Yesterday I received a very odd phone call from a customer who decided to refuse an order, believing she was being cheated because Aromaceuticals products are not labeled "therapeutic grade". She also believed that the word "pure" on our label was a disingenuous statement, which she apparently equated with adulteration and/or dilution. I immediately offered to send her certificates of analysis on every oil she'd purchased, but she was not interested in viewing the documentation (which, by the way, we will supply to anyone with purchase when requested).
Admittedly, there is a bit of a learning curve when purchasing and using essential oils. Educating customers comes along with the turf, and is part of the responsibility of being a clinical aromatherapist.
There is no such thing as a "therapeutic grade" essential oil. The phrase "therapeutic grade" is a marketing term that was coined by a very large multi-level marketing company in an effort to legitimize their product in the eyes of the average consumer. Other companies followed suit by adopting this misleading term in their marketing, causing even more confusion for the typical uninitiated user (And this is just one of many misleading terms used in the industry. My own pet peeve is "high altitude lavender", but I'll address that one in another post).
There is no grading system, formal or informal, within the aromatherapy industry for rating essential oils. Such a system has never existed. Nor am I the first person in the industry to blog on this particular subject. Tony Burfield, Robert Tisserand and Martin Watt, who all have considerable expertise in the field, have also sounded off about companies using the fake "therapeutic grade" claim.
Essential oil quality, like wine quality, has a wide variance. It is contingent upon many things: soil health, weather conditions, proper cultivation or wildcrafting techniques, skill of the distiller, distillation temperature, length of distillation, appropriate product storage, and ethics of any middlemen involved along the way, to name just a few considerations. There are some product certifications available, such as AFNOR, but these simply indicate that a given oil falls within certain parameters set by the cosmetic and fragrance industries, which have no interest whatsoever in therapeutic application of essential oils. Essential oil production is a huge worldwide business, and the majority of production is bought up by these two industries, where quality is not necessarily the foremost consideration.
To complicate matters, many aromatherapy users have never experienced truly fine quality oils and don't recognize them when sampled, having noses that are acclimated to artificial fragrance or cheap oils. For instance, many do not realize that a high quality lavender will not smell cloyingly sweet. Or that an artisanal, organic French peppermint will have a soft, complex bouquet rather than the harsh, in-your-face aroma of a factory-farmed American peppermint oil purchased at a Big Box grocer.
In the end, I couldn't convince my would-be customer that while "pure" can be good, "therapeutic grade" is meaningless. Unfortunately, she preferred to believe deceptive marketing over truth, and that saddens me. I know that I can't convert every aromatherapy enthusiast, but I'll settle for those one in a million rather than one of a million.