Therapeutic grade oils – read all about it!

Dear Massage Magazine,

I submitted an article, which you published as a Guest Editorial on page 22 of your March 2010 issue, entitled Essential Oils: Premium Quality Yields Premium Results. On page 10, your Contents Page, this was listed as: Guest Editorial: Read about therapeutic grade essential oils in “Powerful Tools in A Small Bottle”, by Dawn-Mari Yurkovic, at www.massagemag.com/powerfultools. Don’t you agree this is a little weird? One person writes a two-page article, and a completely different person/article is listed on the Contents page of the magazine?

Dictionary Series - Info: dataIn my article I explain why “such terms as pharmaceutical grade, therapeutic grade or food grade have no meaning in relation to the quality of essential oils for aromatherapy.” But, at the end of the article, you inserted a box, with: Read about therapeutic grade essential oils in “Powerful Tools in A Small Bottle”, by Dawn-Mari Yurkovic at www.massagemag.com/powerfultools. OK, I can take a hint, even if it’s thrust in my face.

In Dawn-Mari’s pitch (she’s basically selling her classes and her essential oils) she makes the following comment: Only therapeutic grade essential oils should be used to ensure safety and that there are no synthetic or toxic chemicals being introduced to the body. Unfortunately, less than 2 percent of the essential oil found in health-food stores and the like are actually therapeutic grade, even though the label might say something like “100-percent pure”.

On speaking to Karen Menehan and Stanford Erickson, two of your editors, I was told that one role of a publication was to present alternative viewpoints. A fair point in principle, but I have read dozens of editorials, guest and otherwise, and don’t remember a single one that presented opposing views in this way. And, I’m still confused as to how my article was listed as someone else’s.

As for “therapeutic grade” essential oils, I agree with Dawn-Mari that synthetic or toxic chemicals are best avoided in aromatherapy. (Though I would add that these terms are not synonymous, and some essential oils naturally contain toxic constituents.) Also, I totally agree with the sentiment that essential oils used in aromatherapy should be of a grade suitable for the task. I’m just saying that there is no independent, industry standard that is known as “therapeutic grade.”

Tim Blakeley in Nepal

Aura Cacia's Tim Blakely (center) helping with a distillation project in Nepal

And, I’m not at all sure where the idea that “less than 2% of essential oils sold in health stores are appropriate for aromatherapy” comes from. This is quite simply pure and unadulterated fantasy! Perhaps the most common retail brand is Aura Cacia, and if you go to their website you will find 27 organically certified essential oils listed. A very high percentage of essential oils now sold for use in aromatherapy is organically certified, and some of the ones that are not are simply not available as certified organic oils. This not only applies in the USA, the same is true in most regions. Is an organically certified essential oil not suitable for aromatherapy?

I was personally offended by the way my article was treated; at the very least you could have let me know your intentions ahead of time. And, I appreciate that you have apologized to me for this. As journalists, if you are going to present opposing views, I submit that it is your duty to do some fact checking. You have told me that, since you know nothing about aromatherapy, this would not be appropriate. I respectfully disagree, and in this instance you have contributed, perhaps significantly, to misinformation about essential oils for aromatherapy. Fact and fiction are not “differences of opinion.”

Sincerely,

Robert Tisserand

76 comments to Therapeutic grade oils – read all about it!

  • robert

    Hi Natalie, There’s a picture of Aura Cacia’s Tim Blakely above! I do wonder about the essential oil testers that are so popular health stores – their contents must oxidize quite quickly! But, I have nothing bad to say about Aura Cacia.

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for the objective, thorough information! I have some questions about “organic certification”. My understanding, with plants or foods that are produced organically, is that 100% organic is impossible because of cross contamination. So in the case of EO’s is organic less important because any chemical (ie pesticides, herbicides) that is not part of the oil is removed in the distillation process, or it is considered adulterated? For example, a company might state their oils are “certifiably organic” but they could still be contaminated because this certification allows a small percentage of contaminants. Any clarification would be greatly appreciated!

  • robert

    Amy, organic crops may be contaminated by pesticides from nearby farms, but 100% organic is not impossible, and contamination is the exception. Distillation probably does reduce the proportion of a biocide, but most of them do carry over and will be present in the corresponding essential oil, usually in the 1-10 ppm range. You will get very much more biocide into your body by eating non-organic foods than you ever could from a few drops of essential oil containing 2 ppm of a biocide. Getting back to your question, most certified organic essential oils are biocide-free, but some may contain biocides, and the only way to be sure is to analyze the oils. The presence of a biocide would be regarded as a contaminant, not an adulterant. (An adulterant is a substance intentionally added for profit reasons.) The bottom line is that a certified organic oil is, on average, very much lower in biocide contamination than one that is not certified. Having said that, some oils are biocide-free but are not certified. You might find this website helpful: http://www.ifoam.org/about_ifoam/standards/index.html

  • Kristen

    Hi,
    Just wanted to take a moment to thank you. I’ve found this article and others by you to be some of the most clear and truly informative I’ve come across! I’ve used essential oils at times during my almost 12 years as a massage therapist, but I’ve recently started to use them more to benefit the well-being of my family. I’ve been hearing a lot about neat and internal use lately, and I wanted to be sure I know how to use them safely. Thanks to your information, I now feel I know how to do so. So, again, thank you for providing such good information. I truly appreciate it! It’s refreshing to read about essential oils and not feel like I have to read between the lines or cut through loads of bias to get to the truth!

  • robert

    Thank you Kristen!

  • Ana Jones

    Thank you for the information Robert!

  • Ashley

    Thanks so much for your article. I am having a huge issue battling against the whole “therapeutic grade” malarky put out by several big name companies. It seems even though it is a subjective title, and many other similar titles like it are in fact trade marked, that somehow people just buy into the idea that it MUST mean the oils are better. I am a huge proponent of high quality oils and knowing the company, their standards, distillation processes etc. But these empty titles really drive me nuts! Thanks for your writings!

    facebook.com/realessentialoilseducation

  • holly

    hi robert,
    I am trying to write an essay for a public health post grad course, the role of the public health worker.. I won’t bore you with the details… I’m trying to tentatively suggest that education is a major role….non antibiotic therapies for infectious disease, for example tea tree in the treatment of staphlococcal…. can you suggest any reading/authors/doctors I can explore?
    thanks for any help.
    kindest regards

  • Michelle

    This is all so confusing to me, which I’m sure they mean it to be so that I just buy their oils without truly knowing whether I’m getting a quality product or not. So, if I can’t trust their ”grading” system, what do I look for when choosing a company?

    Thanks!

    Michelle

  • robert

    Hi Michelle, I’m not sure that you need to necessarily choose one company, but here are some suggestions:
    Hi Debra,
    Here are some suggestions for essential oil sources:

    Aliksir http://www.aliksir.com/
    A Little Ol’Factory http://alittleolfactory.com
    Aromaceuticals http://www.aromaceuticals.com/
    Aromatics International http://www.aromaticsinternational.com/
    Eden Botanicals http://www.edenbotanicals.com/
    Enfleurage http://www.enfleurage.com
    Morning Myst Botanics http://www.morningmystbotanics.com
    Nature’s Gift http://www.naturesgift.com/
    Stillpoint Aromatics http://www.stillpointaromatics.com/
    SunRose Aromatics http://www.sunrosearomatics.com/
    The Essential Oil Company http://www.essentialoil.com/
    White Lotus Aromatics http://www.whitelotusaromatics.com/

  • Clint

    Hey I was just wondering if you could ingest organic essential oil of oregano from Aura Cacia? Whats your thoughts on that or is there any book I could read? Is Aura Cacia extracted with no solvents?

  • robert

    Hi Clint, the Aura Cacia oregano oil is not solvent extracted. In fact, no essential oils are extracted with solvents. Only absolutes like Jasmine and Rose are solvent extracted, and absolutes are not essential oils. Oregano oil is safe to ingest, so long as you take care to avoid mucous membrane irritation by only taking it in capsules that also contain a vegetable oil.

  • Karen Witthoeft

    I have always wondered why I have to pay so much more for do terra than AuraCacia oils and for that reason I am a fan of Aura Cacia. I recently learned that there are 1,2,3 and complete distillation and that first is the best. I unsure what either brand uses and don’t really know how to find out unless I get In direct contact with each company (not that hard). I want to buy some helichrysum italicum oil that through do terra is $100, Native American Nutritionals is $150 and aura cacia is $40. How can a consumer know if the $40 oil is just as good as the $150 oil? I believe they are all the same size. Are these companies taking us consumers for a ride? Thank you for your information.

  • robert

    Hi Karen, businesses with a multi-level (network) marketing structure need to have higher prices because so many people take a cut from each sale. That’s not to say the quality of the product is not good, but you can get the same quality for less. On the other hand, you can’t necessarily go for the cheapest either! Price is only a rough guide to quality. Check out this blog post: http://tinyurl.com/ler5shs. There are several grades of ylang-ylang oil, – extra, I, II, III and complete, but this does not apply to any other essential oil http://roberttisserand.com/2014/01/re-distilled-essential-oils/

  • Melissa

    I have been reading through the comments and found a lot of great information. I looked through the list of essential oil suppliers you mentioned, but only one is Canadian as far as I can tell. Do you have any suggestions for Canadian suppliers? My experience has been that many American suppliers will not ship oils to Canada due to volatility.

  • robert

    Hi Melissa, you could try Aliksir: http://www.aliksir.com/

  • Mick

    Robert,

    Thank you for all you are doing to educate all of us about essential oils. My question is this: I noticed earlier in this thread that one of your recommended sources of essential oils was a company called Appalachian Valley in Maryland. But I noticed later on that when you listed your recommended suppliers, Appalachian Valley is not on the list. Did you leave them off of your newer list for any particular reason? I would like to get some oils from them, but when I saw that your new list didn’t include them, I wondered whether I should rethink my potential purchase. So, does Appalachan Valley still pass muster, or no?

  • robert

    Hi Mick – wow, you are paying way more attention than I! This was not intentional, no. I still love em!

  • Mick

    Robert, thank you very much. I’ll place my order after all!

  • Colleen

    I’ve been taking Aura Cacia lavender oil internally – a couple of drops sling with do terra lemon and peppermint in water – swishing then swallowing. Is it a bad idea for me to take the Aura Cacia internally like this? I’ve been completely ignorant! I’m doing this to stay away from pharmaceuticals so definitely don’t want to be causing any worse problems. Thanks in advance…

  • Julie

    I take Genesis Pure products and a friend recommended an “allergy bomb” recipe, which includes 2 drops each of lemon, lavender, and peppermint, to help my spring allergies. I just went top the local grocery store and bought Aura Cacia oils.. they’re half the price of Genesis Pure and I wanted them that day. Since I’ve been taking them (this is something I’m swallowing) I’ve had high level itching on arms and legs and kind of a rash. Would ingesting impure essential oils cause that? My friend who gave me the recipe thinks I’m just detoxing..?

  • robert

    Hi Colleen, I am not a big fan of taking any essential oils with water, and would not recommend that. But, I don’t know what result you are looking for.

  • robert

    Hi Julie, it is entirely possible that you have had an allergic reaction to one of the essential oils you ingested. It is possible that that the lemon oil might have oxidized in the bottle in the store, and this increases the risk of allergy. It’s also possible that you are simply allergic to one of those oils. It has nothing to do with detoxing – that’s a total myth.

  • Zach

    I have heard you can take essential oils in water if you mix honey in first. Is this true. Also what is your though on the neat use of oils and the internal use of many oils that some MLM companies say its ok. Is it safe. Is there research showing its safe. I would really love to know this because I have heard so many different opinions. Thanks in advance. :)

  • robert

    Hi Zach – yes true, if you make a syrup with honey (or other sugary substance) then the EOS will dissolve much better, which makes taking them safer. I think whether EOs are “safe” to take internally depends – on who, how, how much, how often, why, etc. So for me, there’s not a simple answer. Sometimes it’s fine, sometimes not. I will write more about this on my blog.

Essential Oil Safety

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