Essential Oil "Grades" and How to Buy Essential Oils

Essential Oil "Grades" and How to Buy Essential Oils

The topic of essential oil grades comes up a lot since the quality of essential oils used in aromatherapy practices are extremely important. Such terms as "clinical grade", "certified pure therapeutic grade", "therapeutic grade", etc. are nothing more than self-appointed marketing terms. There is no governing body, not even the FDA that determines the grade of essential oils.

The only caveat is that "perfumery grade" is a bit misleading because the quality isn't as important as the overall aroma and there are thousands of synthetic fragrance oils, aroma chemicals, and chemical isolates that go into perfume design.

A few things to look for when choosing a brand or brands of essential oils: GC/MS reports, ethical harvesting practices, information provided on the website, and pricing.

GC/MS Reports

GC/MS is short for Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry. Gas chromatography tests the volatility of the sample, meaning how fast or slow it is to evaporate, and Mass Spectrometry identities the type and amounts of chemicals present in the sample. GC/MS reports will vary from batch to batch of essential oil as the chemical makeup can have variations due to weather conditions, insect activity, soil, and a variety of other factors. This does not mean that the oil is bad, per se, but there is a therapeutic range for each chemical in an essential oil. For example, if the linalool present in Lavender is supposed to be between 25-50% and it comes back at 18% then the GC/MS indicates an issue with the amount of the chemical present and its potency may be affected. If it comes back too high at 60%, it might indicate that the oil has been adulterated. Linalool can be isolated naturally or produced synthetically and added to the batch. These reports will list the chemical components of each batch of an essential oil and their percentage specific to that batch. GC/MS reports do not produce proprietary or trademarked information.

The video below by Scott A. Johnson explains in depth using Lemon, Lavender, and Peppermint essential oils from six different companies and compares the results of each GC/MS test result.

The image below is a sample GC/MS report from StillPoint Aromatics. I like the organization of their reports better than some other websites because they list the type of chemical component i.e. Monoterpenes and then the individual chemicals by amount present. It is fascinating to research the chemical components because they are directly responsible for the therapeutic actions of the essential oil beyond the aroma.


Website Information

Side note: I am a professional web content creator and manager by day, so I am a stickler for accurate and compelling website content across the board.

When I am researching essential oils, the company websites and the information they provide are one of my top priorities, even if they don't include GC/MS reports, the information they provide needs to be accurate and specific. They should be able to tell you the scientific name of the oil as to prevent confusion because common names have numerous variations in some cases or their are different species of the same oil like Lavender and Frankincense.

Here are four different company product profiles on Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) that give an excellent amount of information on Frankincense.

Now lets compare them to other companies lacking in complete or accurate information.

  • Bulk Apothecary: Includes some basic information, but nothing specific as to what Frankincense actually does on a therapeutic level.

  • doTerra: Their "Frankincense" is problematic as it is a blend of four different types of Frankincense and just called Boswellia. Otherwise, the information is pretty basic.

  • Young Living: On the surface, it looks like a lot of information about Frankincense, but most of it is pretty basic and lacks any specifics on what Frankincense does on a therapeutic level.

  • Melaleuca: Includes the bare minimum basic information.

This is one of the ways I ascertain which companies where I will purchase my essential oils. Occasionally, I have to deviate off the beaten path if I want to purchase something that is not widely available at multiple companies.

Ethical Harvesting

In the case of critically endangered oils like Agarwood, Palo Santo, Rosewood, Spikenard, Sandalwood, and Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood and others, the importance of ethical and sustainable harvesting cannot be under-emphasized. If a company sells them without noting that they are ethically and sustainably harvested then it is best to avoid them. When critically endangered plants or ones that are teetering on the edge of being over-harvested without regard for ethics and sustainability, the supplies will either run low or cease to exist. Additionally, governmental regulations may be mandated to protect these plant species from extinction. This will also drive market prices through the roof. Today, a 5 ml bottle of Sandalwood can run upwards of $100 and Agarwood runs closer to $200 for a 5 ml bottle. The others remain reasonably priced considering their scarcity. .

Price Comparison

Compare the price of the oil with the same oil on multiple websites to see what the average cost should be. If you are buying a bottle of rose oil for $20, it probably is not a pure rose oil because it takes 22 pounds of rose petals to make one 5 ml bottle of oil, which is why it is one of the most expensive oils on the market. The average costs for a 5 ml bottle of Rose Essential Oil will run anywhere between $150-$200, with the exception of Rose Absolute, which is solvent extracted, and usually costs $50-$75 for a 5 ml bottle. Higher price does not equate to higher quality as some things are just really expensive to produce.

The lesson in all of this is that it is nearly impossible to determine quality and purity of essential oils and much of what you see is nothing more than clever marketing language. It is best to avoid superlatives and definitives i.e. "the best", "the only", "the most", etc. These tips will help you out when researching where to buy your essential oils.


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