In essential oil groups, there is a lot of emphasis placed on purity, as there should be. Unfortunately, too much of that same emphasis is centered around GC/MS tests.
GC/MS is gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, one of many tests used to analyze an essential oil. While many essential oil users look to it as the surefire way to tell if an essential oil is good, it has many shortcomings. And relying upon this kind of testing can cause a lot of problems.
Contrary to popular belief, GC-MS tests are not a guarantee of purity. Many companies have figured out how to successfully manipulate an essential oil sample with additives and synthetics in correct proportions to make the GC/MS test result appear good.
GC-MS testing will not always reveal synthetic additives. If synthetic linalyl acetate is added to pure lavender, a GC-MS analysis alone cannot confidently determine whether that constituent is synthetic or natural, only that it is linalyl acetate.
Many people demand to see GC/MS test results of oils and prefer to buy from a company who publishes these tests, but there are so many problems with this. For example:
The other day a lady posted me on my Facebook and said, ”Well, this other company sends out their GC’s, how come Young Living doesn’t?”
I posted her back and said, ”Would you know how to read it if I did?”
Anybody can create anything they want with a GC. What if they spike their oil with a small amount of a strong synthetic chemical and then use only a single 30-meter-column GC? The chemical won’t show up!
So just having a GC printout is meaningless unless you’re an analytical chemist and know how to read it. So why would I waste all the paper just sending them out when no one would even have a clue how to read them? Is there anybody reading this who can look at a GC report and tell me what they’re looking at? I rest my case.
~D. Gary Young, Founder of Young Living http://www.dgaryyoung.com/blog/2014/requests-for-a-gc-ms-analysis/
Here's a great example of how deceptive GC/MS tests that make an essential oil appear pure can be:
The methods for adulterating or even reconstructing essential oils have reached an astounding level of refinement. For example Lavender EO. It contains, in an authentic sample, the terpene alcohol linalool. The proportion of linalool in different Lavender EO may well vary to some degree. While the addition 5% of natural linalool, derived from another EO, can ultimately be proven by strenuous analytical effort, routine GC/MS will not detect it. In other words neither GC/MS or any other instrumental method alone can prove authenticity of an essential oil.
That this is so can be verified by looking at some of the analyses posted on the internet. These analyses ostensibly demonstrate the purity of an oil, but anyone familiar with the composition of authentic Fine Lavender will notice quickly that quite some of the posted chromatograms reflect EO which are reconstructed to varying degrees.
~Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, Founder of the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy
Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt (who is not affiliated in any way with Young Living) issued a blog post to reprimand the industry for putting so much emphasis on GC/MS tests. Responding to the results from one particular tester announcing that he found Young Living's cinnamon bark essential oil to be adulterated, Dr. Schnaubelt had to step in:
Recent events surrounding potential adulteration of Cinnamon Bark oil from a large corporate supplier have inadvertently highlighted the problems associated with the overemphasis of instrumental analysis and especially GC/MS analysis, for proving the purity of essential oils.
We all have become so accustomed to the power of computation that we forget that there sometimes are sizable margins of error in the data that are generated. In our case the exclusive reliance on instrumental analysis and especially GC/MS has its own set of problems. The most overlooked issue is the way GC/MS are ran today...
I could go on and on about the idiosyncrasies and the potential for wrong conclusions in the process of interpreting GC/MS data... Most Mass Spec library setups are hopelessly over challenged when it comes to precise IDs for complex sesquiterpene mixtures. The take away message here is that even and especially computerized interpretation of the Mass Spectra of a GC/MS is not immune to delivering incorrect results.
To quite some degree the reliability of such interpretations is based on the quality of the library. I.e an operator who has analyzed EO for ten years and added and added specific EO components to her or his specific library will have a better chance than someone else who starts out with a store bought library of common chemical components.1
Now you will notice the main point in his last paragraph is that it's completely open to interpretation depending on the age of the tester's library. Young Living has been testing essential oils for decades and thus has a much larger library database. There is simply more data to interpret results with than other labs who have less experience. And it took a leading, independent expert in the field to finally get this truthful message out among the circulating deceit. Dr. Schnaubelt concluded:
I could discuss this endlessly, but suffice it to say, instrumental analysis is a very valuable tool in working with essential oils, but when it comes to the appreciation for truly authentic oils it will never replace the human element. One of my mentors once told me the real way to ascertain authenticity is to see the growing plants, the still and ideally be present during distillation and obtain a sample fresh from the still.1
Some more information to consider:
GC-MS will not detect if an oil is synthetic or not.
It only detects the constituents which can be synthetic. A test is needed for that (called an Isotope Ratio Mass Spectometry). Young Living is the only company to have IRMS and it takes two years of intensive training to use the IRMS. In nature, the carbon isotope ratio is the same as what's in the environment. So if it is truly a plant, this test will show up with one single isomer. If it is synthetic (not from nature), it will always show up with a double isomer. GC-MS cannot detect this.
GC-MS also does not detect heavy metals.
Young Living uses an ICP test which can detect the equivalent of a drop of mercury in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Last year, an oil from a major supplier to multiple companies who has never had heavy metals in their oils before had mercury in an oil. Young Living rejected that batch and other companies bought it up because they don't test every batch with ICP.
GC-MS does not allow for variances that come from customizing distillation to obtain more naturally-occurring therapeutic properties.
Besides the fact that releasing GC-MS results would cause EO brokers to synthetically mimic YL oils, Young Living's oils often do not always fit into standard GC-MS tests because they are truly from nature so there is variance and because they have their own distilleries so they can get therapeutic constituents out that others cannot. (Why do we expect something to be standardized if it's from nature anyway?!)
For example, a few years ago, Young Living's clary sage had sclareol content so high that others demanded it was synthetic. But what really happened was that Young Living's distillery stopped working during one distillation of clary sage, and with some experimentation, they discovered a way to extract more sclareol than anyone else has ever done. They are able to do this with many oils because they can customize distillation as they own their own distilleries.
Young Living is the only company with the Seed to Seal guarantee where customers/members can actually see the plants growing and be present during distillation. With no other company being able to offer this, it's a no-brainer which essential oils I am going to use for my family!
Will you join me at Young Living's lavender farm in Utah next year to see how the plants are grown and distilled and talk to the scientists?!!
Blessings of good health,
~Sara Jo Poff
Holistic Health Practitioner