When researching essential oils and essential oil companies, you’ll find many references to therapeutic grade and therapeutic essential oils. There is no regulation or certification of the term “therapeutic grade” by any independent regulatory agency or group. Therefore any company can use the term and change it to mean anything they want. The term was initially used by certain companies to indicate that their oils were truly 100% pure, safe and efficacious for use in a therapeutic manner.
The reason these companies wanted to make this distinction is because there is a lot of difference between different types of oil available on the market. The FDA does not regulate essential oils, other than to make sure that the companies are not making claims for essential oils that can only by law be made for medications or other regulated products.
Unfortunately, a company that sells essential oils can legally claim an oil is 100% pure, when in reality the oil may be diluted with other cheaper essential oils or adulterated with other ingredients. For example, rose oil is often diluted with fragrance oils (which are not essential oils and should never be used therapeutically) or cheaper essential oils such as geranium.
In some cases, essential oils may be diluted with chemicals like propylene glycol, which is a solvent used as aircraft de-icing fluid and RV antifreeze. Frankincense is often diluted using dipropylene glycol or diethylphthalate which is an ingredient that health-conscious consumers would not want in any product, much less an essential oil.
This kind of product trickery creates a lot of distrust with consumers, who spend money on what they believe is an essential oil, only to realize (or worse, never find out) that the oil is adulterated with cheap or synthetic ingredients, produces little to no therapeutic results, and may actually be harmful.
To complicate the situation, fraudulent essential oil wholesalers have become so adept in their adulteration techniques that it’s extremely difficult to determine if an oil is adulterated, even using sophisticated testing like mass spectrometry. It requires a trained expert who specializes in the testing of essential oils, who is schooled in the latest oil adulteration tricks, and knows how to detect the subtle evidence a lab result may show of dilution or adulteration. Therefore, even when a company has third-party testing done, it’s still not a guarantee of purity, if the lab isn’t highly trained in how to find the adulterants.
Therapeutic grade is not just an indication of oil purity. It also indicates the oil’s efficacy in producing therapeutic results. It means that the oil has the healing constituents of the plant in high enough quantities that it can produce the expected results.
An oil can be 100% pure, but if it was grown in poor soil without receiving enough nutrients or it was treated with heavy pesticides that affected the biology of the plant, it may be low in those constituents needed to produce therapeutic results. Pesticides on the plant will transfer to the oil during the steam distillation process so using chemical-free plant matter is imperative.
With all the questionable practices going on in the essential oil industry, it’s important to look for an essential oil company that isn’t focused only on selling oils, but instead focuses on consumer health, product purity, company integrity, and exhibits a concern for its impact on the environment and on the global communities that grow, harvest and distill the precious resource that is therapeutic essential oils.