What are "Therapeutic Grade" Essential Oils?
In aromatherapy terms, "therapeutic-grade" means essential oils that are free of synthetics, complete in their chemical constituents and kinetically "alive," which means they can affect the human body.
One indicator of essential oil quality that is the most reliable is the AFNOR/ISO certification. In Europe, the French Association of Normalization, also known as AFNOR, and the International Standards Organization (ISO), have set standards for therapeutic-grade essential oils. They provide a set of established standards that outline the chemical profile and principal constituents that quality essential oils should have. Considered the "gold standard" for testing essential oils, the AFNOR standard is most stringent, and distinguishes true therapeutic-grade essential oils from Grade A essential oils that lack the same chemistry.
AFNOR standards cite certain percentages for chemical constituents that must be present for an essential oil to be labeled "therapeutic-grade." These standards help buyers distinguish between a therapeutic-grade essential oil and a lower grade oil that smells similar.
Every batch of essential oils produced or supplied by Young Living Essential Oils is analyzed at an AFNOR-certified laboratory by a chemist licensed to test therapeutic-grade essential oils. The AFNOR seal on each Young Living bottle indicates that you are purchasing fine, therapeutic grade essential oils.
Essential oils are much more chemically complex then the average person realizes. A single essential oil may contain 80 to 200 distinct chemical constituents or more. Preserving these chemical constituents is what separates a therapeutic grade oil from a Grade A essential oil.
However, preserving these chemical constituents is not easy and the extraction process used can either preserve or damage some chemical compounds. Making therapeutic-grade essential oil requires:
Grow the right plants
Selecting the correct species is essential since different varieties of plants produce different qualities. Only those species that produce the highest quality essential oil should be selected. For example, the lavender grown on the Young Living farms is a Lavandula angustifolia, which produces an oil low in camphor (which can burn sensitive skin in high doses) and rich in lavendulol and lavendulol acetate (the chemical compounds believed to be essential to lavenderís therapeutic action).
Use appropriate cultivation methods
Plants should be grown on land free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. These chemicals can react with essential oil during distillation and/or, because many pesticides are oil-soluble, can also mix into the essential oil. When the essential oils are then used, the pesticides, fungicides, etc. can be carried into the human body.
Plant should also be grown away from pollution sources such as nuclear plants, factories and even highways or heavily populated cities, if possible. The soil used should be conditioned with a mix of enzymes, trace minerals, and organic materials to help create the best growing conditions.
Land and crops should be watered with reservoir, watershed water or mountain stream water because municipality treated water, or secondary runoff water can introduce undesirable chemicals into the plant.
Follow correct harvest procedures
Harvest timing is crucial when producing therapeutic-grade essential oils. A plant harvested at the wrong time of the season or the wrong time of day can produce an essential oil missing or low in critical chemical components. For example, German chamomile harvested in the morning will produce oil with a much higher level of azulene than chamomile harvested in the late afternoon. Other essential factors include the amount of dew on the leaves, the percentage of plant in bloom, and weather conditions during the two weeks before harvesting.
Essential oils are volatile so itís essential that the plant doesnít dry out before distillation so the aromatic molecules donít evaporate. Therefore, distillers should be as close to the growing fields as possible. Also, plants can be exposed to dust, mold, pollution and petrochemical residue during transportation, which can adversely affect the quality of the essential oil.
Essential oils can be extracted by a variety of methods, such as solvent extraction, carbon dioxide extraction, and steam distillation. Steam distillation is fairly common, but results can still vary widely. Tiny differences in distillation equipment and processing conditions can create great differences in essential oil quality.
Aromatic molecules can be destroyed or changed by high temperatures so, low-temperature distillation is best. High temperatures can alter an oilís pH and the electropositive and electronegative balance. For example, lavender distillation should not exceed 245 degrees Fahrenheit while cypress is ideally distilled at 245 degrees Fahrenheit.
High pressure can also adversely affect an essential oil. Marcel Espieu, president of the Lavender Growers Association in southern France for 21 years, told D. Gary Young, creator of Young Living Oils, that the best oil quality is produced when distillation pressure is zero pounds.
Distillation time is also important. Lavender takes about 90 minutes to distill whereas cypress takes 24 hours to extract all of its active ingredients. If cypress is distilled for even two hours less, 18 to 20 of the essential oil's chemical compounds will be missing.
The chemical composition of the cooking pots is another important factor. Essential oils need to be kept away from chemically reactive metals, like copper or aluminum. Therapeutic-grade essential oils should be distilled in a food-grade stainless-steel chambers.
Small batches also help to maintain quality. Lavender at Young Living is distilled in batches that produce about one pound of essential oil.
If your answer to all these questions is yes, you can feel confident that your oils are therapeutic grade, the purest available.