Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils – Are they all they’re cracked up to be?


Let’s Explore “Therapeutic Grade” Essential Oils

By now you’ve probably heard about essential oils. Aromatherapy is exploding. It seems every company is trying to get on the band wagon and make money off of people trying to live a cleaner lifestyle. In fact, you can even find “Essential Oils” at some major retailers. Seems convenient, right? It may not be as convenient as you think. How do you know what you’re purchasing is really a “Therapeutic Grade” essential oil?

Today I want to set the record straight about the term “Therapeutic Grade” and share with you how to find high quality essential oils.


Let’s examine what an essential oil is. An essential oil is a volatile plant compound attained through methods of steam distillation, pressing, solvent extraction and CO2 extraction. Essential oils come from various parts of the plant such as, seeds, roots, wood, flowers, rinds, and resins, just to name a few. Essential oils are the “Breath of Life” or essence of the plant they are distilled from. Pretty cool, huh?

So how do I know which essential oils are “Therapeutic Grade”?

First let’s look at the definition of therapeutic…

According to therapeutic can be defined as:

“Whether you’re talking about a therapeutic drug or a therapeutic exercise plan, something that is therapeutic helps to heal or to restore health.

1 – adjective, tending to cure or restore to health “a therapeutic agent”, “therapeutic diets”

adjective, relating to or involved in therapy

noun, a medicine or therapy that cures disease or relieve pain”

When it comes to essential oils, the term therapeutic grade can be extremely misleading. “Therapeutic grade” is a clever marketing term and has no validity with regards to the purity of the oil the you are purchasing. At this time there is no universally recognized grading system for essential oils to show their purity. There is also no governing board that oversees the manufacturing and processing of essential oils. It is up to the company that is selling the essential oils to have testing done to verify the essential oils are unadulterated and pure.

Wait a minute?? What?? Well, how do I know if the oils I have been purchasing are the real deal??

I’m glad you asked!!  Let’s look at the definition of therapeutic again, “tending to cure or restore health or relating to or involved in therapy”. Due to their unique chemical make-up and scientifically shown health benefits, it can be safe to say, as long as the essential oil is pure and unadulterated it can be deemed “therapeutic grade”.


ANY COMPANY you purchase essential oils from can have “therapeutic grade” essential oils as long as the oil is pure and unadulterated.

So how do I tell if an essential oil is pure and unadulterated?

One of the ways to ensure an essential oils purity is through Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry testing (GC/MS). GC/MS testing is used in Aromatherapy to determine the precise chemical constituents of an essential oil. GC/MS testing will also show if the oil is pure and unadulterated. GC/MS testing will also identify key constituents in an essential oil which is important to know especially when blending from a therapeutic perspective.

The key constituents of an essential oil can vary based on the country it was grown in, season it was grown in and the weather conditions of the season it was grown in.

For instance, the chemical makeup of a plant could change if it was grown during a drought when typically it is used to seeing a lot of rain.

Example Time!

Let’s look at Lemon (Citrus limon) essential oil. Through the GC/MS testing you will find that Lemon (Citrus limon) is a Monoterpene rich oil high in d-limonene (66%).

The constituent d-limonene is known for helping to activate white blood cells and can be immune supportive. Therapeutically to increase the characteristics of d-limonene in Lemon (Citrus limon) essential oil, you would want to create a synergistic blend by utilizing other oils high in d-limonene. Other oils that share a high percentage of this constituent are:

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) which contains 51% d-limonene

Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) which contains 94% d-limonene

Orange (Sweet) (Citrus sinensis) which contains 97% d-limonene

*Note – the figures above were taken from GC/MS reports I currently have for the above oils. These figures can vary depending on your supplier, where the oil was grown, etc.*

Notice a trend from the oils above? You guessed it! They are citrus oils. In the Aromatherapy world, citrus essential oils (thanks to d-limonene) are renowned for their antimicrobial properties.

Now what? How do I choose the best essential oil company?

By now you’re probably wondering how you can guarantee you are getting the purest unadulterated oil.

Here are some questions you can ask the company you’re thinking about purchasing from:

  1. Do they do GC/MS testing for every batch of oil they receive? (Testing every batch is important, since the chemical makeups can vary from batch to batch.)
  2. Can they provide you with the GC/MS testing? (This can be a red flag if they state they do GC/MS testing, but refuse to provide you with the reports. If they are testing every batch of oil that is received, providing the reports shouldn’t be a problem.)
  3. Is there a Certified Aromatherapist on staff? (Having a Certified Aromatherapist on staff ensures that the oils are being stored properly. A Certified Aromatherapist will also know the shelf life of each oil and can help with quality control, not to mention will be able to analyze the GC/MS for an oils purity.)
  4. How are the plants grown? (Are they wild crafted, organic, certified organic or unsprayed? Are they grown conventionally with the use of pesticides?)
  5. How are the oils distilled? (Steam distillation, pressing, solvent extraction or CO2 extraction?)

What to look for when viewing a website

  1. When looking at the company’s website, do they list the common name as well as the Latin name? (This is important. If we look at Cedarwood for instance, there are a couple different types of Cedarwood. If they only list Cedarwood on their website, how do you know if it’s; Juniperus virginiana, Cedrus deodara or Cedrus atlantica? While they are all Cedarwood, their chemical makeups vary.)
  2. Does the company list the country of origin for their essential oils?
  3. Do they list the plant part distilled, as well as, the method of distillation?
  4. They should also list proper use of the essential oil, as well as, any safety considerations.

In a nutshell…

Based on the definition of therapeutic, any essential oil can be deemed “therapeutic grade” as long as it is pure and unadulterated. Essential oils are powerfully concentrated plant essences that should be handled with great care and respect.

I hope this blog post empowers you to start asking questions about the oils you are planning on or have already purchased. Don’t be afraid to research and ask questions.

Where are you on your essential oil journey? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Want to know the four essential oils I started my collection with years ago? You can read my blog post here. (Bonus?? There’s a recipe for an Easy Peasy Household Cleaner!)

Want to know more about me? Check out my website

Sara Schoenecker, Certified Aromatherapist
Sara is a Certified Aromatherapist and the Owner of Sara loves living a clean lifestyle and believes that what goes on your body is just as important as what goes in it. She finds delight in helping others figure out how to cut chemicals out of their life and believes that proper education is key. The world of essential oils is so vast and with so much misinformation out there, her goal is to help you use essential oils properly in your everyday life.