What are Therapeutic-Grade Essential Oils?

Diane Barnard

Essential oils are plant-derived oils that evaporate quickly into the air. They are very aromatic and most commonly used in perfume. Many people use essential oils for the therapeutic benefits of being antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic. Therapeutic-grade essential oils are suitable for these healing uses as well as for aiding in emotional well-being. They also are referred to as aromatherapy oils.

A jar of lotion containing therapeutic-grade essential oil.
A jar of lotion containing therapeutic-grade essential oil.

Fragrance oils and essential oils are sometimes thought to be the same thing. Fragrance oils are manmade combinations of fragrances, some natural and some synthetic. These oils are less expensive and most often used by soap-makers to add scent to their products. Essential oils are derived from plants, and the higher quality oils are unadulterated.

Citrus essential oils are known for their uplifting scent.
Citrus essential oils are known for their uplifting scent.

There is no certification process to ensure that the types of aromatherapy oils are therapeutic-grade. There are, however, commonly accepted practices involved in the growing, harvesting and distilling of therapeutic-grade essential oils. Understanding these practices is essential to obtaining the best essential oils.

For the best therapeutic results to be achieved, essential oils must be potent. Potency is insured when the oils are pure, properly harvested and gently distilled. Therapeutic-grade essential oils are not cut or diluted with any substance.

The finest quality is obtained by choosing the correct variety of the species to be grown. The selection is made based on which cultivar will produce the most vigorous and broadest range of constituents. Pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers are avoided in the plant culture because they can adulterate the final product.

To produce quality, therapeutic-grade essential oils, harvesting is done at the correct time of the season for each plant variety. The timing is very important because of the impact it has on the quality of the oil. Timing is based on when the plant oils are at their highest levels. Even the time of day that the plants are gathered is important and can influence the quality of the essential oil.

Low-temperature, low-pressure steam distilling yields the highest-quality oil. The processing time varies for each plant variety and affects the completeness of the final product. Nonreactive stainless steel chambers are important for purity standards. Types of essential oils distilled with chemicals are not considered to be pure for therapeutic use.

When purchasing wholesale essential oils, it is a good practice to determine whether testing has been done. Gas chromatography and mass spectrometer (GC/MS) testing is the accepted method for checking purity. This testing procedure can determine the presence of substances that render the oil unacceptable for therapeutic use.

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