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You’ve probably seen the terms: “100% pure essential oils”,  “therapeutic grade”, “clinical grade”, “certified essential oils”, “organic”, “locally sourced”.

It is SO confusing, even to people who have casually used essential oils for a long time.

I remember when I was first looking at essential oils for our health there was SO much conflicting marketing information.  It was difficult for me to separate what was fact from what was clever fiction.

Now to be clear, I am not suggesting that companies that use these terms are intentionally trying to mislead consumers.  But I do know that essential oils are a multi-billion dollar a year industry.  It is getting harder and harder to stand out in a very crowded arena.

With hundreds of companies competing for your business it is difficult to stand out.  What essential oil companies must do is market to the end consumer.

It’s all about the marketing

Marketing is, by its very nature, designed to convince you to buy a product.  And over the years, consumers have come to believe that certain oil terms mean better oils. 

On the other hand, people sometimes think oils are less good because they aren’t “clinical” or “therapeutic” or whatever the new fad is.

In my research and in my later aromatherapy training, I found out that a lot of what consumers believe to be true about essential oils is actually false.

Today I’ll share six essential oil terms that really don’t mean much, explain what people tend to believe that they mean, and then explain what you should look for instead.

Sound good?  Great!  Let’s do this.


RELATED:  What the essential oil labels are hiding from you


6 Meaningless Essential Oil Terms and What to Look for Instead!

100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?

100% Pure Essential Oils

What people think it means:

This oil is exactly what the bottle says.  It has only the species of the essential oil listed on the label (if it is listed).  There is nothing in the essential oil other than the pure, undiluted essential oil.  There is nothing else in the bottle.

What it actually means:

There are no standards for the use of “100% pure” on essential oils.  That means that an essential oil with this label does not have to have pure essential oils in it.  These oils may have undisclosed fillers, stretchers, fragrance enhancements, synthetic chemicals, be completely lab created, or any other combination of problems.

Basically, this is the least helpful and most abused of all the essential oil marketing terms.  Without an outside way to enforce quality and purity, companies are 100% self-policing.  Sadly most companies lack the resources to verify the purity of the oils they re-sell.

What to look for instead:

If you are wanting a pure oil, free of synthetic chemicals, undisclosed fillers, and undisclosed cheaper oils then you need to take a hard look at the quality control process of the company.  Where do they get their oils? Do they do any testing to make sure of product purity?  GC/MS testing is not enough to show whether a product has subtle synthetic manipulation, so what tests do they do other than GC/MS?

If they find an adulterated essential oil, what do they do? Do they dispose of it?  Send it back to the source?  Or do they re-sell it until they get complaints (this actually was the response that one company gave)?  An essential oil company who sells high quality products will be able to answer very in-depth questions about their quality control.  You may need to ask to talk with their research department, though, because most general customer service representatives don’t usually deal with these types of questions.

100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?

Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils

What people think it means:

Generally,  people think that essential oils labeled as therapeutic grade have had extra testing to prove that they are extra potent and aromatically active.   Also, people often believe that therapeutic grade means that the oils are more beneficial than other oils.

What it actually means:

Young Living Essential Oils first used the term “therapeutic grade” in the 1990s.  Therapeutic grade was the term they used to distinguish themselves from the fragrance oils crowding the US market at the time.

Other companies started using the term once they saw how well it worked for Young Living.  Unfortunately, there is no way to stop any company, even one with poor quality oils, from using this term.

There is no outside measure of therapeutic grade.  No outside agency holds companies accountable for their oils’ quality.  That is why therapeutic grade is a useless essential oil term.

What to look for instead:

Many factors influence therapeutic activity.   First, the oil actually has to be authentic.  Authentic is an industry term that means that it is the pure unadulterated essential oil of the stated plant.

An experienced team of chemists should test the essential oil to find the proper levels of botanical constituents.  GC/MS testing is not enough to decide the purity or potency of essential oils. Other tests must confirm specific aspects of essential oil purity and activity.

Growing and distilling methods greatly influence essential oil quality and potency.  A quality oil seller can explain how (or if) they are involved in this.

The essential oil should also be free of chemical contaminants.  Pesticide or solvent residues can diminish or alter the therapeutic action of essential oils.


RELATED: The truth about “Therapeutic Grade” essential oils


100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?

Certified Essential Oils

What people think it means:

People tend to believe that certified essential oils are certified by a governmental agency.  Usually, they believe FDA certifies them to be pure and superior to other brands that are not labeled “certified”.  If they don’t think the government certified them, sometimes they’ll think that an aromatherapy industry group did.

What it actually means:

Essential oil certifications are internal certifications.  An internal certification means: “We promise our product is up to our standards.”  They “certify” themselves and hope that they’ve impressed you.

In short, the certification sounds official but isn’t given by any government or even industry standards body.  It is not a reliable or unbiased measure of quality.

What to look for instead:

What does the company do to make sure of quality?  Do they do extensive testing?  Where does their quality control begin?   When they buy the oil from a third-party or do they actually grow and distill their own plants?  The majority of companies buy oils in bulk from third parties. Then they put their own labels on them.  That’s why understanding the supply chain and quality control process of the company you choose is crucial.  It is the only way to objectively determine quality.


RELATED: The Truth about Certified Essential Oils


100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?

Organic Essential Oils

What people think it means:

People rightly believe that the USDA Organic means that the essential oil was not grown with synthetic pesticides or herbicides.  They also assume that this means that the essential oil is the best botanically.   People expect them to work better than other essential oils.

What it actually means:

The only thing that USDA Organic means is that no synthetic pesticides or herbicides were used on the plants.  It does not mean that the company harvested the plants at the right time.  It doesn’t mean that the plants aged before distilling for the right time (if needed).  It also doesn’t mean that the company tested the oils for potency.  Organic only means that the oil is free of chemical contaminants from growing.  It has no influence on the usefulness or potency of the essential oil.

What to look for instead:

Essential oil production is very complex.  The more that the seller knows about the growing and distilling, the better.  Organic growing practices are important.  The company also needs to know about harvesting, aging, and distilling to be able to make a good oil.  Look into the company’s experience and level of involvement.  That is the most important part.


RELATED: Are Young Living’s Essential Oils Organic?


100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?

Clinical Grade Essential Oils

What people think it means:

In my experience, people believe that clinical grade essential oils are higher quality than even therapeutic grade essential oils.  They believe that these oils are exclusively preferred by hospitals, research facilities, and clinical professionals. They also believe that an outside scientific or governmental association has created clinical standards for essential oils.

What it actually means:

Companies give themselves the clinical grade label, similar to certified essential oils.  There is no outside definition.  Researchers and scientists regularly use different brands of essential oils.  Each researcher or clinician typically has their favorite brands based on experience, quality, and other factors.

Additionally, clinicians and researchers already directly contact essential oil companies for quality and constituent information.  Not only that but many do independent testing to find quality and constituent profiles.  Actual clinicians aren’t typically impressed by this term.  It is more there to impress a non-clinical audience with its perceived exclusivity.

There is no medical, scientific, or government agency that awards a clinical or medical grade designation for essential oil.

What to look for instead:

You will get better information by looking into the quality control and supply chain control that the company uses.  Involvement in the process to ensure the purity and potency of the oils is key.

100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?

Locally Sourced Essential Oils

What people think it means:

People typically perceive that local is better, and for some sorts of products that is true.  They view a locally sourced essential oil as the cream of the crop. It’s sort of like a fine artisan bread or a craft beer.  Local growers often have grown and distilled for generations.

What it actually means:

There is no objective meaning for this term. Unless an essential oil has chemotypes (different chemical compositions), then this is not necessarily helpful.  While purchasing essential oils from local sources may support low-opportunity areas, there are some possible drawbacks.

Just because a company sources (purchased) locally,  there is no guarantee that it’s good quality.  Did they harvest and distill the plants at the correct time?  Did they distill the essential oil properly?  Many times small local producers are not using up to date growing practices or distilling equipment and methods.

What to look for instead:

Ultimately, the constituent profile is what makes an essential oil active beneficial.  I get my constituent profiles per oilcompany-specific reference book.  Individual batch GC/MS reports are only useful if you can read a GC/MS report.  99% of essential oil users can’t.  I trust these profiles because my preferred company won’t sell an oil that doesn’t comply to these ranges.

If an essential oil grower is working with third-party local growers, do they help with proper distilling and growing practices?  Do they help build up to date distilling facilities on site? Otherwise, the plant material can degrade during transport from the farm to a distilling facility.  These are a few things that can help decide the benefit to a locally grown essential oil.

What did you think?   Did any of those terms surprise you?  Finding a good quality essential oil is well worth digging deeper beyond these marketing terms.


RELATED:  Are Young Living Essential Oils REALLY better?


What other terms have you seen?  Do you wonder what they actually mean?  Sound off in the comments!

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100% pure essential oils, therapeutic grade, medical grade, clinical grade, locally sourced, and organic essential oils. What does it all REALLY mean?
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