Therapeutic-Grade Essential Oils: What are they?

High-quality oils: Aromatherapy's essential foundation

You’ve heard of it.  Maybe you’ve even been there, done that.

You hear that aromatherapy is supposed to be such a great way to promote relaxation and reduce stress and tension; or maybe you’ve even heard that it can support overall health and wellness.  So, you run down to your health food store, or buy something online, try it, and nothing happens.  Nada, zilch, good night.

So what went wrong here?

Nothing, really.  You just used the wrong oils.

Illuminated molecule diagram

In aromatherapy, the quality of your oils is everything

Aromatherapy offers amazing health-supportive benefits.  It can help you look and feel younger and more alive, enhancing your life and sense of well-being in many ways.  But, in order for it to work, you need to use quality oils.

The problem is, about 98% of essential oils produced in the world today are not intended for serious aromatherapy; they’re produced for the perfume/cosmetic or food industries, which have much lower standards for their oils.  Yet, marketers will bottle these lower quality oils and sell them as aromatherapy products.  If you attempt anything more than recreational fragrancing with any of these oils, you’re likely to be very disappointed.

I’ve never seen a good oil in a health food store.

Organic is not enough; you need therapeutic-grade oils

Now, a health food store lavender might be certified organic; and organic is certainly better than non-organic oils.  However, a therapeutic-grade essential oil — one suitable for serious aromatherapy — is more than just organic.

A therapeutic-grade essential oil is one that is both complete in its chemical constituents, giving it a rich, deep aroma, and is kinetically alive and able to raise the frequency of the human body, restoring balance and normal function to weak body systems.  This is important, because the oil’s fragrance, frequency and chemistry all contribute to its unique therapeutic effects.  If any of these properties is compromised, as a result of poor production practices, an essential oil cannot rightly be called therapeutic-grade.

Why some other oils are comparatively so cheap

Most essential oils produced today are not intended for aromatherapy.  Various short-cuts and bad practices in production seriously compromise the quality of the oils.

How a truly therapeutic-grade oil is made

Because a quality essential oil is so chemically complex, and all of these constituents must be present in the oil in their proper ratio for the oil to have its expected effect on body systems, one key to producing therapeutic-grade oils is to preserve as many of these aromatic compounds within the oil as possible.

The problem here is that these aromatic compounds are quite fragile, and not easily extracted from the plant material.  This means that proper production of essential oils takes a lot of understanding of the oil, and the willingness to invest the necessary time and expense to do the job right.  To make a great, therapeutic-grade essential oil, you must take great care with the following aspects of production:

→ Grow the proper variety of plants.

Species selection is very important, since different varieties of plants produce different qualities of essential oils.  Only those cultivars that produce the highest quality essential oil should be selected.  For example, the lavender sold by dōTERRA® is an authentic Lavandula angustifolia, which yields an oil low in camphor and rich in lavendulol and lavendulol acetate (the constituents believed to be the key to lavender‘s therapeutic action).

→ Use proper cultivation methods.

Plants should be grown on land that is uncontaminated by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.  The plant materials must be kept free of agrochemicals, since these can react with the essential oil during distillation, and produce toxic compounds.  And, because many pesticides are oil-soluble, they can also mix into the essential oil.  If these oils are diffused or topically applied, the toxic chemicals in the oils are carried into the body with potentially devastating results.  Plant materials should also be grown away from pollution sources, and crops should be watered pure water source.

→ Harvest with knowledge and care.

The timing of the harvest is one of the most important factors in the production of therapeutic-grade essential oils.  If the plant is harvested at the wrong time of the season, or even at the incorrect time of day, a substandard essential oil can be produced.  In some cases, changing harvest time by even a few hours can make a huge difference.  For example, German chamomile harvested in the morning will produce oil with far more azulene than chamomile harvested in the late afternoon.

Other factors that should be taken into consideration during the harvest include:

  • the amount of dew on the leaves,
  • the percentage of plant in bloom, and
  • the weather conditions during the two weeks prior to the harvest.

Also, because of the volatility of the essential oils, to prevent herbs from drying out prior to being distilled (and so, losing many of the precious, aromatic molecules to evaporation), distillers should be located as close to the field as possible.  Transporting herbs to distillers hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away also heightens the risk exposure to pollutants, dust, mold and petrochemical residues.

→ Extract the oils in the proper way.

Essential oils can be extracted from the plant by a variety of methods, including solvent extraction, carbon dioxide extraction and steam distillation.  Steam distillation is one of the most common, and has several advantages over the other methods.

However, distillation is as much a science as it is an art, and subtle differences in distillation equipment and processing conditions can translate into huge differences in essential oil quality.  Factors to consider include:

  • The temperature during distillation: The fragile aromatic molecules of an essential oil are easily destroyed or altered by high temperatures; and so, the distillation process must use low-temperature methods.  High temperatures seem to cause a harshness in the oil.  Even the oil’s pH and the electropositive and electronegative balance are greatly affected.

For example, the distilling process for lavender should not exceed 245° Fahrenheit, cypress should be distilled at 245° Fahrenheit.

  • The pressure during distillation: The fragile aromatic molecules of an essential oil are also easily destroyed or altered by high pressure during distillation, causing a harshness in the oil, as well as affecting the essential oil’s pH, and electropositive and electronegative balance.

Marcel Espieu (the president of the Lavender Growers Association in southern France for 21 years) says that the best oil quality would be produced when the pressure was zero pounds during distillation.

In the distilling process for lavender, pressure should not exceed three pounds.  For cypress, it should be about five pounds of pressure.

  • The length of time taken for distillation: For lavender, the time required for distillation is about an hour and a half.  On the other hand, cypress requires 24 hours of distillation to extract all of its active ingredients.  If distillation is shortened by only two hours, 18 to 20 of the essential oil’s chemical constituents will be missing.
  • The chemical composition of the cooking pots: Essential oils should be kept away from contact with chemically reactive metals.
  • The size of each batch: Essential oils should be distilled in small batches.  The lavender oil that dōTERRA® sources, is distilled in batches yielding about one pound of essential oil.

Truly therapeutic-grade essential oils are a very rare commodity

When you come to understand the properties that make up a truly great essential oil, it quickly becomes clear that the production of these oils should be more than just a commercial venture.  It requires far too much from the producer in terms of expertise, time and expense to make any sense in purely economic terms.

It’s far cheaper to take short-cuts than to do it right.

However, dōTERRA® wasn’t founded as a purely a commercial venture.  The people who joined together to create this company had already developed a deep appreciation for what quality oils can do to support health and wellness, and were even more excited when they found essential oils of such exceptional quality.  What started as a search for quality oils for their own use turned into a mission to bring you the finest, certified pure therapeutic-grade® essential oils.

That spirit continues at dōTERRA®, so you can trust that the essential oils you purchase from us are of the very highest quality: those that are truly therapeutic-grade.