump here and let you guys decide for yourself (which is always wise).

Usually when I’m in a mental dilemma about something I start off by defining the ‘problem’.

Therapeutic Grade.

OK so I’ve ‘grown up’ in the chemical / pharmaceutical world and understand this term to mean something medical. Like many people I would automatically assume that a therapeutic grade ingredient would conform to a Pharmacopea and has been tested against that criteria.  The great thing about a pharmacopeia is that it is a book with standards and methods that can be purchased and used to test your material against.  It is awesome that way and was designed help ensure that drugs and preparations made in one lab were comparable to those made in another. However, that is just an assumption that I’ve made and not a fact and I recognise that.  If my mind was to make the mental leap between seeing the term ‘therapeutic grade oil’ and thinking ‘aha, so it has been standardised and tested against a pharmacopeia’ and that mental leap could be validated by the company selling this way then I guess that is all good.  But if my brain took me on that journey only to find that the oils are in fact no different to any other oil then I’d feel pretty peeved.

It does pay to know that there is no industry or other standard for a ‘Therapeutic Grade’ oil.

Essential Oil Grades.

Essential oils are distilled, pressed or extracted in various ways and to varying standards.  The way we check the quality of an essential oil is by its looks, its smell and of course the chemical analysis to get its molecular fingerprint.It is usual for the analysis of essential oils vary from batch to batch as this is a natural product and while some plants will be exposed to the best soil, water and sun others may not have been so lucky.  This variable quality has been addressed at least in part by the Essential Oil Industry who have developed their own records of what constitutes a good oil that producers can check against.  This ‘quality check’ helps to set the oils price and determine what happens next.

Pure and Natural?

These terms are where we start to get into marketing speak really as the word pure could mean that it is from one crop of say lavender and that it is straight from the press – ie, it is pure, only water was used to steam it and the oil came out and we did nothing else!

Pure could also be taken to mean that the oil is pure lavender but it has been blended with other  batches of lavender essential oil to improve the overall quality.

Pure could also mean that the oil has been further treated to remove impurities that were found to be in the oil – from weeds for example – to leave a pure oil behind.

The trouble here is not so much with the word, it is with the vagueness surrounding what it means. Why the vagueness?  Because it is a marketing and not a legal term.

Natural is much of the same.  It is possible to buy a natural Lavender oil that has had its lavindin or linalool levels increased by adding in more of those aroma chemicals after distillation – super charging it so to speak.  It could still be called natural if the added aroma chemicals were naturally derived……

Pharmacopeia Grade Oils.

OK so this is where it does get a little bit more tricky as when it comes to an oil being graded as pharmaceutical I am not convinced it matters that the oil is natural or not, let me explain!  As I mentioned above, a pharmacopeia grade essential oil has to conform to a tight specification around its chemical constituents.  Being quite strict parameters it isn’t unusual for it to be tricky to reach that spec and some years it might be very tricky to find naturally grown, single ‘pot’ oil that hits the spot. Because of this oils are often enhanced with aroma chemicals (not sure if they have to be natural) to get them up to standard.  Because of this I would never automatically  link the words ‘therapeutic’ and ‘pharmacopeia grade’ with the term ‘natural’.

So after all of that how do I feel about buying Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils?

Well to be honest after going through this exercise I feel that the word ‘Therapeutic’ is still more about marketing than fact. I know that in terms of the likelihood of an essential oil being from one field in a known location with no fiddling pharmacopeia grade oils are probably the least likely to comply.  I don’t personally have a problem with that but I do love the idea that my essential oils come from somewhere and are perfectly natural expressions of the plant – I don’t mind some variation in the smell, colour or chemical profile and don’t mind that some will be more potent than others.

I personally wouldn’t get too hung up on oils that are marketed as Therapeutic Grade and would either buy them or not because I liked the smell, look, supporting data and price.

But that’s just me and I can be a bit odd at times.

Amanda x



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