On every social media platform and throughout the Internet, we are hearing everyone from physicians, therapists, to everyday people, tout the benefits of essential oils. Within the last couple of decades there are numerous companies, large and small, selling essential oils in various forms and grades of quality. However, the danger for consumers is that the words “essential oils” are becoming a bit like the word “Champagne”, for many people any alcoholic beverage with bubbles is a “champagne”, just as for many others, if the bottle says “essential oil”, then they automatically believe in its worth and its health benefits.
Let’s begin by breaking down exactly what essential oils are, and explain the difference between the grades and quality levels.
According to the NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy), the term “essential oil” is a breakdown of the original term, “quintessential oil”, and is considered by some ancient cultures to be the fifth element, added to earth, air, wind, and fire. This fifth element is called today by many other terms, such as, spirit, soul, chi, life force, or even breath. The era of Aristotle is credited for creating the use of “quintessence” as the force of all life. In other words, when the essence of a plant is distilled, it is similar to the distillation process of alcoholic beverages, and was therefore, considered a “spirit”, just as gin or vodka is called a spirit or spirits today.
Photo credit aboutaromatherapy.org
Now that we understand the technical and historical definition of an essential oil, what we need to ask ourselves is, are all essential oils equal?
Most people who work with or have been introduced to essential oils today, know that the answer to that question is a definite No. This is why self-education is vital to those seeking to receive the health benefits of this natural process. While some of these benefits include; better focus, gut health, (another phrase we have been hearing a lot of lately), the clearing of sinus conditions, healthy vibrant hair and skin, along with remedies for nausea, an imbalanced metabolic system, and common mental disorders, such as stress and anxiety, if these oils are combined with other substances or unknown ingredients, many or all of these benefits may be lost or even non-existent to begin with.
So how do we tell the difference between the grades and quality levels of essential oils?
Being able to tell the difference between high-quality essential oils and their basic counterparts is not that complex now that you know what essential oils are and how the oil, once extracted from the plant, is then distilled, you can start there by asking an essential oil distributor or private seller these basic questions:
What is your oil made from and how was that extracted and distilled?
Are there any other ingredients in your essential oil products? (This is not necessarily a negative. Many essential oil products such as balms, salves, fragrances, etc., have other safe, pure, and healthy ingredients combined with the essential oil).
Depending on what essential oil product you’re purchasing, the pure oil or one that is combined with, for example, fractionated coconut oil, both can be good choices. However, if you plan to use the essential oil for cooking, diffusing in your home, or placing on your skin or tongue, then your oil must be pure and Certified Therapeutic Grade or Medicinal Grade. Essential oils labeled in this manner, are the best option for the uses above. If you are only seeking the experience of a fragrance, then these high grade oils or simply Aromatherapy Grade are more than sufficient.
The safest thing for any essential oil or essential oil product consumer is to ask questions and do your own research. Knowing the basics about essential oils is a great start but reading and consulting those who are in the business, is the most safe and healthy way to begin using these popular products.
*NOTE: As far as grades and quality levels of essential oils go, it is important to know that there is no official organization that qualifies essential oils. These grades were developed by the essential oil companies themselves.
By L Kimberly Smith