The following is a response that was given on a discussion thread in the Essential Oil Consumer Safety Advocates Facebook group. The discussion branched out into a number of topics, including “essential oil grades”, quality, purity, ingestion/internal use of essential oils, culinary use of essential oils at home and in the food industry and safety protocols. Because there was confusion happening and misinformation being given in abundance, a senior admin for the group addressed these areas of misinformation in an attempt to clear up the confusion and information.  The comment has been edited for this post to correct grammar and spelling, as well as to expand on a few areas for a more in-depth look at the topics involved.

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.COMMENT FROM GINGER L. MOORE – ADMIN OF THE EOCSA GROUP ON FACEBOOK: 

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Alright, this thread took a turn during the night and has brought more confusion it seems. So let’s take a moment to breathe and I’ll try to clarify a few things.

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1)  There are no “grades” of essential oils as is being taught by some. This includes therapeutic grade, certified therapeutic grade, certified pure therapeutic grade, clinical grade, pharmaceutical grade, medicinal grade, food grade, perfume grade, etc. There is not a recognized governing body or entity that has a universal standard of what qualifies as any of these grades. All these grade terms are company specific for marketing purposes with at least one of them being a trademarked marketing term owned by one company making it a crime for anyone else to use that term. The companies who use these terms may have internal standards they go by for what they consider to be worthy of their company or fitting their idea of “therapeutic” and there self-described “grade” but unfortunately, no one knows what those standards are except for them.

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2)  Purity and quality are not the same thing. Purity is measurable through chemical analysis and testing. There are no degrees of purity. Either something is pure or it’s not. It can’t be “more pure” or “most pure”, “purer” or “purest”, or X% pure or Y% pure. Either something is pure or it’s not. I’ve used the comparison example of pregnancy to explain this for years. Either you are pregnant or you are not pregnant. You can’t be “a little pregnant” or “more pregnant” or 95% pregnant. You are just pregnant….or you aren’t pregnant. Whatever the case may be. See the different there?

Quality on the other hand, while somewhat measurable based on this chemical analysis and what is desired in the chemical profile of the essential oil itself for intended use and purpose, is largely subjective and personal. What I find to be good or great quality based on my own criteria for a specific essential oil may be totally different from what someone else finds to be good or great quality.  In addition, an essential oil can be 100% pure, meaning there are no adulterations present, but the quality can be less than desirable based solely on the chemical constituents present and the ranges those fall into or a person’s personal likes and dislikes and experiences. Or it may not fit the intended use but be very well suited for another intended use. Or it may not have the aroma one person prefers while another may love it’s aroma. Pure just doesn’t equal or measure quality. Plain and simple.

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3)  The internal use of essential oils, which includes vaginal, rectal and oral routes of administration, is serious business and should not be done without the direct and supervised care of a qualified aromatherapist trained in the modality of aromatic medicine. Even then, it is usually only for acute needs, short term and with precision of dosing for each individual based on their unique health history and need at the moment. There is nothing blanket protocol about it. In fact, nothing about aromatherapy is or should be done with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Here’s a surprising tidbit for many. Just because someone has a certification in aromatherapy or says they are a certified aromatherapist does not mean they are properly educated and trained in aromatherapy and it most certainly does not mean they are trained and qualified as an aromatic medicine practitioner.  First of all, aromatherapy certification in the US is not a state or nationally recognized qualification with a governing body issuing those certifications. Unlike professions such as nursing or massage therapy, aromatherapy is not a licensed field with official recognized certifications boards and universal standards of education and board testing. Therefore, anyone can issue a “certification” to anyone else. I can create a lovely “certificate” saying pretty much anything I want it to say on my computer using programs and software and issue said certificate to anyone I choose. I do this regularly for my son for our homeschooling. The certifications given by respected aromatherapy schools are certifications of completion, meaning the student has completed the course and course requirements they have enrolled in.  Now don’t get me wrong. These course completion certifications are not without merit or respect. But ultimately, they are not recognized credentials like a nursing license or a degree from a valid recognized and accredited university.

Secondly, Basic, Level 1 and Level 2 certification courses that meet standards of instruction and curriculum as laid out by NAHA and AIA in the US or the respective aromatherapy associations in countries around the world do not cover or teach aromatic medicine. Aromatic medicine is a specialized area of aromatherapy requiring advanced training and education with qualified instructors, of which there are only a select few in the US and a handful throughout the world. It requires prerequisites for level of training obtained before being accepted into a qualifying course. It’s an intense higher aromatherapy education program. The training and degree program only became accessible in the US within the last couple of years and the instructor comes here a couple of times a year from Australia to teach his accepted students face-to-face. Those students must also meet and complete study, work and assignments outside of his temporarily classroom, which are graded and critiqued. This course takes about 1 year or slightly longer to complete from start to finish with two multi-day face-to-face classroom instruction sessions. If memory serves me, each multi-day classroom session is 4 full days and attendance for every day and both sessions is required. Yes, it really is that serious, that intense and that refined of an area of study.

FACT: Essential oils are potent chemicals with great potential to help but also great potential to do great harm. Ingestion of essential oils as it is being endorsed, taught and recommended by some companies and their reps is unsafe and extreme disrespect for essential oils and for those who have spent so much time studying them, researching them and teaching others about them. The key here is “as it it being endorsed, taught and recommended by….”. Contrary to what many say, as I stated above (in another comment), the greater aromatherapy community recognizes and teaches that there is a time and place for internal use and for oral ingestion. But that place is not daily, not casually, not in a cup or glass of whatever beverage, not in a user filled veggie cap, not on the tongue or under the tongue, not following a “recipe” found on Pinterest, a blog or Facebook and not by the untrained/unstudied home user or under the advice of the untrained. When we say untrained, we mean anyone who has not invested the necessary time and attention studying aromatherapy with qualified and recognized teachers and then more time and attention invested in extensive study of aromatic medicine. I’m sorry but the home user, the companies who teach/recommend ingestion to their customers nor their reps do not qualify as “trained”. Aromatherapy is a science and it is an art. Aromatic medicine is a precise science that requires accuracy, experience and know-how. I have yet to see the general essential oil user who is equipped or educated in this.

Bottom line. The risks of ingesting essential oils as is suggested and being done in recent years are very real while the benefits are few and non-existent. People are being injured regularly due to the lack of understanding and education and from following the recommendations of others. This is not a good thing…not a good thing at all.

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4) Trying to compare the therapeutic use of essential oils and their use in aromatic medicine to the use of them by the professional food industry as flavorings is like trying to compare cats and dogs. There are no similarities whatsoever except for the fact that great care and intentional purpose is needed. When the food and beverage industry uses essential oil for flavoring, they are not the same essential oils we purchase and use therapeutically from our favorite essential oil companies. They have been altered/modified for safety and for flavor profile to be used for this purpose. This means they’ve been rectified, fractionated, folded, and/or deterpenated to make them safe for oral consumption. Yes, they have had chemical constituents removed and the chemical profile has been rearranged…for flavor control and most importantly for safety. More often than not, what is used in the commercial food and beverage industry are not even essential oils at all.  Oleoresins, liquid CO2 extractions and absolutes are very commonly used. Again, those are often altered and/or extracted specifically for use as flavorings. There’s nothing therapeutic about it. It’s all about the flavoring. In addition, the amount used is very precise and nothing like what a home user could or would possibly be using. Home users are most often measuring by drops. The food and beverage industry doesn’t even begin to think about using drops as a formulation protocol. They measure by weight and percentages and base their formulations on parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb).  It’s extremely scientific in nature. For instance, to flavor a batch of candy, a commercial candy company would not be adding a drop of these aromatic flavor extractions to a 2 quart pot of a candy recipe that makes 1# of candy. They are making batches that are much larger, perhaps 100# and the amount they use is precisely calculated by professionals who know what they are doing because they have been trained in it. They are qualified to create those recipes and execute them safely. Again, the home user, the companies and their reps are not qualified in this modality of use to be recommending it or teaching it, even if they are using the same aromatic flavoring substances. While on this topic, having GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status with the FDA does not mean “FDA approved for ingestion” and does not resemble anything that is often being taught my multi-level marketing companies or their reps. Amy Kreydin does a great job explaining what GRAS actually is and means in regards to essential oils in her article.

Now, that said, well-studied and trained aromatherapists and aromatherapy teachers do teach some home culinary uses of essential oils and we have covered details about this use in another place devoted to the topic. Culinary use of essential oils at home an art form that takes very refined and educated know-how. Not everyone has that know-how or are talented in this artistic form just as not everyone is a great cook. Sorry, everyone but I’m probably about to offend a few. Ahem…..OK….here goes.  Opening a can, pouring its contents into a pot on the stove and turning on the heat, opening a box or package and adding water, oil and/or egg or nuking a frozen dinner in the microwave is not cooking. That’s reheating. Big difference.

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5)  There is such a massive twisting and inaccuracy of facts being spread about aromatherapy and its purposes and functions that its like a crazy wildfire fanned by heavy winds. It leaps and jumps and destroys everything good in its path. “Grades” is a good example of that. “Schools of thought” is a good example of that. “Natural is better” and “Safe without limits” are good examples of that. The many myths we address here in the EOCSA group are good examples of that. The many unsafe protocols and recommendations we address are good examples of that.  Misinformation and disinformation is like a bad penny. It keeps showing up even after it’s been tossed out and proven to be faulty again and again.

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Please hear me on this. Aromatherapy is not for the easily influenced, the lazy or the faint of heart. If you’re looking for easy answers, miracles or a cure-all, then aromatherapy is not for you. It’s not a full and unbridled substitute or replacement for traditional, Western and allopathic medicine or whatever you are opposed to in regards to your personal health care and needs.  It is, however, a complementary therapy that is a wonderful addition to our health and wellness approach. It’s sometimes, but not always, an alternative medicine modality. It’s part of the whole (think holistic) approach to health and wellness, not the entirety of that approach in and of itself. All the essential oils in the world are not going to fix a broken, abused or neglected body or damaged and out-of-balance body systems all by themselves or in quick order. Human anatomy, biology and chemistry just doesn’t work that way. Just as with any medicinal option available to us, using essential oils effectively and safely requires at the bare minimum, basic education and a working knowledge and understanding of multiple sciences. This is why we have professional aromatic practitioners and courses of study spanning hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours and why true professional invest years and thousands of dollars in their education. None of us know what we don’t know until someone who does know helps us see and recognize just what we don’t know.

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If you take nothing away from this read, please take this one paragraph to heart.  Aromatherapy is wonderful but it can also be dangerous in the wrong hands. When it’s disrespected as the potent medicinal health care modality it is and misused or when treated as a trendy thing, a free-for-all game with no boundaries or as a hobby, which I see a large number of people doing regularly, it becomes a liability instead of an asset. Essential oils have many benefits but when used inappropriately or willy-nilly without great care and the knowledge required to access and utilize those benefits to the fullest, they present undeniable risks that can cause great harm….and have. That in itself should be enough to make everyone stop, take note of what they think they know and then dig deep into the facts, the real research and science of it all to make sure they really know. Because until people do, we will continue to see people sustaining mild to severe injuries or lifelong internal damage. We’ll continue to receive reports of people becoming being sensitized and habituated to essential oils. And we’ll continually see companies out to make a quick buck off of the lack of knowledge they know exists on a very deep and broad scale. Relying on someone else to tell us what or how? Getting all your info from Google University or Facebook groups? Yeah, those are not good choices and they are not the way to learn about real aromatherapy.

Responsibility for our health and wellness, for our choices and actions and for what we do with what we’re given is ours to take and utilize effectively. No one can do that for us except us.  Please don’t be one of the people who shows up on the injury reports being collected within the industry because you think you are more knowledgeable than you are or the concerns are without grounds or evidence or the safety warnings do not apply to your brand of choice. That wake-up call will not be a pleasant one, I assure you.

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– Ginger L. Moore