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 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 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.”


Robert Tisserand

By |2018-04-24T20:26:15+00:00April 10th, 2010|Aromatherapy / Research|74 Comments

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  1. Skip Kanester April 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Robert you are the MAN! Thank you for being a voice of reason and knowledge. More importantly, thank you for calling people on their BS! To often people will be reluctant to speak up when confronted with individuals or companies spreading misinformation to further their agenda (and profit motive). Fact and fiction are not differences of opinion. Massage magazine should be ashamed. Instead they give an idiotic response, in essence saying, “we don’t know anything so it’s inappropriate that we educate ourselves before we send info out the our industry”.
    Being in the wellness and massage industries for several decades I must say that I will counsel all my students to stay away from that publication and instead seek out those who want to actually get good info out to the public. For example, THIS website.

  2. Ann Wooledge April 10, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Robert – I know I’ve read that more than a few times in some of the main stream aromatherapy books and think I was told that in my aromatherapy classes – about the 2% thing. So, it is a perception that I myself also have and have, therefore, spent long hours trying to determine if my sources are selling me what they say they are and who my sources should be – long hours and dollars spent to attend conferences to rub elbows with those who should know. However, at that time in 2006, organic essential oils were not readily or at all available. I have also read and have been told by those who should know, that just because an oil is certified organic, there is still no guarantee that said essential oil is not adulterated or for that matter really organic. The argument that I was given was that no one stays around to make sure that the material actually placed into the still was the same that was grown in the organic soil. We live in a world of distrust and for good reason as we look around at the greed in high places. I know this doesn’t address your issues about your article but was and always will be interested in any discussion concerning what constitutes an unadulterated oil. That being said, I would think there are certain things to consider when purchasing an oil and the chances it may or may not be adulterated. Some oils are naturally inexpensive and there would be nothing gained by adulterating them. If you look at how many acres of a particular oil are said to have been grown for a particular year and for that same year there was a great more essential oil sold than could have been produced – then you know you probably have an issue. I know that you know far more about this issue than I do, but I would like to see more discussion concerning what things would throw up a red flag when purchasing an oil from a particular supplier. The internet is now so absolutely full of people selling essential oils and copying and pasting the same old information that it is a bit overwhelming. My concern is the same as other clinical aromatherapists and that is that people will try a particular oil, find that it doesn’t work because it is either adulterated or the person selling the oil really doesn’t have a clue which oil or chemotype should be used for a particular purpose, so the client then assumes that any and all claims made by the aromatherapy industry are false or vastly overstated. This is true in research studies that have been done as well. Is there an answer? I would like to see an article by someone as knowledgeable as yourself that gives you a list of possible red flags and things to consider when looking for suppliers, particularly bulk suppliers.

  3. robert April 10, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Ann,

    A genuine therapeutic grade standard for essential oils is a great idea, it just doesn’t exist at this point in time. What does exist is the ISO standard, for many essential oils – – and for organic certification, an organization called IFOAM – – the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, which was formed in 1972. Certified organic essential oils have been available since the 1980s. Maybe not in your local health store, but they were being produced.

    Organic certification involves an ongoing process of inspection and checking, and it is therefore costly. Small enterprises generally cannot afford it (though they may still be offering genuine organic oils) and large companies take a massive risk if they intentionally label a non-organic product as organic.

    Yes, essential oil adulteration exists, though this doesn’t always involve synthetic chemicals. One of the most common frauds is to add lavandin oil to lavender oil, though this is not difficult to detect with GC analysis. But, the idea that virtually all essential oils that are sold in health stores are, by definition, adulterated, is baseless. There is no evidence for it, and there never has been any.

    Where are the adulterated oils? Most of them probably end up in cheap fragrances.

  4. Lora Cantele April 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Robert,
    Boy you are having a time of it with your information being either misrepresented or presented in a horrible way. I am glad you chose to write the magazine and address the issue here on your website.

    Kendra Kirkham wrote a really great article a few years ago for the IFPA Journal “In Essence” about the lack of any formal essential oil “grading” system for aromatherapy and provided clear information about the topic, as well as explain the use of the words “therapeutic grade” as a marketing tool for a certain MLM essential oil company. It’s a shame that many others now elect to coin the bogus term. I understand the thought is to express that their oils may be of higher quality or perhaps used in clinical settings, but use of such terms only adds to consumer confusion. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of the masses.

  5. Karen Menehan April 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I’m the editor in chief at MASSAGE Magazine, and I’m commenting here to address some of the information in this blog posting.

    We published “Powerful Tools in a Small Bottle,” by Dawn-Mari Yurkovic, online, in conjunction with “Essential Oils: Premium Quality Yields Premium Results,” by Robert Tisserand, which ran in our March print issue.

    First, in response to Robert’s concern regarding the connection made between his Guest Editorial and Dawn-Mari Yurkovic’s companion article, I have gone into our online files and removed the reference to Robert’s article from Dawn-Mari’s article.

    Robert’s point about our Table of Contents layout is a good one, and so we will list the print Guest Editorial title and author byline in future issues’ Table of Contents. We will make this change beginning with our June issue.

    Also, according to Dawn-Mari, although there isn’t a worldwide or country-wide board setting legal standards for therapeutic-grade essential oils (which in fact was never stated nor inferred in her article), there are companies creating their own standards.

    For anyone who hasn’t read Dawn-Mari’s article, here is a link to it:

    Here is a link to Robert’s article:

    Finally, we do fact check. Any belief to the contrary is based on misunderstanding.

    Karen Menehan
    MASSAGE Magazine

  6. Sherrin Bernstein April 15, 2010 at 8:00 am

    “companies creating there own standards” is why we have certifying organizations; to ensure truth in advertising and obtainable measureable repeatable standards. If it were ok to have every company creating their own standards we’d have more problems. Oh yeah we do, Sallie and Freddie, Enron… That’s why we voted for Obama because this type of side stepping around responsibility and being honest is not acceptable. Thank you Robert, I was trying to figure out where I got this notion of “therapeutic grade” when I couldn’t find a certifying body that provided that term. I am fairly sure I got it from some YL distributor. It’s one of the reasons I value having found you and bought your books etc. You cut through the cr_p out there. Thank you.

  7. Mad Writer November 18, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    This is not the first time something like this has happened at Massage Magazine. It seems like the editorial staff just takes the parts for other writer’s work they like and give credit to the people that advertise with them. My advice, doesn’t even submit work to them. Someone else will just end up with the credit.

  8. Hannah Elise May 28, 2012 at 8:23 am

    So, what’s your take on companies like Young Living Oil, which basically give me the vibe of “our oil is the only true and pure one out there”. I’m not sold on the idea, and don’t know that I’ll be purchasing anything other than their Thieves blend, when it comes to EOs for my soaps, lotions, and salves. I know you’re mainly addressing aromatherapy and massage here, but would the same principles apply to homemade healthcare products, as well?

  9. Robert Tisserand May 28, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Hannah, all the multi-level-marketing companies say that theirs are the only true and pure essential oils. But, they all buy from the same distillers and wholesale suppliers as every other aromatherapy business. (And notice how they will spin stories that make it sound as if they buy all their oils from unique sources…) Somehow they have to justify their much higher prices, which are needed to support the MLM business model. Their products are similarly priced. Great quality, but you can get the same great quality from many other sources, with less hype, and less mark-up.

  10. Susie July 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I am wondering if you have had any experience with doTerra essential oils or have done any research on them. They are supposed to be the purest of the pure, so pure that they can be taken internally. In your opinion, is this just marketing hype or do you think they have a superior product? Any thoughts would be welcome.

  11. Robert Tisserand July 17, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Susie, yes, I have seen most of the Do Terra essential oils, and yes, it’s almost all hype. There are many suppliers to the aromatherapy community, who provide essential oils that are at least as good as Do Terra, and often cost less because they don’t have the whole multi-level marketing structure to finance. I think it’s very sad that the MLM companies find it necessary to resort to negative marketing in order to sell their essential oils.

  12. Rebecca July 26, 2012 at 9:19 am

    I need the advice of an expert on essential oils–not the advice of an expert pushing sales for an essential oil company! Can you help me?

    I was introduced to essential oils through the Young Living company and have enjoyed using their oils for aromatherapy, topically, and internally. And while I believe their oils are great quality, I would like to expand my horizons and see about using good quality oils from other, smaller, reputable companies.

    HOWEVER, I am bombarded on all sides by YL folks (or doTerra folks, etc.) who emphatically state that I will be poisoning my body if I use anyone else’s oils TOPICALLY or INTERNALLY–even if these smaller companies claim high, organic, rigidly tested standards. I am no chemist or scientist and I am at the mercy of believing (or not believing) what all these essential oil companies tell me.

    What I truly want is to be able to wisely and knowledgably use essential oils for myself and family, believing they are a quality that would benefit our bodies. I understand that there are no offical “therapeutic” standards for essential oils, but is there a solid list of “must have” qualifications that I can look for in a brand and feel comfortable using them–even if they may not be the “best” on the market? Like other nutritional supplements, I may not always be able to afford the “best”–but I do want to use products that are trustworthy, safe and effective.

    Can you, or any people you can recommend, give me some sound, unadulterated advice on essential oils? And is it true that I should never use oils topically or internally unless they have the YL or doTerra labels on them?

  13. robert July 31, 2012 at 7:45 am


    If you are branching out and looking at other suppliers, you could ask for GC (gas chromatography) traces. Most ethical suppliers offer them now, so it’s a way to establish credibility. If you are looking at organic essential oils you should ask for proof of organic certification.

    No, it’s not true that “other” essential oils are harmful, and should not be used internally or externally! Has someone told you that there is something impure about certified organic essential oils? Both Young Living and Do Terra buy many of their essential oils from the same industry suppliers that some of the companies listed above buy from. How do I know? Because I have been in the industry since 1974, and suppliers talk. And anyway, there are only so many producers of certain oils.

    Are any of your MLM contacts prepared to put in writing which essential oil suppliers they are referring to? Does anyone have any concrete evidence that essential oils from another supplier are poisonous? This mud-throwing is not worthy of any ethical business, and has no basis in truth. It is very tired nonsense.

  14. Rebecca July 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    From the best that I can understand it, YL claims that their method of testing goes far and beyond almost any other in the US. They state that the GC column length should be at least 50-60 meters in order to allow “double-phased ramping–which makes it possible to identify constituents that occur in very small percentages by increasing the separation of compounds.” YL states that almost all US labs only use a 30-meter column in their testing. The extent of this testing apparently is able to spot possible toxins that would be damaging to the brain, etc. at a molecular level.

    YL also uses chiral columns in order to distinguish between synthetic and natural oils and which also allows a chemist to identify structural varieties of the same compounds.

    Beyond these two methods of testing, I’m not clear that YL does any other kind of testing than any other reputable essential oil company. They do, however, make a big deal about “improper distillation” which they say will produce toxins within the oil that will harm the brain.

    You said that YL and other MLM companies buy some of their oils from other suppliers. YL’s promotional DVDs and literature make viewers believe that everything in their bottles is in their control from “seed to seal.” However, upon closer inspection of one of their manuals, I do see references to their purchases from other distillers (upon whom they put high standards). YL stresses the importance of such things as the precise timing of harvesting plants (even to the time of day), and the timing in distilling plants (and heat/pressure used). They deem all these things as absolutely vital to making a high quality, “therepeutic” essential oil.

    So, between their “extra” or more extensive methods of testing, their control over growth and harvest, the use of their own labs and equipment (which Gary Young states are the only instruments in the world that are matched and calibrated to the instruments used at the National Center for Scientific Research in France), YL openly declares that their oils are “therapeutic” grade and no other oils but their own are fully safe to be used neat or internally.

    I also read over and over in their literature that their oils “often exceed industry requirements.” What industry? And what requirements?

    YL also prides itself in being the first company to have such high quality oils that they can be used intra-venously and intra-muscularly. Do you have any comment on these methods? Are other companies’ oils equipped to be used in such a way?

    So, what do you think? Does YL go to all this extra effort so that they can say great things on their labels and make lots more money (thus providing more means to pay for the insurance it must take to say those great things), or truly because it makes their oils far superior and safer than what the rest of the world has to offer?

    My gut feeling is that YL users are ONLY “YL users”–not “essential oil users”. We as users are made to feel comfortable using substances that we really know very little about–because YL assures us that as long as we use their products, with a few safety precautions, all will be well.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but would it not be more prudent to treat essential oils much like any other herbal/nutrional supplement and actually LEARN HOW TO USE THEM properly as oils–and choose good companies afterward–not the other way around?

  15. robert August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am


    YL may use 60 m columns, but that’s really no big deal, lots of companies use them.

    Toxins that will damage the brain? Sounds like fearmongering. What toxins?

    YL seems to think it is the only company in the world who knows how distillation should be done. The conceit is stunning, especially since YL has often shown its ignorance in this field.

    And yes, they absolutely buy from other distillers. If you are using/selling a wide range of essential oils that come from radically different climates, there is no other option.

    I would absolutely hope that they have some control “from seed to seal” and again, why does YL think this is so special?

    They are talking about industry practices that are many years older than YL itself.

    There is no “therapeutic grade” of essential oil. Many essential oils, however, are used in food flavorings. Are these not fit for human consumption?

    So YL oils can be used intravenously and intramuscularly? This sounds like a seriously desperate attempt to impress! Which hospitals are they used in? Can I take a weekend course in iv administration?

    Every company likes to think they sell the best product. Sometimes the antics required to convince yourself of this just make you look ridiculous.

  16. Rebecca August 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

    It sounds like you have a bone to pick with YL. : ) Have you ever interacted with representatives from their company and posed your comments to them?

    Thank you for taking time to answer my questions. I still feel a bit muddled about the subject, and still don’t feel that I have confident, validated proof to stand up to my YL friends and acquaintances, but maybe things will become more clear if I am able to study things out more for myself. There are so many differing opinions out there about how to use essential oils–would be nice to just have some straight, hard facts.

    All companies and marketing aside, how do YOU most effectively use essential oils and do you have a resource to recommend that gives good guidelines to the beginner (i.e. which oils can be used topically and internally, and recommended dilutions, etc.) I have heard of a big reference book called The Complete Book of Essential Oils to be good–are you familiar with this title?

    I appreciate your experienced insights on essential oils. Do you have any recommendations of any other people who I could learn from as well?

  17. robert August 1, 2012 at 10:58 am


    I have put time and energy into responding to your questions. You keep coming back with more, but you are not responding to mine, except to tell me that I have a “bone to pick”. You want facts? I’m giving you facts!

    There are a number of information resources on this site, and you can find books here:

  18. Rebecca August 1, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I think you misunderstand my tone completely. I am not trying to be difficult and obnoxious. I am genuinely seeking answers. As to your questions, I have understood most of them to be rhetorical to make your point.

    However, I see you really wanted some responses to your questions. Regarding your question about toxicity to the brain, here is a statement posted by a Rep from YL:

    “The other important thing to understand is that any synthetic or improperly distilled component of the oil is very toxic! Because true essential oil constituents are so amazing at delivering nutrients to the cells (even pharma is using them for 100-4000X + increased absorption) that any synthetic, additive or improperly distilled oil components will get driven deep into the brain and cells by the real oil components making them very toxic.”

    As to your other questions whether MLM companies are willing to put in writing which supplier’s oils are toxic or whether there is documented evidence of toxic damage–I don’t know. I was hoping you could tell ME that.

    As to where oils are being used in IVs, I don’t know either–but here again is a quote from the Rep from YL:

    “Young Living owns the 4 largest distillers, partners with the next 2 largest, distills on 5 continents, farms much of their own production, is the first company to use oils Intra-muscularly, the first company to use oils intra-venously, the first company to use oils as dietary supplements, is the only company that is AFNOR, EC and ISO certified Therapeutic Grade, their oils never expire, are used topically neat even on day old infants etc…”

    Please understand that I am in no way trying to waste your time or belittle what you say. Perhaps you can see my point of view and appreciate that I am trying to find out truth for what it is–and not merely opinion.

    If it is possible for you to give me any of the documented information from which you have been speaking, or direct me to those sources, I would be grateful. I do not doubt what you are telling me, but I’m sure you would agree that telling others “Robert Tisserand says…” may not be as convincing as “Robert Tisserand provided this documented evidence that says…”

    Again, please don’t view me as antagonistic. I am the busy mama of 6 children, seeking to learn and serve my family in the best ways possible. I would be grateful for your patience and understanding.

  19. robert August 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    “The other important thing to understand is that any synthetic or improperly distilled component of the oil is very toxic! Because true essential oil constituents are so amazing at delivering nutrients to the cells (even pharma is using them for 100-4000X + increased absorption) that any synthetic, additive or improperly distilled oil components will get driven deep into the brain and cells by the real oil components making them very toxic.”

    OK, let’s dissect this.

    “Any improperly distilled component is very toxic”

    Partly true. If an essential oil is distilled at too high a temperature, too low a temperature, or for too long, this *can* increase the concentration of toxic components or artifacts. But to say that *any* improperly distilled component is toxic is simply not true. Toxicity is not determined by whether a substance is a genuine essential oil constituent. Toxic constituents can also be formed during normal distillation, hydrocyanic acid (“cyanide”) being the classic example – in bitter almond oil.

    Let’s re-visit one point – if distillation is too long – this can increase the toxicity of the oil. This is because there will be a greater concentration of low-boiling fractions, and sometimes these include relatively toxic substances. Yet how often have I heard that commercial distilleries “shorten” distillation times for profit reasons? That genuine, therapeutic grade essential oils have to be distilled for longer, in order to extract all the important trace constituents?

    “Any synthetic component of the oil is very toxic”

    How can an essential oil contain a synthetic component? Presumably this refers to an adulterated oil. I hope I don’t have to say much here, as anyone with any scientific credibility knows that the degree of synthetic-ness or natural-ness has no correlation with toxicity. Perhaps the cyanide in bitter almond oil will serve as an example here too.

    “Because true essential oil constituents are so amazing at delivering nutrients”

    What nutrients? What cells? Essential oils do not contain nutrients – they contain no vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, or any other type of nutrient. I have never seen any research that pertains to essential oils delivering nutrients to cells. Essential oil constituents have been used to enhance percutaneous absorption of pharmaceuticals, delivering them via the skin into the blood. But this pertains neither to nutrients nor cells. So the statement makes no sense.

    We do know, however, that only certain essential oil constituents are absorbed by human skin, so as far as the dermal route is concerned, it cannot be assumed that any substance applied to the skin will be absorbed by it.

    “any synthetic, additive or improperly distilled oil components will get driven deep into the brain and cells by the real oil components making them very toxic.”

    The fact that a substance enters the body – whether blood, brain, or other parts – does not inherently make it toxic, and as I have already explained, the origin of a substance has no direct bearing on its toxicity.

    This is junk science, and obviously meant to create fear that any “other” brand of essential oil will be harmful. If it’s not distilled exactly right, toxins will enter your brain? And people actually believe this nonsense?

    I will address one more point – AFNOR is an organization that sets standards (for foods) in France, but it does not certify essential oils, nor does the EC. The EC has safety regulations, and any cometic product sold in an EC member country has to abide by those regulations which include, for example, a maximum of 0.1% for cinnamon bark oil. I wonder if all YL products adhere to EC guidelines? There are (international) ISO standards for many essential oils, and almost all essential oil wholesalers and suppliers the world over conform to the ISO standards. None of these have anything to do with a so-called “therapeutic grade” which only exists in the minds of MLM companies.

    So just to be clear – there is no “therapeutic grade” for any essential oil that relates to AFNOR, the EC, or ISO, and there are no separate essential oil standards set by AFNOR or the EC. So we are left with one thing – YL conforms to ISO standards. Great, that’s a good thing, but it’s far from unique. I think I already said most of this in the article that these comments derive from.

  20. Janice Norris August 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I am a part of a different MLM essential oil company that I trust very much. They have their own “standard” of quality which makes sense to me. They are clear in their communications that the standard is developed by them but tested outside the company (independent verification of their standard). One of the things they measure is the quantity of the various constituents of each oil. My understanding from them and other sources is that the constituents do need to be at a particular level or within a particular range in order to produce the desired benefit. Is this also “junk science?”

    I will continue to trust this particular company because I do get reliable, consistent results and I cannot say that about all the eo companies from which I’ve obtained oils, including YL.

  21. Nicole August 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you for you honest and brave view. I’ll keep this short. I have been studying herbs for some what of 7 years but will probley be studying a life time. Until recently introduced to a MLM company I had always understood that essential oils weren’t to be taken internally. What are your views on this interal use? Thank you.

  22. robert August 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Janice – no, it’s not at all junk science, and this is what ISO standards are all about – the maximum and minimum ranges of key constituents. This does of course vary with different chemotypes, as well as different species, and it can also vary with geographical origin. So there is an ISO standard for peppermint oil from the USA, and a different one for the rest of the world. (this is not elitism – ISO standards are not US-based.)

    I think the ISO standards are a good thing, though if an essential oil does not conform, that does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with it. Also, the ISO standards were not created with therapeutic properties in mind – just good quality oils. But most of the time, the standards work to improve quality and discourage adulteration.

    Different chemotypes / species / origins generally denote different effects. So if you want a calming action from lavender, you might choose one high in linalool, perhaps French or Ukranian, and if you want a lavender that’s good for insect bites or repelling fleas, you might choose one that’s also high in some of the minor constituents – probably Australian, Bulgarian, or a lavandin.

  23. robert August 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Nicole – this has been a controversial issue for most of my lifetime, and still is – so there’s no simple answer. Let me put it this way – I know someone who died needlessly because she thought she could treat herself with essential oils. But generally, I don’t have a problem with people self-treating. What I do have a problem with is people treating others medicinally when they don’t understand the pharmacology and toxicology of essential oils, or the pathology of disease. Some of the risks include mucous membrane irritation, fetal damage in pregnancy, drug interactions, and seizures. When oils are taken orally, or otherwise used intensively, these risks all increase.

  24. Suzy August 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm


    Thank you so much for addressing this subject. It is one that I struggle with constantly, and try desperately to help my clients and students understand. You have spoken eloquently and, more important, factually on the subject without anger or judgement, something that I tend to find it very hard to do.

    One of my biggest frustrations of late has been a MLM company, I won’t name names and start a whole “thing”, but they state that they have a patent on “certified therapeutic grade”. In actuality, if you research the information, the only thing that is patented, is the logo that states “certified therapeutic grade”. It has nothing to do with the actual product, just the advertising.

    The thing that upsets me most is that we all have the opportunity to reach out and help those in need using Essential oils. Yet rather than provide a solid education to their distributors, these companies seem to spend more time on the “us against them” mentality, which in the long run only serves to hurt the client, and the industry as a whole.

  25. Janice Norris August 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Oh, my, I need to apologize. I evidently left my reply/question before the entire page of this thread had loaded. I didn’t see that you and others had mentioned doTERRA. That is the company I’m with and I do trust them very much. As I indicated before, much of that trust is based on my experience of their oils compared to other oils I’ve used over the last 20 years.

    Beyond experiencing great results with their oils, I happen to like network marketing and have been involved with a few companies in the past. My experience of doTERRA is that there is less hype than with others. There is enthusiasm and dedication which could be seen as “hype,” and they do have a pretty incredible story with a lot of pride in their product.

    Beyond their story, though, I really like the MLM way of getting the word out. I firmly believe that every household should know about and have essential oils on hand and word of mouth marketing and education just works…most of the time. I am also aware that I can attend an educational event with a friend and come away with different “information” than he or she did. I’m really fortunate to live in New Mexico where we have a large but tight-knit doTERRA community. If we hear someone making statements that are obviously misinterpretations or misrepresentations of the company and/or the product, someone will reel them in. Likewise, they will be reeled in if they’re heard to be prescribing what someone should use.

    Again, so sorry that I had not read the entire thread before replying.
    Thank you for your valuable information.

    Janice Norris

  26. Kasey August 3, 2012 at 10:39 am

    This is fantastic information! Thank you so much, Robert, for taking the time to write such detailed explanations of various claims. It is so useful and appreciated to the beginner EO user.

  27. robert August 3, 2012 at 10:58 am


    I’m pleased to hear that you are happy with your supplier. Personally, I prefer certified organic oils, and I don’t look to essential oil purveyors for information about aromatherapy. We already have a problem with conventional health care being controlled by pharmaceutical companies, and going down the same road with essential oils doesn’t feel right to me.

  28. Janice Norris August 3, 2012 at 11:52 am

    This is a bit frustrating. I participated here to state my experience. I never anticipated being at odds with you or anyone else on this thread. I have read and studied many, many books, including information from you. Because someone is involved in an MLM doesn’t take away their intelligence nor their curiosity. Most people in the company I am with have at least a nodding acquaintance with a variety of alternative health practices, many are practitioners. I’m sorry if your experience of MLMs has caused you to lump them together. Not every company, MLM or not, can be categorized as the enemy. DoTERRA tests every batch of oils for purity and potency using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry and a variety of other tests. I am confident that these tested oils will match the purity of certified organic. Since you also sell essential oils, should we also distrust you? I know that you are stating your “preference” but seriously, you are Robert Tisserand, esteemed in the e.o. world, including being esteemed by at least some of the owners and many members of doTERRA. Also, if essential oils wiggle in to conventional health care or simply into our home health care, that does serve to disempower pharmaceutical companies. Talking “Big Pharma” is a topic for another time but staying small doesn’t really help the fight against legislation that’s funded by them via their lobbyists.

  29. robert August 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Janice, I hope we are not at odds. For the record, whenever people ask me about either Do Terra or Young Living, I tell them that they are very good quality oils, which they are. I mean it when I say I’m glad you are happy with your supplier. And don’t take this as an attack on you – it isn’t – but I don’t subscribe to the MLM business model for aromatherapy. Maybe I am generalizing too much, but what I see is some problematic bending of facts (see above discussion) in order to sell product. And some flirtation with the boundaries of safety that make me uncomfortable. When selling product is your motivation, this is perhaps not surprising. As for me, I do not receive a paycheck from Tisserand Aromatherapy, and almost never mention the company.

  30. Lindalu Forseth August 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I do have issues with YL because they are not actually training their distributors in Aromatherapy, just their version. Having had a cousin die from ingesting Wintergreen when she was a toddler. Her mother had been responsible and placed the bottle in a very high cupboard but the older daughter helped her little sister climb up to get it. She was dead by the time her mum found her. By encouraging people to eat essential oils without the appropriate training to understand what oils are actually safe is irresponsible. Many essential oils which we consider to be GRAS are toxic if over-used as well as taken internally. For instance Eucalyptus, my understanding is that it wouldn’t take much when taken internally to kill you.

    I applaud people learning more about how essential oils can support health, but if they are being fed mis-information it can and does become dangerous. In my opinion essential oils should be treated with the same respect as an over the counter drug.


  31. robert August 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Lindalu, eucalyptus globulus oil is listed by YL as GRAS, but it is not on the FDA GRAS list!

    Very roughly, eucalyptus oil is fatal to humans taken orally at 1 mL per year of age. So one teaspoon fatal in about 50% of 5 year olds. Quite a bit less toxic than wintergreen oil.

  32. Rebecca August 3, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I have enjoyed reading the continued conversation on this thread. Thank you, Lindalu for your comment about YL not training their people in aromatherapy–but just their version. I have been frustrated about the same thing, as I am beginning to realize that there are a bunch of rookies all around me (myself included), that are almost mindlessly using YL essential oils–even in potentially harmful ways–without having a clue as to what makes them tick!

    About Wintergreen…could you clarify for me what is true about this oil? I know of people who are taking it internally (along with lavander) to combat seasonal allergies (approx. 1-3 drops at a time, several times a day). I know of others who may not use Wintergreen at all, due to their concerns of its danger of overdose.

    YL lists Wintergreen as an “FDA-approved food additive.” Those taking it internally for allergy purposes are those encouraged to do so by YL.

    Any thoughts?

  33. robert August 4, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Rebecca – Wintergreen oil is 96-99% methyl salicylate, and neither the oil nor the compound is listed under GRAS (generally recognized as safe) or FA (permitted food additive). However, it is on a list of indirect food additives (substances that are permitted to be present in trace amounts only, and not added intentionally), as a constituent of adhesives used in food packaging.

    As far as I can tell, ‘wintergreen oil’ is not listed anywhere by the FDA. Methyl salicylate IS permitted by the FDA as an indirect food additive, when is is a constituent of an adhesive. It is not on their ‘regular’ indirect food additive list – only the one that applies to adhesives. But I can’t see it on any negative list, and I can’t see a maximum permitted amount.

    In Europe, the ADI (‘acceptable daily intake’) for methyl salicylate is 0.5 mg/kg/day, which equates to about 1 drop of wintergreen oil per adult per day. ADIs are primarily intended to cover the food industry. This regulation does not apply outside of Europe.

  34. Rebecca August 4, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    I’m not so sure that the FDA is always spot on with their statements–sometimes they tend to under–or overreact in they synopsis of what is healthy and what isn’t. However, if methyl salicylate is indeed toxic and they are moderating how much goes into packaging stickers, then should Wintergreen oil be consumed at all (or does the methyl salicylate become more neutralized when consumed with all the constituents of the oil)?

    Would you personally recommend ingesting wintergreen?

  35. robert August 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    There is no difference between wintergreen oil toxicity and methyl salicylate toxicity. Methyl salicylate is one of the ingredients in Listerine, so many people use it daily in a mouthwash, and very small amounts may be ingested. As always, toxicity is in relation to dose. I would suggest that wintergreen oil is not one that should be taken orally as a medicine, unless under the supervision of a doctor or herbalist. There have been many fatalities from (accidental) overdose, and there are a number of toxicity issues – it’s fetotoxic, there are several reasons why it could be problematic in children, it’s extremely blood-thinning, and should be avoided by people with GERD. So it’s not just a question of how much is toxic – it’s also about individual sensitivity. It should absolutely never be taken during pregnancy. Like all salicylates, it causes fetal malformations. Even externally, it can cause problems. I believe it has now been taken out of Tiger Balm because so many people in Asia were experiencing blood-thinning problems (internal bruising in people on blood-thinning drugs).

  36. Rebecca August 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you for all your answers and insights–they have been very helpful! I wonder if you have any friends or colleagues that you might recommend to me to learn from as well as yourself?

  37. Jayden September 2, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Thank you all for your input and time. I too have been confused, frustrated, skeptical, and at times alarmed. What YL consultants don’t realize when they spout comments about micro and chemical biology, are the consequences that come with doing or not doing what they recommend. This is the grey area that is dangerous and the absolute reason and need for the FDA in the pharmaceutical industry. I am in the marketing industry, so I full well understand the MLM model or any other business model. I don’t blame them, for there is no difference between that and what Homeland does vs. Piggly Wiggly or Macy’s vs. JC Penney, or Walmart vs. Kmart… Thanks for helping me understand the real language and science involved.

  38. Larissa R January 15, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I’m researching essential oils for treatment of an ear infection in my little one, and I wondered about “pharmaceutical grade” vs. other types, and your posts here have given me my answer. Your well-written responses to other people above have given me some great insight. I’ll do my due diligence before using anything on my daughter. You’ve done a great job of underscoring the need to know in order to have a safe and desirable outcome. Thank you.

  39. Kylie January 30, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Wow! Thanks for the great, in-depth info!

  40. Francis March 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Robert,

    I want to thank you for writing this piece. As a newbie to oils, I appreciate the time, effort, and education. While for some time, I knew there were things to be gained from EOs, the MLM companies pushing them just didn’t sit right with me. They were expensive and only get cheaper once you become a distributor. Sounds kind of like a pyramid scheme to me.

    Anyway, I found a local store that makes (distills?) their own. I enjoy going there to pick out and purchase my oils. Plus I love to support my community. However, I’m still stuck on the idea of food grade. My local place says their EOs are not food grade and shouldn’t be ingested. So do those MLMs do something to their oils to make them safe to consume or is my local place just saying that to cover their butts?

    I read through this page and the comments and am still confused on the issue of internal use of oils or how to know if a certain oil is safe to consume.

    Thanks for your time.

  41. Joseph March 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Hi Robert, Thanks for all of this information. I am looking to use Essential Oils internally. I am looking to use the citrus oils (orange, lemon, lime) to mix into beverages with water and sugar like a fruit punch. I understand that unless ingested shortly after stirring, I will need an emulsifier to keep the oil from separating and concentrating. I am still a bit hesitant however due to the amount of articles online warning against ingestion. Provided a reasonable dose is used, is there really anything to be afraid of. And do you know of any good sources for edible oils (organic or not) besides the 2 MLMs who make their meaningless “therapeutic grade” claims? Cheers.

  42. Ana Jones March 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

    You are a wealth of information! Thank you so much. I just started getting into YL EOs but am now wondering which brand you recommend instead of YL? I am so new to all of this and would appreciate any help! Thanks

  43. robert March 29, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Hi Joseph,
    Essential oils are widely used in food flavorings, and many of our foods naturally contain them anyway. So small amounts – up to one drop – are not a huge issue, thohg you still need to be aware that gastric irritation is a possibility, so make sure the oil is properly dispersed in whatever the food or excipient is. Taking oils is water is a no-no for this reason.

    Therapeutic/medicinal doses, usually 5-20 drops per day, bring additional risk, including the potential for drug interactions, fetal damage in pregnancy, blood thinning and others. Not for every essential oil, but for quite a few.

  44. robert March 29, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Hi Francis – Food grade oils are approved for use as food flavorings, though it’s a mistake to believe that they are therefore also approved as internal medicines. They are known by the designation FCC (Food Chemicals Codex). Pharmaceutical grade oils are usually known by the designation BP (British Pharmacopoeia) or USP (U.S Pharmacopeia). The two standards are the same. None of the grades particularly applies to the use of essential oils in aromatherapy, and many pharmaceutical grade oils are only approved as flavorings – to make a medicine taste better. Therapeutic grade is a great idea, it just doesn’t exist yet!

    To answer your question – they are just trying to cover their butts. As far as I know, no essential oil supplier to the aromatherapy market does anything to modify their oils before selling them.

  45. Andrew April 5, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Hi Robert,

    RE: ISO standards

    Should one just be looking for a company that has been certified to have complied with ISO standards (what does this entail really?), or can we dig deeper and look at the specifics. For instance, Eden Botanicals have these Certificates of Analysis for many of their products:

    and MSDS sheets:

    The primary constituents are listed, but not in any proportion and I haven’t the foggiest what specific gravity, refractive index, or optical rotation levels are appropriate for what I’m doing (natural perfumery). Steffen Arctander’s “Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin” is a big help overall, but I was wondering if you could comment on this.

    Thanks for your help

  46. Natalie April 8, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks for this info; I have dabbled in herbs, oils, teas & decoctions for several decades. I had started to follow some blogs that were espousing a certain brand of eo, and reading just the comments on your page was very enlightening. I have a question: I have used aura cacia on occasion, and been satisfied, yet you don’t list that in your favored brands, and as you stated, their number of organics is large (largest of any supplier at several of my local health food stores). Wondering about your opinions about them. Thanks! Very useful information!!!

  47. robert April 12, 2013 at 7:44 am


    If it was me, I would look for a company that is happy to supply GCMS traces for all of their essential oils. Eden’s certificate of analysis is great, but as you say, it’s a shame it doesn’t give more detail on constituents. If a company can’t supply MSDS sheets then run a mile, because that’s essential! If they don’t have or will not share CGMS analyses, then they are not getting with the program. If they don’t have these, why don’t they have them? Why are they not not checking up on the quality of the oil they are buying? If they have them but won’t share them, why not? What do they have to hide? I would also look for organic certification. Aromatics International gives a full constituent breakdown for each of their oils on their website.

  48. Andrew April 15, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Thanks Robert,

    I appreciate the advice.

  49. robert April 18, 2013 at 9:37 am

    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.

  50. Amy May 17, 2013 at 8:48 am

    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!

  51. robert May 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

    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:

  52. Kristen June 1, 2013 at 8:18 am

    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!

  53. robert June 1, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Thank you Kristen!

  54. Ana Jones June 25, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Thank you for the information Robert!

  55. Ashley July 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    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!

  56. holly July 16, 2013 at 3:52 am

    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

  57. robert July 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Hi Holly, I suggest you start here:

  58. Michelle November 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    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?



  59. robert November 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm
  60. Clint December 20, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    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?

  61. robert December 21, 2013 at 9:30 am

    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.

  62. Karen Witthoeft January 21, 2014 at 2:02 am

    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.

  63. robert January 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    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: There are several grades of ylang-ylang oil, – extra, I, II, III and complete, but this does not apply to any other essential oil

  64. Melissa March 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    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.

  65. robert March 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Melissa, you could try Aliksir:

  66. Mick April 8, 2014 at 5:03 pm


    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?

  67. robert April 8, 2014 at 6:16 pm

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

  68. Mick April 10, 2014 at 7:13 am

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

  69. Colleen May 6, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    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…

  70. Julie May 9, 2014 at 5:33 am

    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..?

  71. robert May 9, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    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.

  72. robert May 9, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    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.

  73. Zach May 11, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    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. 🙂

  74. robert May 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    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.

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