3 essential oil bottles with blank labels

Are Essential Oils Regulated?

Everywhere you look today, the stores and online sites are filled with offerings of essential oils that claim to be pure, therapeutic grade, certified pure therapeutic grade ® , medical grade, clinical grade or pharmaceutical grade. 

Let’s be honest, it can make your head spin.

How can there possibly be so many different types of essential oils to choose from? And how do you know which one to buy? I mean, if the label doesn’t say “pure” or “therapeutic”, does that mean it’s not good quality? What’s the difference between “medical” and “pharmaceutical” grade?  

The answer might surprise you… essential oils are NOT regulated.

Let me explain...

Like dietary supplements, essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that essential oil products don’t need to gain FDA approval before they’re brought to the market and sold to consumers.

Surprising right? But there’s more to the story...

The FDA still has some power over the makers and distributors of essential oils. The FDA works to enforce guidelines and restrictions concerning how essential oil products are marketed – specifically the health claims made in connection with the product. 

So, that means that no natural health product - including essential oil - marketing can say it is intended to treat, prevent, cure or mitigate any disease or other health condition – even when there is scientific research to back up the validity of the claims.

But what about all of these descriptors for the essential oils? Which one is the best?

The answer is there isn’t one. You can say whatever you want to describe your essential oil - pure, therapeutic, angelic, divine - it makes no difference. As long as you are not saying that the product inside, the liquid essential oil, is going to treat, prevent, cure or mitigate a disease, you can call it whatever you want.

Incredible isn’t it?

So, how did we get here?

It appears that, as the essential oil market was starting to grow rapidly in the 90’s, some clever marketers decided they needed to differentiate themselves from the competition. Mind you, they didn’t necessarily have a superior product, they just decided that, by saying the essential oil was “therapeutic grade” - and nobody else was saying it - the product must be superior. 

I bet you know what happened next...

Yup, everyone jumped in and started calling their essential oils “therapeutic grade”. In fact, if you look around, most, if not all, essential oils now say they’re “therapeutic grade”. 

So, we were back to square one - until we weren’t - and one clever company decided to add the word “pure” to their label. 

Go ahead… fill in the blank.

Today pretty much every essential oil is “pure” and “therapeutic grade”. They all say it because they can, not because there is a standard of quality. It’s marketing pure (no pun intended) and simple. 

Here are some other marketing terms you may see, none of which bare any weight in terms of superior quality:

  • Grade A - have you ever seen a Grade B or Grade C? Nope, me either. 

  • Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade ® - this name was trademarked by the DoTerra brand and the seal is nothing more than a commercial trademark that they’ve registered and paid a fee for.

  • Approved by the ISO - The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the main certifying body recognized for its universally accepted standards for individual essential oils, but it doesn’t set standards for differentiating the quality of essential oils.

  • GRAS approved - "GRAS" is an acronym for the phrase Generally Recognized As Safe used by the FDA when they evaluate natural ingredients that are to be used in food, as food additives. Generally, essential oils aren’t labeled as GRAS approved, but products containing essential oils, which may be ingested, might have this labeling.

  • Pharmaceutical /Medical Grade - although I rarely see this on an essential oil bottle label, when searching on the internet you can find this terminology in search results. I’m guessing it’s for click-bait. Once you see the essential oil label itself, there’s no more mention of the term. And, rightly so, because the term doesn’t having baring. 


So, how do you sift through all the madness?

Finding high quality essential oils that support you therapeutically is about understanding what to look for. I’ve written a separate blog on “How to Buy High Quality Essential Oils” which takes you through the steps of what to look for when buying.

In the meantime, it’s important to know how the essential oil market works, understand how it’s regulated (and not), so you can make an informed buying decision for you and your loved ones.

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