Apart from the perfect table, the most important tools in the massage therapist’s arsenal are the therapeutic grade essential oils she uses in her practice. Skilled massage therapists understand the value, quality and powerful properties of therapeutic grade essential oils.
Certain oils have been used by practitioners throughout the ages to protect and enhance health naturally by killing bacteria, fungi and all sorts of viruses. But not just any oil will do. It’s important to understand how these concentrated, aromatic substances are derived. Understanding how your oils are made will benefit both you and your clients.
An essential oil is the product of volatile, lipid, soluble portions of fluids containing odiferous compounds, made from the seeds, stems, needles, roots, bark, flowers or leaves of plants. The oil is produced by various forms of extraction (ideally from steam distillation).
Tear a rose petal in half and you’ll discover its moisture, the most highly concentrated essential oil that comes from any plant. This moisture is the “essence” of the essential oils found in each plant. Oils may appear watery, feel thick and syrupy or look light or dark in color. No matter how they appear to the naked eye, these oils are filled with countless complex and unique chemical constituents (chemotypes) that give them their natural healing power.
These constituents are divided into two groups:
- Hydrocarbons, which include terpenes (substances that prevent the buildup of toxins or expel existing toxins from kidneys and the liver).
- Oxygenated compounds, like esters (chemicals that promote antifungal properties as well as relaxing and calming moods) and alcohols (chemicals known for their antiviral and antiseptic properties).
Among the key chemical constituents of the aforementioned rose are Citronellal, Geraniol, Nerol and Phenylethylic Alcohol. Those substances are merely the most prominent ones. The “average” essential oil may contain anywhere from 80 to over 300 different chemical constituents.
Imagine the tiny size of that rose petal and all the chemicals swimming inside, then think about how many of them it takes to make a pint (16 ounces) of pure rose essential oil. The answer is an amazing 5,000 pounds.
Looking at this size differential another way, the chemical potency of one drop of pure peppermint essential oil equals some 28 cups of the peppermint tea you can buy at your neighborhood grocery store.
Not just any kind of plant can be used to produce pure therapeutic grade essential oils. Creating the purest oils that truly enhance your health starts with the growing conditions of the plants.
To achieve the best quality, producers of therapeutic grade essential oils grow their plants on virgin soil, untainted by pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and fungicides.
Organic is always the best choice, not only for the foods you eat, but the pure therapeutic grade essential oils you use on your body and your clients.
The quality of the soil – enriched with minerals, enzymes and organic mulch – is as important as the water sources for the plants. Deep well, watershed and reservoir water are the best choices, far away from municipal or secondary runoff water that typically contains harmful chemicals like chlorine.
Processing makes the greatest difference in the quality of therapeutic grade essential oils.
Many essential oils – the ones you can find easily in grocery stores – are “extended” versions, extracted with solvents or oil-based chemicals and then mixed with odorless, colorless chemicals. These oils are no good for your health: the process dilutes the purity of essential oils and reduces their health benefits to almost nothing.
The four ideal ways essential oils are produced:
- The oldest, most traditional method – steam distillation – involves “cooking” freshly picked plants with steam, extracting the essential oils.
- The easiest and most direct method – expression (cold pressing) – squeezes the seeds, skins and rinds of fruits, a method similar to how olive oil is produced.
- A newer method – exposing plants to varying degrees of carbon dioxide and high pressure – works for distilling some essential oils (Myrrh and Frankincense) but not others.
- For more delicate botanicals (jasmine or rose oils), the process of producing absolutes, derived from the grain alcohol extraction of a substance (the waxy residue from the extraction of plant materials), is preferred.
So, if you can’t be at the manufacturing facility to ensure an essential oil is being made properly, how can you tell if it’s a therapeutic grade product? Behind the scenes, manufacturers can “extend” a perfectly healthy essential oil by filling it with odorless, colorless solvents that detection processes like gas chromatography can’t distinguish.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a chemist to find the best therapeutic grade essential oil for your health, if you follow these simple guidelines.
Do your homework and and test out several brands. Know that you’ll need to invest in your oils; cheap is definitely NOT the way to go! Look for a trustworthy company, with a great reputation and independent testing.