Lesson 9: Quality

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Required Reading

Foundational Aromatherapy  1st and 2nd edition, Pages 5-7

Quality, Quality—Wherefore Art Thou, Quality?

I have been involved with essential oils for years now, both as a professional Aromatherapists and teacher, as well as being heavily involved in network marketing distribution. This section about quality has been the most difficult for me to write. Why? There is a great deal of misinformation about essential oils on bottle labels and in marketing literature, some of which I unknowingly perpetuated. It’s time for true confessions and to set the record straight.

First, I was incorrectly taught that “good” essential oils were labeled AFNOR and “therapeutic grade.” First, the word therapeutic—what exactly does that mean? According to Merriam Webster dictionary, it means producing good effects for the body and mind. Therefore, I believed that the oils I used were therapeutic according to that definition. Unfortunately, the term therapeutic was selected for marketing purposes by companies trying to make us all believe their oils were the best and somehow others were not therapeutic. Now, almost every company selling essential oils uses that term, so it really has no significance. The real problem is not with the word therapeutic but with the word grade. The crux of the matter is that a true essential oils grading criteria has never been created. There is no essential oils government agency, or big brother in the sky who determines which are the best, average, or poor quality. Labeling an essential oil as certified is not exactly conveying reality to the consumer. Let’s wade through the labeling mythology first, and then I will tell you what I look for in an oil or oil company.


AFNOR is short for a French standardization organization that was created for people and companies that make products. It was developed only to ensure that when a product is made, it is made the same each time. It does not tell you anything about the quality of any particular product. When you see ANFOR on an essential oil label or in its literature, it just means they make the oil the same way every time.

Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade

A Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade marking on an essential oil label can give the impression that some qualified outside source (such as the FDA) has certified that the oil was tested and proved it to be better than any others. However, the truth is that this term is merely a marketing term created and trademarked (a coined term or phrase) by the company. There is no certification or importance associated with the term.


ISO is an acronym for International Organization for Standardization. ISO, like AFNOR, declares certain standards for many manufacturers and technologies. ISO has standards for everything from crayons to credit cards, not just essential oils.


GRAS is short for “generally regarded as safe.” In the aromatherapy world, this means that an oil with GRAS on its label has been approved by the FDA to be on its “safe list” for use as flavoring or additives in foods. Some companies use this FDA approval to promote their product as the only oils “safe to take internally.” This is not what it means. Having a particular oil on the FDA “safe list” means the FDA has determined that oil is “generally safe” to use in very small amounts to add flavor, and lacks any indication of any particular dosage.

I hold the position that there is a safe way to take oils internally, for instance when highly diluted. I use some essential oils in recipes for my family on a regular basis. I disagree with large quantities of essential oils taken on a regular basis. Consuming essential oils in this manner is unsafe, wasteful, and puts an unnecessary strain on the liver. The same results can be achieved by using other methods.


EOBBD stands for Essential Oils Biologically and Biochemically Defined. This standard is worthy of respect. It signifies that the plant from which the oil was extracted has been properly and accurately identified with both its common name and its full Latin name—Genus and species. Because there are several varieties of every herb, each having its own particular therapeutic values, it is important that each plant is identified and labeled correctly. Eucalyptus is a good example. Here are three types: Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus globulus, and Eucalyptus citriodora. Each one does something different for the human body. If we buy Eucalyptus essential oil, what are we really getting? In the case of Lavender, there are over 40 different species! If a bottle is labeled only Lavender, how can you possibly know which species you are getting? Will it help with sunburn, or is it the kind that helps relieve inflammation in the muscles?

The technical data of every oil sold should be readily available to consumers. We should also be able to learn from the supplier or its literature from what country an oil originates, the plant part from which it is derived, and how it was extracted. This is what is meant by biologically defining an essential oil.

Chromatograph and Refractive Indexing

Oil test results, such as gas chromatograph and refractive indexing, tell us if there are any adulterations due to pesticides or synthetics. For essential oil blend makers, these tests indicate about the chemical constituents or the ingredients of each oil as created by God, not man. Blend makers need to know the amounts of certain biochemical properties—some properties need to be in a high percentage and some low. Much like making a cake, you want the ingredients in the right proportions, (e.g., 2 cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt, not the other way around). Biochemically defining an oil is achieved through this testing.

Quality and Trust

What so what’s a person to do? How could you really know which oils are genuine? Do you trust the company? Do they have a good record of providing high-quality products? Do you know and trust the owners and founders of the company?

It all comes down to trust. For me, the most important proof is how the oils work for my family, and if the company strives to meet the EOBBD standards. Price is a terrible way to judge an oil, as there are many costs involved in the searching for, obtaining, and testing of high-quality oils. An oil priced “too good to be true” probably lacks purity and authenticity. High-quality oils cost more than the average oil on the market. The good news: it requires only a tiny amount of a high-quality oil to create results—usually 1 or 2 drops is all you need.

Additional Reading