“Naked aromatherapy – the truth laid bare”

Adapted from Kirkham K. & Burfield T. (2006)
Aromatherapy Today 36, 28-33, as further updated in
Cropwatch Newsletter August 2007.
Copyright © Tony Burfield & Kendra Kirkham 2006-9.

Many professional aromatherapists have become unwitting victims of a
marketing ploy by essential oil suppliers, whereby ‘approved therapeutic
grades’ of essential oils are advertised for sale. Let us be quite clear about
this - there is no such thing as a ‘therapeutic grade essential oil’, and
no quality standards for the authentication or performance of essential
oils specifically exist within aromatherapy per se. This latter situation
results from the failure of professional aromatherapy organisations
and aromatherapy essential oil trading associations to issue a
comprehensive set of aromatherapy oil standards,
in spite of individual
schemes being put forward (e.g. the initiative of Jones, 1998).

Cropwatch reviewed the disinformation on ‘therapeutic grade essential oils’ in
2006 and 2007 (see references), based on the marketing hype put out by the
Young Living Essential Oils (YLEO) pyramidal sales organisation. To do this we
checked out the claims made by YLEO with the certifying bodies AFNOR & ISO
themselves which confirmed our initial view that their (YLEO) statements were
inaccurate / misleading. It is not without some irony that the March 2006
edition of Aromatherapy Today carrying the very article disproving the
existence of therapeutic grade oils, also carried a full back-cover advertisement
for – you guessed it – therapeutic grade oils, courtesy of an Australian supplier
(Essential Therapeutics).

Since 2006/7 the situation has worsened, such that staff at the National
Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) have forwarded details of further
organisations marketing mythical “therapeutic grade essential oils to
Cropwatch, The advertising content seems not dissimilar to that originally put
out by YLEO. We examine the progression of this trend below.

The situation has been further investigated by Elston (2009) on
Aromaconnection who investigates DoTerra’s registered trade mark for the
mythical ‘therapeutic grade essential oils’ – this can be followed at
www.aromaconnection.org Co-incidentally Cropwatch has also been looking at
DoTerra’s website claims (see below).

Existing Essential Oils Standards.
Over the decades, there have been a number of bodies that have laid down
working standards for essential oils, often geared towards the needs of the
pharmaceutical, food or fragrance industry sectors, but often these standards
do not prove entirely suitable for essential oil quality monitoring in the
aromatherapy, profession, since (for example) they do not consider
appropriate chemotypes employed in aromatherapy best practice, or
sometimes, they ignore preferred geographic origins of the essential oils
commonly employed.

Essential oil standards for the pharmaceutical trade are drawn up, maintained
and published in the form of National Pharmacopoeias. These Pharmacopoeia’s
are exorbitantly expensive and subject to severe photocopying restrictions in
many libraries (you may consult them, and take notes from them in most
libraries however). The British Pharmacopoeia (BP) for example, is produced by
the British Pharmacopoeia Commission Secretariat, part of the Medicines and
Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Many of the monographs for essential
oils contain fairly exacting monographs including physical and chemical
standards, thin layer chromatography and GC assay requirements. There are
also pharmacopoeias for individual nations, such as the Unites States
Pharmacopoeia), and of Germany, China, India, etc. It is important also to
mention the widely consulted European Pharmacopoeia, now currently in its
sixth edition.

Also in the US, a collection of monographs on individual essential oils (EOA
were produced a number of decades previously by the Scientific
Committee of the Essential Oil Association Inc. for use by the essential oil
trade. The specifications for these older standards were geared in some cases
especially towards US home-produced oils (e.g. those for peppermint oil) which
has attracted some subsequent criticism from producers in other countries
(India, Russia etc.) trying to produce commodities conforming to these
specifications. In France, the Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR)
produces the standards for the oil trade. Australian Standards for essential oils
(e.g. AS2785-1985 for tea tree oil) also exist, but since for example over 90%
of Australian tea tree oil is exported, compliance to international essential oil
standards is more relevant.

The Food Chemicals Codex V was produced at the request of the FDA and is
widely used for guidance by the food flavourings industry. Many larger
established flavour & fragrance houses have their own internal purchasing
standards for essential oils, but perhaps the main independent certifying body
is now the International Standards Organisation (ISO Standards TC 54)
which publishes universally accepted standards for individual essential oils.
Again the cost of purchasing these individual standards may be insignificant for
major essential oil producers, but is inhibitory for many small concerns.

It is not unusual in certain sectors of the food and flavourings sectors to
modify or adulterate particular oils in order to meet the requirements of their
corporate clients, but essential oils for use in aromatherapy should be
produced by purely physical means and be 100% pure and wholly derived from
the named botanical source.

So - one of the biggest so-far-unresolved dilemmas aromatherapists face, is
how to tell whether a given essential oil fulfils the requirements of quality and
purity. Many feel that they have to rely on the supplying company for
information or ‘word of mouth’ testimonials. Inevitably certain companies play
on the gullibility of their customers to make unsubstantiated claims.

Enter Young Living Essential Oils.
Young Living Essential Oils (YLEO) who promote themselves as a Christian-
faith-based (pyramidal) sales organisation, headed up by the controversial
figure of Gary Young, have been historically prominent in using the term
‘therapeutic quality’ in relation to the hyped marketing of essential oils. On
therapeutic-grade.com (2015 site dead) we found the following YLEO
definition of "therapeutic grade" essential oils (downloaded March 2006):

"In Europe, AFNOR (French Association of Normalization) and ISO
(International Standards Organization), which has set standards for
therapeutic-grade essential oils adopted from AFNOR) provide a set of
standards that has been established, outlining the chemical profile and
principal constituents that quality essential oils should have. These are widely
regarded as the gold standard for testing essential oils. The AFNOR standard
is most stringent, and differentiates true therapeutic-grade essential oils from
similar Grade A essential oils with inferior chemistry. AFNOR standards state
the percentages of certain chemical constituents that must be present for an
essential oil to qualify as truly therapeutic-grade. As a general rule, if two or
more marker compounds in an essential oil fall outside their proper
percentages, the oil may not meet the AFNOR standards. These guidelines help
buyers differentiate between a therapeutic-grade essential oil and lower grade
oil with a similar chemical makeup and fragrance.”

The website described above changed its previous factually indefensible
content, and is now (Dec 2009) trying to persuade gullible essential oil buyers
that ‘proper’ cultivation, harvesting and distillation are necessary to produce
these rare mythical ‘therapeutic grade essential oils’ of theirs. The example of
lavender oil production is given – but much of the content now simply relates
to universally observed good manufacturing practice, sprinkled with a few
trademark prejudicial and controversial scientific claims.

Cropwatch Investigates.
A spokesperson for AFNOR confirmed to Cropwatch (March 2006) that they
(AFNOR) do not have a standard for therapeutic grade essential oils
(and neither do ISO)
and so they do not differentiate between any ‘Grade A’
and ‘therapeutic grade essential oils’, as per YLEO claim. This situation with
AFNOR policy has not changed since 2006, at the present date of writing (Dec
2009). Further, essential oils have never been classified in grades described as
A, B, C as suggested by YLEO, and would surely not find any customers for
grades less than A grade, even if they did exist! In reality, essential oils
used by aromatherapists include minor essential oils, oils of differing
geographic origins and specific chemotypes not covered by AFNOR or ISO
standards. At the time of our investigation we were further informed that
AFNOR would be writing to YLEO asking them to retract misleading statements
re ‘therapeutic grade oils’, but the subsequent problem has been that a large
number of other aromatherapy essential oil traders are also using these
misleading descriptors.

As a further point of information, specifications limiting the presence of
pesticides, heavy metals, dioxins, PCB's, MCP’s, radionuclide’s and other
hazardous materials are not normally included in recognised essential oil
standards (although concentration restrictions for these items may figure in
standards of intended use e.g. food flavourings).
Since the publication of Cropwatch’s original article (2006), it has come to our
attention that although the paragraph quoted above was still there in April
2007 and still appeared on many YLEO – related websites (e.g. at
http://raindropkit.com/therapeutic.htm) it no longer appears at
www.therapeutic-grade.com (2015 site dead) a website run by Tom Anson of
Anson Aromatic Essentials an Independent Distributor of YLEO. Instead we find
a page entitled “Setting the Record Straight Concerning AFNOR Correcting the
misinformation perpetuated by some aromatherapy companies”.

Anson subsequently issued the following statement on this site in 2007:

“Here is where the record must be set straight. For years, I was taught that
the answer to "How do you know … ?" was AFNOR. When I was first getting
started with aromatherapy, my mentors told me that AFNOR certification is
the most reliable indicator of an essential oil's quality is. The only problem is:
there is no such thing as AFNOR certification; AFNOR has no such program for
certifying essential oils, based on its standards. Its standards cover all
specifications for essential oils, but do not include any reference to therapeutic
AFNOR (the Association French Normalization Organization Regulation)
acts as a standards-setting body for a variety of products and services - not
just essential oils. Contrary to what I had been led to believe, it is not a
government agency - something like the USDA; it is a private company, and
the name AFNOR is a registered trademark, and as such, protected property.
And, while Young Living seeks to maintain a good working relationship with
AFNOR, the two are completely separate business entities with no direct ties
between them.”

Unfortunately Anson did not seem able to let go completely of the concept of
“therapeutic - grade” and still used the YLEO wording “What is it that can make
one oil a therapeutic-grade essential oil while another is Grade-A, but not
therapeutic-grade?” Knock - Knock! – There is no such thing as a
Grade A oil!
No official body gives out certificates for Grade A oils – mainly
for the reason that all oils should be Grade A – why would anyone buy a Grade
B or a C essential oil!

An interesting development which Cropwatch attempted to pursue was that it
was reported in 2006 that YLEO’s Director of Research and Development and
Quality, a certain William F. Popin, managed to insert himself as chair of the
USP Botanical Advisory Board. Cropwatch believed that this represented an
outrageous development, since there is no way that YLEO has any mandate to
speak or sit in judgement, for either the botanical or aromatherapy
community. Further YLEO has elsewhere been heavily criticised for peddling
essential oils on the basis of pseudo-science and hazardous practices, and
we believe that Poppin therefore does not have the supported authority
to retain this post (- supposing he’s still in it). An initial communiqué from a
USP official to Cropwatch (April 2006) indicated that the USP do not intend to
define therapeutic / aromatherapeutic grades of essential oils, despite
propaganda suggesting the contrary on YLEO-connected websites.

The Disinformation Campaign Spreads – Other Companies emerge
selling “Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils.”

The DoTerra company at http://www.doterraoil.com sell ‘therapeutic grade’
essential oils, repeat the mythical A, B & C grading of essential oils belief with
this definition:

“Grade B essential oils are food grade; they may contain synthetics, pesticides, fertilizers,
chemical/synthetic extenders, or carrier oils. Grade C oils are perfume grade and may
contain the same type of adulterating chemicals as food grade oils. They also usually
contain solvents which are used to gain a higher yield of oil.”

DoTerra’s view of essential oil quality is bizarre - Grade B essential oils contain
fertilisers? Would that be ammonium nitrate, for example, making them
potentially explosive? And which food standards authority would permit
pesticides & fertilizers in essential oils to be used as food flavouring ingredients
- It simply doesn’t make any sense. We are further told that Grade C essential
oils are perfume grade and ‘usually contain solvents’ (?). Why does the author
think that the perfumery industry would buy such inferior ingredients? Does
he/she not realise that ingredient performance in product is directly related to
ingredient quality?

According to advertisements seen by Cropwatch, Essential Therapeutics also
sell the mythical therapeutic grade essential oils via seven listed outlets
throughout Australia & Tasmania. Elizabeth Van Buren Inc. also advertises oils
of the ‘finest & purest therapeutic grade’. Other advertisements we have
seen include those from Mountain Rose Herbs, The Ananda Apothecary,
Somatherapy, Anson Aromatic Essentials (the presumed owner is mentioned
above) and many others.

Potential essential oil buyers should independently check out the marketing
information provided by essential oil traders - do not be put off asking for any
extra information or reassurances that you are legally entitled to if the
situation is not absolutely clear cut. The professional aromatherapist has a
duty to be able to provide all relevant safety information relevant to their
clients’ treatment(s) and therefore It is part of ‘due diligence’ to ask
questions, require any stipulated proofs, request an MSDS, ask for
compositional data & certificate of origin of the batch of oil purchased and have
their eyes wide open to marketing ploys & scams of all types - including
providing GC’MS print-outs and other information which relate to other batches
of oils entirely, and, of course, describing essential oils as ‘therapeutic grade’.

Good luck!

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary
act.” George Orwell (1984).

Jones L. (1998) “Establishing standards for essential oils and analytical
standards” Proceedings of NAHA The World of Aromatherapy II International
Conference and Trade Show St. Louis, Missouri, Sept 25-28, 1998, p146-163.

Kirkham K. & Burfield T. (2006) “Naked aromatherapy – the truth laid bare”
Aromatherapy Today 36, 28-33.

Kirkham K. & Burfield T. (2007) “Naked aromatherapy – the truth laid bare
update” Cropwatch Newsletter August 2007.
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