There has been no greater disservice to the field of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils than the term ‘therapeutic grade’. No such grade exists. It is simply a marketing term – nothing else. It is a way for a company to advertise their essential oils as super-duper quality – better than the “other guy”, a way to convince you that you’d better spend your money with them. They are better-stronger-faster, the Bionic Brand of essential oils. Not true.
There is no governing body that regulates or grades essential oils. Furthermore, there is no organization or defined set of standards that divide essential oils into specific grades. Once again, these are marketing phrases, used primarily by multi-level-marketing companies in their literature to encourage purchase of their essential oil products at a greatly inflated price - which, in turn, greatly inflates their profit margin. I am not going to mention any companies by name but a little research will show all you need to know about which companies sell essential oils in this manner.
I am sad to say, the people that sell them have fallen for the sales pitch most of the time. The last time I encountered one of these MLM representatives, I asked them, “Where did you learn about essential oils?” Their answer: the MLM company and ONLY the MLM company. They had done no outside research on their own about essential oils and, prior to selling them for this company, had no previous experience or knowledge of essential oils. I asked if they had any books by other authors about essential oils. They did not.
The only thing they could continue repeating was that company’s essential oils were superior because they are ‘certified therapeutic grade’ essential oils.
“Do you realize that in the United States that essential oils are not regulated or certified by anyone? There is no regulatory board or certification board,” I said.
“That’s not true,” the sales rep insisted. “Our company’s essential oils are certified therapeutic grade!”
Just because a company goes out and registers the Trademark name ‘certified therapeutic grade’ doesn’t make them certified or gives them the authority to create a non-existent grading system. It may look fabulous on their brochures and sound great coming out of the mouths of their sales reps, but it isn’t true. MLM companies must increase the price of a product greatly so they have room to “wholesale” to reps and “wholesale” again to the reps below them. Why did I put the word wholesale in quotations? Because their “wholesale” price is above the normal retail price for essential oil companies that are not into multi-level marketing. It’s a great way to get rich – convince people you are giving them a discount while you rake in the above-the-normal-retail-price big bucks. It’s like marking up a $500 sofa to $1000 so you will look generous and bargain-worthy when a 30% OFF sign is placed on the middle cushion. Of course, with that discount, you just paid $700 for a $500 sofa!
Example: I want to start selling oranges. They cost me 50 cents each. To make a living, I am going to sell them to you for $1.00 each because that is the way business works. I have to sell them for more than I paid for them so I can pay my rent, utilities, food, etc.
Enter the MLM company wanting to sell oranges. They pay 50 cents for the orange just like I do. But, they want YOU and your friends below you to sell them, so they’re going to give you 25% off the retail price of the orange. Then give you MORE if you sign up others to sell below you. But how will they profit? They are going to sell the oranges for $4.00 each instead of $1.00. How will they get away with this? Claim they are better than any orange in the world, superior in every way. They even go a step further and call their orange “certified tastiest and healthiest!” The people wanting to make 25% of $4.00 believe it (most of the time, because they want to believe it) and spread the fib to anyone who will listen.
Still, the MLM reps want to argue with you, telling you that they have visited and toured their company’s lavender farm. Maybe so. But did they visit their patchouli farm? Their sandalwood forest? Their tropical ylang-ylang jungle? No. Because there is not enough land available for purchase in all parts of the world to supply an essential oil company with every plant they will need to make all of their oils. Some countries have farms that have been in the essential oil business for over one hundred years. They wholesale the oils to many companies, large and small.
Go out and ask farmers who produce plants for essential oil (and who are distilling their own) if they are sending off samples to the FDA and receiving a certificate saying their oil meets ‘therapeutic grade’ standards. You won’t find a single one because this practice is simply not happening.
So, if I had to define it on a personal level without thinking about how the term has been overused - what does therapeutic grade mean to me? It means that the essential oil is pure with no chemical additives, dilutions or carrier oils. Pure oil is pure oil. A bottle of lavender that has ONLY lavender in it is suitable to use in an aromatherapy (keyword, therapy, as in therapeutic) treatment.
Does this mean that I am saying all essential oils are created equal? Certainly not. I wouldn’t expect the oil from a potted lavender plant growing on the back porch of a house in Ohio to be the same quality as the lavender in the fields of France. Climate and growing conditions have a great impact on the quality of the plant and the essential oil obtained from it.
There are tests to determine if essential oils are pure. The two most common are Gas Chromatography testing and the Mass Spectrometry test. In Gas Chromatography testing, the process partitions the components of the essential oil and produces a reading (in the form of a chromatogram) which makes it possible to compare to known essential oil components. The essential oil slides through tubing (mixing with or sometimes forced through the tub by means of a gas compound) and upon evaporation, the trace of essential oil is measured. In other words, the essential oils are separated and vaporized without any decomposition happening. The process will tell if there are any unnatural substances present in the oil.
The Mass Spectrometry test converts the essential oil into ions so that they can be moved about and manipulated by external electric and magnetic fields. The ions are sorted and separated according to their mass and charge. The separated ions are then measured and displayed onto a chart showing the different components. However, some terpenes are impossible to identify using only this method. Oftentimes, the Mass Spectrometry test is performed right after the Gas Chromatography test. When these two methods are combined, the test will usually be referred to as a GC/MS test.
But, many suppliers use this testing method, not just the one’s selling the priciest essential oils. And remember, these tests were not performed by anyone that passes out a certificate stamping the oils as ‘therapeutic grade.’ The tests are simply what they are – tests to show if an oil is pure.
Getting to know your supplier and doing a little research on your own is much better than just taking the word of a glossy, color brochure. With that said, don’t believe everything you read on the internet! There are several articles out there written by reps and the misinformed who think they have all the answers and their lengthy articles sound very impressive and believable. One particular long article I found mentioned, “The purity of an oil is also measured when considering it for therapeutic certification; the oil must be completely free of synthetic chemicals and heavy metals in order to receive therapeutic certification.” I repeat, there is NO certification process. Their article also mentions how essential oils fall into three categories: cosmetic grade, food grade, and therapeutic grade. No, No, and double No. There is no governing body, agency, or watch-group that grades essential oils. It is simply more marketing hype, empty words meant to sell a product. Of course, when I reached the end of the article, what do you think I found? Yes, the writer was a sales rep for one of the above-mentioned multilevel-marketing companies, and went on to say how their oils really were the best to be found! Uh huh, right.
IF there was such a thing as having your essential oils certified, then an essential oil company would not be permitted to trademark the terms ‘certified therapeutic’ or ‘certified therapeutic grade’. When you Trademark a word or phrase, you are claiming those words for yourself, usually to brand your company. For example, there are many certified organic farms growing organic vegetables, all of which go under inspection to insure their farming methods will permit their certification. BUT, no single farmer can Trademark the words, ‘certified organic’. If they were allowed to do this, no other farmer growing under natural conditions would be able to call their organic produce ‘certified organic’. Since there is no certification process for essential oils, it has left room for companies to Trademark terms that make their brand appear superior to all others. If I have not said it enough times already, NO ONE in the United States certifies or grades essential oils.
While we are on this topic, allow me to say something else. Please pick a company/supplier that is passionate about essential oils and aromatherapy. We were recently set up at a fairgrounds market and, in the booth behind us, a husband and wife team were representing one of those MLM essential oil companies. But, the thing is, they hardly had any essential oils with them - just a few bottles for sniffing, along with some diet supplements. Instead, they were passing out brochures and had posters that said, ‘BE A PART OF OUR TEAM’! To me, that is not someone who has dedicated themselves to aromatherapy and essential oil use/education. They were only interested in recruiting more people to sell under them so they could make more money. I mean, if you’re going to sell essential oils, and talk all day about essential oils – could you please be bothered enough to bring a few bottles with you to sell? If you don’t have any on hand and the only thing you want to do is “sign me up”, that says a great deal to me about where your passion lies – with the money. It goes without saying, that my tongue was sore from biting it all day every time I heard the words ‘certified therapeutic grade’ slide out of their mouths.