Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
posted on Oct 11, 2018
The term 'therapeutic grade oil' has become quite popular over the last five or so years but it has no legal or measurable definition and as such is a term of limited value.
There has been an attempt to link the term 'therapeutic grade oil' with the practice of ingesting oils but this is also baseless. The practice of ingesting essential oil is therapeutic in nature and as such it follows that this should only be undertaken when prescribed by a suitably qualified professional based on a specific need, dose and time frame. This activity sits in the therapeutic realm and relies on checking oil quality against specific monographs (ISO/ USP/ EP etc) which dictate suitable oil composition ranges. Oils that have a pharmacopeia specification could be referred to as 'Therapeutic' quality but there is no provision in the pharmacopeia for dictating that these oils should be from a single source (what might be referred to as pure), only that they meet the chemistry and botanical origin requirement. So, it is possible to acquire an oil which meets a specific pharmacopeia standard because it has been 'manufactured' by combining several different batches of oil. In addition, the oil may have also been modified via the addition of aroma chemical isolates of either natural or nature-identical origin to best meet the relevant specification.
When all the above is taken into consideration we can see that there are potentially two different things that the client asking for 'Therapeutic Grade' oils might be looking for:
For clients wanting a pharmacopeia grade oil, because they are looking to add the ingredient as an active into a listed medical product or device, the best way to ascertain if an oil is suitable is to refer to the original specification and C of A. This data can be compared to the pharmacopeia relevant to the client and if there is a match, the oil is likely to be suitable for that application. Sometimes there can be a match in grade or quality of oil but because, as a supplier, New Directions isn't registered with the TGA as a pharmaceutical supplier/ manufacturer and the oil may still not be suitable for the client's purpose while in other cases this is not an issue.
For clients who were asking the question in hope of receiving only the best quality and purest oils that can be addressed in a different way. Oil purity is a measure of oil origin plus the omission of any contaminants. This can be confirmed by the product specification, botanical name/ plant part etc and the manufacturing flow chart. The quality can also be checked organoleptically by smelling and looking at the oil. Further analytical testing can be carried out, if required, to confirm oil chemistry, this testing can range in price from around $50 per test to more than $300 depending on what is required. There are laboratories around Australia that offer this service.
In terms of quality, it is possible for an oil to be pure but to be of low quality. Quality can be quite subjective but generally what we'd be meaning is that the oil might fall short of the ideal in terms of its chemistry and odour profile (these two things are intrinsically linked). Oils can fall short in their chemistry when the distillation process, filling and storage of oils is sub-optimal, but they can also fall short when environmental conditions are challenging such as when there is a drought, frosts, flooding or heat waves. As these negative factors fall into two camps: Operator/ processor influenced and 'acts of God' (a term for things like the weather that can't be controlled) it is possible for a very experienced oil producer to produce a very bad quality oil crop on occasion. In some cases, this will lead to a reduction in the volume of oil put onto the market as producers hold poor quality oil back for blending with other oils later, while in other cases the oil will be sold as is but possibly at a lower price point if that oil is still in good supply.
The final part of the puzzle is general oil desirability which is quite a personal measure as this generally covers how we respond to an oil. Interestingly, the way an oil is branded and even the sales environment can contribute to how we feel about it. Outside of that is the more up-close-and-personal experience of the oil, how it smells and looks. Smell is a very powerful emotion and a we all pick up on different notes within an oil and form our opinions based on that and the memories and feelings that they evoke. For this reason, it is impossible to really suggest that one oil is totally superior to another because that final judgement is always somewhat personal.
In summary, while it is important that we understand the actual meaning of the words we use to describe and select essential oils, what is more important is that we eventually connect with the best oil for us at that moment in time. To increase the changes of that happening we recommend taking a little more time, asking a few more questions and do a bit more sniffing before signing off or discarding an oil. Oh, and if you do have time to pop into our showroom you can always come and give them all a sniff!