There are a lot of terms thrown around when discussing essential oils. Words like, pure and therapeutic. But, what do they mean? Here is a list of common terms, and what they mean in the world of essential oils.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils:
Don’t the words “Therapeutic Grade” sound good? Like something you really want, right? The truth is, any essential oil company can use the words “therapeutic grade” because no one actually monitors or “grades” oils. Each company defines what therapeutic grade means to them and then they meet their own set of standards for therapeutic grade. One company has gone so far as to trademark (in other words, pay for the sole ability to use) a phrase making their oils seem as though they are the only oils meeting a certain standard. Unfortunately, seeing “therapeutic grade” on your essential oil doesn’t mean anything in terms of quality. What you should look for is a company that has high standards for their definition of “therapeutic grade”.
The term “pure” means exactly what you would think it means: pure. A bottle containing pure essential oil means nothing has been added to the oil. One company claims the FDA requires only 5% of an essential oil be used in order to call it “pure”. I have not found any statement from the FDA supporting this. Does it mean it’s not true? No, but I cannot find evidence to support it. The truth is, the FDA does not monitor essential oils because essential oils are considered “cosmetic”. This does not necessarily mean essential oils don’t have wonderful qualities, it just means that no essential oil company has submitted their research and had it evaluated by the FDA to be used medicinally. This is also why you will see statements that essential oils have not been evaluated by the FDA for medicinal purposes. My guess would be that the term “pure” is true, but it may be a lesser quality “pure”. See below for more information on that.
This term seems debatable among essential oil companies. Some state they use 1st distillation oils; others deny this is even a real thing. Here’s what I could find on the issue. Many essential oils are distilled, and the lower the temperature and pressure, the higher the quality of oil. A 1st distillation, from what I gather, is the oil that has been gathered at the lowest temperature and pressure, resulting in a high quality oil. When the temperature and pressure are increased it’s called a 2nd distillation, and the resulting oil is not quite as high in quality. As the temperature and pressure are increased again, it results in a 3rd distillation. Again, lower quality. However, from the information I found, the lower quality oils have a sweeter, stronger smell, which makes them great for soaps and lotions. The last term used is “complete distillation”, which means the company uses all the oil gathered from the 3 distillations. I reached out to several companies and some told me they only use 1st distillation oils, while others told me there was no such thing as “phases of distillation”, and only complete distillations were ever used in the industry. It would make sense, however, that higher quality oils from 1st distillations would result in higher prices. In terms of purity, they are all essentially pure, but some would definitely be of higher quality.
GC/MS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrography) Testing:
This testing is done by some essential oil companies, often on every batch of oil. Many companies run the test not only in their own labs, but in independent laboratories as well. This testing is done to make sure the level of purity is what the company claims. There are certain markers that should be met for pure oils. It has been stated that essential oil companies have the know-how to alter oils in a way that would provide a lower quality oil that still passes the test. This does not mean companies actually do alter their oils, it just means they could.