What Are Therapeutic, Clinical, or Perfumery Grade Essential Oils?

Therapeutic Grade, Clinical Grade, Perfumery Grade, Certified Therapeutic Grade, GRAS. These are all labels I am sure you’ve seen when shopping around for essential oils. They all sound super important, or official. But what do they really mean?
Sadly, these terms are just really, really clever marketing terms. Some companies have even had them registered or copy written to make them look as though they are an official term that they have been “approved” to use. They are even used in hopes that the consumer will believe they are the only company selling pure, unadulterated oils. This is NOT the case. There is no such thing as “therapeutic grade”, “approved oils of therapeutic grade”, “clinical grade”, or “perfumery grade”. Nor is there such a thing as therapeutic grade A, B, or C.

GRAS stands for “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA and EPA, and this applies only to essential oils used in flavoring food. It absolutely does NOT mean the oil is safe for use in medical, or therapeutic, applications.

Robert Tisserand, a leader and world-renowned expert in the field of Aromatherapy, was interviewed on this topic in December of 2014. Below is a clip from the transcription of that interview.

RT: Yes, I think that it gets confusing because people often refer to GRAS status, so they will say that this essential oil has GRAS status which means that it is generally recognized as safe by the EPA and the FDA. But actually what that applies to is the use of essential oils in food flavorings; specifically, this only applies to food flavorings and not to other uses such as medicines. So GRAS status doesn’t mean this essential oil is safe to ingest, it means this essential oil is safe to use in food flavors, which yes does result in ingestion but the word ingestion is where the confusion happens because it is not a way of saying that this is OK to use as a medicine.
LA: Understood. The other issue that I have seen is the terminology used regarding essential oils. I don’t think that there would be any argument from anyone that if you’re using an essential oil – that you definitely want to find the best quality and unadulterated oil, but there is the use of terminology such as therapeutic grade, I’ve even seen clinical grade coming out into the market. Do you have any comments on that?

RT: Yes, and these same people will tell you don’t use perfumery grade oils; well there is no such thing as perfumery grade. There is no such thing as therapeutic grade or clinical grade. These are not grades that are independently verified, they are words that are marketing terms created by the company selling those oils so they will tell you that they are the only people selling clinical grade oils. Well yes, because no one else is making that claim, you are the only people selling what you call clinical grade oils.

Jade Shutes, the founder, and Director of Education, for The School of Aromatic Studies, wrote an article titled The Quality of Essential Oils. Below is a clip from her article.

After the concept of ‘therapeutic grade’ entered the market other companies quickly joined in, saying that they too offered ‘therapeutic grade’. Today, just about every company selling essential oils states that their essential oils are of ‘therapeutic grade’. With the concept of ‘therapeutic grade’, also known as Grade A, came other grades such as grade B, C, and so on. The point here is that some clever marketers were absolutely successful in their aspirations to get the word ‘therapeutic grade’ into the vernacular of the aromatherapy industry.

Aromatherapy buyers have perhaps become overawed with the idea that there must be a ‘therapeutic grade’ and that is what they are looking for. (Sometimes it must feel like they are looking for the holy-grail.) They call aromatherapy companies and ask “do you sell therapeutic grade essential oils?” What I would like to know is if there is actually a company out there that states it sells ‘non-therapeutic grade’ or ‘grade b, c, or d’ essential oils. Actually, just did a search and NOPE, not a company out there claiming to sell grade b, c or d essential oils and not a one selling non-therapeutic grade. Very suspicious!!

The truth is that there is no such thing as ‘therapeutic grade’ (or grade b, c, or d) in the sense that some organization or higher power has bestowed on an essential oil line. A grading system, quite simply, does not exist for essential oils. It is a product of marketing and marketing alone. And if one actually spends time thinking about this it makes perfect sense. From a marketing perspective there had to be another way to market a line of essential oils other than saying ‘we sell the best essential oils on the market’ which is rather boring in comparison to ‘therapeutic grade’.

According to Burfield and Kirkham (2006-07), “many aromatherapists have unfortunately become unwitting victims of a marketing ploy by essential oil traders that advertise “approved” essential oils of ‘therapeutic grade’. Let us be quite clear on this – there is no such thing as a ‘therapeutic grade’ essential oil, and no quality standards for the authentication of essential oils specifically exist in aromatherapy.”

The truth is, there are only so many sources for each essential oil. Many large companies would have you believe that ALL their oils are privately sourced, but this is just not the case. Sure, some may be large enough to secure their own land for more common plants/herbs, but, in the words of Robert Tisserand in this same interview, “You can’t grow Frankincense in Idaho. You can’t grow Frankincense in France. It comes from one region of the world, where that plant grows, the same with Myrrh, the same with Black Pepper, the same with most of these plants.”. (I happen to know that we share several of the same distillers with the “Big Dogs” in this industry, as do several other essential oil companies.)

Using these terms can lead people to believe that companies who don’t use them have oils of lesser quality. This is absolutely false! We, ra goods, choose not to use them simply because they feel misleading, and, well, overused. And we have amazing oils! The best ever! Ha! But so do many, many other essential oil companies out there who choose not to use them either.