Just how much of a difference is there between a therapeutic grade essential oils and ordinary oils? The truth is there is a huge difference between essential oils that simply smell well and those that are therapeutic-grade.
Therapeutic-grade essential oils are judged by the highest standards of quality — and that includes the oil's hidden natural constituents, not just fragrance. In Europe, a set of standards has been established that outlines the chemical profile and principal constituents that a quality essential oil should have. These guidelines are known as AFNOR and ISO standards. They help buyers differentiate between a therapeutic-grade essential oil and a lower grade oil with a similar chemical makeup and fragrance.
The vast majority of essential oils are produced for the perfume industry, which is only interested in the oil's aromatic qualities, not it's therapeutic qualities. In the perfume industry, certain practices are common and acceptable, such as distilling the oil using high pressure with high temperatures in high-volume "pressure cookers" and adding chemical solvents to produce greater quantities of oil at a faster rate.
While many people can't tell the difference in the scent of an essential oil produced this way, the truth is these "fragrance only" oils lack true therapeutic properties. Many of the important chemical constituents necessary to produce therapeutic results are either flashed off with the high heat or do not have enough time to be released from the plant material. Artificial fragrances boost what was lost in the harsh distillation process or didn't have time to develop.
One of the factors that determines the purity of an oil is its natural chemical constituents. As in fine wine or gourmet coffee, these constituents can be affected by a vast number of variables, including:
Take for example, common thyme (thymus vulgaris). Thyme produces several different chemotypes (biochemically unique variations within one species), depending on the conditions of its growth, climate, and altitude. One chemotype of thyme will yield an essential oil with high levels of thymol, depending on the time of year it is distilled. But the later it is distilled in the growing season (i.e., mid-summer or fall), the more thymol the oil will contain.
The key to producing a therapeutic-grade essential oil is to preserve as many of the delicate aromatic compounds within the essential oil as possible. These aromatic chemicals are fragile and easily destroyed by high temperatures and pressure, as well as contact with chemically-reactive metals, such as copper or aluminum. The plant material should also be free of pesticides, herbicides and other agrichemicals, which can react with the essential oil during distillation to produce toxic compounds.
Yes, chemists can actually recreate the main constituents and fragrances of some essential oils in the laboratory. This is how many lower priced essential oils are made. But these synthetic essential oils lack therapeutic benefits and may even carry risks. The reason lower-priced, synthetic essential oils carry risks is because truly natural essential oils contain hundreds of different chemical compounds. Many of these compounds have never been identified and they lend important therapeutic properties to the oil. In addition, some essential oils contain molecules and isomers that are impossible to manufacture in the laboratory.
Synthesized oils lack these unidentified compounds. They also lack the molecules and isomers that are impossible to manufacture. In addition, artificial fragrances are typically added, creating inferior essential oils. Inferior quality and/or adulterated oils are unlikely to produce therapeutic results. Plus, they could very likely be toxic. The AFNOR and ISO standards were created to protect the public from mistaking potentially toxic essential oils for therapeutic-grade oils.
Today, there are many essential oil companies that claim to be therapeutic grade. Sadly, some of them have found ways to make these claims falsely.
There is one company that exceeds the therapeutic grade designation. That company is
The process Young Living uses when planting, cultivating, harvesting, and distilling a batch of oil is crucial to retaining its vital compounds. Without the exact blend of naturally-occurring plant chemicals, an essential oil can lose its beneficial properties and fail to produce the desired effect. Young Living Therapeutic Grade (YLTG) means that every essential oil Young Living distills or sources has the optimal naturally-occurring blend of constituents to maximize the desired effect.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. In strict accordance with FDA regulations the information and products on this website are not intended to treat, cure, prevent, mitigate or diagnose any illness or disease.
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